Denver Broncos Rewind: Offense

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- What a difference two games, 80 rushing attempts and one potential breakout running back can make for the Denver Broncos.

In their last two games, the Broncos have pounded the ball for 201 and 214 rushing yards in two victories; C.J. Anderson has accounted for 167 and 168 rushing yards in those two games; and the Broncos have gone from 27th in the league in rushing at 89.9 yards per game to 18th at 109.5 yards per game.

Broncos head coach John Fox said it’s a product of "you get what you emphasize" and just part of making in-season progress as the jockeying for postseason position begins in earnest over the next four weeks.

“It’s something you build," Fox said. “You’re in a journey and we’re not at the end of the trip yet. We’re making progress, and that is what you’re trying to get accomplished. You don’t want to get too far, you don’t want to be looking in the rearview mirror, you just want to try to continue to get better."

And after a long look at the game video from Sunday's 29-16 win in Kansas City, here are some thoughts on the Broncos’ offense:

  • The Broncos are still among the league leaders in false-start penalties -- they’ve had 19 for the season, making them 30th in the league with that total. But in one of the league’s loudest environments, the Broncos played with poise all evening. After not having a false-start penalty in the home win over the Miami Dolphins the week before, the Broncos had just one Sunday night -- wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was flagged with 3:44 left in the game. The Broncos used a huddle more than they have in most games this season, and quarterback Peyton Manning worked under center plenty as well. Manning was under center for the Broncos’ first four plays on offense in the game and for four of 10 plays in the second drive -- the Broncos' two touchdown drives in the game. In one third-quarter drive, Manning was under center for eight plays in a nine-play possession.

  • When the Broncos made three switches in the offensive line four games ago, the key move was taking perhaps their most consistent player up front over the last two seasons -- Louis Vasquez -- and moving from where he was an All-Pro at right guard to what had been the Broncos’ biggest trouble spot, at right tackle. The Broncos have had some significant growing pains since -- i.e., the loss in St. Louis or Justin Houston beating Vasquez to the corner Sunday night to force a fumble from Manning -- but a commitment to the run game over the last two weeks has helped the new look settle in. And Manning’s first touchdown pass was an example of what was in need of repair and what happens if the Broncos make the fixes. On the third-and-5 play from the Chiefs’ 23-yard line, Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton sent two extra rushers at Manning, criss-crossing them into the middle of the formation -- an extra-man look that has consistently created free runs at Manning by defenses this season. This time, however, the Broncos clustered all of the rushers in the middle of the field together, didn’t leave any gaps and pushed the outside guys wide with the available room. Manning then dropped a 23-yard scoring pass in to Thomas.

  • Rod Smith made a career of making the play-to-play transition from pass catcher to run blocker when duty called. And the Broncos’ current crop of receivers, even with their double-take numbers in the passing game, have shown themselves to be willing participants in Anderson’s big days. Against the Chiefs, Emmanuel Sanders got just enough of Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who outweighs Sanders by 95 pounds, on a 16-yard run by Anderson in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, on a 20-yard run by Anderson, both Thomas and Wes Welker were locked on Chiefs defenders as Anderson finished the run.

  • Of all teams, the 1-11 Oakland Raiders have started a trend. The Raiders knocked down four of Manning’s passes in the first half of the Broncos’ win in Oakland Nov. 9. The thinking being that Manning gets rid of the ball so quickly anyway, take some defenders with big reaches, get some push and get the hands up into the passing lanes. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn knocked down three passes the following week, and Houston knocked down two passes Sunday night. The Buffalo Bills have those kind of edge players in Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes to go with power players in the middle with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

  • While there are many things about Manning that frustrate opposing defensive players, a look at his instinct and feel in the pocket was on display on a third-and-5 play from the Chiefs’ 46-yard line early in the second quarter. Hali beat left tackle Ryan Clady around the corner and quickly chased Manning from the pocket. But Manning, never letting his eyes drop from what was going on downfield, moved past the first option on the play -- Thomas -- and kept moving right until he saw Sanders come across the formation. Manning let the ball go just before Hali got to him for what was a 15-yard gain and a first down.