In an impressive display of dominance on Sunday Night Football, the Denver Broncos defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 42-17. Not many people expected a blowout, but I can think of one guy who predicted the final score perfectly.
It was a satisfying game for Broncos Country, punctuated by a poignant moment when Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre's all-time record for passing touchdowns (509). It must be mentioned that the Niners were without their 3 Pro Bowl linebackers, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, which might explain how Manning and the Broncos offense could put 42 points on the board, but it doesn't explain how Colin Kaepernick and company could only muster 10. Let's get to the takeaways.
The Broncos Are The Best Team In Football
I don't get caught up in power rankings. By and large, they're meaningless, because the NFL landscape is so fluid and it's constantly shifting. It's practically impossible to accurately rank teams, according to a limited sample size, at least, not until teams get down the stretch and the playoff picture coalesces.
However, I can say with confidence that the Broncos 25-point victory over the Niners served as an exclamation point to the following statement; the Denver Broncos are the best team in football. At least, right now.
I can understand how it could be argued that the Dallas Cowboys deserve that honor, but with their recent disfunctional history of barely cracking .500, I'm going to take the "wait and see" approach with them. But their offensive line and defensive coaching have made them a very dangerous team.
All of the talk of Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers sitting atop the power rankings faded with a whimper, as they were defeated by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, at home, bringing their record to 5-2. The Broncos are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC West. However, the Chargers will have a chance to rectify that on Thursday night.
Since Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, they have been one of the NFL's best teams, due in large part to their juggernaut passing offense. However, there are two factors that have set them apart this year and have catapulted them to the top of the NFL mountain; Ronnie Hillman and the Orange Crush 2.0.
Since taking over as the starting running back in week 6, Hillman has amassed 219 total yards and 2 touchdowns and has resurrected the Broncos deceased running game. And as we all witnessed Sunday night, he has added an explosive element to the offense, making them look unstoppable.
The defense, led by their elite edge rushers, Von Mller and DeMarcus Ware, has been the difference in every game the Broncos have played thus far. They were the reason the Broncos held off a late-game resurgence by Andrew Luck and Alex Smith. It was because of the defense that Peyton Manning even had the opportunity to stage a 4th quarter comeback in Seattle and force the game to overtime. And it was because of the defense that a healthy Niners starting offense was held to only 10 points Sunday night. If the Broncos keep playing like this in all three phases, they are virtually unbeatable.
Chris Harris Is The Best Cornerback Football
Yes, I'm going with another absolute here. Chris Harris, Jr has played like a man possessed all year long. He has been targeted 32 times in coverage and has only relinquished 12 completions, for 101 yards and ZERO touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have collectively earned a paltry 33.5 rating, when targeting Harris.
What makes Harris' performance thus far even that more impressive, is the fact that he partially tore his ACL this past January, in the Broncos Divisional Round victory over the Chargers. In his 4th season, Harris has gone from being an undrafted rookie free agent, to playing at an All-Pro level. And he's playing in a contract year.
When the season started, I talked about how the Broncos would likely have to let Harris walk in free agency, due to salary cap constraints and the fact that they just gave Aqib Talib a 6-year, $57M contract. But with the way Harris is playing, the Broncos have to find a way to keep him around after this season, even if it means letting an offensive skill-position player walk, like Julius Thomas.
THe Jury's Still Out On The Change At Right Tackle
With how bad the Broncos offensive line had been at times in 2014, it was only a matter of time before the coaches made a change. It finally came late last week, as Paul Cornick replaced Chris Clark at right tackle.
Cornick provided a spark in the running game, an area that Clark has struggled in mightily. He even earned a positive grade run blocking via ProFootballFocus of +0.3. Not bad for a young player, in his first career start.
Cornick wasn't as proficient in pass protection, but Clark hasn't exactly been a stalwart there either. In this area, the move is a wash. But since Cornick contributed to the Broncos rushing for 115 yards vs the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL, the early returns on Cornick at right tackle, are an overall improvement. He did have a false start penalty and he allowed 3 hurries and a sack. He'll need to improve there, but it could be chalked up to first-time jitters.
An Historic Pass Rushing Duo Is Taking Shape
When DeMarcus Ware joined the Broncos back in March, he had left the Dallas Cowboys as their all-time leader in sacks. John Elway's vision was to team him up with Von Miller, in what he hoped would become the most dominant pas rushing duo of all-time.
So far, it looks like a match made in quarterback purgatory. With 8 sacks for Miller and 7 for Ware, the duo has already combined for more sacks than 14 NFL teams have combined. Think about that. And as weakside linebacker, Brandon Marshall, said tonight on Denver's 104.3 the FAN, "This defense is just (now) starting to gel."
And it's showing in the box scores. Ware and Miller went on record, early on in the off-season, saying that their goal is to be the greatest pass rushing duo in the history of the game. With 15 sacks combined, through 6 games, they're off to a prolific start.
With This Offense, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Pardon my terrible grammar there but you get the point. The Broncos offense is leading the NFL in points per game, averaging 31.5. When they;ve reached the redzone, they have scored a touchdown on a whopping 78.95% of their trips. That's factoring in having played some of the league's best defenses, like Seattle, Arizona, and San Francisco, to say nothing of Indianapolis, Kansas City and the New York Jets.
And the scary thing is, like the defense, they're only now just starting to gel, as we've seen over the last two weeks. The emergence of Ronnie Hillman has added an explosive arrow to their quiver, making them almost impossible to defend. With Manning running the show, and the elite-level players they have at the skill positions, they were already a force to be reckoned with.
Now, they're operating in a rhythm and as we've seen, NFL defenses don't have an answer for them. Like we talked about last week, you run the ball to set up the pass. Under Manning and offensive coordinator, Adam Gase, the Broncos have been a pass-first offense, but Hillman and the resurgent running game, have forced defenses to defend both aspects of their attack and it's paying huge dividends. This offense has only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish.