What we witnessed Sunday night from the Denver Broncos was both a great and terrible sight to behold. It was great for the fans and terrible for the opponent.
For the last six weeks, we've been waiting for this offense to bust out of their collective funk and play up to their talent level. The anxiety bubble, ballooned up from watching Peyton Manning and the offense do just enough to win, finally burst last night, flooding the fanbase with Mile High optimism.
With all of the distractions and hype of two undefeated teams meeting on national television, combined with the emotion and spectacle of honoring owner Pat Bowlen at halftime, there was a concern that the moment might be too big for the Broncos.
But after drubbing the Green Bay Packers 29-10, in all three phases, the Broncos proved that they're perfectly comfortable on the biggest of stages.
“I was concerned," head coach Gary Kubiak said after the game. "There were a lot of things going on. I did preach to the players the other week that there was a lot of distractions, but they're all for the right reasons...that's the way that I approached it. I asked them to embrace that environment.”
There's so much to be gleaned from Sunday night's game—I'm still processing much of it. But here are the top three observations I took away from the Broncos big win.
Bye Week Blues? More Like Bye Week Blitzkrieg
Despite the fact that the Broncos entered their Week 7 bye at 6-0, there was a serious pall hanging over their body of work. There was a laundry list of issues plaguing this team.
Manning's falling apart. He's regressing. Kubiak and Manning are incompatible. The O-line is a shambles. They can't close out drives with touchdowns. Receivers are dropping balls. The list went on and on.
The only thing that was really going right for the Broncos was the defense—and the kicker, Brandon McManus. It was the defense that contributed most to their undefeated start.
I was interested to see what type of adjustments Kubiak and Manning would make over the bye. How would they tweak the offense, after taking the time to self-scout and really flesh out their shortcomings?
Their first opportunity to show how they improved post-bye revealed what had been a slumbering juggernaut.
500 total yards. 340 passing yards. 160 rushing yards. Three rushing touchdowns. Zero sacks allowed. 24 first downs. 67 percent redzone efficiency. 50 percent third down efficiency.
And the Broncos won the time of possession battle 33:27 to 26:33—one of the keys to beating Aaron Rodgers.
At every level, the Broncos dominated on offense Sunday night. After the game, Manning talked a little about what adjustments the Broncos made over the bye and how that translated to their 29-10 victory.
“Execution was better," he said. "We studied some things during the bye week, and I think we applied some of those things tonight. It doesn't guarantee the rest of the season, but I thought we did focus on some things that we did well in the first six games, maybe unlearned a couple of things you weren't doing quite as well and then added a couple things. I thought we applied the bye week.”
Manning and Kubiak can talk about what adjustments they made over the bye until they're blue in the face, but at the end of the day, the reason the Broncos dropped 500 yards and 27 points on the Packers first-ranked scoring defense was because they executed.
Gary Kubiak's blueprint for the 2015 Broncos takes inspiration from the back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams of the 1997 and 1998 squads he was a part of. It's a work in progress but they're getting closer to it.
“The thing that I've said all along is that I paint a vision of what I think we can become," Kubiak said Sunday. "We have to keep going. We have a long way to go, but I see the work. I think that we're settling down with some of the things that we're doing. If we just stay healthy. 18 [QB Peyton Manning] and I work pretty well...we need to stay the course and keep working.”
As Manning said, there's no guarantee the Broncos offensive success last night will translate to the rest of the season, or even to next week. But it's a huge step in the right direction.
If they can sustain it, no team in the National Football League will want to face the Denver Broncos come January.
Hats Off To Wade Phillips and The Denver D
I don't think anyone expected the Broncos defense, even as vaunted as they are, to completely shut down Aaron Rodgers like they did Sunday night.
It was a masterful performance—from Wade Phillips' game-plan—to the defensive players themselves. They limited Rodgers to the lowest output of his career—77 yards passing and a quarterback rating of just 69.7.
They were able to walk the razor's edge of applying consistent pressure, while keeping Rodgers in the pocket—no easy feat. And the coverage in the Broncos secondary was outstanding.
As cornerback Aqib Talib said, the Broncos knew they were going to have to cover the Packers receivers twice. Once on the designed route, and again when the play broke down and Rodgers would try to create on the fly.
When you subtract the yards Rodgers lost on his three sacks, the Broncos held Green Bay to 50 yards passing. Randall Cobb caught six balls.....for 27 yards. That's due in large part to Chris Harris, Jr.
“We gave up 50 yards," Harris said Sunday post-game. "Any time you do that to any opponent, but that’s Aaron Rodgers that we did that to. That makes it even greater.”
Phillips threw multiple looks at Rodgers and even had Bradley Roby playing safety on several snaps. Phillips' scheming confounded the two-time NFL MVP.
“It’s a good defense, a really good defense," Rodgers said. "They have a good pass rush and cover well. I think tonight is about what we didn’t do. We didn’t execute in the run game, we didn’t execute in the pass game and we didn’t convert on third down and that’s why we got beat.”
Phillips' defense has let their play speak for them. Sunday night, their performance made a big statement that will be heard league-wide.
The Mental Miscues Continue
As good as the Broncos defense performed on Sunday night, they gave Rodgers even more chances than he and the Packers earned because of penalties committed on third down.
The biggest one came in the second quarter when the Broncos brought the house on third down, forcing Rodgers to throw the ball away. Safety David Bruton was the one who got to the QB, but he hit him high and was flagged for roughing the passer, giving the Packers new life.
Instead of punting on fourth down, the drive was kept alive, resulting in the Packers only touchdown of the night—a two-yard Eddie Lacy plunge.
Initially, I saw it as a ticky-tack call by the refs. But upon further review, Bruton clearly struck Rodgers in the neck area. The refs are going to call that almost every time, but especially when it's Aaron Rodgers. Bruton has to be smarter than that.
It will be impossible for the Broncos to complete eradicate personal foul penalties. It's the price they pay for playing fast and aggressive defense. The hope, however, is that they don't come on clutch plays, like third down against an MVP quarterback.
As good as they are, Wade Phillips' defense still has room for improvement.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.