Peyton Manning and the Broncos finally got to sweat a little bit before notching their fifth win of 2013. It took 51 points and a rushing touchdown from Manning, but what matters is that the Broncos sport an unbeaten record heading into Sunday afternoon with Jacksonville.
For the first time all season, Manning’s performance may not be the takeaway point. The former Indianapolis Colt had another tremendous line, throwing four touchdowns on his way to 414 yards. PFM’s only blemish came on a third quarter interception, a moment that reminded Bronco fans that their quarterback is in fact human.
What should concern Broncomaniacs is that the Denver defense that looked solid through four games couldn’t stop anybody with a star on their helmet. Don’t look now, but the Broncos now rank 24th in points per game allowed (27.8) and 29th in total yards allowed (416.6).
Manning and company might break every single offensive category that exists by the end of the season. None of that will matter if this defense continues to be lit up by opposing quarterbacks.
I know that Tony Romo is probably a top eight quarterback. And I get that Jason Witten and Dez Bryant grade out at the top of their respective positions. One would be remiss to brush over the impact of the Broncos’ missing defensive players.
Chris Harris, Robert Ayers and Wesley Woodyard all suffered injuries during the game. Pro Bowlers Von Miller and Champ Bailey didn’t even suit up. You could argue that those five players are the most vital to the Broncos on the defensive side of the ball.
But 48 points?
Football coaches across the country could show the film of the Broncos’ defense during this game to teach their teams how not to play defense. From countless missed tackles to failing to get off the field on third downs, the orange and blue looked awful when Manning wasn’t under center. And aside from a big sack late in the fourth quarter by Shaun Phillips, Romo had all day to throw.
Kudos to Danny Trevathan for saving the day. He got embarrassed by Witten on multiple occasions, but somehow made the play of the game in what could be the game of the year. If Trevathan fails to make that catch, the Broncos would probably be 4-1 right now.
Regardless of how it ended, John Fox needed his team to play a game like this. It had a playoff feel as both teams traded multiple body blows. Plus, it’s better that the Broncos have issues defensively in early October as opposed to the middle of January.
Now comes a matchup with a fraction of the anticipation as the Cowboys game. If there’s a team where the Denver defense can get right against, it’s the Jaguars. The Jags rank dead last in the NFL with a 10.2 scoring average. Compare that with the 46 points per game of the Broncos and you have the reasoning as to why Las Vegas placed this matchup with the most lopsided spread in the league’s history (nearly four touchdowns).
Three keys to the game for Denver:
Stop the vertical passing game. Wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon will be a dynamic duo if they ever have a quarterback to throw them the ball. Both can get behind a defense in a hurry and make plays. The Broncos’ secondary will get a heavy dosage of long pass plays as Jacksonville tries to keep pace with Manning.
Forget their record. The Jaguars have a ton of issues. But they’re an NFL team for a reason. If the Broncos turn the ball over, show no improvement defensively and commit numerous penalties, this turns into a game.
Get the studs out early. I hope that Manning gets his usual 300 yards and four touchdowns. But this could essentially be a second bye week if the Broncos take care of business early. Look for Brock Osweiler to potentially lead the offense in the second half if the Jags trail by at least three touchdowns going into halftime.
My prediction: Broncos-37, Jaguars-13