Peyton and the offense have been the driving force on this team and we go and have gone as far as that group of 11 men takes us. As we saw in the playoffs of both 2013 and early 2014, when the offense sputters, we ultimately break.
The past two seasons, lets face it Denver fans, PFM has carried this team to heights that three years ago we were only dreaming of ever reaching again. Despite having a top ten-ranked defense in his first season as a Bronco and one that was solid in key moments last year, the offense is what drives the team.
Now a natural reaction to that statement would be “Hold on, you call scoring 35 points in a devastating playoff loss to Baltimore a bad offensive performance?” Indeed, I do. Yes, they scored 35 points and that should have been enough to win that game, no question. However, when Denver needed those crucial “3rd down and 1” conversions to close out the game, did the offense come through? An offense that has been dominating defenses the past two seasons with aerial assaults only accomplished in Madden, struggled mightily in crunch time to play tough, smash-mouth football in the two biggest games in recent history.
So when I assert that this team only goes as far as Peyton and the 10 men who share that huddle with him takes us, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Just look at the tape. With that being said, no one said that couldn’t be changed. On the other hand, to make such a drastic change would mean convincing Dove Valley’s top Horse. No not Pat Bowlen. Nor Foxy or Elway. They need to convince their most prized possession in Peyton Manning.
But how does a team that built itself so much around one player convince their superstar to modify his style of play, let alone convince him it’s in fact in the best interest of the team? Call Mike Shanahan, he might have an answer for you. When Shanahan took over the Broncos in 1995, he made it clear in his philosophy that running the ball and defense was going bring Lombardi trophies to Denver. A year later they drafted a Hall of Fame worthy running back in Terrell Davis who earned his way to a starting job.
And like our 2012-2013 Broncos, the 1996-1997 Denver Broncos also suffered an unexpected and demoralizing loss to an inferior opponent, this time coming from the expansion Jacksonville Jaguar team. Yet, with any new transition, there will be growing pains and thankfully for the Elway-led Broncos it only took two seasons. As well all know Denver won its first Super Bowl in the 1997 season with the MVP honors not going to John, but to Davis. In 1998, Elway was the same prolific quarterback we knew him to be, but again it was behind Davis and his 2,008 rushing yards that Denver was able to land another championship. Seeing any theme here?
Along with a running game, in the championship years Denver was able to boast having one of the NFL’s top-ten ranked defenses. They were ranked in the top-ten in points allowed as well as the top-twelve in yards both years. This team was physical, nasty, and would run at will. John Elway had to sacrifice some of his game and be committed to a run-first type philosophy that thrived on play-action and bootleg. This team looked to establish the run early and often, while their defense was busy stifling opposing offenses. This team in those championship years was built how all championship teams are: built on a steady diet of run and physical defense (i.e. Seattle).
So now we are back at square one. How do you convince Peyton to do what John did and sacrifice the “34 passing attempts for 450 yards” type games? This team may be capable of getting back to the Super Bowl with its aerial attack, but this season will be the ultimate test to see whether this team is prepared to be the “bully, not the bullied”. Although to be the bully, one must be a “rough rider” as Big Al would say, and play smash-mouth, pound the ball down your throat football. You can’t do that throwing 12-yard curls to Julius, 15-yard slants to Sanders, or wobbling 50-yard ducks to DT.
No, to be a bully it will take a two tight-end set leading to a Montee Ball handoff on a 1st and 10 to start the game. It will take a give up the gut to Ball on the 2-yard line instead of a brilliantly orchestrated pick play. It will take a dive-play right at the opposing team’s heart of the defense on a 3rd and 5 to move the chains and seal the game with 1:30 left in the game. It will take sacrificing that lost possession and trusting your defense to punch back and force a turnover. It will take relying on Vonn and Demarcus to punish the opposing QB and win the game that way, rather than outscore him with ours. It will take Pot Roast and the big fellas in the middle pushing the pocket, the linebackers shedding blocks and pursuing the ball, the corners establishing dominance on the perimeter and interior, and it will take TJ Ward making those who squeak through feel pain for making it out of the front seven.
For Denver to not only make it to the Super Bowl, but win it against a team either named Seattle or San Francisco (barring any absurd turn of events), Denver must find a way to get Peyton to understand our biggest weapon is actually our biggest flaw. We rely too much on Peyton and the passing game and not enough on our defense and the run game. John Elway didn’t go out and acquire these “rough riders” for nothing. It’s time for Peyton to for once let others take the lead and him follow. If Peyton wants to ride off into the glowing orange and blue sunset as John did back in 1998 and shut Eli up at holiday dinners, he must be an asset, not the focal point.
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Stephen is studying Broadcast Performance at Metro State University of Denver. He's Member of Met Media, the KMet Radio Sports Team, and the Emmy-Award winning student-run newscast The Met Report. Find him on Facebook and LinkedIn.