Grades for Denver Broncos vs New Orleans Saints Week 8 Matchup
Denver Broncos Complete Team Effort
The Denver Broncos came out on Sunday Night Football trying to piece together a full sixty minutes of football against the New Orleans Saints. This game had shootout written all over it in a battle of top QBs in Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. What everyone did not factor into the equation, however, is just how good this Broncos team is becoming.
Not only did the Broncos play a complete game, but they made Brees and the high-octane Saints offense look like the Jacksonville Jaguars. For the past few weeks, every analyst, critic and fan have pondered what the Broncos might look like if they could have a good all around game, instead of just being a second half squad making comebacks. Well tonight they received their answer.
The coaching staff came out with a great game plan that never wavered, and the execution by the players was nearly flawless. The Broncos were able to shake off an early fumble by Willis McGahee, and a sturdy early defense by the Saints to stay in control from wire to wire. This was the game that the rest of the AFC needs to pay attention to, because with a weak schedule down the stretch against opponents with a combined winning percentage of .343, the Broncos could go on a solid run.
The Broncos have now become a complete team with an exceptional secondary, good running backs, athletic linebackers, and an offensive line that protects Manning like the Pope. It doesn't hurt to have a Hall of Fame QB that is having a career year, either. Here are my grades for this NFL week 8 matchup between the Broncos and Saints. I'm sure there will not be many surprises here.
Every week, Peyton Manning impresses with the way he handles this offense and has taken the young players under his wing. Forget about the stats for a moment and realize that after every drive, whether a score or not, Manning was at the bench discussing the situation and going over plans for the next drive.
Other QBs around the league will go, look at some pictures and talk with their coaches. Manning becomes the coach and that will prove the difference down the stretch. It doesn't hurt that Manning had yet another 300 yard game with 3TDs and no INTs. Manning has made Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas into viable threats that the league will always have to account for, and the way he is throwing the ball has improved tremendously from week to week.
Willis McGahee made up for that early fumble with 23 carries for 122 yards and a TD. He again was the workhorse that opened up the play action passes that Manning used to exploit a shaky Saints defense.
Yet it is Ronnie Hillman that grew up today and need to receive his props for putting together a breakout game. He showed his speed and cutting ability while carrying 14 times for 86 yards and giving the Broncos that one-two punch they expected to have with Knowshon Moreno. This run game can be the cog that gets the Broncos where they want to go if they can keep this pace the rest of the season.
Demaryius Thomas has been showing off the rewards of listening to Peyton Manning and what he preaches all week long. Manning's favorite target is proving that he can be a top receiver in the NFL with 7 catches for 137 yards and a TD.
Eric Decker is also becoming a more reliable target as he caught 2 TD passes from Manning and seemed to always run the perfect route. If he keeps this up, the Broncos will have one of the more explosive WR tandems in the league. This combo kept the Saints secondary guessing all night, which allowed for plenty of opportunity for intermediate passes and runs that kept the chains moving and the time of possession in Denver's favor.
Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen and Virgil Green did exactly what they needed to do against the Saints. They were able to block well against the blitz, grab the intermediate passes to move the chains and be viable decoys for Manning to go up top against a weakened Saints defense.
This unit is a key for the Broncos going forward because they do not need to put up great numbers, but the possibility of them being able to is what will keep defenses honest.
Another game where Manning was rarely touched, although the Saints did have him moving on some plays. But Ryan Clady, Chris Kuper, Orlando Franklin, Zane Beadles and Dan Koppen have become a solid wall protecting their gold. No sacks allowed and opening holes for the run game will get you an A+ each outing. If anyone can point out a better offensive line in the league, I'm willing to listen to your argument.
It's very disheartening when you have the ability, but just can not finish the play. Although the defensive line contained the Saints run game extremely well, and pressured Brees most of the game, they just could not come up with that big sack to put an exclamation point on the win.
Maybe I'm nitpicking, but when you have Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe on the ends, it is almost expected to get at least one sack per game from somebody on the line. But the line works well together and as long as the pressure is there, they will be dangerous in the games ahead.
One of the biggest concerns coming into the 2012 NFL season was the linebacking unit. It is now safe to say that this unit is slowly becoming another strength as Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Joe Mays, Keith Brooking, Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving are all playing better than expected together.
Woodyard especially has left everyone wondering why the Broncos even want DJ Williams back in another couple weeks. Woodyard leads all Broncos in tackles, sacked Brees and even picked him off. Add to that the effective pass coverage from Trevathan and Irving and this unit has become very solid. Tonight, they contained one of the best TEs in the game in Jimmy Graham, while also helping to stop the run against a quick Saints offense.
The explosive offense of the Saints was held in check for the most part by the lack of a deep threat that was negated by a ferocious secondary of the Broncos. Champ Bailey's name was never mentioned because Brees stayed away from him, and Chris Harris, Tony Carter, Mike Adams and Jim Leonhard did the rest.
Brees was not able to find any rhythm because it didn't matter if the Broncos were in man coverage, zone, nickel, or any other defense that Jack Del Rio called, they were all over the play. One thing that is not easy to do is stop Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Darren Sproles. The Broncos did enough early to get off the field and not allow the Saints to go on extended drives, which gave Manning the opportunity to work his magic on the other side of the ball.
Trindon Holliday had a couple good run backs, Matt Prater kicked his field goals and extra points, and Britton Colquitt punted five tomes for a 46.5 average. But the win on this unit goes to the return coverage team for keeping Darren Sproles at bay and not allowing him to break a game-changing play. Sproles was held to one punt return for -1 yards and the Saints were not able to return a kickoff.
Head Coach John Fox was active on the sideline conversing with Jack Del Rio and his assistants, and came out with a good all around game plan on how to attack the Saints. But it was Del Rio who prepared an exceptional blueprint for stopping the Saints, while utilizing all the talent available.
I give Del Rio credit for transforming the linebackers from a liability into a strength, and he can finally trust certain packages to just flow on the field. This was a big step for the defense as a whole in what will prove to be the toughest game left on the schedule. Whenever you make the Saints look like the Jaguars or Browns, you have not only done your job, but done it well.