The Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West division Sunday afternoon with a 22-10 win over the San Diego Chargers. This is the fourth year in row the Broncos have captured their divisional crown and the 12th-straight divisional road win, tying the 1987-1990 San Francisco 49ers for the longest such streak in NFL history.
Yesterday's win against the Chargers wasn’t pretty for many reasons but the Broncos last four games, in which they've gone 4-0, displays the all-around balance they had previously lacked, since Peyton Manning arrived in Denver.
Although Manning (to some) has looked uncomfortable over the last few weeks, Denver has made a big effort to establish the grind-it-out, run-it-down-your-throat game and force the opposing defense to guess how Denver’s new-look offense will beat them.
Since the Broncos lost to the St. Louis Rams in week 11, their offense has averaged 210 yards passing and 164 yards rushing per game. Manning’s passing attempts have significantly lowered, with an average of 27 per game, with the Broncos averaging 37 rushes per game.
Denver has out scored their opponents on average by 8 points per game, through the four-game winning streak. They've accomplished this feat without tight end, Julius Thomas, who has missed three of the four games, while the game he did play (San Diego), he only caught one pass for 30 yards.
Much of the credit for this offensive transformation goes to the Broncos offensive line. The lanes they are opening would be enough for Terrance Knighton to run through. But give Denver’s one-two punch of C.J. Anderson and Juwan Thompson huge credit for their will to always push their way down-field and not go down on first contact.
Along with the great offensive changes, the Broncos defense and special teams performance has been a big part of their recent success. Denver’s defense is starting to peak at the right time. They boast 6 interceptions and 11 sacks in the last four games, giving up just under 20 points per game.
The addition of kicker, Connor Barth, has turned out to be a great addition to the team. He is 11-for-11 on his field goal attempts since joining the Broncos three weeks ago. His clutch kicking has ensured wins against the Kansas City Chiefs, as well as yesterday vs the Chargers, by hitting 5 field goals in each game, respectively. He has tied past Denver kickers, David Treadwell and Rich Karlis, for the most consecutive field goals made to start their Broncos career.
The recent changes in Denver beg the question; does the new-look offense give the Broncos the balance needed to not only make it to Super Bowl XLIX, but win it? I say, yes. Although the fans loved to watch them spread the field with five receivers and throw, throw, throw, elite teams will disguise their defense to stop the pass.
Remember the Super Bowl or week 11 of this season? The playoffs are about being able to run the ball and play defense. Physicality is the common denominator of every Super Bowl champion, almost without fail. Everyone on our planet knows that the Broncos can pass the ball, and now they know they can and will, run the ball, too. Fancy stat sheets don’t mean a thing, if a championship is not achieved.
Only time will tell if the Broncos have what it takes to make another Super Bowl run, but I can honestly say that they are far better equipped to face elite defenses today, than they were just five weeks ago.