What A Difference A Bye Makes – Robert Volpe

R.-Hillman-1031

Last Sunday night the Denver Broncos beat the Green Bay Packers 29-10 on national TV’s “Sunday Night Football.

This wasn’t just a win. It was a statement about how good the Broncos can be as a team when both sides of the ball are in the zone and executing. The previous 6 wins for the Broncos were somewhat atypical in that the defense defined success instead of the offense.

All week the scuttlebutt on the street was that Kubiak’s game plan for the Packers was to try and keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands. Good plan, but just how to you go about doing that when your run game is one of the worst in the league?

The bye was critical to the Broncos improvement on offense. The offensive line and the run game had an extra week to work themselves into a more cohesive unit. Extra work on blocking schemes for pass protection and run blocking paid off. Manning wasn’t sacked once and CJ Anderson had his first 100 yard game rushing.

It seems Manning and Kubiak also came to a compromise on who is in the best position to run the offense. The first play of the game Manning came out and hit Demaryius Thomas for 18 yards. The no huddle was back too. The fast paced no huddle caught the Packer defensive backs off guard and Manning’s third down pass to Thomas drew a pass interference call.

That first drive didn’t result in points, but it sent a message that Manning was in control and was going to go deep every chance he got. Demaryius Thomas had a break out game catching 8 passes for 168 yards.

The biggest surprise to me was when the Broncos discovered that had tight ends. Up until last Sunday night Denver’s tight ends had only been targeted 34 times this season. Compare that to the Patriots who targeted their tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler 78 times in 7 games. Manning passed to Virgil Green 3 times for 61 yards and Owen Daniels caught 3 passes for 44 yards.

The Bronco passing attack combined with a much improved offensive line opened up the run game. Green Bay’s defense came into the game number one in the league with fewest points allowed. The Broncos run game finally got on track and scored three rushing touchdowns against that Green Bay defense. CJ Anderson ran the ball 14 times for 101 yards including a 28 yard touchdown. Ronnie Hillman had 19 carries for 60 yards and 2 touchdowns including a 15 yard sprint to the end zone.

Mannning had a good game despite throwing his eighth interception late in the fourth quarter. He completed 21 of 29 for 340 yards and spread the ball around to 8 different receivers.

The Broncos improved their Red Zone efficiency getting 2 TD’s on three times inside the 20 and scored TD’s both times they were goal to go.

The Bronco defense impressed again Sunday night.

Aaron Rodgers had 1491 yards and 15 TD passes coming into Sunday’s game. Denver’s pass rush and “No Fly Zone” secondary held the number 2 passing team in the NFL to 77 yards passing and 90 yards rushing.

Rodgers was pressured 63% of the time he dropped back to pass, was sacked 3 times and was running around like his hair was on fire looking for open receivers. The pass rush did a great job up the middle as well as from the outside with Ware and Miller. Anthony Smith scored one sack bull rushing right up the gut and Miller and Ware each got one from the outside.

The Bronco defense knew that Rodgers was most successful when he scrambled out of the pocket, extending plays and finding receivers who shook off coverage deep. While the defensive line contained Rodgers and kept him from getting out of the pocket most of the night Aquib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. stayed with Packer receivers like a second skin.

The blend of Manning’s fast paced no huddle, pushing the ball down field, combined with Kubiak’s two tight ends running attack came together for the first time this season. If the Broncos can play this kind of offensive ball we will be talking seriously about a Super Bowl appearance very soon.

This game was Denver’s mid term exam. All the “work in progress” study and cramming done to this point paid off against the toughest team to date that the team has played. Two teams came in at 6-0 and only one would leave with a 7-0 record.

Next week the Broncos go back on the road to Indianapolis to play the Colts. This will be Manning’s second homecoming since he’s been a Bronco and he has a score to settle with Andrew Luck and the Colts. Should be another good game.