ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There was a time, and it wasn't so long ago, when if a guy threw for 237 yards, tossed three touchdowns without an interception and the Denver Broncos closed out a 14-point win, it would have been cause to build a parade float or two.
Such is life in Peyton Manning's tenure when the Super-Bowl-or-bust mantra permeates everything the team does, or doesn't do. The Broncos didn't have their best fastball in the 31-17 victory over the New York Jets and Manning wasn't all that fired up himself about the work that was done.
So, with that in mind, after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' offense:
The penalties were troubling for the Broncos Sunday, as was a bad snap and the nagging feeling they never really found the gear they like. The Jets were physical on defense and continually dropped eight players into coverage, even going as far as to use their linebackers to chip at the Broncos' wide receivers. But the red flag of red flags, especially with two physical 3-4 defenses next on the Broncos' schedule in San Francisco and San Diego, both of the Jets' sacks in the game came on three-man rushes. That means the Broncos were essentially beaten three-on-five, once in the first quarter, once in the second, both on long-yardage plays -- a third-and-15 and a second-and-17 -- created by the bad snap and a penalty respectively. On the first sack, Muhammad Wilkerson beat center Manny Ramirez from the snap as left tackle Ryan Clady, left guard Orlando Franklin and right guard Louis Vasquez each engaged outside linebacker Quinton Coples, who had lined up at right defensive end on the play. On the second, Leger Douzable lined up wide on the defensive left, to outside shoulder of right tackle Chris Clark. Douzable pushed Clark back on initial contact, then darted to the inside before Vasquez could cut him off. But if defenses have the luxury of rushing four at Manning, let alone three, and get away with it, there will be some additional frustration ahead.
It isn't their preferred way of doing business, but as was the case last season and the season before that, the Broncos have consistently shown the ability to gather themselves when they move to a two tight end look, especially if things don't go well initially in their three-wide set. The cost is putting Wes Welker on the bench, where he spent most of the second half Sunday, but the Broncos opened each of their first two touchdown drives in two tight ends and worked out of it for all 10 snaps of their third touchdown drive. Sunday they used reserve tackle Paul Cornick as the second tight end for 21 snaps. And when they wanted to give it a more three-wide vibe they moved Jacob Tamme in as the second tight end. After they opened the game with 12 consecutive snaps in three-wide, that resulted in a field goal and two punts, the change was both needed and productive.
Not all holding penalties are created equal. While it might takes a hold to keep Manning from taking a big hit, there will always be a discussion about cleaning up what happened. But in the end, better to keep the quarterback on the field rather than serving him up to a hit that could change a season. But a holding call in the run game is another matter because it can be a sign defensive players are either beating the Broncos' linemen to the spot or simply winning 1-on-1 matchups at the point of attack. Yes, sometimes the defensive guys win, that's how it goes. But it is worth noting of the 10 times the Broncos have been flagged for holding this season, five have come on called running plays and each of the Broncos' starting five offensive linemen has been called on one of those five holding penalties. The Broncos had two holding penalties on run plays against the Colts, two against the Jets and one against Arizona.
Tight end Julius Thomas, with nine touchdowns in five games, is currently on pace to set a single-season NFL mark for touchdown receptions by a tight end -- Rob Gronkowski's 17 set the mark in 2011. According to Elias Sports Bureau, only Calvin Johnson has also had nine touchdown receptions in a team's first five games, Johnson did that in '11 as well. Nine touchdowns is staggering, but consider Thomas has only been targeted 30 times by Manning this season and his 24 catches to go with the nine scores shows a staggering efficiency as well.