Why Denver would still be 4-0 even without Peyton Manning
After getting obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl, it seems that the Denver Broncos have strangely morphed into a very close imitation of the same team.
Right now, the Broncos are winning because of their defense, which is performing at incredible levels, especially when it comes to the pass-rush. Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is closer to a game manager than he is the player we knew him to be for most of his career.
Manning has just one positive grade this season, and that came against a struggling Detroit team. While Aaron Rodgers carved up the Chiefs for easy touchdowns all day long, Manning struggled for much of that game before coming up big in the end. Against the Vikings, he threw for just 213 yards, his second game of the season under 250 for a man whose career average is 271.8, and 304.4 in Denver.
Whatever the reasons for it, Manning is seriously struggling this year for the Broncos. Fortunately for the team, however, their defense is playing at an insane level, so they have the ability to pick up his slack.
Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware combined for another two sacks, a hit, and four hurries against Minnesota on Sunday. For the season, they have 24 and 25 total pressures, respectively, which leads the NFL. What’s especially important for the Broncos, though, is that they run deeper than just those two when it comes to bringing the heat. Malik Jackson had seven total pressures by himself against Minnesota, while both Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett dominated the preseason, and have been generating pressure in their limited snaps during the regular season.
On the back end, they have Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and now, Bradley Roby, all demonstrating legitimate shutdown ability. All three gave up more against the Vikings than they usually surrender, but the highest passer rating any of the three has allowed this season is 69.3, and they have surrendered just one touchdown. None of the three have given up a pass longer than 30 yards all year.
In the early seasons with Manning at quarterback, the Broncos were all offense, hoping the defense was good enough to get by. Now, they have one of the league’s best defenses. It is a different unit compared to even a year ago. Players have been added, depth has improved, and young players have taken a step forward in their development. Right now, it is the best defense in the NFL by a considerable margin.
Ironically enough, it is the offense that now finds itself struggling. Manning is not what he was, and the offensive line is a patchwork, at best. C.J. Anderson has been nicked up and unable to have the success of a year ago behind the blocking that’s currently there, and the passing weapons Manning has at his disposal are fewer and further between than in the past, even if he still has some quality receivers.
Denver couldn’t win it all by leaning on their offense; can they do so by leaning on their defense? Can Manning play well enough to win when it matters, because right now the Broncos are likely 4-0 with most quarterbacks—even those not named Peyton Manning.