The Denver Broncos won their fourteenth straight divisional road game on Sunday, knocking off the Oakland Raiders 16-10 in a hard-fought battle. Jack Del Rio's Raiders gave their Broncos the best shot.
But it wasn't enough—thanks to an opportunistic defense adept at forcing timely turnovers. The Broncos now sit at 5-0. Let's get to the key takeaways from the game.
Peyton Manning Is Off The Reservation
It's an unnerving feeling—not knowing what to expect from a Peyton Manning-led offense. His 18-year career has been the model of consistency and prolific production.
That held true in his first three seasons with the Broncos. However, for perhaps the first time since his rookie season in 1998, we don't know what we're going to get from Peyton Manning on any given Sunday.
For the second time this season, the Broncos offense failed to find the endzone yesterday. Manning left points on the table when he threw an interception in the endzone directly to Charles Woodson.
You can argue that tight end Owen Daniels was the victim of defensive holding on that play, but it was still a bad decision from Manning—illuminating yet another chink in his armor thus far. He's making poor decisions that are costing his team.
Manning's arm strength hasn't deteriorated. It's his decision making. And a failure to convert redzone trips into touchdowns—something he's been proficient at throughout out his career.
For the last 18 seasons, no quarterback has been better at converting redzone touchdowns than Peyton Manning. But they're elluding him in 2015. It's hard to put a finger on the source of Manning's struggles—the why.
Scheme. Age. Offensive line. Running game—or lack thereof. I've been of the belief that Manning would continue to improve as the season progressed. I'm not as confident that's going to happen as I once was.
He couldn't get it done against a Raiders pass defense giving up an average of 310.5 yards per game—one of the worst in the league. The great ones are almost always able to exploit an opponent's weakness—Manning's been doing it for a long time. He failed miserably on Sunday.
Shaq Barrett, Shane Ray and Elite Depth
DeMarcus Ware left the game with a back injury in the first quarter, never to return. He might be out a couple of weeks. When he went down, Wade Phillips plugged Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray in and the pass rush didn't miss a beat.
Each player notched a sack in Ware's stead. Barrett led the way with 40 snaps, while Ray saw 25. If Ware truly does miss a game or two, expect Barrett to get the start.
General Manager John Elway has done a phenomenal job cultivating what Doc Bear coined as 'elite depth' on the roster. Barrett and Ray are nowhere near the savvy technician that Ware is—that only comes with time and experience.
But they're still impacting the game. Ray was pegged as a top-10 talent in this year's draft. He slipped to the Broncos late in the first round because of off-the-field concerns and a foot injury.
Based on talent and production alone, however, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year was widely considered to be a top-10 talent. And yet, Shaq Barrett is seeing more snaps than he.
That's not so much a knock on Ray, as it is a credit to Barrett. Ray has two sacks on the season and has played well when called upon. But Elway's work in the draft and college free agent (CFA) pool from a year ago is paying dividends in 2015.
Will Shaq Barrett become the next Chris Harris, Jr.? It's way too early to say. But he's making his presence felt on the field and earning the love and respect of his coaches and teammates.
Behind DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos have elite depth.
Veteran Guard Duo Hitting Their Stride
With a +2.3 cumulative Week 5 grade via Pro Football Focus, Mathis now has four straight weeks of positive marks. Vasquez earned the highest grade on offense for the Broncos yesterday, with a +3.4. He's been in the positive in three of the Broncos five games thus far.
It might not seem like these two are playing really well at first glance, because of how dismal the running game has been. But imagine what this offense would look like without their All-Pro guard tandem.
I shudder to think.
The veteran leadership these two bring to the unit is making a difference. It's certainly helped pave the way for a smooth transition as a first-year starter for center Matt Paradis.
Hopefully, the O-line as a unit can improve each week, instead of the maddening one step forward, two steps back approach.
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