By Rick Brown
There was a lot of uncertainly as the Denver Broncos (3-1) headed into the 2017 season. While the Broncos secondary finished as the top unit for a second year in a row, the rushing defense was among the worst in the league. On offense, the Broncos were unable to run the ball and it had rippling effects throughout the team. The Broncos offense finished in the bottom half of the league, while no one on the Broncos’ team rushed for more than 650 yards. Last season, the Broncos were only averaging 92 rushing yards a game and so far through four games, Denver is averaging 143 rushing yards.
Not only have the Broncos improved their offensive running game, but they have also improved the run defense. Denver finished near the bottom of the league in rushing defense in 2016, and are now the No. 1 rushing defense this season. These improvements can be attributed to rookie Garett Bolles on the offense and Derek Wolfe and Domata Peko on the defensive line.
Improvements In The Trenches
What has been really impressive is the performance of the offensive and defensive lines through the first four games of the 2017 season. The addition of 2017 first-round pick, Bolles, has turned this once porous line into a respectable NFL line. The Broncos are averaging more than 50 extra yards so far this season. Along with the addition of Ronald Leary, a free-agent from the Dallas Cowboys, the offensive line, anchored by Matt Paradis, is now a top-performing unit. Broncos management took the same approach to the defensive side of the ball and it is paying the same dividends.
Denver gave up 130 rushing yards per game during the 2016 season. Through four games in 2017, the Broncos are allowing 50 yards a game. Several players have contributed to this improvement on defense. Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis have continued to improve their play, while veteran free-agent Domata Peko has done a great job of locking down the middle of the line. The defensive line is causing a lot of ruckus as the Broncos rank 14th in the league in sacks. There is a lot to like as the Broncos go into the bye week with a 3-1 record, but the Broncos still have plenty of work to do if the team wants to compete in January.
Closing Out Games And Kicking Woes
Through four games, the Broncos have won by 3, 6 and 25 points, and have one loss by 10 points. During the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers (0-4), the Broncos won after head coach Vance Joseph iced the kicker and the special teams blocked the field goal attempt. Though Denver led most of the game against the Chargers, LA came roaring back in the fourth quarter to almost pull out a win. Then against the Oakland Raiders (2-2), the Broncos again led most of the game and almost lost to the backup quarterback, E.J. Manuel, in the fourth quarter. This comeback from the Raiders could have been avoided if Denver’s kicker, Brandon McManus, made all of his field goal attempts.
Through the preseason, McManus was perfect on field goal attempts—and then came the season opener. While he missed his first two attempts in the game against the Chargers, he has since made seven out of eight attempts. While no NFL kicker is perfect, McManus has missed some important kicks in close games. Each miss of McManus’ continues to keep opposing teams in the game instead of putting the contest out of reach. The Chargers and Raiders both took advantage of missed field goals and almost came out with a victory against the Broncos. While missing a kick is inevitable, hopefully McManus can perform better in high pressure situations throughout the remainder of the season.
A Giant Achievement
The Broncos have a huge task after the bye week as the New York Giants (0-4) come to the Mile High City for Sunday night football. New York’s record this season is a bit of a surprise, but it is never safe to sleep on these Giants. The Broncos secondary will have a lot to contain with this talented roster of wide receivers. Look for Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr. to fly high against the No Fly Zone.