Denver Broncos: 5 Players who Led Them to the AFC West Title
Whenever a team wins any kind of championship, there’s a lot of credit to go around and the Denver Broncos are no different. We’ll get to the five players who made a difference in a minute but it would be a mistake not to start with the people who put this team together.
By now, there have been hundreds of articles written about John Elway and the job he’s done as the Vice-President of Football Operations. He’s turned a 4-12 team into a Super Bowl contender in less than two years; everyone knows about the big moves but his lesser moves have worked out as well. Peyton Manning was the crown jewel but there have been guys like; Keith Brooking, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen, Trindon Holliday and countless others that all had a hand in the division title.
In addition to the free agent signings; Elway and his staff have found players late in the draft or college free agents that are big parts of this team. One of those players will be featured later in the slideshow but some of the others include; Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and more. Championships are won on the field by the players, but Elway has put them in position to win with his moves; both big and small.
It would also be a mistake not to mention the coaches; specifically John Fox, Mike McCoy and Jack Del Rio. Yes they had talent but almost everyone under estimated how long it would take for the team the gel. In retrospect, the coaching staff did an outstanding job bringing everything together so quickly.
After a 2-3 start, everything clicked in the second-half versus the San Diego Chargers and the Broncos have not slowed down since. As always, the players deserve a majority of the credit but the coaches have done a masterful job in bringing everyone and everything together.
Protecting the franchise
When the Broncos signed Manning, there was a lot of concern over the offensive line. They were a great run blocking line but could they protect a quarterback coming off of four neck surgeries. The answer has been a resounding yes, Manning is one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league and often goes through games untouched. When center JD Walton went down with a season ending injury, veteran Koppen stepped in and they never missed a beat. They are not a great run blocking line but when you have Manning, protecting him is the top priority and they’ve done that very well.
The main target
As with the offensive line, many asked who is Manning going to throw to. Many of the receivers have stepped up and been productive but no one more than Demaryius Thomas. Manning and Thomas are quickly becoming one of the most dangerous combinations in the league, and they get better every week. Thomas has always had the physical tools but he’s never had the quarterback who knew what to do with that talent. He does now and Thomas is on his way to becoming one of the most feared receivers in the NFL.
Two for one
The secondary for the Broncos in 2011 was average at best, and awful at worst. The New England Patriots and others exposed that secondary late in the season and especially in the playoff loss to the Patriots. Elway knew they had to get better; what he didn’t know was that the answers were all ready on the roster. 2011 undrafted free agent, Chris Harris has turned into one of the best players on the defense. In addition to Harris, Tony Carter finally got a shot and now a veteran like Tracy Porter can’t even get on the field. Both Harris and Carter get thrown at a lot with Champ Bailey on the other side, but they continue to make big play after big play. The defense for the Broncos is a top five unit for a lot of reasons but the improved secondary is a big one.
A disruptive force
Von Miller won the defensive rookie of the year in 2011 and he’s even better in his second season. There are the numbers like 15 sacks, the tackles for a loss, an interception for a touchdown but they only tell a piece of the story. Miller is the most disruptive defensive player in the game and forces offenses to account for him on every single play. Because of that attention, other players are making plays and that makes the defense better. Great players are great for two reasons; their ability to make plays and their ability to make those around him better. Miller does both and he might be adding defensive player of the year to his trophy case.
It’s impossible to cover everything that Manning has brought to the Broncos but he is the primary reason they are 9-3, and rolling into the playoffs. There are the numbers and the obvious play on the field, but it is so much more than that. It’s catching the opponent with too many men on the field that results in a first down, it’s the audible at the line of scrimmage that leads to a go ahead score and it’s the accountability that everyone around Manning feels. He misses nothing on or off the field, and he expects those around him to be at that level as well. When Manning was signed, Elway said “He raises all boats” and that is so true. There are other quarterbacks with the physical skills of Manning and there are a few that have his mind for the game, but there are only one or two others that have both. Manning has both and the Broncos are AFC West Champions because on a Monday morning back in March he called Elway and said, “I want to be a Bronco.”
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