It’s been a weird season for the Denver Broncos, with a perfect start despite disappointing performances from Peyton Manning and the offense in general, while the defense seems to be keeping them in games, not to say winning them.
Having a soft schedule helps with the 5-0 record. The teams they’ve beaten have a 6-18 record so far this season, winning just 25% of their game. No one has come close to this kind of easy road to perfection among the other undefeated teams, although at least three of the teams on the Broncos schedule weren’t supposed to be this terrible. And even with these kind of opponents, the Broncos struggle in putting games away, winning by seven points or less in four of the five games.
The offense is 26th in the NFL with 302.6 per game. They’re just 23rd in the passing offense and 30th in running the ball with just 71.6 yards per game. Remember how last season they were working on getting C.J. Anderson more and more prepared to take a bigger part of the offense? Well that hasn’t been working. Not-too-intelligent reads from him himself and poor run blocking altogether lead to these poor numbers, with Anderson averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. Ronnie Hillman has been their leading rusher with 212 yards on 46 carries.
And what about Manning himself? Well, last season’s second half wasn’t just an illness, lingering injury or a phase. He’s declined, and being the oldest starting quarterback in the league comes with its share of problems. Manning is still breaking and setting new records, but it looks bad. Less fluid than before, and often damaging to his own team, instead of being the one everyone rallies around.
How bad are things? He’s completing just 63.5% of his passes, which is his lowest ratio since 2001. He has thrown just six touchdowns in five games while being intercepted 7 times. His passer rating of 77.3 is the lowest of his career excluding his rookie season. This isn’t a phase, or just an offensive line problem. This is Manning getting closer and closer to the end for him as a dominant starting quarterback.
For now, there’s a defense keeping things together. The Broncos are fifth in the league in total defense, allowing just 278 yards per game. They lead the NFL in sacks with 22. Their 14 takeaways this season is an NFL-best (7 interceptions, 7 fumbles), and despite Manning’s turnovers, the differential is tied for second best in the league. By the looks of things, even if the offense does slightly improve, it’s going to be more of the defense doing the carrying this season.