DETROIT -- In the end, compromise won the day on offense for the Denver Broncos.
And it, coupled with a sack-happy, turnover-causing defense, won another game to move to 3-0 with a 24-12 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday night in Ford Field. Along the way, the Broncos tweaked the offense, found a little more of a groove and everyone got a little more of what they like out of the whole thing.
Quarterback Peyton Manning likes to be in the shotgun, away from center. He likes to see the defense and do his work from there. And even with the Broncos’ early-season choppiness, he has performed the best from there.
Coach Gary Kubiak, on the other hand, thinks a quarterback in the shotgun, with the running back to one side or the other instead of directly behind the quarterback, tips an offense’s hand, and the defense doesn’t have to honor both sides of the formation on a run play.
Still, the Broncos want more points; they want Manning to be comfortable, and they want more from their running game. And the solution, at least for one night, was to put Manning in the pistol formation and, frankly, two out of three ain't bad at all.
“Obviously, I want to get Peyton as comfortable as I possibly can in what we’re trying to do,’’ Kubiak said. “We want to maintain some balance as far formation-wise in what you do. I’m not talking about run-pass, I’m talking about how you operate formationally as a football team. … But I know he was very comfortable [Sunday night], I could tell.’’
He could tell because Manning finished 31-of-42 passing for 324 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. And the Broncos, who had surrendered seven sacks in the first two games of the season combined -- the first time in Manning's career he has been sacked seven times in the first two games -- also protected him better. The Lions sacked Manning just once.
In the pistol, Manning gets what he likes -- he’s away from the center -- and Kubiak gets a little of what he likes as well because in the pistol the quarterback is slightly closer to the line of scrimmage so a running back can line up directly behind the quarterback. And by the end of the third quarter, Manning had been in the pistol for 23 snaps.
“It’s something coaches came up with early in the week, something Green Bay did against [the Lions] last year late in the season and had pretty good success with it,’’ Manning said. “I imagine it will be part of the arsenal throughout the season, but will we use it next week, in two weeks? I don’t know, but it was part of the game plan and it gave us some help in protection.’’
The Broncos still are searching in the playbook wilderness to find their run game. With 41 yards on their 19 carries Sunday, they’re 31st in the league in rushing. But no matter, a comfortable Manning is a productive Manning, and the feeling is the run game can remain a work in progress as the Broncos score touchdowns along the way.
Manning was 6-of-7 passing on the Broncos' first touchdown drive of the game in which he hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on a 45-yard jump ball that Thomas turned into a catch-and-run touchdown on a fourth-and-1 play with five seconds left in the first half. It was the longest play the Broncos have had on offense this season. Manning moved in the pocket when he had to, completing passes to nine different players.
“We made some progress tonight, thought we found some plays that we were calling over and over again that were working,’’ Manning said. “We’re finding out some plays that everybody seems to play fast when we call those particular plays. I think it just takes some games to figure out what those plays are. … Thought we made some improvement on some things.’’
It wasn’t always smooth or the high-speed race for touchdowns folks have gotten used to over the past three seasons. But it was progress.
And with a defensive muscle the Broncos have shown in their first three games, any progress on offense is a good thing.