The biggest concern for the Denver Broncos heading into their game with the Cincinnati Bengals has nothing to do with the play on the field. If the Broncos play like they have been playing over the past six quarters, then they will stroll out of the queen city at 5-3. The only way the Broncos find trouble on Sunday is if they do not take the Bengals seriously; but there’s good news on that front.
Remember the heat that Vice-President of Football Operations John Elway took when he signed veterans like Keith Brooking, Brandon Stokley and Jim Leonhard? Elway signed all of those guys first and foremost because they can help the Broncos win. It’s impossible to argue with any of those signings now; all three have contributed in big ways.
Brooking is now the starting middle linebacker and the improvement in the defense can be traced back directly to when he took over for Joe Mays. Stokley has been a great third receiver for Manning and has also kept Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in line. Very few saw it but after Thomas scored versus the New Orleans Saints, he and Decker were going to perform an end zone celebration that would have drawn a penalty. At the time the score was only 24-7 and with Drew Brees on the other side, that’s not a safe lead when it is only in the middle of the third quarter. Leonhard knocked the ball out of Thomas’ hands before the celebration could even begin, saving the Broncos a valuable 15 yards and some money for both Thomas and Decker. Leonhard is also playing a lot in obvious passing situations and had a big interception versus the San Diego Chargers.
As good as those three have been on the field, their biggest contributions will begin to show this weekend. Along with Peyton Manning, the veteran leaders are not going to let the Broncos get comfortable and overlook the Bengals or any other team they should beat. Young talent is great but Elway understood from the beginning that in order to be a championship team you have to have that veteran leadership.
Make no mistake; Brooking, Stokley, Leonhard and Manning have spent all week in practice getting on the young guys and letting them know that any team can beat you if you are not ready to play. Those signings may have made no sense to many at the time but they are now paying off big, both on the field and off.
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