The Broncos don’t need to go back to Adam Gase’s offense. They don’t need to fully embrace Gary Kubiak’s system. And they don’t need to develop some genetically altered hybrid attack.
They need to make one freaking play. That’ll solve their issues once and for all.
Sounds simple? It is, but the Broncos have been struggling mightily to do it of late.
In Sunday’s season-opening win over the Ravens, Denver failed to reach the end zone on offense and managed just 219 total yards. The Broncos once-powerful attack is clearly in a funk.
But the problem isn’t what most people think. It has nothing to do with Manning being uncomfortable with Kubiak’s offense. And it’s not a case of Father Time catching up with the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Instead, it’s simply a matter of the things being too crowded at the line of scrimmage.
Throughout the game, the Ravens took a page out of the Colts playbook from last year’s playoffs; they put 10 guys within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, brought pressure up the middle, and dared the Broncos to beat them downfield. And just like against Indianapolis, Manning couldn’t make Baltimore pay for covering everything over the top with just one safety positioned in the middle of the field.
For the most part, No. 18’s approach to this defensive strategy was the same in January as it was yesterday: He would take the snap and throw go routes to his receivers. But just like in the playoffs, the Broncos were unable to convert on any of those big-play opportunities.
It’s not that Manning couldn’t read the defense correctly; he saw the blitz coming and found the one-on-one matchup. And it’s not that he couldn’t get the ball to his receiver; time and again, his passes flew well beyond the intended target. The Broncos just couldn’t connect; for whatever reason, they couldn’t complete the pass.
And therein lies the problem. Without beating the tightly bunched defense over the top a time or two, there was no reason for the Ravens (or Colts or whoever is on the schedule next) to change tactics. As a result, they had too many men in the box for the Broncos to run the ball effectively and were able to blanket everything underneath in a way that prevented Denver from getting their short passing game going.
That’s a riddle that Manning and Company have to solve. Otherwise, they’re going to see the same defense over and over and over again; the Colts and Ravens have provided the blueprint for every other team to copy.
The good news is that it’s a relatively easy problem to fix. It’s not as though the Broncos have wideouts who can’t win one-on-one battles on the outside; Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas should be licking their chops when they see that kind of coverage. And it’s not like Manning can’t make those throws; even those who think the quarterback’s arm is shot have to admit that he’s overshooting the deep ball of late.
It’s all just a matter of timing. Denver didn’t have it down when they played the Colts last year, as they were unable to adjust on the fly and make plays. And they didn’t have it yesterday, either, as a lack of work during the preseason made it tough for Manning, Sanders and DT to be on the same page.
Eventually, the quarterback and his receivers are going to click; sooner rather than later, they’re going to start connecting on those passes. And when they do, it’ll result in some easy touchdowns.
That’ll get the defense out of alignments that crowd the line of scrimmage, which will open up the Broncos running attack and short passing game. Having a little room to operate will do wonders for Denver’s offense, as it’s currently stuck in neutral.
The problem isn’t Manning being a square peg in a round hole. It’s a matter of the Broncos being unable to make the one play they have to in order to loosen up the defense.
A perfectly timed go route or two is all it’s going to take to right the Broncos offensive ship. It’s just that simple.