The debate regarding the Broncos offense rages on. At this point there are so many nuances and levels of contention, I’ve lost track.
Is Peyton Manning the same? Is Manning healthy? Can he play in this offense? Why isn’t the offense being more tailored to his skillset? Do the Broncos miss their targets in the middle of the field? Why can’t they run the ball this year behind a poor offensive line when they were able to last year? Is Manning’s inability to stretch the field preventing this offense from working?
Amidst all of this, there is an even larger debate: Does it really matter?
The Broncos are 5-0 heading into a game with a Cleveland Browns team that figures to be an easy whipping boy for Denver. Some have even gone as far as to say that the Broncos could run up the score against Cleveland, leading to a false sense that all is well with the offense when really it was nothing more than the exploitation of yet another hapless Browns defense.
What’s more, with the San Diego Chargers falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, Denver has, in essence, a three game lead in the division just five weeks into the regular season.
While Denver has compiled their 5-0 record against teams that are a combined 6-18, the Green Bay Packers have compiled the same record against a bunch who’s a combined 7-18. Manning has struggled to stretch the field, yet only three teams in the league have more passes than Denver of 15 yards or more in the last four weeks.
Perhaps most importantly, this Denver defense is otherworldly. Even if the Broncos offense never hits the stride we all hoped (heck, hoped that it would have already), surely this is the caliber of defense that can carry a team. There is precedent after all. As Andrew Mason of denverbroncos.com pointed out, four of the last 15 Super Bowl champions (’00 & ’12 Ravens, ’02 Buccaneers, ’03 Patriots) won multiple games without scoring an offensive touchdown. Denver falls into that same category.
But if that’s to be the fate of the 2015 Denver Broncos, they will have to develop a running game, like those teams had. Because while I can’t definitively answer any of the pertinent questions about the Broncos offense any more than anyone else who cares to speculate on the state of the team, I can tell you this: The Broncos will get slaughtered by Green Bay after the bye week if they can’t find a way to muster more offense than they have through almost a third of the season. One loss to the Packers may not seem like much, but for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, the game against Green Bay is one of few that truly matters on Denver’s schedule.
The Broncos offense has been the definition of “good enough” so far. Stalled drive after stalled drive, but, with the ability to execute one late march down the field to secure the victory. That ability is often underestimated in the NFL, and Manning’s knack for it at his age should be commended.
But against a team like the Packers, or the Patriots, or even the Bengals, it likely won’t come down to executing one last possession.
Looking around the league, Denver has had one of the top team performances thus far. But no one in their right mind should think that this offense can get it done against the class of the NFL. The defense has done more than its part so far, but counting on pick-sixes to win you the game on a consistent basis is a recipe for failure.
The Broncos offense may have been “good enough” so far. But this is a team with expectations and aspirations. 5-0 is a good start, but Denver’s latest efforts would get them beaten soundly against the Packers.
Come January, when the games finally start to matter for teams with expectations, those are the quality of teams they’ll be up against every week.