This is normally the spot where we’d discuss what Peyton Manning meant to the result the Broncos just posted.
But here’s the really scary and/or encouraging part about their 29-10 win over the Packers — their future Hall of Fame quarterback didn’t have to be that big a part of it.
Finally, the Broncos running game began to show the promise Gary Kubiak envisioned, and that allows Manning to not have to be the Manning of old (which is good).
The result was an undefeated start to the season, 500 yards, and an offense that is still evolving and getting better.
Ronnie Hillman got the start and had 19 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns. When he left with a thigh injury, C.J. Anderson came in and put up 101 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Perhaps most telling, a team with Manning under center ran it 34 times and threw it 29.
Getting the run game in shape has required some compromise, as new coach Gary Kubiak has tweaked his scheme, allowing Manning to run things from the shotgun and the pistol. That’s required some time to adapt, and they’ve done it. It’s clear that the time spent over the bye week was useful.
Manning is still good enough to win games — they’re 7-0, who are we kidding? — and he did some things Sunday we hadn’t seen much of this year. But if you assume his arm is like a tire, and only has so many miles in it, then being able to run and save some tread for late in the season only makes sense.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Part of the reason the Broncos are able to fiddle with their offense into November is the job their defense has done. While the first-quarter touchdown by Hillman was the first they’ve scored this year, we’re still waiting to see the first first-quarter points allowed by the Broncos defense this year.
While former head coach John Fox has done good work with defenses in all his previous stops, the Broncos have clearly taken the next step under coordinator Wade Phillips — allowing the Packers just 140 yards.
They have plenty of pass-rush talent, but they’re also athletic enough in the secondary to erase things without DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller having huge games.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to move in the pocket, but he was able to get rid of the ball without being sacked for the most part (the Broncos finished with three sacks).
But because of the coverage, he didn’t have many options downfield when he was flushed from the pocket, which led to a 77-yard night.
2. It’s not getting any easier for the Packers soon, and getting pantsed on national television isn’t helping.
There were issues that were evident that next week’s opponent (the undefeated-headed-into-Monday Panthers) can take advantage of.
The pass protection for Rodgers has been suspect at times, even when not playing a defense of the caliber of Denver’s. While they didn’t drop him that much, the Broncos made him move off his spot, and mixed it up at times to keep him from rolling out and buying time.
On the other side of the ball, if linebacker Clay Matthews’ ankle is bothering him, the Packers could have trouble on defense. Hitting the road to face an offense that leads the league in rushing and has an elite tight end in Greg Olsen is difficult anyway, but anything less than a full-speed Matthews makes the middle of the Packers defense a huge question mark.
The Panthers might not be as good as the Broncos in some areas, but they’re good enough to take advantage of the weaknesses the Broncos shined the light on.
3. The Broncos have made a point of rotating offensive linemen, until they couldn’t.
They were alternating Ryan Harris and Tyler Polumbus at left tackle, and giving rookie Max Garcia some snaps at left guard for veteran Evan Mathis.
But Garcia had a pair of penalties just before halftime, derailing a drive and sending Mathis back onto the field as soon as he could get there.
The idea of keeping blockers fresh is appealing considering all the injuries up front, though the best-case scenario would be finding five and riding with them.
4. OK, here’s the obligatory Manning’s arm strength nugget — since union rules require one every time he plays.
It looks better.
Manning threw downfield a little more often, particularly in the first half, averaging 11.7 per attempt. He hadn’t averaged more than 7.9 per attempt in any game this year.
Was the bye week a factor? Maybe. Were the injuries in the Packers secondary (cornerbacks Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins left in the first half with shoulder problems) an issue? No doubt.
But Manning, whose every attempt has been scrutinized this year, even over-threw a few receivers.
5. The Broncos had a lot going on Sunday night, from honoring owner Pat Bowlen to their 1997 Super Bowl champion team, to a pretty big game for the current version.
And the town turned out for it, or most of them did.
The Broncos announced that 77,043 fans passed through the turnstiles at Sports Authority Field, after 77,075 tickets were distributed.
That means 32 tickets were not used. Those 32 Denverites (Denveridians? Denveroids?) better have an excuse, and it better be better than being stuck in traffic with Ryan Mallett.