ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Let’s play word association. Name the first word or words that come to mind when you hear: “Denver Broncos’ offense.”
Trendy answer: “Omaha! Omaha!”
Beyond the snark, the Broncos’ offense is worthy of many adjectives — explosive, efficient, dynamic, high-scoring, historic and unstoppable.
Yet, maybe the best word to describe it is — unselfish.
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Of all the eye-popping stats this unit has produced in the regular season, and there are many — 37.9 points per game, 457.3 yards of total of offense, 340 yards passing, 435 total first downs, 71 touchdowns — there is one stat that speaks to why it is so difficult to stop.
Of the 71 offensive touchdowns, five players accounted for 60 of them. The five players — Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10) — each accounted for 10 or more each, an NFL record. The previous record was three players on one team.
“To be an outstanding team, you have to be selfless, not selfish. I think that speaks to the character of those guys in that room,” coach John Fox said. “They don’t get all pouty, or whatever you might want to put on it, about things like that. They just care about winning.”
The attitude is helped by having quarterback Peyton Manning lead the offense. Because he is the one making the decisions at the line of scrimmage, receivers have no choice but to be compliant.
At age 37 with a 14-year career that is already Hall of Fame worthy, there isn’t a coverage Manning hasn’t seen, a defense he can’t exploit and an audible he won’t check into. It seems cliché, but Manning takes what the defense gives him. He has options everywhere and he will use any of them. Double team one receiver, he’ll find another one in single coverage. Neutralize one, expect two others to be effective. He plays no favorites. He trusts them all.
“Earlier in the year, I was asked how I was going to keep them all happy,” Fox said. “This game is about matchups. Depending on what the defense decides to take away, it gives you other options. We have seen a variety of different defensive schemes. I just think it speaks to those guys, and obviously the quarterback directing it.”
It’s not just touchdowns. It’s that way with touches and targets.
Demaryius Thomas was targeted by Manning 143 times, with 92 catches. Decker had 137 targets and 87 catches, Welker 110 targetss and 73 catches. Julius Thomas had 89 targets and 65 grabs. Moreno was thrown to 74 times out of the backfield and had 60 catches.
“The plays we call, there is a progression to each play but the credit goes to the receivers for running full-speed routes,” Manning said. “When you run full-speed routes, you’re going to have a chance to get open. I think because they know we spread the ball around, guys are expecting the ball and that makes a big difference in how they run their routes. I’m trying to get the ball to those guys, get it in their hands and give them a chance to make plays.”
The distribution has kept them all happy, with no sideline outbursts or confrontations. There are no diva qualities apparent in this group.
“We don’t?” Welker deadpanned. “I think that’s just our personalities. I think that’s just who we are. I feel like we push each other really well and understand that we all work off of each other. Without one guy showing up to a game, it affects the other guys.”
But it all comes back to Manning. He gives the offense its identity and legitimacy.
He has done what the Broncos expected and more since coming to Denver before the 2012 season.
In 2011, with Tim Tebow as quarterback, the Broncos averaged 19.3 points and put up 316.6 yards of offense, including 152.1 yards passing per game. That season, only Tebow reached double figures in touchdowns, rushing for 12.
But it all changed when Manning put on a Broncos jersey.
“He is very sharp,” Fox said. “He’s done it a very long time in his career, and he is as good — I am not going to say he is the best — but he is as good as I have ever been around.”
Manning broke season NFL records by throwing for 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns and 278 first downs.
No defense has really stopped him this season. The Broncos have scored 25 or more points in all but one of their games.
“It can’t get any tougher,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “They’ve done everything — broken every major record in the throwing game, points and everything. Peyton’s been extraordinary.”