Midseason Report: Denver Broncos
November, 6, 2013
By Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos reached the halfway mark of the season chasing both history and the future.
While they now face the prospect of an extended absence of coach John Fox, scheduled for surgery this week to replace a valve in his heart, they sprinted through eight games behind a passing game putting up never-before-seen numbers and point totals through eight games -- so much so if Denver was shut out the rest of the way, 2013 would still rank as the 22nd-highest output in the franchise’s history. And since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, this is just the seventh time the Broncos have reached the halfway point at 7-1 or better, and these Broncos would certainly take the good news that has previously come with that mark.
The previous six times, the Broncos reached the Super Bowl four times, winning the title game twice. And that is just the kind of future executive vice president of football operations John Elway envisioned when he took the job.
GRADING THE DENVER BRONCOS
|Quarterbacks||He is coming off a three-interception game, but Peyton Manning is halfway to what could statistically rewrite the single-season portion of the record book for quarterbacks. His 29 touchdown passes mean he's outscored every other team in the league overall. The season's toughest defenses remain on the schedule and it will be difficult for Manning to keep the historic pace of the season's first eight games.|
|Running Backs||Knowshon Moreno has certainly done his share at 4.2 yards per carry, and led the league in rushing touchdowns after eight games. But he's been a solo act for the most part in what is certainly a difficult offense for a young back, and the Broncos are going to need more here. Montee Ball has lost two fumbles, Ronnie Hillman has lost one, and both of the youngsters have been spotty in pass protection, with each having lost a fumble in the scoring zone as well.|
|Wide Receivers||Three -- Wes Welker (50), Demaryius Thomas (48) and Eric Decker (46) -- have already crossed the 45-catch barrier, and they give the Broncos the potential to challenge defenses in the short, intermediate and deep areas of the field. But they have had some ill-timed drops, and defenses have had success jostling them around over the past three games, so they will have to muscle up and just play the rest of the way.|
|Tight Ends||Julius Thomas reached the break working through an ankle injury, but also recorded eight touchdown receptions to tie the Saints' Jimmy Graham for the league lead at the position after eight games. Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme have played more of late, something that could increase as the Broncos bulk up the formation to protect Manning.|
|Offensive Line||With Manning's ability to get rid of the ball, he certainly helps the offensive line's cause, and the group played better with Ryan Clady in the lineup early in the season. But the line struggled a bit in the three games just before the bye and Manning took more punishment because of it. But the Lions' Matthew Stafford was the only quarterback with eight starts in the first eight weeks to have been sacked fewer times than Manning's 11.|
|Defensive Line||This group showed a little more teeth in a win over the Washington Redskins just before the bye, and overall the group has played the run well in the limited times it has had to dig in and defend it, as teams have usually found themselves in catch-up mode against the Broncos' offense. But penalties count, especially post-play fouls, so the defensive line needs to pressure opposing quarterbacks more consistently and needs Shaun Phillips, as well as Derek Wolfe, to play big down the stretch.|
|Linebackers||Von Miller played in just two games because of his suspension to open the season, and Wesley Woodyard missed time with a neck injury. Danny Trevathan is having his best season as a pro and Woodyard is a key -- the defense simply isn't the same when he isn't in the lineup. But in the end the Broncos are going to need Miller to reach his 2012 level of play.|
|Secondary||Call it a target-rich environment at times to be sure. While the Broncos reached the eight-game mark tied for the league lead in interceptions (13, tied with the Seahawks after eight games) and leading the league in passes defensed (68), they also reached the bye 30th in pass defense, surrendering 299.1 yards per game. And mop-up yards or not, Champ Bailey has played in just two games and the Broncos have already surrendered 39 pass plays of at least 20 yards after surrendering 38 of those plays in all of 2012.|
|Special Teams||Came out of the gate strong with two blocked punts to go with a punt return for a touchdown, as well as a kickoff return for a touchdown in the season's first month. But, save for a penalty or two, a missed tackle or two, they have been top-shelf through the first half.|
|Coaching||It can be difficult to deal with the kind of expectations the Broncos have in tow, and the staff has shown some worry lines from time to time this season because of it. They will be challenged moving forward to deal with Fox's absence as well as to find a little more in the run game on offense and to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks on defense.|