DETROIT -- The Denver Broncos keep saying they’d like to be diversified on offense.
That they’d like quarterback Peyton Manning to work under center, in the shotgun and in the pistol formation. And, they'd like to have a balanced attack, with the run being a big part of the offense.
And then they get in a game, and in order to protect Manning and move the ball consistently, they have to back Manning out, away from under center. They put him in the shotgun or in the pistol with three wide receivers in the formation to let Manning wing it around to see if that helps push-start their offense as they continue to ride their defense's efforts.
And the offense they showed a was bit of a compromise between what coach Gary Kubiak wants -- a run game that doesn't tip its hand with a back to one side or the other of the quarterback in the shotgun -- and what Manning is comfortable with before the snap. It was choppy at times, productive at others, and decidedly pass-heavy, but Manning finished with his first 300-yard passing game of the season and the Broncos are 3-0 even as they try to work it all out.
What it means: The Broncos’ chuck-it-around look still isn't always pretty, but it was punctuated by Manning’s toss to Demaryius Thomas with just five seconds remaining in the first half. On a fourth-and-1, Manning saw Thomas was single-covered as the only receiver on the right side of the formation and put the ball up where only Thomas could get it. Thomas shed Lions cornerback Darius Slay and finished off the play for a touchdown that gave the Broncos a 14-12 lead. It was a key play that pushed the Broncos to a 3-0 start.
What were they thinking? Cue the single coverage on Thomas to the open side of the formation. Slay was matched with no deep help and it wasn’t disguised in the least. And say what you want about Manning’s arm strength or the Broncos’ offense that is a matchup Manning will always take a swing at.
One reason to get excited: The Broncos' defense is certainly prime-time worthy. By the end of the third quarter, the Lions had gained just 177 total yards, a total that included just 25 yards rushing. They consistently pressured Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, intercepted him once and forced a key fourth-quarter fumble with a hit on Stafford with just more than 10 minutes to play in the game.
One reason to panic: The Broncos tossed aside any notion of putting Manning under center with the kind of beefed-up run game to protect him. The Broncos didn’t put Manning under center for a single snap in the first three quarters and they still couldn’t crank up the run game against the Lions’ 29th-ranked run defense. The Broncos had 18 yards rushing at halftime, just 29 yards rushing by the end of the third quarter.
Fantasy watch: Until the Broncos prove they will both stay committed to the run game, it might be more than wise the stay away from their backs. Right now they have not found the happy medium of getting the offense moving the formation they use the most -- three wide receivers -- and running the ball out of that with any effectiveness.
Ouch: Running back C.J. Anderson briefly left the game in the first half after taking a big hit in the first quarter. Anderson was evaluated for a concussion, but cleared to return to the game and he was back in the lineup before halftime. Running back Juwan Thompson was also helped from the field in the second quarter with a neck injury and did not return.
Fullbacks in short supply: Because James Casey was a game-day inactive, the Broncos went into Sunday night’s game with just two players -- running back Juwan Thompson and tight end Virgil Green -- who have seen any time as the lead back in a two-back set. However, Thompson left the game in the second quarter with a neck injury and did not return. And while Denver's intentions to lean heavily to a three-wide receiver set could be seen once Casey was not in uniform for the game, Thompson’s injury limited the Broncos’ ability to beef up the formation as the game wore on.
Flag days: After having three unnecessary roughness penalties to go with a roughing the passer penalty in the win in Kansas City -- DeMarcus Ware and Malik Jackson were each fined because of hits against the Chiefs -- the Broncos were flagged two more times Sunday night for hits on the quarterback. Linebacker Von Miller was flagged for roughing the passer in the first quarter for a hit on Stafford and nose tackle Sylvester Williams was penalized for unnecessary roughness for a hit on Stafford in the third quarter. The Broncos will likely dispute the call against Williams, as he appeared to try to stop as Stafford slid at his feet.