While most people don’t put much stock into a preseason record, it has to feel nice to new Denver Broncos’ coach Gary Kubiak to look up and see his team sitting at 3-0 during the exhibition schedule. Nobody wants to go through August without a win. However, looking closer at the juggernaut that has been the Broncos’ offense during the Peyton Manning era, something is amiss.
There are three things that could and most likely have affected the lackluster performance of Denver’s first unit during their three preseason games thus far: the first, is Manning’s forced “time off” days during training camp. This has resulted in less reps for the 39-year-old, and more reps for fifth-year backup Brock Osweiler. Second, the new pieces on the offensive line are still trying to learn the system, and gel. Finally, an injury to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and now a dinged up C.J. Anderson, hasn’t allowed the entire Broncos’ first unit to play together much beyond a handful of offensive series.
In eleven possessions this preseason, the Broncos’ starting offense has scored exactly twice: both field goals. Definitely not what fans and GM John Elway were hoping to see through three weeks of exhibition play. Could age finally be catching up to Manning? In this weekend’s win vs. San Francisco, Manning was a pedestrian 14-of-21 for 124 yards, and an interception. Through the first three games, Manning is sitting at 22-of-36, for only 176 yards, no touchdowns, and a Quarterback rating of 63.5, a far cry from his usual career norms.
To be fair, the Broncos’ running game has fared much better, averaging 114.7 yards per game. Kubiak could be focusing on his run-block scheme, trying to get the line used to the “old Broncos way” of running the football, going back to former head coaches Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan. Kubiak and Elway have put the old band back together somewhat, installing long-time Broncos’ defensive coordinator and head coach Wade Phillips, back into the fold, running what appears to be a much quicker, running and hitting defense.
There should be concern with the offensive line, and the ultimate safety of their statuesque signal caller, as he’s been sacked three times this preseason (all against San Francisco), while allowing two other sacks among Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. The Broncos ultimately, will only go as far as Manning takes them. It’s hard to run an offensive powerhouse if Manning is attempting to run for his life constantly, or is on his back. If opposing teams realize they can blitz in droves, and penetrate the backfield, Denver will have to adjust by using shotgun formations, which makes the running game completely ineffective.
Eight men in the box will force the revamped offensive line to hold off blitzing linebackers and safeties. Until Denver can prove that they can make defenses pay for those mistakes, it could be a tough first few weeks for Manning, and what should be one of the most dynamic offensive units in the entire NFL. In what is most likely Peyton Manning’s final season in Denver, anything short of a Lombardi Trophy returning to the Mile High City, will be deemed a failure and a huge disappointment.