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Nov 18 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) looks to pass during the third quarter of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Getting to Know the Denver Broncos

Since Josh McDaniels was fired in Denver, it seems that the organization can do no wrong. Let me explain:

  1. Broncos hire John Elway as Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
  2. Elway hires recently fired John Fox as new head coach.
  3. Fox names Tim Tebow starting QB after poor start.
  4. Tebow leads Broncos to AFC West Championship, winning 7 of final 11 games.
    1. Broncos beat Steelers in Wildcard game before losing to Patriots
  5. Elway signs free agent QB Peyton Manning
  6. Elway trades Tebow to the New York Jets
    1. Manning will either win MVP or Comeback Player of the Year
    2. Tebow has yet to start and hasn’t done anything other than help create a media circus
    3. Elway looks to be in line for 2012 Executive of the Year
  7. Manning has lead Broncos to 7-3 record and comfortable lead in AFC West

It’s sickening, I know.

The Chiefs and Broncos, despite splitting the series last season and nearly keeping the Broncos out of the playoffs, have gone in opposite directions over the past couple of seasons. They’ve drafted well; they’ve played will; and they have even gotten the player that the Chiefs so embarrassingly tried to court during the offseason. Just as Elway was always a thorn in the Chiefs side during his playing days, it seems he is bringing that same sort of frustration to Chiefs fans in a less direct way.

And now they even have Manning, who ended the Chiefs playoff hopes in 2003 and 2006. Another thorn. Another side.

Offense

I’ll skip the Manning back story and just get to the stats: 255/372 (68.5%) 2.975 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs. This is good for 6th in the NFL is yardage (and is within 100 yards of the NFL leader Matt Ryan), 3rd in TD throws (four behind Drew Brees and three behind Aaron Rodgers), and tied for 3rd fewest interceptions out of the top 15 passers in terms of yardage. In other words, he’s back*.

*And back in commercials as well, although in his absence advertising agencies were forced to use players like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, and Clay Matthews. Hmmm, I wonder if the Packers are marketable or not?

Willis McGahee, the Broncos leading rusher, was recently placed on Injured Reserve with designation to return (but due to the rules, won’t be able to do so until the AFC Championship game if they make it that far) after suffering a torn MCL and compression fracture in his right knee in the win over the Chargers last week. Before his injury, McGahee had 731 yards off 167 carries (4.4 ypc) and four TDs. To replace McGahee, the Broncos have, at least for this week, decided to stick with their reserves and go with Ronnie Hillman, the team’s 2012 3rd round pick out of San Diego State, as the starter. Hillman has 188 yards off 49 carries (3.8 ypc) and one TD. Other backs that will see some snaps are Lance Ball and Knowshon “Sauced” Moreno.

Last season with Tebow, the Broncos receivers were rarely utilized and even lead some to believe Manning had his work cut out with such a downgrade from Indy to Denver in terms of receiver quality. The Broncos receivers, however, have looked fantastic this season.* Demaryius Thomas – Broncos first round pick in 2010 – is tied for 10th most catches (57) and Eric Decker – third round pick in 2010 – for 16th most catches (50) in the NFL. Thomas also has the 4th most receiving yards in the league (933) and the third highest yards per catch average (16.4) amongst WRs with at least 33 catches. Also making his own version of a comeback is Brandon Stokely, who has 387 yards and 5 TDs.

*Except for this play.

For the tight end position, the Broncos have two new players, both of whom were free agent acquisitions this offseason. Jacob Tamme was acquired from Indy, and had prior experience with Manning. Joel Dreesen was acquired from Houston. The two have combined for 61 catches, 562 yards, and 5 TDs.

According to Football Outsiders, an advanced metrics website on football statistics and evaluations, the Broncos are the 12th best offensive line when it comes to run blocking and 3rd best at pass protection. These rankings are very good, and are the result of the players that compose the line: Ryan Clady (2008 1st round pick, 2x Pro Bowler), Zane Beadles (one of the coolest names in football), Dan Koppen (2012 free agent addition from New England), Chris Koper (whose backup’s name is Manny Ramirez*), and Orlando Franklin (2011 2nd round pick and native of Jamaica**).

*One of my favorite baseball highlights of all time.

**A Jamaican living in Denver? I wonder what his downtime includes … [hit the hyperlink before you judge].

Oh, and Rob Gronkowski’s brother is the full back. Just thought you should know.

The Broncos offense so far this season: 5th in passing yards per game (288.9) and 19th in rushing yards per game (105.3).

Defense

I know the Broncos defense got a lot of love last season during the Tebow-lead run the team went on to the playoffs, but they are having a much better season this year. They are currently 10th in total defense, allowing only 219 yards per game. All those young players that had an impact last year are now coming together to form a vaunted unit.

With the Broncos 4-3 defense, it starts up front. The team’s first pick in 2012, Derek Wolfe from Cincinnati, is the starting left defensive end, while veteran Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil has the right side*. In between are veterans Kevin Vickerson* and Justin Bannan. You might assume by these last two names that the middle of the defensive line is a weakness. Well, you’d be right. But that’s why the next group of players I’m talking about is so important.

*Behind Dumervil is Broncos 2009 first round pick, Robert Ayers.

**A 2007 First team All-NFL Europa player.

The Broncos linebackers, from starters to depth, are among the best in the NFL. On the strong side is 2011 first round pick Von Miller who, in addition to winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, was also elected to a Pro Bowl. Since the beginning of 2011 Miller has 24.5 sacks, 110 tackles, and 6 forced fumbles. In the middle is veteran Keith Brooking who has five Pro Bowls himself and was brought in as a free agent during the offseason. On the weak side is Wesley Woodyard, a guy that’s been around since 2008 and has benefited this year because of D.J. Williams six game suspension that became a nine game suspension. Williams was the Broncos first round pick in 2004, but has made his share of bad decisions, including on Twitter.

The defensive backfield is a mix of old and young, but the common trait is talent. It starts with future Hall of Famer Champ* Bailey at cornerback, who might have lost a step in coverage, but is still playing at a high level. Behind Bailey is Tracy Porter, a free agent acquisition from New Orleans, and the guy who spoiled Manning’s dream of a second Super Bowl ring a few years back. On the other side is Chris Harris, a 2011 undrafted free agent out of Rock Chalk nation, and the 2011 Broncos Breakout Player of the Year. At the safety positions are Rahim Moore, the 2011 2nd round pick from UCLA at free safety, and nine-year veteran Mike Adams at strong safety.

*Older brother of Boss Bailey, former Lions and Broncos linebacker.

This Broncos defensive statistics so far: 10th in opponent passing yards per game (219) and 6th in opponent rushing yards per season (93.8).

Special Teams

Matt Prater – Kicker: 15/17 on the year

Britton Colquitt* – 43.7 net yards per punt

*Dustin Colquitt’s brother, blah blah blah, first family of punting, yada yada yada

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