Why Denver would still be 4-0 even without Peyton Manning

The Broncos' No. 1 ranked defense has lifted Denver to 4-0. Can it continue to carry Manning and the struggling offense?

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Ridgeback

    Cmon now we all know after last week that Aaron Rodgers didn’t carve up the Chiefs defense. He simply made very easy throws and his wide receivers did all the work……

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      lol

  • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

    The three most interesting QB vs. Defense match-ups this year all involve Denver: Rodgers vs. Den, Brady vs. Denver, and Dalton vs. Denver. All should be pretty good, unless Denver’s D starts suffering alot of injuries. With the way that Peyton & co. left the D out on the field so long this week, this is a real concern.

    • Taylor Christian Vance

      I agree, i’ll be fascinated to see how good the Broncos pass defense and rush actually is vs. the elite and Dalton(who’s looking very good).

    • Four Touchdowns

      The time of possession was 34-26 in Minnesota’s favor and I think a good amount of that came from Hillman’s 72 yard TD run, assuming the Broncos would have had a drive of around 4 minutes right there otherwise.

    • Jim Winslow

      I think patriots get the better of that defense there is just too much going on on that offense for them to struggle.

      • BoulderPatentGuy

        Until Uggs gets put on his back half a dozen times… like the first 4 games last year…

        • Jim Winslow

          Nah when new england has a wide range of weapons they are hard to stop even with a solid pass rush. Some one is always going to be open. And no one has completely stopped the new England offense in a while.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        gronk presents a unique matchup problem (for any team) but their offense isn’t very complicated at all, it’s just expertly executed

    • BoulderPatentGuy

      And those games are home, home, and home for Denver. Can you say 3-0? I can.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        that was hands down my fav part of the scheduling this year, add on our one thursday game being the first one and the bye’s placement.

  • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

    The three most interesting QB vs. Defense match-ups this year all involve Denver: Rodgers vs. Den, Brady vs. Denver, and Dalton vs. Denver. All should be pretty good, unless Denver’s D starts suffering alot of injuries. With the way that Peyton & co. left the D out on the field so long this week, this is a real concern.

  • JudoPrince

    “Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is closer to a game manager….”

    That’s mostly what Tom Brady has been his entire career, considering that most of his passes are short and underneath to whomever is open. Sure he’ll hit an open target in the seams downfield on occasion, but other than that, he’s the definition of game manager. If the Pats have been successful that way on offense, combined with great defense, why not the Broncos?

  • JudoPrince

    “Their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is closer to a game manager….”

    That’s mostly what Tom Brady has been his entire career, considering that most of his passes are short and underneath to whomever is open. Sure he’ll hit an open target in the seams downfield on occasion, but other than that, he’s the definition of game manager. If the Pats have been successful that way on offense, combined with great defense, why not the Broncos?

    • ValueLiberty

      Brady can still hit the long throw. Manning no longer has the accuracy for passes that travel over 25 yards. This makes it much harder to dink and dunk to success and to generate a running game.

      • Four Touchdowns

        I think people aren’t using the term “game manager” correctly. From what I’ve read, a game manager operates out of a run-first offense and only really throws when they really need to pass. Tom Brady clearly isn’t that, their offense is based around him passing the ball.

        Manning hit a few deep throws yesterday — he hit 3 of 6 yesterday with a long of 43 yards (not sure how much of it was YAC). Not sure what the average is, but in 2013, according to this site, the average completion percentage for a 25-30 yard pass was 6.8%, 31-40 is 3.3%, and anything beyond that is 2.1%.

        https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2015/05/29/qbs-in-focus-deep-passing-2/

        So I’m not sure Manning’s deep throws are really that much different from the NFL average.

        • snoth cambin

          There’s a difference between hitting them and the receiver getting up and getting it

    • ValueLiberty

      Brady can still hit the long throw. Manning no longer has the accuracy for passes that travel over 25 yards. This makes it much harder to dink and dunk to success and to generate a running game.

    • Rick S.

      Not a Brady fan, but he’s more than a game manager. While Brady hasn’t had the offensive talent around him that Peyton has, he’s always had the edge in terms of defense and coaching which is why some may have that opinion. In 2015, Manning now has the better defense and gets to play New England at home in the regular season after going to New England 3 years in a row.

