The insanity of Super Bowl week has begun in earnest, with Media Day’s stupidity and awkwardness on full display. But here at Mostly Average Joe we’re not going to waste your time with silly questions about if Peyton Manning has watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Yep, actually happened.) Instead, we’re spending this week getting you fully prepared for the final game of the 2013-2014 NFL season. Before The Opening Drive kicks off later in the week, we’re going to take an in-depth look at the two teams in the Super Bowl. First up? The AFC Champion Denver Broncos.
Any discussion of the Denver Broncos will likely start AND end with Peyton Manning. He started off strong with seven passing touchdowns coming in the first game of the season versus the defending champion Ravens. Even then, we could see that this year would be something special. And was it ever. The 37-year old quarterback had a season for the ages, throwing for the most yards and touchdowns ever in a single season. And now he’s blown past Philip Rivers and Tom Brady to appear in his third Super Bowl, hoping to win his second. The “Peyton doesn’t like cold weather” statistics are lazy and don’t reallt tell the story, as far as I’m concerned. (I’ve done at length about why they’re stupid.) But his arm clearly isn’t as strong as it used to be (and it was never a cannon), so he’s thrown plenty of wobblers this season that have inexplicably ended up in the breadbasket of a receiver. His timing and knowledge of the game is probably at its peak, which can help offset his clear physical limitations. He’s been kept clean this season too, taking only 18 sacks.
The Bronco offensive line has seen it’s share of problems in 2013, with center Dan Koppen going down in July’s training camp with an ACL tear. And then left tackle Ryan Clady was put on Injured Reserve in September due to a Lisfranc injury to his foot. Despite the early troubles, they’ve gelled in pass protection and at times have established their will in the running game. The interior of their line has been their strength, with former Charger Louis Vasquez excelling at right guard. Zane Beadles has been their steadfast rock at left guard, taking pressure off center Manning Ramirez. Denver’s inconsistencies on the line has come from their tackle positions, with LT Chris Clark sometimes taking terrible angles on rushers or having no leverage whatsoever.
Those big boys have cleared the way for several running backs this season, with Knowshon Moreno (and his EPIC tears) first among them. Moreno’s revived his career after struggling through his first several years in the league. He’s adapted to the new offense and is the most reliable of the tailbacks when it comes to making the right reads on blocking assignments. That combined with his 51 catches and 9.7 yard per reception average has earned him the right to start. He’s backed up these days by rookie Montee Ball, who has come on to be productive enough to knock Ronnie Hillman out of the line-up altogether. (Though Hillman’s fumbling issues didn’t help either.)
Manning had a decent crop of receivers last season, with Demaryius Thomas still developing into the next Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker making as many spectacular plays as head-scratching ones. But this season he gained a new weapon, with Wes Welker signed away from the New England Patriots in the offseason. Welker’s missed significant time due to concussions, but his impact has been felt on this offense. He’s improved their short game and created a match-up nightmare in the slot. This means more space for Thomas and Decker to operate on the outside. Manning has spread the ball effectively to his receivers, with all three of the above catching at least ten touchdowns during the season. The fourth receiver to catch ten scores? This next guy.
After spending the bulk of his early career on the sidelines, Julius Thomas entered the season healthy and raring to go, catching four touchdowns in his first three games on his way to twelve for the year. He’s a big dude at 6’5″ and 250 lbs, making him an effective in-line blocker. But it’s his great hands that have made him such a redzone target. He doesn’t have the straight-away speed of some of the other productive tight ends in the NFL, but he moves the sticks consistently. And that’s how this Bronco offense works best.
Since the Broncos started the year without Von Miller (substance abuse suspension), they were more than prepared to compensate when he went out for the year with an ACL tear. Shaun Philips was supposed to compliment Miller, but instead he’s been forced to assume the role of the top pass-rusher, totaling ten sacks in 2013. DT Kevin Vickerson is on injured reserve, a key cog in their interior rush defense. Sylvester Williams and Terrance Knighton have done their best to muck up the middle, with five sacks and six tackles for a loss between them. Robert Ayers is still hanging around at defensive end, providing the occasional sack as well.
Denver may have one of the least-talked about but best young weak-side linebackers in football in Danny Trevathan. The dude’s been in on 128 tackles this season, BY FAR the most on the team. He’s forced four fumbles (leads the team), picked off three passes (tied for the team lead), tackled for loss seven times (second on team), and deflected ten passes (tied for third on the team), which means he does everything well. Wesley Woodyard and Nate Irving are dependable at the middle and strong-side positions, but Trevathan puts up the numbers and has made the big plays when they mattered.
The Bronco secondary has been inconsistent and has let up a ton of passing yards during the season, but that’s also a by-product of the Bronco offense jumping out to such leads. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been the near shutdown corner the Broncos hoped he’d be when they signed him during free agency. He’s deflected 15 passes and picked off another three. He’s always ready to run back an interception. No Chris Harris (ACL tear) at corner has led to quite a bit of Champ Bailey on the outside in the playoffs, the very position where he screwed up in coverage last year against the Ravens. Harris’ production (58 tackles, 13 passes deflected, 3 INT’s) will be hard for Champ to replace. Quentin Jammer is relatively well-known name for a third corner (formerly of San Diego), but he’s been frequently exposed in coverage this year. I like Duke Ihenacho (I pronounce it “Dookie Nachos”), but he’s sometimes so physical that he swings in and out of the line-up with tweaks and minor injuries. They’re missing Rahim Moore, who despite being placed on recallable IR, will not be available because of “lateral compartment syndrome.” (I have no idea what that means and I don’t want to Google it. But you can.) Moore is a young, quality safety that this secondary will miss against Seattle’s big play receivers.
Matt Prater is a strong-legged kicker that has benefitted from the thin Denver air. But he’s been the best in the league in terms of accuracy this year. The Broncos also have a punter that never sees the field. Maybe he’s the holder on field goals and extra points. Who the hell knows/cares? (Sorry Mr. Punter.) Trindon Holliday has been shuffled in and out of the returner role thanks to fumbling problems, but he’s capable of single-handedly changing any game.
While Peyton Manning is often perceived (and rightly so) as a coach on the field, we can’t forget about the excellent staff Denver has in place. Head coach John Fox went to a Super Bowl with Jake “No Such Thing as Too Many Interceptions” Delhomme as his quarterback, so he clearly knows what he’s doing. This year he’s been helped out by Adam Gase, the first year offensive coordinator. Gase was being considered a leading candidate for the Cleveland Browns gig before turning it down to stay with Denver (and Manning?) another season. Jack Del Rio has left an imprint on this defense, getting them to step-up when they’ve been needed the most, like throughout the playoffs. He’s gotten the most out of a patchwork defensive line and a short-handed secondary. Now it’s time for these coaches to take these last few days of preparation and make them count. The Super Bowl is nearly upon us!
If that article tired you out, just wait! We still have the Seattle Seahawks preview to come, along with The Opening Drive and Prop Bets of Super Bowl 48! Keep checking back this week!