It took the Denver Broncos offense 27 consecutive drives to score a touchdown. That’s the longest streak in the NFL this season, a record far more suited to the diarrheal Detroit Lions or an offensively inept team like the Texans. Certainly not a 6-0 team with the NFL’s all-time leading touchdown passer and an all-pro receiver. But no other team could reasonably be expected to withstand such a barren stretch without a loss, because no other team has a defense as terrifying as the Broncos.
Here are some stats: They are in the top 10 in takeaways, turnover percentage, and yards allowed per play against both the pass and the run. This afternoon, Denver picked off Josh McCown twice, sacked him four times, hit him eight, caused a fumble, and scored a touchdown. Even after allowing two today, the Broncos still allow the least touchdown passes per game. They have won two games this year without even scoring an offensive touchdown.
Here’s a particularly dominant series, where Cleveland started with the ball on the Denver 39, near field goal range, in overtime:
- First-and-10: Run play for -3 yards.
- Second-and-13: Malik Jackson sacks Josh McCown for -8 yards.
- Third-and-21: Antonio Smith and Shaquil Barrett split a sack for -2 yards.
- Fourth-and-28: After a false start, a punt.
Of course, Denver’s defense only got into that situation because Jeb Bush campaign donator Peyton Manning threw his third pick of the day to a more-than-willing Barkevious Mingo. Manning had one great throw, a sublimely lofted ball to a running Emmanuel Sanders, amidst a generally rancid game. He ended up 26 for 48, but was inconsistent all game long.
Late in the second quarter, he missed a wide-open Sanders by a few feet. Later, with a chance to finally end the scoreless streak in the red zone, Manning’s fade route throw to Sanders was noticeably bereft of a spiral and it fell innocuous to the ground, once again a few feet away from its target. It took him until deep into the third quarter to finally crack 100 yards. He threw three picks, one of which went for a score, and his six consecutive games with an interception are the most in the league.
Sanders was visibly frustrated with his quarterback a few times and Manning once again looked less comfortable in Gary Kubiak’s new offense than at any previous point in his Broncos tenure. Some of his struggles can be chalked up to the new system, but his arm strength is down and he may or may not be able to feel the tips of his fingers.
And yet, it was still enough, just barely enough, to win. Even with DeMarcus Ware out and Shane Ray leaving the game early, the defense hummed along fine. Rookie Shaquil Barrett was revelatory in Ware’s stead, racking up a sack and a half. Their depth is tremendous. It’s telling that Von Miller only had one tackle today.
After the game, Manning admitted the offense was not playing well, but contended that they were still doing “well enough.” If the Broncos are to make something special of their season, it will be because their defense takes them there. But the offense, as currently constructed, has the most to say about where Denver ends up. Winning while figuring things out is quite the enviable position to be in.
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