They set some records, including the league’s single-season scoring mark at 606 points, put their 13th 30-point game of the year in the 34-14 victory, played defense with a bit of an edge and rested some starters along the way as they had largely earned the AFC’s top seed with a 31-0 halftime lead.
And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the team’s offense:
The Broncos have sported the kind of balance in the passing game all season that gives migraines to defensive coaches everywhere. And quarterback Peyton Manning has powered a record-setting attack with precision and his power of preparation. But add patience to that list and the offense goes to the next level. With the Raiders having deployed early to take away the downfield look and limit opportunities to the Broncos’ outside receivers with Wes Welker out of the lineup as he recovered from a concussion, Manning quickly found a different avenue to move the ball. Four of his first six completions went to running backs. And by the time he had completed nine passes in the game, Manning had five of those to running backs, including a short catch-and-run by Knowshon Moreno and the Broncos had already built a 14-0 lead because of it. The result was a methodical chiseling of the Raiders' defensive plan. The Broncos backs were circulating among linebackers or a defensive lineman or two who had dropped into a passing lane and the Broncos moved the ball 12 plays for 71 yards to score on their first possession. And Manning just kept attacking in a disciplined fashion. His first 15 completions overall were all for 16 or fewer yards, 10 were for 10 or fewer yards. The Broncos didn't punt in the first half and scored on all five of their possessions, that's a lot of scoring virtue in that patience.
That discipline then led to the biggest play of the game. With the Broncos having already chipped away for a 17-0 lead the Raiders safeties had to be mindful of all of the underneath routes. And on a third-and-4, with the Broncos in a two-tight end look, Oakland's Charles Woodson got caught moving toward the line of scrimmage as he tried to jump in on yet another underneath route. That left Raiders with a single safety deep and Brandon Ross had looked far more comfortable playing toward the line of scrimmage than he is in coverage in the two meetings with the Broncos this season. And as Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas approached, Ross remained with his hips square to the line of scrimmage, facing Manning. When Ross did finally try to turn and run with Thomas, it was too late as Thomas was already clear and Manning dropped a perfectly tossed ball in for a 63-yard catch-and-run score. Manning said the play set the tone for the game and it was the payoff for the patience shown before it. Long-time offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt often said it's like chopping a tree down, you do the grunt work to get the glory of finally pushing it over.
Many personnel executives around the league have said throughout the season the Broncos are able to construct so many catch-and-run plays on quick-hit throws because their players have bought into the benefits of blocking downfield for whoever has the ball. The Broncos linemen consistently get down the field for those second-level blocks and the team’s wide receivers and tight ends consistently help make some room as well. Even those players who haven’t been regulars have chipped in. On Moreno’s 7-yard catch-and-run score in the first quarter, wide receiver Andre Caldwell got just enough of a downfield block to get Moreno into the endzone.
The edges of the Broncos’ formation, especially when they open things up and spread things out in either their three-wide receiver set or two tight end set when they put both Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas out wide, will be tested by opposing pass rushers in the postseason. The Raiders’ Lamarr Houston, who wasn’t a defensive end in his career until Allen moved him there to fill a need, made plays from both sides of the formation. Houston beat left tackle Chris Clark with an outside move to force a holding call in the game and later beat Clark with an inside move for the Raiders’ only sack on Manning. Houston also forced right tackle Orlando Franklin into a holding penalty in the third quarter with a nice strike off the ball with a power move to the inside. It's going to be the matchup to watch in pass protection in the coming weeks.
Manning left the game at halftime, which gave backup Brock Osweiler his most playing time of his two seasons in the league. And while he took a sack he shouldn’t of and constructed a field-goal drive in his two quarters of work, he did show he’s learned his lessons well. Seeing much the same looks on defense Manning did early on, Osweiler didn’t force the issue. Eight of his nine completions went to the team’s tight ends. While he said later “I know I can hit some of those deep throws,’’ especially potential long plays to Caldwell and tight end Jacob Tamme. But at this point it’s far better for Osweiler to show the ability to work with what he see from a defense rather than jamming a throw or two in where they shouldn’t go. Manning has always said one of the toughest lessons for a quarterback is “a punt is not always a bad play.’’
After looking at it at least 10 times, Tamme’s one-handed highlight in the closing minutes of the game still looks like a catch. It looked like he was not given credit for dragging his back foot as he reeled the ball in.
The Broncos four rushing attempts for negative yardage in the game, including a 5-yard loss on their first rushing attempt of the game, was their highest total since the Dec. 1 in Kansas City.
When the Broncos recovered a bad snap fumble and the offense then turned it into a touchdown four plays later, it amounted to the 14th touchdown of the season the Broncos have scored after being given the ball by a turnover. Overall the Broncos have scored 107 points this season off turnovers, or 17.7 percent of their season total.