Denver Broncos: 2013 Week 8 WAS at DEN

Peyton ManningChris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos have things to fix before, as Peyton Manning put it, "a tough second half of the season."
DENVER -- In the world of 20/20, crystal-clear, told-you-so hindsight, it seems fitting the biggest headline, by far, of the Denver Broncos’ workweek in the days leading up to their game against the Washington Redskins had to do with one player who did not practice Wednesday.

Peyton Manning’s ankles were the story as Sunday’s kickoff approached, easily overshadowing Mike Shanahan’s first game as a visiting coach in Denver since the Broncos fired him following the 2008 season. And after a 31-point fourth quarter fueled 45-21 victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos limped into their bye week with a long list of battered players, a pile of staggering offensive numbers and seven wins.

Yes, here they are at the season’s halfway point with their 37-year-old quarterback’s highly scrutinized medical report in hand, a bruised offensive line, the second-best record in the NFL behind Kansas City's 8-0 and the prevailing wisdom that what they did in the first half was good, but that they will need more to power their way into the first weekend in February.

"I just look at it like, like on defense, we have too much talent in this room to be ranked at the bottom against the pass," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said. “We have confidence in who we are all around the locker room, we look around at Peyton and the offense and what we think we can do on defense, we can do a lot more. We know we can."

Start with Manning, whose every throw, wobble, tipped pass or interception is treated by many as an indictment of his current physical condition. His mere stepping aside in Wednesday’s practice, by protest he said, was cause for breaking news updates up and down the Front Range.

And however the ball came out, he finished with 354 yards passing and four touchdowns. It was his seventh 300-yard game of the season and the sixth time he threw at least three touchdown passes in a game. But he has also thrown six interceptions in the past four games, including three on Sunday, as the number of hits he has taken has gone up significantly behind an offensive line dealing with a variety of injuries.

Manning doesn’t figure to do much during two Broncos practices during the bye week, but he said Sunday he feels ready for the second-half push.

"I’m going to go down on the injury report, starting now, under 'body,' just keep me there, that’s what I’m going under," Manning said. "I actually felt pretty good out there, felt like I was moving around, felt like I was able to move in the pocket a little bit and see some things and felt good out there. The bye week is coming at a good time for a lot of people physically, me as well."

Overall, the Broncos have put up 343 points in eight games -- a league-leading 42.9 points per game -- and total that includes 40 offensive touchdowns. If the Broncos didn’t score another point for the remainder of 2013, this season would be 22nd on the team’s scoring list, outdistancing 33 others.

Yet, there are some worry lines -- shallow ones, but there nonetheless. After rampaging through the first month of the season, the Broncos needed a late interception to be in position to win in Dallas; were pushed hard, at home, by the winless Jaguars; got bullied a bit in a loss to the Colts; and Sunday were down 21-7 to the Redskins righting themselves.

And if you start the clock at a huge shot Manning took to the ribs against the Jaguars, he has seen the punishment increase each week as the Broncos try to hold things together up front. Left tackle Ryan Clady is already on injured reserve, and right tackle Orlando Franklin limped through Sunday’s game after being limited all week in practice. As a result, opposing rushers are starting to force turnovers. Manning has lost fumbles on sacks in back-to-back games and been harassed into interceptions as well.

And waiting in the season’s second half is the bulk of their division schedule; the Broncos have played just one AFC West game so far, a Week 3 win over the Raiders. On that division schedule are two games against the Chiefs, with the league’s No. 1 defense, one that is on pace to threaten the league’s single-season record for sacks.

Asked for his report card Sunday, Manning said: "I don’t really have one. … Think we’ve had eight physical games … we’ve got a tough second half of the season coming up."

The Broncos had two more players limp off Sunday and not return: safety Duke Ihenacho and tight end Julius Thomas. Cornerback Champ Bailey has played just one full game because of a left foot injury that had him on the sideline again Sunday.

Holding Robert Griffin III to 7 yards rushing and 139 total yards, to go with three sacks and four interceptions, made for the Broncos’ best defensive effort of a season when defense has rarely -- OK, never -- been the story on the field in the season's first half. Bailey’s injury affected the group, as did Von Miller’s suspension. But they haven’t shown their form, despite a depth chart they have repeatedly said is improved from 2012, when the Broncos were among the league leaders in all of the must-see defensive categories.

Still, just before Sunday’s game, Shanahan spoke of the Broncos’ speed on defense, and afterward he said, "People will find out Denver’s defense is better than people think they are … they’re a better [defense] than they are statistically right now."

So, there it is. They’re 7-1, they score a lot, they like what they’ve done and they believe it can all be better in the coming weeks. That’s good, because it will have to be.

"We’ve been under fire," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "And the thing is … it shows if we put our mind to it, we can come out and dominate."

DENVER -- There are times, when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning leaves his helmet on after he exits the field, when it’s pretty clear he had hoped to get clearance to go for it on fourth down.

When it’s clear he believed the time was right to roll the dice, take a chance.

But when the Broncos faced a fourth-and-3 in the second quarter of Sunday’s win against the Washington Redskins, the ball was at the Redskins’ 43-yard line and the Broncos had a 7-0 lead. So, when Manning made the case, albeit briefly as he jogged to the sideline, Broncos coach John Fox still sent the punt team on.

