Monday, 28 September 2015

Peyton's Place

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The cream of the AFC West

It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same in the NFL. People get so worried about certain individuals and their performances after one week, the age of social media makes us all judges in the wink of an eye or 140 characters or less. Yet class remains permanent for those who we criticise, with only injuries slowing them down.

Case in point is the twilight of Peyton Manning.  Many fear that he has reached the end of his illustrious career, can he stand up for 16 games. After the week 1 victory over Baltimore, many thought that Manning's body with his worrisome neck injuries would not be able to withstand the continual pass rush which made many observers wince.

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Why worry? 3-0 start helps
Yet the Broncos won the game.  Peyton may have lost weapons such as Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas but he still has Demaryius Thomas, and something he has on his side will make the Broncos competitive - a defence that is making plays all around the field. Against Detroit, the D had another interception - two in this game - against Matthew Stafford.

On the road, Peyton threw for 324 yards off a solid 31 of 42 throws.  The Broncos are 3-0 and in the ascendency of the AFC West if the Kansas City Chiefs lose to the Green Bay Packers tonight, with only the Oakland Raiders (yes really!) with another winning record in the division.

Can the Broncos go all the way?
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Von Miller leads the D
Well that depends on many things not least can Manning stay healthy along the stretch which includes some tasty encounters on the slate - after the bye in Week 7 they face Green Bay, New England, Kansas City and Cincinnati and San Diego at home as well as road trips to Indianapolis, San Diego and Pittsburgh. That could be construed as one of the toughest schedules post bye in the league especially for a team wanting to contend in the postseason.

Can they gain a 13-3 record for the season. Personally I see them entering the bye week 6-0 due to their defensive superiority over the next three teams - Minnesota, Oakland and Cleveland.  But I can see them losing three games at Pittsburgh, San Diego (who are playing better than their record currently) and versus New England or Cincinnati, not to mention the Week 8 shootout versus Aaron Rodgers in Denver, where the edge goes to Denver who will be coming off the bye week to a home contest.

Wade to the Max
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Phillips has rejuvenated the Denver D

Credit for the Broncos revival can be the acquisition of Wade Phillips as Defensive co-ordinator, again the defence were stingy affording the high powered Detroit offense 290 total yards and only 28 yards on the ground. That bodes well for the match up next week versus Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings.

As well as the household names on defence such as Von Miller, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib; the depth is being shown by the two people who did grab interceptions in the Motor City.  Bradley Roby's athletic grab in the first quarter set the tone for the defensive display and the fourth quarter interception by David Bruton Jr, doused a possible Lions comeback and led to the Broncos' final touchdown to ice the game.

This depth will be imperative on the stretch especially when the Broncos play such elite quarterbacks performing at a high level after that bye week - Rodgers, Luck, Brady, Rivers (twice), Dalton and a returning Roethlisberger.  The Broncos have given up a total of 49 points in three games, against such high scoring offences this is a must to succeed.

As Chris Harris stated:
“That’s what it takes to win a Super Bowl,” said Harris. “You need everybody. Some games are going to be [Bruton]’s game, some games going to be T.J. [Ward]’s game, some going to be Aqib’s game – as long was we keep taking turns it’ll be looking great for us at the end of the year.”

And I have not even mentioned the pass rush which in addition to Von Miller includes first round draft pick Shane Ray, DeMarcus Ware and Lerentee McCray, who are giving offensive lines fits thus far.  These vaunted playmakers are making plays. Plays that could lead Peyton Manning to the Super Bowl and the perfect finale.

Running on Empty

Where might the Broncos come up short though may be the running game, which again had a woeful performance before injuries reared their ugly head.  CJ Anderson had 18 yards off of 8 carries before leaving the field with a possible concussion, although he passed a test he did not return.  After Anderson passed the test, back up Juwan Thompson (3 carries for 11 yards) left with a neck injury. This left Ronnie Hillman who had 13 yards off of 7 carries albeit a touchdown run also from near the goal-line.

This would be a worry for Denver going forward - something their running backs do not do lightly - if Manning does have an off day and cannot find Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders or the ever improving Owen Daniels then where is the running game to fall back on.  Ronnie Hillman is not the sort of running back to strike fear into defensive lines; whilst CJ Anderson has only garnered 74 yards at an average of 2.3 yards with a longest run of only 14 yards. 

Again not numbers to have defences worrying but if you have Manning tossing the ball as he is, can Denver totally forsake the run and put more pressure on Peyton's ageing and weary shoulders?

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