- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos passed a big early-season road test against the Giants and after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos offense:
In the archives it will simply be a 12-yard pass on first down from Peyton Manning to rookie running back Montee Ball in the first quarter of what became an 18-point win, but it again showed the kind of patience the Broncos, and Manning, are going to need in the passing game no matter how everybody wails about the long ball. Ball easily caught the ball in space and ran for the first down because the Giants linebackers retreated at the snap with the intention of guarding the first down marker and working forward from there. It was a prime example of the kind of careful zone coverages the Giants played much of the day. And that’s how teams are going to play the Broncos, and already have much of the time over the first two weeks. It’s why Manning had just one completion of more than 20 yards Sunday -- a 36-yarder to Andre Caldwell on the Broncos’ opening possession. People don’t want the Broncos wideouts working the intermediate and deep parts of the field against man coverage, that’s a long-standing recipe for trouble for defenses against Manning. So, expect more and more defenses to make Manning pick away at them. And until the Broncos get a little more pop from the running game -- and they did Sunday when they went to a two-tight end look -- the linebackers are often going to be moving away from the line of scrimmage instead of toward it. And to avoid those pesky frustration mistakes, Manning and the offense must continue to exercise patience and wait for the right moments to go big.
From a football perspective, the biggest question Chris Clark will have to answer at left tackle as Ryan Clady's replacement will be in the Broncos’ three-wide receiver set. The five offensive linemen have to consistently win even if they are outnumbered, and they have to dominate if it’s a five-on-four situation. If the Broncos can’t hold up in three-wide they won’t be able to play as much as they’d like. But in terms of the mechanics, not much will change. In a three-wide receiver set -- even if Clady is in the game -- the Broncos often line up the tight end -- usually Julius Thomas -- on the left tackle's outside shoulder (they did several times against the Giants), making the offensive left the strong side of the formation. So, if they want to give Clark a little help on that side of the formation, it's just business as usual.
The Broncos simply have to take advantage of when they get what running backs coach Eric Studesville calls “the friendly boxes’’ in the run game. If they can keep making defenses pay for playing pass first, even when the Broncos are in run looks, the Broncos will eventually have a chance to open things up a little more down the field. The Broncos made the most of two opportunities Sunday. On Knowshon Moreno's first touchdown run -- and 20-yarder around right end early in the second quarter the Giants had just six defenders in the box with the Broncos in a three-wide receiver look. When Julius Thomas and Orlando Franklin sealed off the right side, the Giants defensive backs were too far down the field to rally to the ball. It was also the first Broncos carry of the season in the run game for more than 10 yards. On Moreno’s second touchdown run -- a 25-yarder in the third quarter -- the Giants had seven players in the box to respond to the Broncos’ two tight end look. On that play, Franklin and tight end Virgil Green sealed the right side and the Broncos receivers had again run some of the downfield help away from the ball.
Manning and the Broncos should give a clinic on how to get the ball snapped before a play can be reviewed. Manning has always been one of the best at catching defenses with the 12th player on the field with a quick snap, but he will also get the team up to the ball and get it snapped if he thinks there’s some question about what just happened. Sunday, after a Demaryius Thomas fumble downfield was recovered by running back Knowshon Moreno for a 17-yard gain late in the third quarter, there was some question if Thomas had possession of the ball to begin with or if had simply been an incomplete pass. But before the Giants coaches could relay an opinion down to coach Tom Coughlin about a possible challenge, Manning had the Broncos ready to go as soon as the umpire spotted the ball. They Broncos snapped it and that was that. Five plays later Moreno ran it in for the score. During the game broadcast CBS analyst Phil Simms said following the two plays somebody in the coaches' box had to have the "courage'' to let Coughlin know what was going on even if they got just a quick look at a replay.
Number of note: Manning had 18 of his 30 completions in the game for 10 or fewer yards.
Dominant formation: The Broncos lined up with three wide receivers on 52 snaps.