By JOHN ZAKOUR
Maybe you’ve missed it, but the Broncos are 5-0, and an emphatic 5-0 at that. Just ask the two most recent Super Bowl champs, the Ravens and the Giants; they both had to endure the total destruction and dismantling of their defenses. The Broncos are carving up the NFL in a way not seen since the 2007 Patriots and look more like the Oregon Ducks than an NFL team.
But on Sunday, the Broncos were in a dogfight down in Dallas. Riding a brilliant Tony Romo to a 17-7 lead in the first quarter, the Cowboys had many Broncos fans thinking about their first loss. Jason Witten was gashing the Broncos secondary. CBS announcer Phil Simms could only go on about how Romo was playing as well as they’d ever seen. The Broncos and Peyton Manning made the Dallas lead evaporate about as quick as can be and built up an 11-point lead. Undeterred, the Cowboys pulled to within a score before the fourth quarter. Manning threw his first pick of the season (to go along with 20 touchdowns), and the Cowboys eventually had a fourth quarter lead, 48-41.
And in a 48-48 game, it was the defense that made the game winning play. Tony Romo threw a crucial pick with less than two minutes to go, and set the Broncos up with golden field position. The Broncos offense got a first down and never let the Cowboys touch the ball, as Prater’s winning field goal sailed through the uprights with no time remaining to ensure a 51-48 win and stay unbeaten.
As good as Peyton’s Colts teams were in the prime of his career, this is the most talented team Peyton has ever quarterbacked. Considering those Colts teams won 12 games a year like clockwork, it’s not something I say lightly. But in all likelihood, it’s true. Certainly the 2006 Colts that won Super Bowl XLI were a talented group featuring five Pro-Bowlers (all on offense), but they also had the worst-run defense in the league. The 2011 Colts that could’ve been undefeated had they chosen to pursue it were probably the most complete team, with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis anchoring an elite pass rush to complement its always dangerous offense.
But no team was ever as dangerous as this Broncos team. Peyton Manning seemingly has more weapons than ever. Wes Welker is still the same player he was in New England, Demaryius Thomas is always a deep threat, Eric Decker is having another big year and Knowshon Moreno is a dynamic back. Peyton also has the caliber of offensive line that can keep him clean the whole game and give him more time than ever to survey the field.
And unlike his teams in Indianapolis, this Broncos team’s defense is a weapon. Yes, they were just torched, but are capable of much better play. When Von Miller gets back, the Broncos will feature an elite defensive line. An improved defensive line will help their secondary, which might not be ball-hawking but is still one of the better collections of defensive backs in the AFC and sure tackling.
Lately, the Broncos special teams play has been stellar. Kicker Matt Prater has unmatched range and in Denver has the capability to make 60 yard field goals. The Broncos return man, Trindon Holliday, has two touchdowns and teams are already avoiding giving him the ball. It’s easy to forget that this was the same team that took Tebow to the playoffs on the strength of their defense and special teams. Swap out Tebow for Peyton Manning and slot in Wes Welker, and you have the best team in the NFL. Possibly a special team.
Who can beat these Denver Broncos? Someone hung 48 on their vaunted defense, and it still wasn’t good enough as Manning and company never punted. After hosting the awful Jaguars, the Broncos have to go into Indianapolis in a game that won’t be short on story lines. The Colts have already shown how tough they can be by stomping the Niners and toppling the undefeated Seahawks. If the Broncos can escape that with a win, their season comes down to visits to New England and Kansas City. The way the Patriots looked last week was certainly not encouraging, but given their history, it feels wrong to totally rule them out.
However, the Chiefs have one of the best home field advantages in the NFL. Maybe a raucous Kansas City crowd could drown out some of Peyton’s audibles and cause confusion on offense. The Chiefs have the best secondary in the AFC to go along with a group of monsters on their defensive line, which will make for tough sledding for the Broncos offense. While the Chiefs offense doesn’t strike fear into hearts of defenders, they can control the clock and keep the Broncos offense on the sideline.
Will the Broncos be able to go undefeated? Probably not, but only time will tell. It’s easy to fall in the trap of saying Super Bowl or bust in Denver, but going 16-0 would be a different kind of special. It would be history. Some one has to win it all, but only two teams in history have ever ran the table — and only the 1972 Dolphins finished the job. The mere fact we’re even having this discussion says a lot about what the Broncos have built.