The legend continues to grow and now we are reaching a point where the Denver Broncos are no longer in a situation where the conspiracy theorists can claim that the Broncos are playing Tim Tebow to fail. After a series of low scoring victories coming off the back of stifling defense, a dominant running game and a handful of key plays, Denver won in a game that featured 67 points. Tebow was still the beneficiary of some crucial plays from his defense but his passing as, much as the running game, bailed out the defense at pivotal moments. The Broncos now head the division and a home playoff game is theirs for the taking. Who thought that possible when Tebow took over as starter?
For the Minnesota Vikings this game was as frustrating as it was familiar. Frailties in the defensive secondary and another blown lead as a few dreadful plays by Christian Ponder threw away the chance to derail the storybook season of Tebow. An early pick six and an equally horrible pick in the last two minutes handed the Broncos ten points and the victory, as the Vikings did what no team could in the last month; score more than 20 points on the Broncos defense. Minnesota had the recipe for success but threw the game away. Let’s take a look at some of the performances that set the game up but eventually turned it in Denver’s favor.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
In the absence of Von Miller
If a player’s worth is defined by what his unit does in his own absence then Von Miller’s stock should be on the rise in every single award category out there. Be it Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year or even MVP; he needs to be at least on those ballots. A defense that has been so stifling for the last month on the Broncos winning streak suddenly looked a shadow of itself against a Viking offense that has hardly been tearing up the league. Without Miller the productivity of the pass rushing nosedived, netting pressure on only 13 pass rush attempts of the 261 times that Denver defenders rushed the passer. That Brian Dawkins (+1.6) was the Broncos’ highest rated pass rushed in Miller’s absence shows the scale of the problem. To the defense’s credit they still came up with some real difference making plays in this game. Mario Haggan’s pick six in the first quarter was crucial for a Denver team that never established much in the opening half, and Andre Goodman’s interception late in the game was the defining play of the game, but in between those two plays the entire defense was shown up by the Viking offense.
Tebow to Thomas
The Vikings came out with a plan to stop Tim Tebow (+4.1); they weren’t going to let him run and they weren’t going to let him complete short passes so he’d have to beat them deep. Unfortunately for the Vikings, Tebow showed early that he could beat their plan of attack and for whatever reasons the Vikings never looked to change things up. The Vikings were probably the most aggressive team Tebow has faced thus far in terms of scheming to take away his running, and it worked well, as Tebow only ran the ball three times, outside of his late kneel down. Two of those runs were scrambles and he netted only 13 yards on the ground. But this left gaps deep and in a defense gutted by injuries, the Vikings simply couldn’t stop Tebow and Demaryius Thomas (+2.7). One touchdown (Q3 3:03) was helped by the Vikings’ fear of Tebow running, but many of the big gains were simply the Vikings allowing receivers behind and Tebow finding them consistently. Tebow went 3-of-4 on deep throws and unlike recent weeks didn’t miss on the “easy” pro throws to stall his own offense. This may not have been his most mercurial performance but it was one of, if not, his most impressive in this winning streak.
McGahee carries the load
With the Vikings clamping down on the running threat of Tebow, the burden of the Broncos’ ground game once again fell on the shoulders of Willis McGahee (+1.9) and once again he delivered. McGahee tied his season high, forcing six missed tackles from Viking defenders and saw his way across the goal-line for only his fourth score of the season; his first since he doubled up on the Raiders in Week 9 and what a timely play that touchdown run was. Just after the Vikings had established an eight point lead the Broncos drove the field on two plays with McGahee capping it off with a sharp cut at the line before scything his way through the Minnesota secondary and diving for the pylon for a score that Tebow capped with a two point conversion. McGahee appears rejuvenated in Denver and is showing some of the best form of his career.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Emerging from the Shadows
He may have gained fewer than 100 yards, he may not have crossed the goal-line and he may not have ripped off a 20 yard run, but this was as good and as consistent a running display as you will see this season. Toby Gerhart (+4.2) put in a display to make Adrian Peterson proud simply by the manner in which he ran; with aggression and a sheer unwillingness to be tackled that has been so absent from Gerhart’s performances of his pro career to date. Much like his Bronco counterpart, Gerhart forced six missed tackles from his opposing defense making a Broncos’ defense, that in recent weeks had been stifling, look somewhat soft. His first down rush at 5:15 in the third quarter epitomized his performance with a purposeful cut at the line of scrimmage and then great power and leg drive in the secondary at the second level taking him to a 14 yard gain close to midfield.
Offensive line lockdown
The Vikings offensive line must surely have breathed a sigh of relief when they found out that Von Miller was absent for this week’s game. Without Miller the Broncos’ pass rush is far less potent and the Vikings capitalized on that as only left tackle Charlie Johnson (-1.8) failed to put forth a perfect game in pass protection as he yielded one sack, one hit and one pressure. Without Miller getting the early disruption on both run and pass plays the Broncos struggled to make much ground on the Vikings’ offensive line and as impressive as any individual display this week was that from Viking C John Sullivan (+3.2). Going up against Brodrick Bunkley (-1.2) he was charged with one of the toughest assignments for a center this season and he showed that his resurgence in 2011 was no fluke. Sullivan had help from some double teams but never yielded an inch to Bunkley and even when the Bronco defender took his helmet off (Q4 4:00) he still maintained his block.
Handing the victory to Denver
A display of such promise at times from Christian Ponder (+1.7) left him as an obvious scapegoat after the game as two errors, both egregious and costly, cost the Vikings victory against the Broncos. He was not perfect for the rest of the game but his play was more than good enough for victory as he made best use of the fine displays from Devin Aromashodu (+4.2) and Percy Harvin (+2.8) to give the Vikings numerous leads, but it will be his two “completions” to Broncos defenders for which his performance will be remembered. On both plays, his pick six and late interception, it can only be assumed that Ponder misread the play or simply didn’t read the defender’s intentions as both passes were straight to the defender,Haggan and Goodman respectively. Haggan hovered under a curl by Aromashodu and Goodman drifted under a route by Harvin, ironically the two receivers who had such big games between those two plays. There was plenty of promise for Ponder to take forward from this game but it will be these two throws that overshadow that promise in the minds of many.
– Devin Aromashodu’s 90 yards receiving were his most in a single game since Week 16 of 2009 when he amassed 150 against the Vikings.
– DJ Williams was the only Bronco defender to play all 86 defensive snaps for the Broncos this week.
– A number of firsts for Demaryius Thomas this week; his first career 100 yard game, his first career multiple TD game and his first forced missed tackle of the 2011 season.
PFF Game Ball
He has failed to deliver in lieu of Adrian Peterson until this week, but for one week at least, Toby Gerhart fulfilled his promise. He ran with the sort of purpose and aggression he displayed in college, a performance that was deserving of a victory.
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