      Much has been made about Peyton’s arm strength, and its not the same, but honestly most of his picks have been due to poor decisions, not a weak arm. It looks like he doesn’t want to get hit and may be looking too much at his first read or trying to anticipate the throw too much. He needs to adopt more of a game manager mentality, and only try to be “Peyton” at critical moments.

      • Taylor Christian Vance

        Tom Brady had Moss, Welker and now Gronk and Edelman. Those are weapons if ever i’ve seen them.

        Peyton’s o-line is awful right now. He makes a lot of throws in anticipation of pressure when he’s not calling the shots, and that’s leading to mistakes. A lot of his bad throws and decisions are also due to flawed mechanics because of free blitzers or pressure. He can’t avoid pressure, and can’t just throw the ball with his arm. If you watch him in “must score” or 2 minute situations he plays great, and the pressure is minimal. This is because Kubiak gives Peyton complete control in these situations and Peyton run’s his no-huddle, move players around to handle the blitz, audible to the best possible play offense. I could go further in depth but long story short is that “Peyton’s decline is greatly exaggerated”.

        • Rick S.

          I agree his decline is exaggerated and that any decline he is experiencing (and there is some) is greatly exacerbated by the OL coming together slowly. He’s been clutch at the end of games this year and without him I think they are probably 3-1.

          With that said, Peyton needs to take better care of the ball, control the time of possession better and not worry about scoring every drive. He has potentially one of the best defenses of the decade on his side and needs to play complimentary football. Against New England and Cincinnati, Denver won’t win if he throws two bad picks and the offense only holds the ball for 26 minutes. He almost needs to go into 1980s Broncos/Elway mode, which is to manage the game and if needed win the game with the two minute drill.

          • Taylor Christian Vance

            Controlling the clock and running the football go hand-in-hand. We won’t be able to do that until we can run. He did force passes late in the game and half vs. the Vikings to bring them back in, but, I don’t think we should be rooting for the Broncos to sit on a 10 point lead and refuse to be aggressive out of fear Manning will make a mistake. That’ll lose more game than it’ll win, considering Manning still doesn’t make that many mistakes. I agree though that Manning needs to be more careful, but right now that offense isn’t moving much unless he makes something happen. It may not matter against a team like the Vikings, when our defense is handling the situation, but vs. Greenbay or the Patriots I think we will want to be able to move the ball better, and that’s what Denver is striving for.

          • Taylor Christian Vance

            Controlling the clock and running the football go hand-in-hand. We won’t be able to do that until we can run. He did force passes late in the game and half vs. the Vikings to bring them back in, but, I don’t think we should be rooting for the Broncos to sit on a 10 point lead and refuse to be aggressive out of fear Manning will make a mistake. That’ll lose more game than it’ll win, considering Manning still doesn’t make that many mistakes. I agree though that Manning needs to be more careful, but right now that offense isn’t moving much unless he makes something happen. It may not matter against a team like the Vikings, when our defense is handling the situation, but vs. Greenbay or the Patriots I think we will want to be able to move the ball better, and that’s what Denver is striving for.

          • Four Touchdowns

            As I posted above, the probable reason the Broncos held onto the ball for “only 26 minutes” is Hillman’s 72 yard TD run, assuming the Broncos would have had a drive of around 4 minutes right there otherwise. It was the first play after receiving the kick.

          • Four Touchdowns

            As I posted above, the probable reason the Broncos held onto the ball for “only 26 minutes” is Hillman’s 72 yard TD run, assuming the Broncos would have had a drive of around 4 minutes right there otherwise. It was the first play after receiving the kick.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        well put

    • snoth cambin

      Brady was a game manager really easy in he
      Is career I would say the first 3 years of his career but even then he was the offense they didn’t have a running game and no receivers. Also Brady has the 3rd highest ANY/A in NFL history that’s not a game manager to me. Even before he became an offensive juggernaut from 01 to 06 he was tied with drew brees in ANY/A. And his defensive prowess is greatly over exaggerated 03 04 06 those are the only top 10 defenses Brady ever had in his entire career everything else has varied between bad and above average. To call Brady a game manager shows your lack of knowledge about football.

  • Taylor Christian Vance

    Yet Peyton always seems to score when they need him too, and sure moves the ball pretty well in the two minute drill. Peyton is fine, and is getting better. He made a few bad throws, sure, but a running game would sure ease the blitzing and coverage. Peyton and Kubiak are learning more every game on how to integrate their offenses and capabilities. I’ll judge when I see the finished product, or they give control back to PM permanently and give up on Kubiak calling the shots offensively.

