ReFo: Titans @ Broncos, Week 14
The Titans’ playoff hopes took a hit while Denver’s run for the top seed remained on track as Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense once again pulled away with a second-half barrage. Down 21-10 at one point in the second quarter, the Broncos went on to outscore Tennessee 41-7 the rest of the way and hit the 50-point mark for the third time this season.
Denver will see San Diego on Thursday night before finishing with Houston and Oakland as they look to wrap up home field. Tennessee, after losing four of five, gets Arizona next in one they must have if they’re really looking at anything more than draft position.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
The marquee matchup entering the day was set to be Manning & Co. against the Titan cornerback duo of Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty. Verner and McCourty held spots among the league’s five best CBs in our grades and were poised to challenge the Denver passing machine and possibly shunt attention to the interior as they patrolled the edges. As it turned out, the Broncos elected to go after them and, 21 targets later, found the experience to their liking. The pair allowed 13 catches (12 combined to Decker and Thomas on the outside) for 193 yards and two scores. The most notable figure to come from it all, though, was the total of 13 yards allowed after the catch. Verner and McCourty were in the neighborhood, just not able to stop the passes from being completed. For McCourty it was his first red-graded game of the year. For Verner, his third in a row after being all green for the season’s first 11 weeks.
Warmack on Track
Something of a give and take between Tennessee’s Chance Warmack and Denver’s Sylvester Williams formed part of the young guard’s best day in the league so far, but the larger message was the positive he pulled out as a run blocker – something his pre-draft book and body frame suggested would be there. Warmack earned his best mark of the season in the ground game, finding success both while pulling and with down blocks to help open holes for the Titan runners behind him. A positive to build on in a key area for the Titans as they’ve fought to provide lanes for Chris Johnson, one of the league’s worst at making things happen on his own. With Andy Levitre enjoying an expectedly solid year on the left, Warmack’s progression could give them one of the top guard pairings around heading into the 2014 season when they might be blocking for a new runner.
A Step Back
As the Denver O-line had a strong day nearly across the board, Tennessee’s premier defender, Jerrell Casey, found it tough sledding and backed up his highest mark on the year (+8.6 in Week 13 against Indianapolis) with his lowest and only red-graded day so far, a -4.3 overall. Casey’s troubles were evenly split between run defense and pass rushing – his 44 snaps spent getting after Manning bore no fruit and his two run stops didn’t measure up to the number of times he was sealed in or moved by Bronco guards and tackles, with Orlando Franklin enjoying particular success in their encounters. Casey was the target of a number of double teams on the day, but his presence was rarely felt regardless of the scheme in place to handle him.
Denver – Three Performances of Note
With a quite impressive 14 completions on 22 passes targeted more than 10 yards downfield (and 4-of-8 on targets of 20+), Peyton Manning showed more than enough zip on his cold-weather passes to give critics pause when counting him out as a late-season threat. A clear effort made in this game to push the ball up seams and sidelines, Manning and the Bronco receivers worked the long end of the route tree and found success at most turns. Using his entire stable on these routes, Manning put up examples that will have future opponents paying particular attention, these among them: Decker up the left side (Q1 1:06), Welker up the middle (Q2 2:48), and Thomas up the right (Q3 12:26).
Clones in the Backfield
The focus being on Denver’s passing game, their work on the ground is often overlooked. In this game they didn’t need much in the way of variety to the attack, rather a simple and effective plan to feed Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno out of shotgun and pistol looks as a counter against a softened front. The two backs responded with matching, methodical efforts; 15 attempts for 77 yards with 43 after contact for Ball and 14 carries for 78 yards with 38 after contact for Moreno. The pair earned +1.7 and +1.8 grades on the ground, respectively, and each scored once and forced a pair of missed tackles.
Limited by Drops
Reaching back to an early-season trend, the Denver receivers had an issue holding onto the ball in Week 14 as five of Manning’s route-runners logged drops on the day. Wes Welker, who had been among the league’s droppiest in each of the past three seasons, came away with three flubs before leaving the game with a concussion after 51 snaps. With 10 drops in 2013, Welker is back challenging for the title again as Mike Wallace and Davone Bess are the league’s only two receivers with more. The seven Denver drops on the day accounted for a chunk of Manning’s 20 incompletions and could have added a sizable boost to his already impressive 397 yards.
– Not relying on run-after-catch numbers, 290 of Manning’s 397 passing yards came through the air, 73%.
– Denver Linebacker Paris Lenon logged three run stops as part of what was just his fourth green-graded day in the past three seasons.
– Justin Hunter’s WR Rating (QB rating on passes his way) was an impressive 135.4, but the Denver trio were also worthy: Thomas 144.4, Decker 126.0, Welker 102.5.
PFF Game Ball
Boring as it may be, this one has to go to Peyton Manning as he controlled the action on 59 pass attempts.
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