The undefeated Denver Broncos are going through a weird season, in which Peyton Manning is doing terribly, seemingly worse every week that goes by, while the defense keeps finding ways to save him and the team from losses.
Until Manning connected with Emmanuel Sanders for a fourth quarter touchdown in the 26-23 overtime win over the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos went 26 offensive drives without a touchdown, the last one coming in the third quarter in the week 4 win over the Minnesota Vikings. This isn’t just some bad stretch that will blow over. This is a continuation of a bad Manning second half to last season, using illness or an injury (that existed or not) as an excuse.
Meanwhile there’s a defense that’s a close second in yards allowed per game (281.3), leads the NFL in sacks (26), is second in interceptions (9) with three touchdowns, also a league best, while forcing 13 fumbles (another league best) and scoring one touchdown off of those. All that to hide that Manning is currently at a -3 in his touchdown-interception ratio and has a passer rating of 72.5, slightly above his rookie season (71.2) which is by far the worst of his career.
The Broncos continuously leaning on Manning and playing a system that’s as if nothing has changed for him results in being 30th in the league in running the ball. Meanwhile, Manning is intercepted on 4.2% of his throws (his highest besides the 2001 season) and throws a touchdown on only 3% of them, which his career low being 4.5%. His 10 interceptions this season are the most in the NFL, and is on pace to throw 26 interceptions, two shy of his career high.
The illustrious numbers the Denver Broncos defense has been presenting should be looked at more carefully because of their opponents. They combined record of the team’s they’ve beaten is 10-24. They have faced three top 10 ranked offenses in terms of yards. But points? The most prolific unit they’ve faced has been the one led by Joe Flacco, 11th in the league.
There’s been talk about the system the Broncos have been using being all wrong for Manning. It’s also hurting their running game, only 30th in the league in yards per game and 27th in yards per carry. But there seems to be confidence that whatever it is that’s bringing Manning to a career-worst kind of performance every week will end at some point. The problem is that things do get more difficult down the line, and this over reliance on the defense coming up with big plays time and time again will eventually result in disappointment.