Chad Jensen is the editor of Mile High Huddle here on Scout. We asked him a few questions about the Broncos as they prepare to play the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday.
Rick: Thanks for your time Chad, I have to ask you about T.J. Ward of course. With the Browns T.J. was a tremendous run defender and not a very good cover man. Has he improved in coverage and would you call him a leader on that defense?
Chad: T.J. Ward is absolutely an emotional leader on the Denver defense. He provides a spark that is absent when he's not on the field. As a run defender, he's like having an extra linebacker on the field. As a blitz-artist, there isn't a better defensive back in the league. As a cover man? He's limited.
Ward can hold his own in zone coverage but when asked to match up one-on-one with big-bodied, athletic tight ends, he becomes a liability. If Ward is split wide, isolated with a pass-catching tight end, almost always the opposing quarterback will target him.
But there are ways to scheme around Ward's weakness. He has been a difference maker since arriving in 2014 and with Wade Phillips in Denver, Ward said last week, "He's using me exactly how I wish to be used." Ward's fit in Phillips' scheme is coming out in the wash. He has 26 combined tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles (through four games—suspended Week 1).
Rick: It is kind of glaring to compare stat lines between Manning and McCown. The passing yardage is nearly identical, and they both have 6 touchdowns. McCown however basically missed two games with his concussion.
The Broncos are winning with defense and a solid running game (which is what the Browns were trying to do this season). Is there a correlation between Elway building this team around Manning and the way that Elway's teams were constructed to win when he was at the end of his career?
Chad: There's absolutely a correlation. John Elway is basically trying to rebuild the Broncos in the image of their late '90s counterparts who won back-to-back Super Bowls. He knows he can't put it all on Peyton Manning to bring home another Lombardi.
Elway has been down the road himself as a player and with Manning in 2013. He has constructed the Broncos roster in a way that promotes balance in all three phases. The Broncos have many of the pieces already. Top-shelf, veteran QB. Shutdown defense. Skill position stars. What they're missing is a running game and a consistent O-line.
The Broncos returned just one starter to the O-line in 2015—RG Louis Vasquez. Naturally, fans expected the unit to go through some growing pains, but five weeks into the regular season, there hasn't been much light at the end of the tunnel. The Broncos have rushed for more than 70 yards just once this season.
Manning is completely immobile, so if the pass rush gets there, Manning will self-sack. He'll just maddeningly drop to the turf. He's been sacked this year at a higher rate than he ever has in Denver. Gary Kubiak, in Elway's estimation, was the missing link.
Kubiak came in and revitalized the locker room, providing what many players have described as almost a second wind. He and Manning are still striving to find a symbiotic relationship between the zone blocking scheme and the Manning offense. It's a work in progress.
Rick: Denver is second in points allowed per game, first in takeaways. Would you consider them a gambling defense? Do they blitz often? Are they able to create pressure without blitzes?
Chad: Phillips will blitz in the clutch. It's one thing I've really enjoyed about watching him scheme. He's not afraid to bring the heat when the chips are down.
Fortunately for him, he doesn't have to blitz all that often with outside linebackers like DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, who've combined for 11.5 sacks already. The Broncos lead the NFL in sacks with 22. That is mainly due to Phillips' approach to coaching, not so much about blitzing.
Rick: Finally, with Haslam's roots in Tennessee, for whatever reason fans seem to think that he will try whatever he can to bring Manning to the organization when he retires. Does this seem even remotely possible?
Chad: I've heard nothing on the matter. It's certainly possible, but at this time, I have a hard time seeing it happen.