Sunday, September 7, 2014

Broncos survive scare from Colts 31-24

I can still remember the first football game I ever played in. Back in seventh grade I finally convinced my parents to let me get out on the gridiron, I joined a brand new Parker Hawks team (Hawks White) and was ready to get on my path to the NFL. I couldn't wait to score touchdowns, sack quarterbacks, and live the glory. Things didn't quite turn out the way I envisioned.

Quarterback was the position I played during our epic recess games in elementary school. After I put on shoulder pads and got out on the field at our first practice, I recall it being very difficult to throw a ball. A little voice in my head told me this game was going to be a bit different from the one I played with my buddies on the playground.

In our first game we kicked off and our opponent started with the ball on their own 10 yard-line (or so). I lined up at defensive end, saw the snap, and watched the running back take the ball 90 yards for an easy touchdown. All I could think was, "Wow, now it's our turn to score!"

We didn't even get a first down in that first game. It took us a couple contests to score a touchdown and we never got close to winning a single game. There was a lot to learn.

The Broncos spent the off-season thinking about their Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks and ways they could learn from that embarrassment. New faces were brought in to shore up the weak spots and away we go.

First up for Denver was the Indianapolis Colts. Here are some observations from tonight's game:

-The Broncos passing game looks as lethal as ever. Emmanuel Sanders gives the team an extra level of speed that they didn't possess last season. Extra weapons in the passing game is always nice, but not having Wes Welker (suspended) or Eric Decker (signed with Jets) was noticeable. When Denver needed some clutch plays at the end of the game, Peyton Manning overthrew Sanders a couple times. Lacking a bigger body in Decker? Just one game? We shall find out.

Manning finished the night 22-36 for 269 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Whether it's Peyton, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase, or Head Coach John Fox going conservative in the second half with a 24-7 lead ... that's going to make for a lot of scary games. It has to be tough for a high-powered offense to flip the switch on and off and the Broncos have shown how tough that can be with four scoring drives in four chances in the first half and just one scoring drive in five chances in the second half. Four drives resulted in punts in the second half ...

-Denver's running game looked atrocious. Montee Ball carried the rock 23 times for just 67 yards (2.9 per carry), CJ Anderson had 4 carries for 27 yards (6.8 per carry), and Sanders had one end-around for 11 yards.

It's silly that Denver plays out of the shotgun, almost exclusively, inside the five yard line. Ball was a touchdown machine at Wisconsin, he scored 55 touchdowns in his final two seasons for the Badgers ... let him run it. This team just isn't going to play a lot of smash mouth football, whether it's Peyton wanting TD passes or the team's inability to draw up plays with Manning under center ... something just isn't right there. Don't expect to see any changes either, tonight's redzone offense is the one we'll see most of the season.

It's hard to be great at both run blocking and pass protection, but the Broncos have to get better running the football. Ball has all the talent needed, but he rarely got through the line of scrimmage without being touched. I'd expect to see improvement with the O-line as they gel, but the run plays Denver calls are not exactly set up for the greatest success. No fullback, often draws up the gut, and everyone knows what is coming.

-Julius Thomas continues to impress with 7 catches in 8 targets, 104 yards, and 3 touchdowns for the big man. Once Welker gets back on the field, it's really going to be fun to watch Manning go to work. It'd also be nice to see rookie Cody Latimer get some burn as his 6'3" frame could allow Sanders to play in the slot and really do some damage. One can dream ...

-DeMaryius Thomas had a bit of a rough night. He was targeted a team-high 11 times, but only came up with 4 catches for 48 yards. He had one screen pass go through his hands and was overthrown a couple times. There will be a lot more attention paid to DT this season by the opposing defenses, but his talent can't be contained for long.

-DeMarcus Ware is a beast. I watched the game with my Cowboy fan buddy and he had nothing but great things to say about Ware. Heck, no Cowboys fan I've talked to had a bad thing to say about him. It was nice to see him in Orange and watch him flying off the edge all night. He won't give quarterbacks much time maybe he can take some heat off Von Miller. He finished with 1 solo tackle, 1.5 sacks, and 2 QB hits.

-Von finished the night with just 1 tackle, but his presence on the edge is huge. The guy faces double-teams all night and you have to game plan for him. I expect Von to have some big games this year, coming off injury, and liked seeing him back on the field.

-I was eager to see a couple guys in the secondary: T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby. Ward is a monster! He was all over the place and plays the game with a lot of Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater-esque physicality. Roby made 7 tackles on the night and had 3 passes deflected, with the big one coming on a 4th and 6 against Reggie Wayne that iced the game for the Broncos.

-Rahim Moore grabbed both Andrew Luck interceptions and had this to say after the game to NBC's Michelle Tafoya:

"We played great football. It was kind of ugly for a little bit, but at the end of the day when you win, that's a great day in the NFL."

Ugly is right. Denver was outscored 17-7 in the second half and, again, punted the ball on four of five drives. While exchanging texts with friends, it seems everyone came to the same conclusions: going conservative doesn't work with this team and we've seen enough late comebacks from the opposition.

One win in the books, but a lot of work to do for that trophy.

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