Ah yes the bye week. The time when Bronco fans walk around in a stupor, with a blank stare, like a deer in the headlights, the most horribly afflicted drooling uncontrollably.
This year is a little different. Fans are basking in the fact that the team heads into the bye with a 6-0 record. They are not, however, gloating. If not for the outstanding effort of the defense and a dash of good luck, the Broncos could be, 3-3 or even 2-4.
The Broncos have been here before. This is the seventh time Denver has started the season with a 6-0 record. Of the previous six times the Broncos started 6-0 they only missed going to the Super Bowl once. That one missed opportunity was under the train wreck coaching of the son of Satan, Josh McDaniels. After starting 6-0, the team went 2-8 over the next 10 games and failed to make the playoffs.
Having the bye come in the seventh week of the season is great timing. After six hard fought games there are surprisingly few injuries to worry about. The worst of the walking wounded is Shane Ray, who went down to a knee injury in the Cleveland game. After an MRI the results showed a sprained MCL and he’ll miss four to six weeks. Other injuries include: Owen Daniels; shoulder, expected to practice, and Emmanuel Sanders; bruised shoulder, expected to be ready for Green Bay after the bye. Ty Sambrailo is also expected to return in time for the Green Bay game.
While the injury report is encouraging the Broncos are not going into the bye with all smiles and happy faces. There are lingering questions about the offense.
Perhaps the biggest question on the minds of Bronco fans is; what is it going to take to get the offense on track? Two things immediately come to mind.
One, Manning has to stop turning the ball over. He leads the NFL in interceptions, with 10. Too many have given the opposing team six points. After the game in Cleveland, Manning talked about feeling like he has to do too much—like he’s pressing. He doesn’t have the physical tools to carry a team anymore. This isn’t 2013. He has to better know and understand his own limitations. Eliminating the turnovers, in and of itself, will put the offense, and the team, in a much better position on gameday. The defense is awesome, but eventually, they won’t be able to overcome multiple Manning mistakes in a game.
Two, the Broncos have to improve their redzone offense. Most of this issue stems from the lack of a running threat and poor playcalling. The offensive line improved marginally in the last few games before the bye. If they can continue to improve, and maybe even take a huge step forward after the bye, and play with more physicality—more push, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson can pick up the yards.
As for the playcalling, that’s another issue the coaching staff will be self-scouting over the bye. They’ve been ineffectual and predictable in the redzone and frankly, with offensive minds like Kubiak and Manning, there’s really no excuse for it.
Then there is the Manning question. Will Kubiak continue to down the same path, or will he let Manning play, what is most likely, his last year doing what he does best? Kubiak is secure as head coach for the future. Manning not so much.
Woody Paige, sports columnist for The Denver Post, author, and a regular panelist on the ESPN sports-talk program Around the Horn, wrote a great article in the Denver Post last week about Manning.
In the article Paige compared Manning to Frank Sinatra in his later years, basically saying, you don’t dismiss a great career to the natural failings and diminished skills that come with age.
Paige writes, “Rather than be on his back, people should have his back.”
“When all is considered, this could be not Peyton’s worst, but, rather, his greatest season. He has aged in football years visibly; his skills are diminished; his hand is “tingly” from damaged nerves, and his arm and legs are weaker; defenses are wiser to what he no longer can do; he has been forced into a new system mostly unsuitable; he has not been aided by a forceful running game or a stalwart, cohesive offensive line; his tight ends and slot receivers are nonexistent; and Manning’s mental mistakes have been magnified.”
“Yet, he has been provided with the most extraordinary defense of his 17 seasons on the field in the NFL; he has a coaching staff striving to adjust to his needs; and the other players are doing their best to make the most of their quarterback’s last hurrah.”
“He isn’t the Manning of old, but the old Manning isn’t finished.”
There is still some game left in that aging shell. Paige continues, “Consider:
The 75-yard pass play with Emmanuel Sanders at Cleveland and the 72-drive in overtime for a field goal. Manning has an NFL-record 56 game-winning drives — including three in 2015.
The two touchdown passes before halftime in Kansas City to tie the game, and a 80-yard drive to tie it again — before the victory.
Long throws to Demaryius Thomas and Sanders to help propel Denver in Detroit.
The fourth-down, 1-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels in the victory over Minnesota, and another late drive for the go-ahead field goal.”
Manning is as competitive and determined as anyone who has ever played the game. When the chips are down he digs deep into every fiber of his being and somehow, more often than not, comes up with enough to continue to win games.
Next week the Broncos go against Green Bay. This will be a crucible test for the Broncos. Aaron Rodgers is playing some of the best football of his career and has the Packers are atop the NFC North with a 6-0 record.