As the Denver Broncos rack up win after win in their current five-game streak, naturally the spotlight and credit falls on one face—the new guy, with the big-time pedigree, the Super Bowl ring and a bit of hardware inserted throughout his surgically repaired neck.
Peyton Manning is the city of Denver’s 2012 version of Ray Borque.
“I’M NOT THE MESSIAH!”
A constant refrain heard around Denver as the Colorado Avalanche were making their run to the 2001 Stanley Cup. Borque was in Denver for a very short stay, but long enough to help a winning franchise become great.
But like No. 77, Manning has shown flashes of rust despite amassing 300-yard, 3-touchdown games, one after another. On several occasions (including Sunday in Denver’s win over San Diego) he has put his team behind early with errant tosses that were cashed in for opponent points.
As much of the national focus has been placed squarely on Manning, it is the other side of the ball that is actually most integral to the play of the last two months, a stretch of games that now leaves the Broncos with a 7-3 record and maybe more importantly, a three-game lead in the AFC West.
This is a special Denver defense.
And it appears that it took this recent effort against the Chargers for the majority to notice that both sides of ball—not just Manning and the offense—are evolving. Both units are growing as a group, maturing and building trust and chemistry.
On Sunday, Denver’s defense held San Diego’s offense at a total standstill with a staggering stiffness, leading to punt after punt. Before their late third-quarter touchdown drive, the visitors from Southern California were only able to produce two total first downs—in almost 40 minutes of play.
With a mix of experience, youth, speed, speed and more speed, the Broncos defense has become a force of nature. They cause “all-game” havoc on opposing quarterbacks and usually at the center of the disruption is second-year monster, Von Miller. In addition to leading the entire league with 13 sacks, Miller has racked up another impressive stat in his first 26 NFL games: Only one player had more sacks during his first 26 NFL appearances. And it happened to be to the guy Miller is most often compared to—former Kansas City Chief, Derrick Thomas.
And contrary to his pass-rush specific performance of last year, Miller is becoming a major force in helping the team stop the opponent’s running game. He blows up runs to his side before they can even get set. He leads the league in tackles for loss. Miller is more than just a 3rd-down specialist.
Watch a Broncos game, and Miller is easy to point out. His athleticism and motor are undeniable and distinctive. Much like his sack dances.
Throw in an emerging linebacking star in Wesley Woodyard, a more consistent push from a veteran defensive line, the brilliance of Champ Bailey and budding young defensive backfield stars in Tony Carter and Chris Harris and you have something to build around. You have a defensive unit that will consistently make it tough on their opposition. You have one side of the ball that can cover for mistakes or shortcomings of the other side of the ball.
Like, for example, say you had a team with a sub-par quarterback.
Luckily for Broncos’ fans, this is not last year’s team.