The Denver Broncos learned some things during the 2013 NFL season, perhaps even a painful lesson or two.
They learned they can score more points than any team in history -- 606 points, to be exact, as they became the first and only member of the 600-point club -- they learned their quarterback, Peyton Manning, can throw for more touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477) in a single season than any passer in history. And yet it still wasn’t enough for them to win the title.
It got them to the doorstep --Super Bowl XLVIII -- but in the end they found themselves on the wrong side of one of the most lopsided championship games of the Super Bowl era, a 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
So, over the coming weeks and months as they construct whatever will become of their 2014 season, their success will likely hinge on how well they turn back the clock just a bit, to a simpler time when running the ball and defense were the foundation of winning.
That’s not to say the Broncos are going to, or should, just dial it all back. On the contrary, when they signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to replace the departed Eric Decker and promoted Montee Ball to the starting running back, they did it with the idea they could be every bit the challenge for opposing defenses they were last season, perhaps even more difficult.
But they couldn’t always muscle up and run the ball when they needed, or wanted to, last season. And their defense, whether it was because Von Miller's six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy to open the season or the pile of injuries that put five defensive starters on injured reserve by season’s end, just didn’t do enough over the long haul.
The Broncos spent plenty of owner Pat Bowlen’s dollars this offseason to fix that, with DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib all signed in free agency. They see high-end potential of a Miller and Ware pass rush and believe Talib and Ward give them versatility in the secondary to match up against any offense.
In the end, with the array of targets in the offense, Manning figures to once again pile up the touchdowns as the Broncos figure to score their fair share of points.
But when all is said and done, it will likely be how the team does when Manning isn’t throwing the ball that determines whether or not they win the season’s last game.