We’re starting a new Tuesday feature on the blog today. It’s our early look at the upcoming opponent. The opinions expressed here belong to the author, who welcomes everyone else to form they’re own.
Let’s roll …
NEXT UP: Denver Broncos, 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Denver is one of three AFC teams and seven NFL teams that are 3-0 entering Week 4.
A LOOK AT THE FILM: Don’t blame Peyton
I know that declaring Peyton Manning washed up at age 39 is the trendiest thing going in NFL journalism at this particular nanosecond. Here’s what I see when I look at the tape: An entirely new offensive line that’s porous with no push, a system under new coach Gary Kubiak that is evolving, and a quarterback who is unfairly under fire for not having the arm strength to make the many weaknesses around him disappear. Manning showed on several occasions in Sunday night’s win over the Lions that he has enough arm strength to capitalize on what he does best, which is read defenses as fast as any player in NFL history (probably faster). He hasn’t had a strong arm in years, if ever. That’s not the issue. The offensive line is the biggest issue. Kubiak changing the offense also makes no sense, but he did show some common sense Sunday night when he backed off putting Manning under center as much as he did the first two weeks. Manning, who was under center for only two snaps against the Lions, looked much more comfortable.
STRENGTH: Pass defense
Defensively, Denver really doesn’t have a weakness, which is why the Broncos rank No. 1 in five defensive categories, including overall defense (259.0 yards allowed per game) and pass defense (176.3). The edge rushers — Vonn Miller over right tackle and DeMarcus Ware on the blind side — are the best 1-1a punch when it comes to terrorizing quarterbacks. The 33-year-old Ware is second in the league in sacks with 3 1/2. The cornerbacks are exceptional and three deep with Aqib Talib, who has two interceptions, including a pick-six, Chris Harris Jr., who has an interception, and Bradley Roby, who has an interception and a fumble return for a touchdown.
WEAKNESS: Offensive line
The Broncos traded center Manny Ramirez to Detroit to move up in the draft to select defensive end Shane Ray. They lost left guard Orlando Franklin to San Diego via free agency. All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady suffered a torn ACL during a May OTA. Former Eagle Evan Mathis was added in late August, but hasn’t helped much to this point. Rookie second-round pick Ty Sambrailo is starting at left tackle, while 2014 sixth-rounder Matt Paradis is starting at center.
Read that graph and you might have a better feel for why Manning has spent three weeks running and ducking for his life. Or why he isn’t throwing the ball farther down the field more often. It doesn’t help that the Broncos are last in the league in rushing average (2.6 per carry, tied with Detroit). Against the Lions, the Broncos had 19 carries for 41 yards (2.2). Manning had to throw the ball at least 40 times for the third straight week.
STAT OF THE WEEK: 18.8
— Percentage of third downs that Denver’s defense has allowed. Opponents have converted only 6 of 32 third-down situations. That ranks No. 1 in the league. No. 2 belongs to Houston, which has allowed 21.1 percent (8 for 38).
TURNOVER MARGIN: Plus-6 (No. 1)
In the most important statistic besides the injury report, the Broncos rank No. 1 in the league. They have 10 takeaways — second behind the Jets (11) — and four giveaways, including three Manning interceptions.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Penalties
Denver is the eighth-most penalized team in the league with 25. The Broncos have had eight personal fouls in the past two games. Seven of those have come on the defense. Last week, the defense had six of the team’s eight penalties, including two personal fouls. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips belongs to coaching trees planted by his dad, Bum, and Buddy Ryan. So it’s no surprise that the Broncos commit a lot of aggressive penalties on defense. Miller has been penalized for roughing-the-passer and unnecessary roughness the past two weeks. Ware also had a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Chiefs in Week 2.
THE QUOTE: Defensive end Malik Jackson on how the Broncos will stop running back Adrian Peterson:
“I think it’s our job to make sure he doesn’t get to the second level. I think it’s one of those things where we’re going to game plan for him and we’re going to do what we do. We’ve got some good inside linebackers with Danny [Trevathan] and Brandon [Marshall] and with Todd [Davis] coming in there. It’s one of those things that I think we’re going to be alright. I think we’ve proven ourselves the last few weeks in a row and keep proving ourselves. Each week presents a challenge. We’re just going to keep working. This week it’s A.P., so I think we’ll find a way to do what we need to do.”