How do you win down the stretch? What is "playoff football"? You run the ball with authority and play physical, smothering defense. Complimentary football. That's exactly what the Denver Broncos did last night, as they dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium 29-16; in their house.
Under the bright lights and scrutiny of national television, the Broncos rushed for more than 200 yards and sacked Alex Smith 6 times. Special teams also chipped in with 5 field goals, a successful fake punt and a fumble recovry. That's how it's done.
If history is the great teacher, then it looks like John Fox finally paid heed to the way his boss, John Elway, ended his career as a back-to-back Super Bowl Champion. Elway didn't do it alone though. The solo approach, where he was expected to carry the team, was tried in the late '80s, and the result were three Super Blowouts.
When Mike Shanahan joined the Broncos in 1995, he set about putting pieces around Elway and built a championship-caliber defense. Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Ed McCaffrey, and Terrell Davis, were all stars in their own right, and they served to take the pressure off of Elway's shoulders alone.
Elway knows what it takes to win it all. He has the blueprint and shiny reminders that don his finger. In 2013, despite the high-flying success of Peyton Manning and the Broncos record-setting offense, they were exposed in the Super Bowl and embarrassed.
Balance and physicality. That's what it takes to win it all, on the offensive side of the ball. And for the second-straight week, the Broncos fit that mold. When they ran the ball, they did it effectively and wore down the defense, imposing their will.
When they chose to throw it, they gashed a gassed opposition who couldn't cypher what was coming next. Couple that with a swarming, stifling defense and it was a beautiful thing to behold. The Broncos are playing the right kind of football at precisely the right time.
In this effort, some players stood out, while others under-performed. Let's take a look at the Broncos trajectories. All grades and metrics are via ProFootballFocus. (Subscription Required)
RB C.J. Anderson +4.6
Over the last 4 weeks, no player has more yards from scrimmage than Anderson's 658. He's also scored 3 total touchdowns, including last night's reception that saw him burn Chiefs LB, Justin Houston.
Anderson has been the missing ingredient the Broncos have been searching for. And he's been under their nose the entire time. Last night, NBC's Cris Collinsworth questioned what the team would do once Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman return from injury. Rest assured, this is Anderson's job moving forward, period. Ball and Hillman will only see the field in relief of him.
TE Jacob Tamme -0.8
Tamme has not been the steady hand that he was for Manning in 2012 and 2013. Last season, on the road vs the New England Patriots, the Broncos were without Julius Thomas. Tamme was relied upon to carry the load and he put on tape a tough, gritty performance, in frigid temperatures and hostile environs.
By and large, when the Broncos have called on Tamme, he has answered. However, this year, he hasn't been himself. Last night, he was only targeted twice. He caught one of them for 4 yards, but on the other, he dropped a pass in the endzone that should have been a TD. Manning led him on the pass a little, but it hit Tamme in the hands. Normally, that would have been a sure-fire TD.
LG Orlando Franklin +3.7
Franklin, along with his brothers on the offensive line, has been much maligned of late. Franklin, in particular, has earned the wrath of MHH. But over the last two weeks, not only has the O-line improved dramatically, but Franklin has stood out.
Last night, he was a force in the run game and the team's highest rated lineman via PFF. In pass protection, he was the only player on the line to not allow either a sack, hurry, or hit
Throughout the season, Franklin has endured the fire from the fans and media like a pro. He has consistently said that the cohesion will come and that he's known all along that he and his brothers were capable of being dominant. We're finally seeing that faith translated to works on the field.
QB Peyton Manning -1.3
It's not often that Manning makes it into the "down" column here, but last night, he earned it. He started off the game hot, tossing two first quarter TDs. But as the game wore on, Manning slowly unraveled.
When the game started, it was 23 degrees out and the wind was blowing. But I don't buy the "Manning and Cold Weather" narrative. More than anything, I feel that Justin Houston began to get into Manning's wheelhouse a bit and it left him unsettled.
On the night, Manning went 17-of-34 for 179 yards and 2 TDs. He didn't throw any interceptions, but he should have. The Chiefs dropped two off-target throws that should have been an INT. Manning also fumbled on the only Chiefs sack of the night (Houston), which Kansas City recovered.
Completing only 50% of his passes is a rare thing for Manning. Especially in the second half, his throws were errant and his decision making was questionable, to say the least. But don't worry. Manning will bounce back.
DE DeMarcus Ware +1.5
Ware played his most complete game as a Bronco last night. He was a dominant force and the Chiefs had no answer for him. Before the game, we felt that he had a juicy matchup vs LT, Eric Fisher. Ware proved us right, notching a sack, a QB hit and 2 hurries.
He was also highly disruptive in the run game, accounting for 2 tackles for a loss. PFF also credited him with 3 stops. Here's how they define a "stop":
"The number of solo defensive tackles made which constitute an offensive failure (including sacks)"
He also picked off a pass, after Terrance Knighton deflected it at the line of scrimmage. Overall, Ware was a nightmare for the Chiefs, which is precisely why John Elway signed him to a 3-year $30M contract.
CB Tony Carter -1.2
Before last night, Carter had only seen 35 defensive snaps. So, for a player with no trajectory, it might seem cruel to classify his performance last night in the "down" column, but his play was bad enough to justify it.
Carter was activated due to injuries to Aqib Talib and Kayvon Webster, neither of whom suited up last night. As usual, Carter lived dangerously, narrowly avoiding a pass interference penalty that should have been called.
He also surrendered a completion to Jamaal Charles out of the backfield and to add insult to injury, failed to wrap up on the play, missing the tackle, which resulted in a TD. On the night, he was targeted a total of 5 times, relinquishing 3 completions for 34 yards. Not a good night for "Sticky Man".