Their offensive coaches spent September making alterations to appease their stars.
Adrian Peterson is running out of the I formation again — and looks like Adrian Peterson again. Stiff-arming linebackers. Racing past safeties. Celebrating in the end zone.
Peyton Manning isn’t lining up under center so much — and he looks once again like Peyton Manning. Avoiding sacks. Going deep. Throwing TD passes and catching Brett Favre on career lists.
Both the Denver Broncos (3-0) and Minnesota Vikings (2-1) still have work to do. The Broncos’ offense is 30th in the NFL and the Vikings are 29th, but their game Sunday is the only Week 4 matchup pitting teams with winning records.
So, they’re doing something right, and not just on defense.
Peterson is coming off a 126-yard performance against San Diego that included two touchdowns, his first scores since Nov. 24, 2013.
“I feel like I’m feeling pretty good right now,” said Peterson, who insists he’s still the league’s best running back at 30, even after missing essentially all of last season when fallout from the child abuse case against him kept him out of all but one game.
No arguments from the Broncos.
Peterson had a quiet opener, then ran for a combined 260 yards the last two weeks.
Manning is coming off a 324-yard performance at Detroit, his highest output since Nov. 16, 2014.
He quoted one of his favorite films this week when asked about two of his passes that night.
“I feel like we’re getting so desperate here,” Manning said. “I had these good throws. It almost reminds me of the Bad News Bears where Buttermaker was trying to encourage his team. They’re really, really bad. And he asked whoever kept the stats, (Alfred Ogilvie), ‘Come on guys, give them the stats. Look on the bright side: two of our runners have almost reached first base and we did hit 17 foul balls. That’s the spirit.’
“Well, two good throws in there, I’ll take it.”
Other things to keep an eye on Sunday when the Vikings make their first visit to Denver since Peterson’s rookie year in 2007:
GROUNDED VIKINGS: This probably won’t be the game for the Broncos to get their sputtering running game going. After being gashed at San Francisco by Carlos Hyde in the opener, the Vikings have toughened up. They’ve allowed an average of 56 yards rushing over the last two games to Detroit and San Diego, a performance stout enough to thrust them into third best in the league rankings.
O-LINE TURNSTILE: The Broncos’ O-line troubles continue with rookie LT Ty Sambrailo nursing an injured left shoulder. That prompted Denver to sign Tyler Polumbus, who was released by Washington on Tuesday. Left guard Evan Mathis (hamstring) missed practice time, and RT Ryan Harris moved over to the left side, with Michael Schofield practicing on the right side during the week.
BURNING BRIDGES: Peterson praised Teddy Bridgewater’s poise and took a shot at his former QB Christian Ponder this week. Of Bridgewater, he said: “There’s not much that rattles him. I feel that’s big for any player, but especially a young quarterback. That right there is huge. I can say this: If Christian Ponder had had that same poise, he would probably still be here playing.”
DENVER’S DEFENSE: The Broncos own the league’s No. 1 ranked defense thanks to 10 takeaways and the waves of pass-rushers led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, the only player in the league who has a sack in all three games. They ranked sixth against the run, but this is one game where they might really miss suspended DE Derek Wolfe. “Once Derek Wolfe comes back, the run game is pretty much over,” CB Chris Harris Jr. said. Wolfe returns Monday.
I KNEW IT: Detroit wide receiver Golden Tate complained this week that the Lions are so predictable on offense that defenders, including Denver’s, have told him this year they knew what play was coming. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said every team has tendencies and film study helps, but the key is anticipating, not guessing.
For example, “I anticipate this week when 28’s in the backfield, they’re going to give him the ball,” Phillips deadpanned. “After the game, our guys are going to say, ‘Hey, we knew (Peterson) was going to run the ball.’”