Earlier today, I shared a writeup from Bill Barnwell about Peyton Manning and what may be contributing to his decline.
Let me start by saying that, while it’s understandable that the Peyton alarmists are annoying, we don’t respond to alarmists with “nothing to see here, move on” or “it’s not just Peyton,” even if the latter statement holds some truth. Instead, it’s better to take the approach Barnwell took by dispelling obvious myths while figuring out what may be the bigger issue.
Briefly, “arm strength” has never been Peyton’s strong point. It’s always been his ability to dissect defenses and adjust to whatever he sees. That’s still something he can do well, but because he is aging, he is having to compensate physically and it’s affecting his throws, as Barnwell described.
We shouldn’t pretend that Peyton isn’t declining, because all players enter that period at some point. I think the real issue with Barnwell’s writing is that he didn’t go into detail about what the Broncos need to do to compensate for Peyton’s decline.
That I will discuss to start my thoughts about last night’s game against Kansas City. Simply put, Gary Kubiak knows what Peyton can do well at this stage of his career, but he doesn’t want the offense to rely too much on it, because it could take its toll on him. Think back to John Elway’s final years, in which there were things he could do well, but Kubiak and Mike Shanahan approached the offense so that Elway didn’t have to do those things all the time and save wear and tear on him. (And, yes, it certainly helped having Terrell Davis in the backfield.)
What I think Kubiak wants to do is start with more run plays that force defenses to adjust and open up things for where Peyton excels. The problem is that the Broncos haven’t been able to get the running game going because the offensive line hasn’t come together yet.
I’ve previously shared insights about the O-line from Ben Muth, who is not a fan of Matt Paradis and sees Evan Mathis as a player needing to shake off the rust. Paradis is a big reason why the running game hasn’t been established enough, though I suspect Kubiak isn’t going to make a change right away, because he wants the O-line to get better as a unit. Because Mathis was a late signing, it will take a few games before the O-line gets into sync.
What should be seen as a positive is that Paradis is young and he should hopefully get better with time. There is cause for optimism with Ty Sambrailo as well. As for Mathis, I think Muth is correct that it’s simply about him getting back into form because he missed most of training camp. Once the line comes together, I believe the running game will follow and the Broncos won’t need Peyton to do so much heavy lifting.
The other issue that isn’t under Peyton’s control is the Broncos picking up the blitz, which is what has led to Peyton’s two pick sixes. The Broncos will need to get their backs to understand how to do that. They really haven’t had a good pass-blocking back since Knowshon Moreno left. I have hope, though, that either CJ Anderson or Ronnie Hillman will pick up on that, thus taking pressure off Peyton.
Again, it’s important to remember that it’s still early in the season and that the more the weaknesses get exposed earlier in the season, the easier it will be to correct them. Also, the fact that the games have been close and the Broncos needed rallies and a little luck to win, will remind them that they can’t overlook their weaknesses. I think that was a problem last season, in which the Broncos built large leads in a few early wins and coasted from there, while they looked at the losses as ones that came against tough opponents and “well, we had our chances,” but it led to the Broncos overlooking their weaknesses. By the time they worked to correct them, things were unraveling.
The Broncos have four more games before their bye week, and I would have been happy to finish 4-2 in those first six games. The Broncos are 2-0 and the schedule will lighten as they get closer to the bye week, so if the Broncos win against Detroit, I’ll feel even better about their chances of a 4-2 start.
Other observations about Thursday’s win:
* Earlier in the week, I had written that I did not think the Broncos defense would give up the big play, but that’s what happened. This is where I must stand corrected, because the Broncos do rotate Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware out of the game, leaving Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, and on Jamaal Charles’ 35-yard touchdown run, Ray was caught off guard. He expected Charles to come in one direction, but Charles cut the opposite way and Ray had no chance. This is to be expected from a rookie. With that said, the Broncos are vulnerable to the big play when the less-experienced pass rushers are on the field. They should learn from their mistakes, though.
* The other issue with the Broncos defense was obviously the unnecessary roughness penalties. While one might quibble with the penalty on Miller after a KC false start, in which the referees didn’t blow their whistles until Miller tackled Alex Smith, the Broncos lacked discipline early in the game. It’s easy to get frustrated, but the Broncos have to be smarter. The good news was that the Broncos didn’t have those penalties in the second half, but that’s something that can’t happen again. Four unnecessary roughness penalties in one half is a sign of no discipline.
* The good thing about the Broncos defense was, once again, they got a quarterback rattled and off balance. Alex Smith is far from elite, but he’s generally good at taking care of the football and his ability to scramble out of the pocket can be a problem. He did get away a couple of times, but on most plays when the pressure got to him, he had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And then there’s the two interceptions.
The second one was one in which I’m not sure what happened, but Smith put up a duck to where only Chris Harris was standing. Malik Jackson did brush Smith’s arm, but it really didn’t affect the throw. The ball was wobbly once Smith released it and no Chiefs player was nearby. It’s possible a KC player ran the wrong route, but I chalk it up more to Smith making a poor throw.
The first one was credit to Aqib Talib seeing a play develop and making a great play on the football. If he didn’t have to dive for the ball, he’s looking at another pick six. Talib has been terrific in the first two games and, if he keeps this up, there’s no way the Broncos will get rid of him next season. He’s been tossed around as a potential cap casualty, but it’s more likely that fate awaits Peyton (I continue to believe this will be his last season), Ryan Clady and Ware (who may likely to be “take pay cut or be cut”). Talib isn’t a spring chicken, but he’s not aging, either, so if his strong play continues, getting rid of him after the season for anything but a major off-field issue would be a bad idea.
* Sticking to Smith’s interception, I don’t blame Andy Reid for going away from the run game on that Chiefs drive. It’s clear what Reid was thinking: We are up by one score, but if we at least get a field goal, we make this a two-score game, so let’s get a quick drive into Broncos territory, which means being aggressive on offense. Again, I don’t think the issue with the interception was on Smith, but it was Talib making a great play. Nor do I think Reid was wrong to call that play. He may have taken blame for it, but some coaches do that if a play doesn’t develop as expected.
As for the “scoop and score” everyone is talking about, the play the Chiefs ran looked like one in which they hoped to fool the Broncos into thinking they were going to attack downfield, in the hopes of opening up the field for Charles. I can understand the thinking, but the Broncos weren’t fooled, as evidenced by Darian Stewart’s play. What it came down to, though, was Brandon Marshall being smart enough to see how Charles carried the ball and popping it out.
I don’t think Reid was wrong to not just kneel down and go into overtime. He was right to take a chance; he just didn’t draw up a play that fooled the Broncos. The bigger issue is that Charles didn’t secure the football and that’s what led to everything falling apart. Charles is a talented back and I would still put him in the top three among RBs, but he needs to protect the ball or what happened against Denver (and it happened twice) is going to happen more often.