As 2014 ends and the New Year begins everyone reflects on the past and looks to the future. The Denver Broncos year was eventful to say the least. The team finished 12-4 and won a fourth-straight AFC West title and enter 2015 with high aspirations. The biggest surprise of the year may have been the emergence of two Broncos.
Two players on the roster started the regular season quietly and with little thought to playing time. Brandon Marshall and C.J. Anderson entered the season with small roles and played their way to arguably the most important players on both sides of the ball. Heading into the New Year both athletes will now be expected and more importantly needed to play at an MVP level.
Marshall has been with the team for two seasons and made such an impact in training camp that he was listed second on depth chart in training camp. After some serious injuries to Danny Trevathan and then Nate Irving, Marshall was called upon to be an immediate starter in week one.
Before injuring his foot early in week 15 he was the lead run stopper of the defense. Even after missing nearly three games he is far ahead of the second best tackler on the team with 110 tackles on the season, 88 of those are unassisted. With little experience as a starter, his success this season has vastly contributed to the Broncos defense becoming a top-ten unit.
Marshall has had four games with double-digit tackles and according to Pro Football Focus, ranks fourth at outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Prior to his injury he hardly came off of the field and he has been missed the last three games.
Todd Davis and Steven Johnson have had to step in and play Marshall’s role but they have not been efficient enough to hold good offenses to short yardage. Johnson in particular has been below average. Thankfully, Marshall should be able to return to the starting lineup when the Broncos host the divisional playoff round on January 11th.
Anderson has been a savior to an offense that not only needed to find a rushing attack but has inexplicably had droughts in their infamous passing attack. Since he became the starting running back in week ten he has run for 767 yards and eight touchdowns. His 4.7 yards a carry has been much needed and his Pro Football Focus grade of 19.8 ranks him third best in the league, behind only Le’Veon Bell and Marshawn Lynch.
Anderson’s recent performances have not gone unnoticed either. After his 87-yard, three touchdown game versus the Oakland Raiders he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Heading into 2015 the Broncos obvious goal of winning a championship will be tied to these two players. Marshall’s return will bring back stability to the middle of the defense and add a boost to the second ranked, run defense. Marshall will be returning at the right time. Of the Broncos three potential opponents next week, two of them have elite running backs in Bell and Jeremy Hill.
Anderson’s play will directly effect if Peyton Manning can be kept upright and have the balance needed to beat the tough teams ahead. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only potential opponent that ranks in the top-ten of run defenses. Anderson and the Broncos would much rather face the two teams that they have already seen. The Bengals and Colts could allow Anderson to continue to shine.
Marshall and Anderson initially fell under the cliché “next man up” and were expected to simply step in momentarily until Trevathan and Montee Ball returned. Instead both players have exceeded expectations and helped save the season. Without Marshall’s and Anderson’s spectacular play this season you can add a loss or two to the Broncos. 2014 was a great year for both but both are hoping 2015 will be Super.