AFC WEST BRONCOS 2014 STRENGTHS: • High-scoring offense, outstanding kicker and improved secondary Broncos Offense Peyton Manning just completed a six-yard pass on the right sideline. Quick. Guess who caught it. DeMaryius Thomas? Good place to start. Caught 92 for 1430 yards and 14 touchdowns. Nope, on to the next play. Manning, bubble route on left, gets a five-yard completion run out of bounds. Guess who? Nope, Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker aren’t in Denver anymore. Those 133 receptions will now be going to rookie Cody Latimer and running back replacements Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Next pass, 10-completion upfield to who? If it was the little guy, it was Wes Welker, good for 87 catches, 1288 yards and 11 TDs in 2013. If he was a big guy, that’s Julius Thomas, 65-788-12. Just like a machine, Manning marches down the field; using his receivers as interchangeable parts. Although Denver ran the ball only 41 percent of the time, they keep them just as involved as his receivers, either as pass catchers or other devices. The average Bronco pass netted 7.8 yards per play in 2013, while the average run was 4.1. Manning only had 10 interceptions in 2013, though his teammates fumbled away a league-worst 16 on-the-ground turnovers. The Denver offensive line, according to Football Outsiders, protected Manning better than any other team, while also ranking eighth as a run-block offense. That’s why left tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Louis Vasquez have been to Pro Bowls in the past, and also why left guard Orlando Franklin and center Manny Ramirez deserve to go in the future. It’s why the Bronco front five is one of the most synergetic around, with the nucleus playing so many games together as Broncos: Clady, 85; right tackle Chris Clark, 62; Franklin, 53; Ramirez, 39; Vasquez, 19. Offensive Player to Watch Pro Football Focus runs a plethora of stats on every player that truly gives you a picture of every NFL player and no set of league-leading stats describe Manning better than these: He led NFL on second-down grades (+18.1) and was third on third down (+13.0); led NFL on passes thrown in 1-to-10-yard range and also 2014 WEAKNESSES: • Untested running backs, defensive depth and unknown special teams game. DENVER in 11-to-20-yard in air range (+12.1); led NFL on passes lasting two seconds or less (+11.3) as well as passes in 3.1 to 3.5 range; led NFL in clean pocket passes (+39.2); led NFL on go routes (+17.6) and out routes (+13.0). Quick and precise. Even at 38. Still coming through on second and third downs to move the chains. On the go, or on outs. As efficient as ever. That’s Manning. Broncos Defense The Broncos got off on the wrong foot in 2013, and even though they reached the Super Bowl, these Broncos never did fully recover from a slow start which had its defense playing from a hole from the very get-go. Remember when an agent’s fax-machine faux pas cost Denver their defensive end Elvis Dumervill? Or when Von Miller’s fumbled urine test cost him a six-game suspension? Justin Bannan’s exit? It is no wonder Denver’s D dropped. After all, it all started when the 2013 Denver D started allowing 6.8 more points per game than the 2012 Denver D (18.1 to 24.9 points per game), ultimately grading out at Football Outsiders as ninth best in run defense and 21st in pass defense. But that’s good enough when you also had Manning and the NBA’s premium offensive army at your service. To succeed in 2014, GM John Elway and Broncos management made sure head coach John Fox and his defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had the extra ammunition going into the season. Namely, the offseason loss of Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie has already been offset with the additions of three studly DBs in safety T.J. Ward, corners Aqib Talib and firstround rookie Bradley Roby. Add defensive end extraordinaire DeMarcus Ware to the pass rush and Denver’s D cannot help but return to 2012 level, quickly turning that No. 21 pass-defense ranking stain into a thing of the past. Who knows? These big additions may make Denver’s D so good that Miller starts going back to Pro Bowls again, perhaps bringing along deserving veteran teammates like corner Chris Harris, linebacker Danny Trevathan or defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
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