ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – There is plenty of hand-wringing to go around among the Denver Broncos’ faithful.
Sure, the team is 3-0, and sure, the defense is ranked No. 1 in the league. And while that would have been more than enough to sustain folks five short years ago, Peyton Manning and the team’s offense is usually the mood ring for its fan base.
With injuries and uncertainty in the offensive line and a limping run game, the Broncos still are the proverbial work in progress when they have the ball, but they also have lost just two regular-season home games since Manning signed with the team in 2012.
So, with all of that in mind, here’s a little W2W4 in Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings at Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
Handle the pressure: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a respected tactician on defense – Manning called him “in my opinion, is a founder of kind of the type of defense that he runs’’ – and Zimmer will certainly test the Broncos’ lineup up front. Defensive end Everson Griffen is the go-to guy in the pass rush, but Zimmer always has been adept at finding the weak spots as well as noticing the situations when opposing offensive lines don't communicate well. His calling card is a variety of different pressures out of what looks like the same formation, so it can be difficult for a quarterback to figure out where the rushers are coming from. And his players routinely play hard and force the issue. The Broncos will have to move the ball quickly to get it out and be aware for the delayed extra rusher coming off the ball.
The third phase: Former Broncos special teams coach Mike Priefer now has the same job with the Vikings and the Vikings have been one of the league’s best on special teams in the season’s early going. Vikings opponents have had the league’s worst field position following a punt, with an average drive start at their own 13-yard line. The Vikings’ offense also has had the league’s second-best average starting field position, at the 35-yard line. The Broncos blocked an extra point in Detroit this past Sunday and their hope is Emmanuel Sanders will pop one as a punt returner as they move through the season and Sanders settles in a little more.
Keep the heat on: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked just six times this season, but none of the three teams he has faced this season (San Francisco, Detroit, San Diego) can bring the kind of pressure that the Broncos have shown this season. Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to use plenty of motion and screen passes to force defenses to dial back a bit. Bridgewater is accurate and poised, but doesn’t have a power arm and while he would prefer to work from the pocket, he will throw on the move when needed. So the Broncos can’t get too deep into the backfield with their rush lanes or Bridgewater will escape. The Vikings have deep speed in the formation with Mike Wallace, but it’s tight end Kyle Rudolph who leads the team in targets (19) and is tied, with Wallace, for the team lead in receptions (12).
Swarm: Vikings running back Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. He has power at the point of attack and speed to finish things off when he finds room to work. And the Broncos know Peterson is going to get the ball plenty along the way. Or as defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put it this week when talking about getting players to know what the opposing offense is going to do: “Hey, it's not guessing what they do; it's anticipating what they're going to do. That's the difference. If you start guessing on things, you get in trouble. If you anticipate -- like I anticipate this week when 28 (Peterson) is in the backfield, they're going to give him the ball. That's kind of the way it is. After our game, our guys are going to say, 'Hey, we knew he was going to run the ball.’" The Broncos have surrendered just four run plays in three games longer than 10 yards – all four by Jamaal Charles in Week 2. They have to get multiple players to the ball every time Peterson has it. The Vikings have been most productive when they get Peterson to the edge, with average gains of 7.3 yards per carry around the right end, 8.7 yards per carry around left end and 5.5 yards per carry off left tackle.