During the Kansas City Chiefs game on Sept 17th, the Denver Broncos played on the road in what was their opponent's home opener. That’s always an intense game. This one was no different. Denver gets another dose of it in Detroit this week.
Kansas City had the No. 2 defense in the league last season and it’s showed. They’re very tough and effective, especially with Derrick Johnson back. Their problems came mostly on offense. They still don’t know how to use Alex Smith, who’s a good, though somewhat limited, QB. He also struggled to stay away from the Broncos pass rush.
Their running game worked well. They took 7-0, 14-0, 17-14 and 24-17 leads. Denver didn’t lead until the last 2 minutes, when a drive from their own 20-yard line ended in a TD. On the Chiefs ensuing drive, Brandon Marshall punched the ball out on Jamaal Charles and Bradley Roby took the fumble in for a go-ahead TD. That gave Denver their only lead of the game, with 27 seconds left. Game over.
There are several issues that the team has needed to address. This is hardly unexpected. Gary Kubiak is a talented coach, who’s teaching a new system to a QB who’s been essentially scripting his own plays and style of play for the last 12 years or so. Peyton Manning’s now struggling to play more under center and to work more with the line on the run.
The problems with the run game were to be expected. You have an offensive line with a left tackle who is a rookie, a left guard who's only been with the team for a few weeks, a center who has played surprisingly well, but who is also a rookie, an injured All-Pro at right guard and a right tackle who has had multiple injury problems.
Ryan Harris also has not been with the team for long. This isn’t a formula for early success. The depth of the team, it’s defense and the up-step in special teams, does offer such an option. It’s getting through the toughest part that has to be negotiated. That means figuring out how to handle the offensive issues. The defense permitted them to be 2-0.
Manning has struggled with his receivers. Cody Latimer was the best blocking wide receiver in the draft two years ago, but he's struggling to catch a pass. Demaryius Thomas came on to collect eight receptions for 116 yards, but needed 14 targets to get there.
Manning and Thomas missed a lot of time in practice, due to contractual issues. Emmanuel Sanders missed much of training camp with a bad hamstring. Manning hasn't learned Owen Daniels' timing yet. James Casey has been missing in action. Generally, Virgil Green has been an effective tight end.
Do I expect these problems to resolve with time? For the most part, yes. Every coach knows that a great deal of the effectiveness of the offensive line is in communication and in the trust that you know what that guy next to you is going to do.
Achieving that is a matter of time, experience, and repetitive practice. There hasn't been time to do that yet, and people should get over expecting that it should be seamless. It's easier to point fingers than it is to accept that it's going to take time for this group to meld.
The running game relies on the effectiveness of the offensive line. As several of the players have discussed, you don't get much in the way of yardage when you're hit five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
C.J. Anderson's power is still getting him some yards. Ronnie Hillman's quickness and lateral moves have made him a more productive back in the Baltimore game. But neither was highly effective in Kansas City.
The biggest concern that I have with the running game is Peyton Manning. He’s the best quarterback in football when throwing out of play-action. If the defense doesn't believe that the team can run, there’s no half-second delay. They can explode through the line without fear. And they have.
Not gaining the yardage itself is a major problem. Having that affecting Manning makes things much worse—it affects the play selection in both the run and pass options.
There’s no question that Manning’s accuracy is currently reduced. That could be age—many will say it is. That question will sort itself out over the course of the season. If he is still having major problems in the second half of the season, age is in the mix of causes.
That isn't this week's problem. The issues of timing with his receivers, getting everyone on the same page and working with the OL to make them more effective aren't problems that can be solved in the short run.
They should, however, visibly reduce every couple of games. If they don’t, we’ll know more of what’s going on. Two games is too miniscule of a sample to base conclusions on.
The defense has stood up in the final minutes in both of the first two games. While it made for the wonderful watching, it's not something they can count on. The defense has been extremely stingy, but they will eventually have a game or two where they play badly.
The offense has to be able to step up and return the favor. So far, the defense has, overall, been exceptional. Kansas City broke a couple of good runs against them, but those have been exceptions.
With attention to the problem areas, this is a team that can rationally compete for the Super Bowl. Kubiak is making decisions that will strengthen the team later in the season.
The receivers need to be on the same page, but they’re very good. Jordan Norwood is essentially replacing Cody Latimer for now. Andre Caldwell keeps doing enough to hold his spot. Sanders and DT are exceptional—there’s been a timing issue with DT, but it didn’t keep him from breaking 100 yards against KC.
I’m convinced that Bennie Fowler will be a very fine player. He’s playing very well on special teams, which is the route to regulation receiving. Cody Latimer has also played tough in that phase.
The Denver youth is developing, just as it should.
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