ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Broncos know the defensive numbers for the Tennessee Titans. They know 25 of the Titans’ 31 sacks this season have come from the defense’s front four and they know opposing offenses have a league-low eight touchdown passes against Tennessee in 12 games.
But a look at how things have gone for the Titans on defense as well as a glance at the Broncos’ injury report, and it looks like a timely return to the lineup for Denver tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas has missed the past two games with a right knee injury.
And in those games the Patriots' and Chiefs' defenses were able to pay more attention to Wes Welker in the middle of the field and Demaryius Thomas on the outside because of Julius Thomas’ absence. With Thomas expected back, however, the Titans will have some difficult choices to make with their linebackers and safeties in coverage.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will move the ball around, as the Broncos’ passing numbers show, so he’s always in search of the one-on-one matchup he can exploit. And for the Titans, despite their proficiency in defending the pass for much of the season, opposing running backs and tight ends have found room to work.
Chargers running back Danny Woodhead had seven receptions against the Titans earlier this season, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch had four for 78 yards, Rams running back Zac Stacy had six catches for 51 yards and Colts tight end Coby Fleener had 107 yards receiving against the Titans three weeks ago to go with 50 yards this past Sunday.
So, given all of that it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t at least try to get running back Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas matched up against the Titans linebackers on plenty of snaps. Thomas’ impact on the offense has been well documented and he only needs one more touchdown catch to reach 11 and set a new single-season franchise record at the position.
Moreno, too, has been the back of choice for most of the season because of how hard he runs with the ball as well as the fact that he has not lost a fumble since Week 2 of the 2012 season. But he is also the most reliable back the Broncos have in pass protection and the best receiver of the group as well.
Moreno can make plays in the passing game, both facing the quarterback and can track the ball over this shoulder down the field. For the season he had 42 catches – a single-season career high – to go with two receiving touchdowns. Moreno leads the Broncos in touchdowns overall with nine rushing and the two receiving.
When the Broncos do put him in the pass pattern, that pulls a linebacker or safety away from somebody else and Manning then makes the pick. The Broncos have five players with at least 40 receptions this season.
Or as offensive coordinator Adam Gase put it this week when asked about Manning's efficient distribution this season; “It seems like every game somebody will focus on one guy over the other and Peyton has done a good job of finding the singled guy. Earlier that’s why Julius was getting so many touches and then teams have tried to take him away when we was still healthy.’’