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Monday, January 27, 2014
Broncos share a lot of wealth on offense

By Jeff Legwold

Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning's ability to spread the ball around is one of the reasons the Broncos have been successful this season.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Before the start of the season, one of the most popular questions put to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and all of the team's wide receivers was how could Manning possibly keep all of those pass-catchers happy?

A multiple-choice exam, as it were, played out on the field.

On the way to his pile of NFL records and touchdowns this season, Manning simply didn't play favorites. He picked all of the above.

"I think we all understand how the offense works," tight end Julius Thomas said. "And our job is to make sure we are in the right position, where we are supposed to be, and Peyton will get you the ball."

Indeed, Manning's spread-it-around numbers were historic. The Broncos had five players with at least 60 receptions this season, and Denver became the first team in NFL history with five different players who scored at least 10 touchdowns. No other team has had more than three.

"I think it's probably hard to just focus on one guy," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "We want to be able to move things around if Peyton sees something he likes. So, we get to the right spot, get open and he gets you the ball. You never know when it will be your turn, so you're just ready for it always to be your turn."

Defensive coaches around the league say it starts with Manning, his comfort level in Denver's offense and the team's depth chart. Four of the five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns -- Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker -- are Broncos draft picks, homegrown players still on their rookie contracts.

Two of those players -- Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas -- also have exploded on the developmental curve since Manning's arrival in March 2012.

The Broncos then added Wes Welker to the mix this past offseason. So when the Broncos go to their three-wide receiver look -- with both Welker and Julius Thomas lined up in the slot and Moreno in the backfield -- Manning has an array of options, with each capable of beating man-to-man coverage in the short, intermediate and deep areas of the field.

So, Manning reads the defense and throws to the more favorable matchup. As Welker puts it, "You can't really double everybody."

"I think just the way [Manning] has spread the ball around has really been key," Gase said. "I'm not sure I've seen anything like it … He just works with what he sees."

Manning targeted four players at least 90 times this season -- Demaryius Thomas (142), Decker (136), Welker (111) and Julius Thomas (90) -- along with 74 targets for Moreno. Gase also has kept the carrot of opportunity extended for every player in the formation as well.

Including the Broncos' two playoff wins, Gase has kept the team in a three-wide receiver look on 73.6 percent of its snaps this season. That keeps all of Manning's top targets on the field at the same time and Moreno in the backfield. Among the team's running backs, Moreno is the most reliable in pass protection.

The Broncos were in a three-wide set for all but one snap -- the kneel-down to finish the game -- in the divisional-round win over the Chargers. They employed the same formation in all but 11 snaps in the win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

With Gase's aggressive play calling, his quick rapport with Manning and the quarterback's ability to deliver the ball regardless of matchup, the recipe for the record 606 points in a season was in a place.

"[Manning] challenges you because every day you're going to have a question that could possibly come up and you have to have an answer," Gase said. "So as a full offensive group, we do have a lot of smart guys, not just him. And he's able to kind of lead that charge with the players if there's something that comes up and there could be an issue, but most of the time we're trying to head him off because we know those kinds of questions are coming.”

Said Manning: "I think Adam has done a good job taking the different strengths of the players that he has and putting those guys in the best situations out there. I always think that's the key to a good offense is putting players in positions where they feel comfortable, where they can thrive. I think Adam has done that. He has studied what players do well, what players don't do so well and has kept them out of those situations. That has allowed guys to go out there, play fast and play with confidence."

It all creates a series of choices for the Seattle Seahawks' defense. The Seahawks led the NFL in quarterback pressures and interceptions with an aggressive front and their decorated secondary. Seattle finished the regular season as the league leader in both scoring defense and total defense.

And the defenses that have had the most, albeit limited, success against the Broncos this season have chosen not to send extra rushers at the ultraprepared Manning. Rather, they have tried to disrupt the timing of the Broncos' offense by getting physical with the team's receivers.

"Yeah, exactly … but if you've got a quarterback that throws the football very well, you want to try to disrupt that timing," Decker said. "A way to do that is a lot of press coverage, and you see it across the board throughout the league."

"I think we're good -- whatever we put out there, we have to be able to execute it," Demaryius Thomas said. "They are the No. 1 defense. They have a great defense and we have a great offense. This is what you play for."