Shutouts are always encouraging. When the Broncos' third string managed a stellar goal line stand, the team and fans went wild.
That is, except for Peyton Manning, who quietly stood and watched San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh as if he could read Harbaugh’s mind. Given Manning’s skills around football, he probably could. The newly built Levi's Stadium would forever be broken in with a 34-0 shutout.
It’s fair to say that both teams withheld many of their real strengths for their Week 7 Sunday night clash, but there's still plenty to take away from the contest.
Rookie Sylvester Williams had a unique journey to the pros, and struggled early, but lately has been showing exactly why Denver made him their first choice in the 2013 Draft. No one seemed to imagine a scenario where Williams would still be on the board when Denver chose, but an early run on offensive linemen left him to the Broncos, who gratefully snapped him up at #28.
That has turned out to be the right choice at the right time. Defensive line leader Kevin Vickerson suffered a season-ending hip injury in the Week 12 loss to the Patriots, and Williams started to see more time on the field.
He’s made the most of it, with a solid performance during the last quarter of the season. What Williams has done of late is to show that he understands the pro game and that he can play well at this level.
Happy Monday, friends. As I mentioned amid the kerfluffle on Friday, I have recently come into a bit more free time, and I plan to put out some good analytical content over the next couple weeks.
When Peyton Manning agreed to come to the Broncos, I did a series of articles about the Manning Offense, which I called the simplest in the NFL.
For the most part, that remains true. This year, however, Adam Gase has introduced some creative wrinkles to the offense, and they’ve been used at key times to generate points.
The Broncos celebrated the first day of December with a brilliant come-from-behind 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, and now control the AFCW and their own destiny for playoff seeding.
After customarily deferring possession on the opening kickoff, Denver had to weather KC's emotional level of play in the first half, falling behind 21-7, but getting to within a touchdown late in the second quarter.
They went three-and-out on their next series, but starting with the second-half kickoff, the Broncos sucked the life out of Arrowhead with three consecutive long touchdown drives - of 80, 92, and 95 yards.
Don’t you love life’s little ironies?
Just moments after Cris Collinsworth had long-windedly and orgasmically extolled the brilliance of Chiefs RT Eric Fisher (#72) during Denver's 27-17 Week 11 win, Derek Wolfe notched his fourth sack of the season by ragdolling Fisher. It happened with 9:35 left in the third quarter, and KC’s Alex Smith (#11) playing from the shotgun.
Since before he was drafted, I have liked Fisher’s play, and I enjoy watching his work. He’s learning quickly enough as a rookie for me to expect that at some point he’s going to take over the left tackle position from Branden Albert, just in view of his play so far. That doesn’t make his first year in the pros any less of a learning experience, though - every player has rookie moments.
There has been no shortage of exceptional special team players with the Denver Broncos this year. Among them is linebacker Steven Johnson, currently second to Jacob Tamme with four tackles and an assist.
Johnson's signature play of the season was his Week 4 blocked punt and touchdown return against the Eagles that resulted from two factors: a quick explosion off the snap to the right side of Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos (46), and blown blocking assignments by the offensive line. Let's take a detailed look at what happened.
As you'll see below, the Eagles put four men on the offensive right - the special teams guard and tackle, plus two more - running back Chris Polk (32) and safety Colt Anderson (30). Johnson makes his charge through the A gap between the center and right guard - the guard is ‘covered’ (looking directly at) by Johnson but blocks down (to his own right) on Adrian Robinson (57) while the snapper blocks to his left, making Johnson's charge up the middle easier.
Last offseason, the Broncos signed undrafted rookie Quincy McDuffie to try out for the team as a receiver and return specialist. He had been named a Sports Illustrated All-American as a kick returner, which put him up against returner/receiver Trindon Holliday in a battle of the bantams.
In the end, both the contest and the position went to Holliday, and thankfully so: through five weeks, he already has touchdowns on both punt and kick returns. He’s consistently exciting as a returner and often extends his returns - getting back to the the 35 is a short return for him.
When he does bring it out, he’s averaging 37.7 yards, on six returns; the former NCAA track champion has an amazing four touchdowns among his last 26 returns.
Rahim 'The Dream' Moore has put his catastrophic error from last year's season-ending playoff loss behind him, but still uses it for motivation. Moore said on Monday that he’d picked up some things that he wants to focus on in his play, including improving his angles and route recognition.
His hit on Dallas Clark in the third quarter of the opener against Baltimore showed just how aggressive and effective Moore can become. Peyton Manning’s constant efforts to improve has created a special kind of energy that’s rubbed off on the entire locker room. This is a team that doesn’t care about who starts: they just care about winning.
Moore and the other safeties have internalized that. The ferocity of Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton (who added a hit and a hurry to his punt block) playing alongside him hasn’t hurt. This is a very tough group of defensive backs.
Denver’s preseason-opening win at San Francisco featured just one touchdown - a fumble forced by Nate Irving and returned to paydirt by Shaun Phillips. Considering that these are the two players that may be most impacted by a possible suspension of Von Miller, I thought this would be a good play to look at.
The play starts at 7:28 of the second quarter; SF has been backed up by a good punt by Britton Colquitt and a penalty on the return, but a missed tackle by Omar Bolden on a pass to Kassim Osgood has them in 2nd and 1.
Many teams will try a long pass in that down and distance, counting on a third down run if needed to convert the first down. Instead, still deep in his own zone, Scott Tolzien hands off to D.J. Harper (36) for a run play around left tackle, and the whole game changes.
Second-year Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan is hoping to continue and increase his repetitions with starter Wesley Woodyard on nickel downs. Trevathan took some snaps last season with the radio helmet when Woodyard was injured, but his normal role is to match with Woodyard (who usually wears the radio) in the nickel/base formation.
If Woodyard is injured, Trevathan will be likely to step into Woodyard’s roles, with one of the other linebackers stepping into Trevathan’s.
Trevathan’s work showed up in the pivotal Week 6 game in San Diego last year, where the Broncos snoozed through the first half, handing over a couple of fumbles and spotting the Bolts a 24-point lead. Yet San Diego found they’d awakened a sleeping giant when the gun sounded for the second half.