ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is an odd sort of mix. Right now the Denver Broncos have the league’s leader in touchdown receptions -- tight end Julius Thomas, with five -- quarterback Peyton Manning is tied for second in the league with eight touchdown passes and they are tied for ninth in the league in scoring. They're the only team in the league to have faced three teams that won at least 11 games last season in the opening three weeks.
Yet, the offense still looks out of sorts at times.
After a long look at the game video here are some thoughts on the Broncos' offense:
Having seen wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in practice/games since he was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, it’s clear his left foot has bothered him at least some in over the first three weeks of the season. The Broncos haven’t said much, and Thomas has practiced and played through it, but it’s affecting Thomas’ routes at times in that he hasn’t had his traditional sharpness in and out of his breaks and he lacks his usual explosiveness overall. That’s especially true on plays where he has planted his left foot at the top of the route. He has four drops this year in three games and has missed out on some plays as well simply because he could not separate from defensive backs who ordinarily wouldn’t stay with him. The early Week 4 bye may be inconvenient for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, but it comes at a good time for Thomas.
The Broncos made at least some concessions to the noise in CenturyLink Field, including silent counts and plenty of hand signals to the receivers. But they also limited the motion in the offense, curtailing most of the pre-snap movement they usually use to move players around the formation. Against the Seahawks the Broncos most often lined up and kept the players where they were. It didn’t give quarterback Peyton Manning some of the coverage tells some motion can reveal, but it allowed the Broncos to play it cleanly for the most part. They had just one false start penalty in the game -- guard Orlando Franklin in the third quarter.
It has been a bit of an issue already this season -- offensive coordinator Adam Gase raised the topic of “negative plays’’ last week -- and it didn’t get any better against the aggressive, physical Seahawks. In fact the Broncos had 10 plays go for no gain or negative yardage in the overtime loss -- eight runs and two receptions -- which was the team’s regular-season high since they had 11 such plays last December against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Seahawks pounded at the middle of the Broncos offensive front, working the gaps between the guards and the center with regularity (the A gaps), especially when the Broncos tried a stretch run when Seattle often got a defensive lineman in between center Manny Ramirez and guards Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin. Montee Ball already has 12 carries this season for no gain or negative yardage. That’s 24.5 percent of his total.
Emmanuel Sanders has consistently shown why the Broncos were so intent on reeling him in during free agency. He has played plenty in the slot when Wes Welker missed two games as a result of a suspension, lined up outside as well. He leads the team in catches (25), yards (334) and 100-yard games (two). But for a snapshot as to why the Broncos wanted to add him to the offense, simply go to his first catch Sunday – a 12-yard reception with Seahawks Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman. With a big reach and top tier diagnostic ability to know the route that’s coming, Sherman has made a living re-routing receivers in the 5-yard contact zone. But Sanders’ quickness prevented Sherman from getting both hands on the receiver and Sanders got the release he needed to make the catch.
The Broncos had planned to give the Seahawks a steady diet of two-tight end looks in the game, but after Virgil Green left in the first half with a concussion the Broncos had to adjust. As a result they had three wide receivers in the formation with one tight end for 43 snaps in the game (penalty snaps included) with 27 of those coming in the second half.