Wins in the National Football league are hard to come by. Winning on the road is especially difficult. And yet, for the second-straight week, the Denver Broncos have managed to steal one in the opposition's house.
The Broncos knocked off the Detroit Lions 24-12 under the bright lights of Sunday Night Football. Bill Parcells once said that "you are what your record says you are", but the Lions are a vastly better team than their 0-3 record would suggest.
The Broncos got out to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter and never relinquished it, but the Lions found a way to hang around, due in large part to Matthew Stafford's savvy and the Broncos inability to run the football.
However, in the final minutes of the game, protecting a five-point lead, the flood-gates opened for the Broncos and they ended up winning by two scores. Let's get to the key takeaways from the game.
Aqib Talib Bends But Doesn't Break vs. Megatron
Aqib Talib is playing with great confidence and explosion. Through two games, he already has two interceptions. His defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is reciprocating that confidence. Talib was matched up with All-World receiver Calvin Johnson one-on-one most of the night, including in the redzone.
A fell assignment for any NFL cornerback to undertake.
Although Talib relinquished seven receptions on nine targets, he limited Johnson to just 2.8 yards after the catch. It was clear from Talib and Phillips' approach to Johnson that although they were going to play on an island, the key was to limit the big play.
Mostly playing off-man coverage, Talib was willing to let Stafford and Johnson dink and dunk, but the big play wasn't going to happen. And it didn't.
In the redzone, Stafford lobbed up one of his famous jump balls to the 6-foot-5 Johnson, but the 6-foot-1 Talib forced the incompletion. He was called for pass interference, but Johnson was kept out of pay-dirt. Whatever it takes.
Johnson finished the night with 8 receptions (on 13 targets) for just 77 yards. And when the chips were down and the Broncos were protecting their lead in the second half, Johnson only managed three receptions. Thank Talib for that.
The Pro Bowl corner was quoted as saying that covering Johnson one-on-one was "the hardest job in the world". But he pulled it off, with gusto. The Broncos are now officially the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense, allowing just 259 yards per game.
Talib's early performance in this young season is a big reason for that.
Peyton Manning Getting More Comfortable
The Broncos entered last night's game at 2-0, but from the hue and cry throughout much of the fanbase and media, you'd think they were 0-2. While it's true that Peyton Manning had heretofore been less than stellar, the mypoia nationally and in Denver reached ridiculous proportions.
People forget that at 39 years old, Manning was asked to learn a new system and play behind a new, relatively inexperienced offensive line. Losing Pro Bowl tight end and safety valve Julius Thomas likely hurt more than was expected by the Denver front office.
The Broncos offseason was tumultuous. Change was in the air. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, especially when those tricks are hits. As a notorious creature of habit, change doesn't come easy for the five-time MVP.
But he embraced it. Alas, too many cooks ruin the broth. With the Broncos inability to run the football and all the elements and obstacles that have hindered the Broncos offense thus far, it was only a matter of time before Gary Kubiak decided to let Peyton be Peyton.
It started in Week 2 on the road vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. In the second half, trailing the Chiefs, Kubiak handed the reins to Manning and the offense finally managed to get into a rhythm and put points on the board.
Kubiak followed up that approach last night with similar results. Manning looked comfortable. Playing mostly out of the pistol or shotgun, he was able to set his feet and put the full torque and power of his lower body into his throws.
He had a few impressive throws down-field, including the 45-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas and a 34-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders. Perhaps his best throw of the night came on an incompletion, where he fired a deep out on the right sideline to Sanders.
Although it was initially ruled complete, the play was challenged and overturned when replay showed Sanders bobbled it slightly going out of bounds. Nevertheless, the ball was thrown with power and accuracy. It's a throw most NFL quarterbacks can make with only fleeting success.
Peyton Manning was on the money.
Kubiak made it clear today that the overall shape and scope of the Broncos offense is going to continue to be a work in progress. Get used to that cliche. As dissatisfying as cliches can be, they're cliches because they're true.
But over the last six quarters or so, Manning and the Broncos have improved because of Kubiak's willingness to trust his quarterback and shape the offense to Manning's strengths. Now, if they can only figure out the running game.
The Broncos are the first team in NFL history to go 3-0 to start the season without managing to rush for at least 70 yards in a game. The silver lining is that although Denver only rushed for 41 yards, the O-line played better as a unit. Protection was good and it was obvious that communication was better.
Three-headed Safey Monster
I submit that the Broncos currently have one of the best safety duos in the league, with T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart. If you go beyond the top two and include a team's first three safeties, the Broncos stand alone as the best.
David Bruton has made an impact play in each of the Broncos first three games. He started at strong safety in place of the suspended Ward in Week 1 and played a tremendous game.
Last night, he picked off Matthew Stafford in one of the most impressive interceptions of this young season, leading to the Broncos third offensive touchdown of the night on the ensuing drive, which iced the game.
With 120 snaps under his belt thus far, he has notched 11 combined tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. His level of play has allowed Wade Phillips the opportunity to be more creative with his schemes, while keeping Ward fresh. Kubiak talked about Bruton's impressive 2015 performance today.
“You go back to opening week and how he’s played and then the play he makes last night," Kubiak said. "He’s a great example of a pro who continues to stay the course and battle and thinks of himself as a starter and not just a special teams player. It has really showed up. We’re only three weeks deep and he has been a factor in every week. [I’m] just very proud of David.”
As one of the Broncos leaders in the community, it's great to see David Bruton getting his due. He remains committed to making the most out of his opportunities to play on defense.
“I've been heralded as a special teams guy for years and I can't necessarily downplay it," Bruton said. "I've been here in the league and here with the Broncos for that reason for so long. Having a fresh set of eyes, going out there and competing and still building on what I started last year, it's definitely great. I'm relishing the opportunity and the moments and taking full advantage of any chance that I get.”
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