ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos went decades without scoring 50 points, went through six Super Bowl teams, including two that won the title game, without scoring 50 points. And now they done it in back-to-back weeks and moved to 5-0 with a 51-48 victory in a touchdown festival in Dallas.
And after a long look at the video from Sunday’s win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos offense:
With all of the planning that goes into an offensive game plan, with all of the hand-wringing over tendencies and personnel groupings that goes on league-wide week to week in the quest to be prepared for everything, the play where Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t tell anybody else what he was up to may still be the most interesting from Sunday’s wild affair. Facing a third-and-1 at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line just before halftime, the Broncos initially had their three-wide receiver personnel grouping in the game. But the Broncos took a timeout and came back out onto the field in their heavy goal-line package -- three tight ends with Knowshon Moreno at running back and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein at fullback. The Broncos had an inside lead play called with Moreno scheduled to follow Unrein into the end zone. But when Julius Thomas motioned from left to right and the defender followed him Manning was suddenly looking at no outside containment to his left. “And naked bootlegs only work -- the ones that I’ve done -- when you don’t tell anybody,’’ Manning said. “You call the run play, and it’s a run play and you kind of make a decision there as you get to the line of scrimmage based on the right look and you think maybe they’re going to slant one way ... I did not tell anybody, so it’s the only way to get the linemen to fire off.’’ And fire off the Broncos linemen did -- to the right, taking every Cowboys defender along for the ride. Manning kept the ball and scored his first rushing touchdown in five years. Or as Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan put it “he showed the zoom-zoom.’’ That could be the play's name if Manning decides to break the five-year embargo and the Broncos run it again in the coming months.
It was already one of the most amazing career statistics for anyone on the Broncos roster, at least this side of Manning. And it simply couldn’t last forever. But heading into this season, his fifth in the NFL, Louis Vasquez had been flagged for just two penalties in his entire career and one of those had been declined. Before this season Vasquez had been flagged for a false-start penalty on a field-goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots. And his only other career penalty had been for holding in Week 6 of his rookie season (2009), but the penalty was declined. But Vasquez was then flagged for a false start in the season opener against the Ravens. And Sunday he was flagged for holding and the penalty negated a 40-yard catch-and-run play from Manning to Demaryius Thomas. Overall cornerback Tony Carter is now the Broncos most penalized player with five flags -- one declined -- while tackle Orlando Franklin and Kevin Vickerson have each been flagged four times, having one and two penalties declined respectively. Vickerson’s play is obviously come up in the pregame meetings between coaches and the officials, when head coaches tell the officials to “look out’’ for certain things they believe some opposing players do. He has now been flagged for illegal use of hands in three of the Broncos’ four games.
Second-year running back Ronnie Hillman continues to flash big-play ability -- he gained 17 yards on his first carry Sunday, but zero net yards on the six carries that followed and finished with 17 yards on the day. He continues to struggle at times to make his own space when the Broncos run out of the three-wide receiver set, which they play much of the time. Against the Cowboy’s 4-3 look, Hillman had three carries for negative yardage and one for no gain. Against the Eagles’ 3-4 look the previous week Hillman had one carry for negative yardage to go with two for no gain. For the season the Broncos have had nine carries for negative yardage in the run game. Knowshon Moreno has now gone three consecutive games without a carry for negative yardage. He has been far more consistent seeing the blocking he has and making the correct decisions about when, and where, he takes the ball into the line of scrimmage. The Broncos also ran the ball with Manning in the shotgun a season-high 21 times against the Cowboys. They ran it out of the shotgun just eight times against Oakland and 13 times against the Eagles.
The highest scoring offense in the history of the league, at least over a season’s first five weeks, can also be methodical and patient. Even as they often put pedal to the floor and run their no-huddle look. Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes over the first five weeks and 11 of them have been for 10 or fewer yards. All four of his scoring throws Sunday were for 9 or fewer yards. In his last four games Manning has had 18, 18, 15 and 18 completions of 10 or fewer yards -- that's 56 percent of his completed passes. Defenses keep trying to limit the deep ball and Manning keeps taking everything else -- he’s completed 86.5, 82.4 and 78.6 percent of his passes in the last three games.
The Broncos offense is now one of seven in the league to have used 22 players thus far this season, a total that includes Unrein. The Jaguars, this week’s opponent, are the league’s leader, having used 26 players on offense over the first five weeks. The Jaguars are also the lowest-scoring offense in the league.