  • Taylor Christian Vance

    Here’s some fun stats for those who think Manning is done. This season he has thrown for 968 yards, 6TD, 5INT, 63%, 6.3 yards per throw. When Peyton has been in the two minute drill, or is in a “must score” situation he has thrown for 410 yards, 5TD, 1INT, 64%, 8.2 yards per throw. With the exception of the game vs. the Vikings Peyton has gathered ALL his TD’s in drives that started in the final 4 minutes of each half or with 6 minutes left in the half when the Broncos were down by 14 at KC. Thats almost half of his yards coming from 9 drives. 9 drives which resulted in 5 Manning TD’s, 3 Denver FG’s and 1 INT. Thats 8/9 scoring drives. He also threw for an extra 2 yards per pass in these situations, markedly aggressive for a man who’s limited arm isn’t the same as it was this time last year.

    Think about this for a while. Why would Peyton be so much more effective when they need to score, and it needs to happen quickly?

    • Four Touchdowns

      Wow, awesome post.

      • Taylor Christian Vance

        Before everyone goes and fact checks me, I misspoke a bit. I included his long drive for a FG at the end of the Ravens game which lasted about 10 minutes. So that drive didn’t start in the last 4 minutes. That drive was also unique in that the running game was heavily featured.

        • Thomas Bell

          Close enough for me. Sounds cliche, but maybe he gets out of his head a bit in those situations and just goes back to playin ball. Elway and Favre were the same way later in their careers. In the hurry up, game-on-the-line-situations, the extra urgency and adrenalin quiets the mind and makes the body feel a little younger.

          • Taylor Christian Vance

            I sure hope not, but all we can do is speculate. I tend to believe that Peyton does well operating his old offense, and they let him run the show when they need to move the ball. The specifics may never be known though.

    • Jim Winslow

      Peyton is still good in no huddle situations, when aren’t running no huddle he is bad. But they are 4-0 right now if ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    • crosseyedlemon

      I guess the simple answer to your question is that God may be a Packer fan but he also loves Peyton Manning a lot.

  • AJ

    This actually may be a good sign for the team that they can win without Manning playing lights out. This is the first time in his career where he hasn’t needed to carry the team. In years past, the reason his teams wouldn’t win in the postseason was because they leaned to heavily on him and didn’t have the right complementary pieces.

    I still have no doubts that he’ll figure this out as the year goes on (it’s still very early in the season). When he does, it will just be one more weapon for the team to use. If only this defense was in place one or two years earlier. One can always wonder what might have been.

    • Leanne Harrington

      Sadly, it was in place last year, but JDR drove the Ferrari like a Taurus. :(
      His “play not to lose” tendency was on full view against Chicago on Sunday, and resulted in a loss.

      • cjfarls

        Last year wasn’t the best example…. the best example was 2012. Last year the oline was a mess, Peyton dinged up, Danny T. out and B.Marsh hurt for the playoffs, and yes… the coaching highly suspect.
        That 2012 DEN team was the best team in the NFL and great both offensive and defensively… and it was one Rahim Moore/Tony Carter derp from a likely SB win. But the best team doesn’t always win in the NFL, and that is what makes it interesting.

        • Rick S.

          Yes the 2012 team was their best team. The huge defensive lapse killed them, but what kills me is not even trying to win the game in regulation. Denver had three timeouts and the best kicker in the league…

          Fox was the man to turn them around, but too often was outcoached in big games.

          • cjfarls

            Absolutely. I have no complaints about Fox. Coming off of the immature maniac McD, the team needed stability and a calming presence (as well as some talent development). Fox was a rock in the lockerroom, and does a great job identifying/developing talent. He was the perfect hire for what the team needed at the time.

            That said, he’s a relatively terrible gameday coach, and he took the team as far as he could. Too often the team came out flat for the big games, and his conservative playcalling was just hard to take given the explosiveness of the offense and talent on DEF. Conservative works when you’re trying to sneak out wins in the margin of chance. But when you’re the overdog, put the pedal to the medal and blow folks out.
            I’m excited to see where Kubiak can take them (probably as far as he can get this horrific oline to improve).