ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos opened division play with a focused, well-appointed effort against the Oakland Raiders Monday night. And after a long look at the video from Monday's win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos offense:
There are times when folks think of the two-tight end offense as some kind of muscle-up approach. And it certainly is that, but the Broncos show plenty of creativity there, something that will only increase when Joel Dreessen is ready to return to the lineup. But against the Raiders, and unlike their first two games of the season, the Broncos broke out the two tight end look on their second possession of the game and continued to sprinkle it in liberally as the game wore on. They also showed a wide variety of options as well. The can go to a bigger look, with Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. Green has already shown high-end efficiency as a blocker in the run game and is a good enough receiver that quarterback Peyton Manning trusts him and defenses have to honor him in the pattern. But the Broncos can also go to a “smaller’’ two tight end package that looks almost like a three-wide receiver set when they move Jacob Tamme into the lineup with Thomas. Tamme plays out of the slot much of the time, often where Wes Welker lines up as the third wide receiver. Tamme-Thomas forces a little different reaction from a defense. Where defenses might consider putting a safety or a linebacker on Green, that match-up will favor Tamme. The Broncos even had all three in the game at one point in the third quarter, something they had not shown this season, and the Raiders didn’t have all the gaps covered. Demaryius Thomas was the only wide receiver in the pattern and Manning was still able to get him the ball for a 6-yard gain.
Since the start of the 2012 season, the Broncos running backs have fumbled more than most of their peers and they don’t have the same people doing it. Last season the Broncos running backs lost seven fumbles, including four by Willis McGahee. That tied for the league’s most, with Buffalo, for that position group. The Broncos then tied for the league lead for lost fumbles overall in the preseason, with six (the Jets also had six), with running back Ronnie Hillman having lost two of those. Hillman’s total included one that negated what would have been a touchdown run and was then returned more than 100 yards for a touchdown by the Seahawks. And now three games into the season, the Broncos are one of three teams tied for the league lead with five lost fumbles. And rookie running back Montee Ball has two of those, including one that negated what would have been a touchdown run Monday. Granted, one of the fumbles was linebacker Danny Trevathan's ill-time celebration to close out an interception return against the Ravens. Still, the bottom line, and the video doesn’t lie, is the Broncos too often don’t maintain the old-school three points of contact on the ball. When they do the chances of the defenders ripping the ball out drop exponentially.
Polled three defensive coaches this week who have faced Manning at least 10 times through the years and asked them, beyond the talent of all involved, what makes the Broncos passing attack so difficult to defend. All three mentioned the speed Manning seems to have with the wide receivers and tight ends. They said the Broncos’ passing game is a nuanced affair with a complicated set of routes, and that the Broncos receivers run those nuanced routes well and Manning appears to trust them to be where they are supposed to. They also said the Broncos receivers seem adept at keeping up with Manning’s propensity to want to change the hand signals almost week to week and that they see few miscommunications. Each noticed the Broncos run different routes from what Manning’s team had used against them with the same hand signals. All three predicted if the Broncos run game can be consistent enough to pull the safeties down toward the line of scrimmage a little more, Manning’s already league-leading 9.4 yards per attempt would go up.
For the first time this season the Broncos did not have a rushing attempt for negative yardage against the Raiders. Moreno had two runs for no gain. The Broncos only play for negative yardage in the game was a reception for minus-1 yard by Welker. And center Manny Ramirez was particularly effective in the middle of the field as the Broncos had runs of 7, 6, 6, 19, 12, 8 and 6 yards up the middle.
All 12 of Manning’s touchdown passes have come out of the three-wide formation, including all three Monday night.
For two consecutive games Manning has had 28 completions for 20 or fewer yards. For the year, 76 of Manning’s 89 completions have been for 20 or fewer yards. Manning has simply played with patience, taking what's available against three defenses that were intent on keeping the Broncos from consistently pushing the ball down the field in the passing game. Another sign of patience: Manning has not thrown an interception.