However, when the Broncos faced a fourth-and-2 at the Redskins’ 20-yard line, trailing 21-7 in the third quarter having just seen two of their turnovers turned into two Washington touchdowns, now, that was a different story.

"Certainly as an offense, we like it," Manning said. "... I think there is a real motivation to please him and make it successful so you can do it again."

Manning sent running back Knowshon Moreno into the middle of the Redskins defense on a quick-hit play that gained five yards. Three plays later the Broncos had a touchdown and had cut Washington’s lead to 21-14 with an 11-play, 75-yard drive.

"At the end of the day it was a manageable distance," said Fox. "So, that’s why we elected to go for it."

The Broncos dialed it up again on their next possession. Having run 15 plays to move the ball 82 yards to the Redskins’ 1-yard line, the Broncos faced fourth-and-goal. The Broncos again elected to leave Manning and the offense on the field and were rewarded, again, this time with a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Joel Dreessen out of the heaviest of formations that featured three tight ends to go with defensive tackle Mitch Unrein lined up out wide as a receiver.

"Mitch is always a threat out there," Manning said with a smile. "Never know how a defense is going to play him, whether they’re going to double him or not. It’s definitely good to throw a little wrinkle at the defense."

Dreessen's touchdown tied the game at 21-21 and the Broncos never looked back. In the end the Broncos scored 38 unanswered points, 31 of those in the fourth quarter.

“We put our defense in a tough spot with turnovers back to back," Manning said. " … Those first two drives after the first two turnovers and we were able to tie the game. That one to make it 21-14 was critical."

Locker Room Buzz: Denver Broncos

October, 27, 2013
DENVER -- Observed in the locker room after the Denver Broncos' 45-21 win over the Washington Redskins:

Battered and bruised: Broncos right tackle Orlando Franklin was limited in practice all week. Limited meant he was limping through drills at times with an ankle injury that kept him out of last Sunday's loss against the Colts. But he started and played through the Broncos' win Sunday, even though the struggle was evident at times. “You could tell he was hurting there a couple times in the game, but he stayed in there, but a real credit to him answering the bell and a real credit to his toughness,’’ quarterback Peyton Manning said.

Big man’s game: Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, all 335 pounds of him, had his second sack of the season in the second quarter when he dragged down Robert Griffin III on a first-and-10 play. In the fourth quarter it was Knighton who crashed down on Griffin, forcing him to throw an interception. The play knocked Griffin out of the game. “I guess I wanted to show the big guys are athletes, too.’’

Taking responsibility: Manning wouldn’t use the word “frustrated” when describing his two third-quarter turnovers -- a fumble recovered at the Broncos' 19-yard line and an interception returned for a score -- that resulted in two Redskins touchdowns in the span of 1 minute, 31 seconds. “I say 'determined' is probably the word, to overcome those mistakes, and you don’t do it by pressing and forcing things, you do it by going about your business and doing your job.’’

Finally: Sporting a cowboy hat while still in uniform, Broncos linebacker Von Miller was more than happy to recount a day that included his first sack of the season since his return from a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. “We haven’t remotely scratched the surface of what we can be,’’ Miller said. “... But I always want to make those plays.’’

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

October, 27, 2013

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 45-21 win over the Washington Redskins:

What it means: The bye week may have come just in time for the Broncos, especially for their 37-year-old quarterback, Peyton Manning. Manning has been battered over the past three games, having taken several heavy shots to body parts including his ribs, right arm and right shoulder to go with injuries to both ankles. Manning put together another four-touchdown day, but it was a struggle at times.

Stock watch: The Broncos have made it clear there is zero tolerance for fumbling, no matter what your potential might be in the offense. They showed it initially with Montee Ball's reduced role earlier this season after he put the ball on the ground and then took the next step with Ronnie Hillman being a game-day inactive Sunday against the Redskins. The Broncos did miss Hillman’s speed at times, but he won’t see the field again until he earns his way back into the lineup, and a big part of it will be how he handles being an inactive this week.

Mix-and-match: With the threat Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III presented as a runner in a read-option look, the Broncos often used a 3-4 set on defense to attempt to keep Griffin hemmed in. On plenty of early-down snaps the Broncos stood up Shaun Phillips and Von Miller at outside linebacker with three down linemen, putting Kevin Vickerson often over the center as the nose tackle. It worked well, as the Broncos repeatedly limited Griffin’s ability to get loose.

Bad timing: The Broncos can’t seem to avoid penalties at times when they will sting the most. Just before halftime the Broncos were flagged for 12 men on the field when the Redskins were lined up for a 30-yard field goal attempt. The penalty gave the Redskins a first down, and they scored a touchdown on the next play. Vickerson, who is the team’s most penalized player, was flagged in the third quarter for a late hit on Griffin. Given his recent run of flags, including a chest bump of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck last week, the Broncos took Vickerson out of the lineup, and at that point head coach John Fox had plenty to say to him.

What’s next: They have a long list of injuries with safety Duke Ihenacho (ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) added to the list Sunday, so the Broncos will gladly take the week off to heal. They will likely practice Tuesday and Wednesday as the players head into the bye weekend.