People are already talking about the Denver Broncos‘ chances of becoming just the second team in NFL history to achieve a 16-0 regular season record. Though they clearly look like the best team in the NFL through four weeks, defenses still have 12 games to figure out this high-powered offensive attack before the playoffs. Here are three match-ups that will be troublesome for the Broncos on their road to perfection.
In just four games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense has shown the ability to execute at both a fast and a slow pace in spread formations or in jumbo packages. However, without much of a rushing attack, this air assault could be much more difficult to run effectively against teams with the ability to play solid press coverage and effectively blitz the quarterback – especially after the loss of all-pro tackle Ryan Clady.
The first team on the Broncos schedule to meet these qualifications is the Indianapolis Colts, who the Broncos must face at Lucas Oil Stadium during Manning’s return to Indy.
Everybody knows about the Colts’ offensive prowess with Andrew Luck and newly-acquired running back Trent Richardson, but few recognize how unyielding they are on defense. The Colts are ranked as the seventh-best pass defense in the league, allowing just 200 yards per game, have forced six interceptions, and gotten to the quarterback 13 times.
If sack machine Robert Mathis (leads the league with 7.5 sacks) can pressure Manning coming off the edge, the Colts’ ball-hawking secondary of Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Vontae Davis and Greg Toler could greatly disrupt the timing of Broncos’ offense and possibly force a few turnovers.
With a powerful running game that gets better with each week and a smart quarterback under center, if the Colts can slow the Broncos’ offense, Andrew Luck and the offense could effectively play keep-away and eek out a win.
Perhaps the matchup of the year in the AFC is the New England Patriots vs. the Broncos. Played in late November in Foxboro, this will undoubtedly be a hard-fought game in possibly inclement weather. Plus, if anyone can keep up with Manning, it is going to be Tom Brady.
Even though Brady doesn’t have his usual deep corps of receivers, he will likely have a healthy Rob Gronkowski by the time the Pats play the Broncos, and his young receivers improve on a daily basis.
Defensively, the Pats may have the most talented group of linebackers in the league with Jarrad Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower. All three are good in coverage, very intelligent and excellent against the run as well as when blitzing. This talent group of linebackers could effectively shut down the mid-range passing game which Peyton loves so much, and force Manning to beat them with riskier deep throws.
The matchup that will likely cause the most problems for the Broncos this year is the Kansas City Chiefs at a very raucous Arrowhead Stadium – especially after a tough road game in Foxboro.
The Chiefs’ defense matches up very well with the Broncos’ offense. Brandon Flowers is a legitimate shutdown corner with the size and strength to match up with Demaryius Thomas. Derek Johnson and Tamba Hali are both Pro Bowl players in the box, and Eric Berry is an elite NFL safety with the ability to cover either Julius Thomas or Wes Welker.
So far, the Chiefs are ranked as the second-best passing defense in the league, allowing only 188.8 yards per game, lead the league in sacks with 18, have forced nine turnovers and only allowed three touchdowns. Moreover, as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, playing in Arrowhead could greatly affect the ability of Manning to communicate with his receivers and efficiently call his deadly audibles.
Though the Chiefs have no chance of keeping up with the Broncos offensively, they may be able to disrupt the Broncos just enough to force turnovers, minimize the damage Manning can do and do just enough offensively to win.
Despite these difficult match-ups, the return of Von Miller and Champ Bailey could take this Broncos’ defense to an elite level, making the Broncos much more balanced and truly unbeatable.
Written by John Spina. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @jsspina24.