They call it winning ugly. In the NFL, any win is praiseworthy. But sometimes a victory will leave one wondering how the team pulled it off. Remember the 2011 Denver Broncos? The "Tebow Season"? Exactly. Many of those games, by rights, the Broncos arguably should not have won. Yesterday's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs also falls into that same category.
However, a win's a win. And after two weeks, the Broncos remain undefeated and sit alone atop the AFC West. Despite yesterday's inexplicable win, there were many things good, and bad, to take away from the game.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE IS STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
The Broncos offensive line had their ups and downs yesterday. To the naked eye, it seemed like they had a hard time opening up holes for Montee Ball and C.J. Anderson to run through. But the stats of these individual running backs beg to differ. Ball averaged an even 5 yards per carry, while Anderson averaged 6.2.
Ball rushed for 60 yards on the day on 12 carries. But if you take away his 23-yard scamper on 3rd and 24, that takes his YPC down to 3.3. Nothing to write home about. Anderson ran with burst and found room to run, even when there wasn't a lot of daylight.
The Broncos tandem at guard, Orlando Franklin and Louis Vasquez, each graded out in the positive via ProFootballFocus.com, with a +2.1 and +3.6 overall grade, respectively. However, they each had their struggles. Vasquez gave up a sack, something he didn't do throughout all of the 2013 season.
Franklin, it must be remembered, is playing a new position. The Broncos moved him over from right tackle, a position he played for the first 3 years of his pro career, over to left guard. The fact that he played guard quite a bit at the University of Miami helps to mitigate the learning curve of a new position.
Left tackle, Ryan Clady, missed almost all of 2013 to a lisfranc injury. He has struggled some in the first 2 games of the season. He's still getting his game legs under him. Chris Clark replaced Clady at LT in 2013, but now finds himself at right tackle. He perpetrated a penalty yesterday that cost Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos a long touchdown.
Center, Manny Ramirez, of all the Broncos offensive linemen, has played the most consistently through 2 games. He has really settled in at center and seems to have a mind-meld going on with Peyton Manning, notwithstanding his Super Bowl miscue. At this stage, I want to see more from this unit as a whole. But I'm not worried. They still need to gel. They'd better do it fast, because the fearsome front seven of the Seattle Seahawks does not suffer fools.
WHERE IS THE KILLER INSTINCT?
This was an issue for the Broncos last year. Getting out to a big lead, but not being able to slam the door on the opposition convincingly. This problem starts and ends at an institutional level. At a coaching level. The men who are leading this team; namely John Fox, Jack Del Rio and Adam Gase, are ultimately responsible for the mindset the players have on the field.
Yesterday, the Broncos had a few opportunities to put the game away and make it impossible for the Chiefs to come back. But mental errors, scheme deficiencies and lack of execution, allowed Alex Smith and company to keep it interesting. With an offense, and a defense, as stacked and talented as the Broncos, there's no excuse for this lack of focus. The coaches have to address this among themselves. Because the mettle of this organization, from the coaches to the players, is now in question. Teams like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom are on the schedule, will not let you get away with such inconsistent play. If you don't slam the door on them, they'll slam it on you. Make no mistake.
C.J. ANDERSON DESERVES MORE TOUCHES
Don't take this the wrong way. I'm not saying that the Broncos should bench, or give up on Montee Ball. But so far in this very young season, I'm seeing too much dancing around from the second year pro. Indecision. Happy feet.
When Anderson totes the rock, he's decisive and once he makes his cut, he gets downhill in a hurry with authority and explosiveness. Since he joined the team, albeit in a small sample size, he has essentially averaged 5 yards per touch. That level of production warrants more opportunities on the field.
When the Broncos are protecting a lead, like they usually are, it's imperative that they be able to pound the opposition into submission by running the ball effectively. So far, they haven't been able to do that, especially when the chips are down. Give Anderson the rock in those situations. He will make the most of it.
IT'S NICE TO HAVE CHRIS HARRIS, JR BACK
It's hard to feel good about anything the Broncos did defensively yesterday, but you can't help but applaud the performance, week in and week out, of Harris. His influence in the secondary is absolutely key. Aqib Talib has been excellent thus far, on the defensive right side of the field, but Harris has been just as good.
It's hard to believe that he partially tore his ACL just 8 months ago. He's playing like a man on a mission. And I suppose he is. He's in a contract year, after all. And with the money the Broncos are paying Talib, and the contracts that are likely due to playmakers such as Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, it's very likely that some other NFL team will be paying Harris in 2015.
In yesterday's matchup with the Chiefs, Harris earned a +2.6 overall grade via PFF, which was the highest mark given on the defensive side of the ball. Harris is worth Talib money. And he'll get it. I just wish it could be from the Broncos. Broncos Country hopes that Mike Sullivan can work his salary cap magic and find a way to keep Harris in Orange and Blue for years to come.
BRANDON MARSHALL IS HOLDING HIS OWN
Starting weakside linebacker, and the Broncos leading tackler in 2013, Danny Trevathan, went down with a fractured tibia in training camp. He'll be out for another few weeks, at least. In his place, the Broncos plugged in Marshall, who has never started a game in the NFL, until last week. Since then, he's amassed 14 tackles, which leads the team.
His inexperience has been on display on a couple of plays so far, like the long sideline touchdown by Dwayne Allen last week, but by and large, he has done an excellent job of holding down the fort for Trevathan. My only gripe with Marshall, is that he needs to stick to his assignments and not bite on play action fakes and offensive trickery so hard. However, the WILL position is in good hands.
You can find Chad Jensen on Twitter @CJ_Broncos.
Image credit: Chris Humphreys of USA Today Sports.