Last year the Broncos spread defenses out. They used 3-wide receiver formations with TE Julius Thomas, who can basically double as a 4th wide receiver given his athletic ability. On Sunday night against the Colts, the Broncos stayed in “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) for most of the night. One possible reason for this was Wes Welker’s absence. One definite reason for this was that it was a strategy designed to keep the Colts’ base defense on the field. This left tight end Julius Thomas matched on a slower linebacker or an undersized safety on several occasions, and Peyton Manning exploited this mismatch.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will fit in just fine as Eric Decker’s replacement. He is much more versatile than Decker, with the ability to align outside and in the slot effectively. He can get off press coverage, and most importantly, he offers a vertical downfield speed threat that the Broncos (the record setting Broncos) did not have at all last season.
The move to keep “12” personnel on the field and use tight formations was also an effort to keep Peyton Manning upright. Aligning tight ends close to the formation meant that edge rushers had further to run to get to Manning, which left him with more time to throw. Manning also had reliable left tackle Ryan Clady back after losing him for 17 games in 2013. Last year’s left tackle, Chris Clark, moved over to right tackle, and last year’s right tackle, Orlando Franklin, moved to left guard. Denver’s offensive line is now much bulkier. Ultimately, the only sack allowed on Sunday night was at the end of the game versus a well-designed blitz on 3rd and long.
Give it to Montee:
After their dismantling in the Super Bowl at the hands of the Seahawks, the Broncos talked all offseason about being a more physical overall team. This was why they signed T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, and DeMarcus Ware. On Sunday, they looked to try and establish a physical running game on offense. They used lots of powers and counters, and put the ball in Montee Ball’s hands often. Ball showed off his quick feet and a little bit of physicality by consistently getting yards after contact.
The Broncos also used lots of play-action off of the run. Manning was under center more frequently than normal and used stretch run play-action looks (a la his days in Indy) to hold would-be pass rushers as well as defenders in coverage. We don’t know if the Broncos are looking to play more of their offense under center throughout the season or if this was just a one-week thing. It would make sense to try and establish a physical rushing attack and a more balanced offense in order to protect Peyton and to be able to compete against teams like Seattle.
The less than stellar 2nd half displayed by the Broncos was nothing more than poor execution. They failed to extend drives by hurting themselves with penalties, dropped passes, a few missed blocks and confusion in assignments. Manning also missed two throws at the end of the game. However, the issues the Broncos faced in this half were not indicative of some systemic failure that they need to worry about moving forward.