Total Team Effort Lifts Broncos To Victory
Posted on 11/9/2011 1:50:32 AM
Among the most popular clichés in the world of sports is today’s win was a total team effort.
Broncos’ players and coaches uttered exactly that after their 38-24 win over the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday. Yet this famous and often over-used cliché was not merely platitudinous; there could not have been a more apt description of Denver’s victory.
The Broncos got big contributions from all three phases of the game.
Denver’s offense scored four touchdowns, two running and two passing.
The Broncos scored a special teams touchdown on an 85-yard punt return in the fourth quarter by Eddie Royal. The score gave the Denver the lead for good.
Denver’s defense also came up big by forcing three Oakland turnovers, two on interceptions from cornerback Champ Bailey, and harassed Raiders’ quarterback Carson Palmer all game long, eventually sacking him twice.
The most impressive aspect of Denver’s win was their running game.
The Broncos accumulated 298 yards on the ground, their highest single-game total in 11 seasons. Quarterback Tim Tebow (118 yards on 12 carries) and running back Willis McGahee (163 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries) made effective use of run-option plays in the second half that the Raiders could not counter.
Despite its popularity and wide-spread use in college football the read-option is rarely seen at the pro level due to the existence of more athletic and better-disciplined defenses.
Said Head Coach John Fox of the Denver’s use of the unorthodox play, "We're trying to put guys into position where they can succeed and in (Tebow's) case (the read-option) is something he's more comfortable with, he has a good background in it, he has a lot of confidence in it."
Fox added that he is not concerned that the play is rarely used in the NFL, saying, “Whatever it takes to move the chains.”
Fox came to Denver with a reputation as a defensive-minded, run-first head coach. While Denver’s defense through the first half of the season has left a lot to be desired, the offense quietly boasts the league’s fifth-ranked rushing offense. The Broncos have averaged 147.5 yards per game on the ground and are second in the league with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average.
"We recommitted to the run and that's kind of our identity now," said Denver offensive guard Chris Kuper after the game.
A trio of Broncos stars – Bailey, Royal and defensive end Elvis Dumervil – who have battled injuries and been relatively quiet this year stepped up big on Sunday, making big plays at key moments.
Bailey snagged not one but two interceptions, his first two of the season and the forty-ninth and fiftieth of his Hall of Fame career.
"I think throughout the whole day we were mixing it up, we tried to keep them off balance, given them different looks and it worked for us," Bailey said when asked about the defensive game plan.
Dumervil tallied 1.5 sacks on the game, his first of the 2011 season and first since signing a 6-year, $61.5 million contract extension. Dumervil, along with rookie outside linebacker Von Miller, were in Palmer’s face all game, forcing the veteran to rush throws and make mistakes. Fox admitted after the game that Denver added some new wrinkles to the defensive playbook by having Miller would rush not only from the outside but up the middle as well, the so-called “A-gap blitz.”
An aggressive, attacking defense that puts pressure on the quarterback, slows down the running game (Denver allowed Oakland only 100 rushing yards, a gigantic decrease from the 190 Denver surrendered in week 1) and forces turnovers is exactly what Fox and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen promised before the season. They finally delivered.
Royal’s return touchdown was his first as a returner since the 2009 season and Denver’s second return touchdown of the season. “One of the things that was lost in (Denver’s) 2-5 (record) was the outstanding play of our special teams," said Fox when asked about Royal’s punt return, which he called “outstanding” and “a big part of our win.”
Not lost in the shuffle was the improving play of Tebow. The second-year quarterback still has a lot of room to improve as a passer but his anticipation and ability to read defenses improved against Oakland.
Tebow made several quality throws on the afternoon, hitting Royal and Eric Decker across the middle of the field for scores and put the ball in a perfect location on a passes to tight end Dante Rosario and receiver DeMaryius Thomas.
Tebow also missed, and missed badly, on a handful of throws in the first half. That is to be expected of any young signal-caller and Denver likely will not have as large of a margin for error in future games and opponents will begin to adjust and adapt to Tebow’s play style. Yet the trend lines, this week at least, are positive.
Fox acknowledged that Tebow and the passing game are improving but added, “I don't know that it was light years better at this stage ... typically growth takes time."
The win improves the Broncos’ season record to 3-5 and with both Kansas City(4-4) and San Deigo (4-4) losing on Sunday, Denver finds themselves only one game out of first place.
"I think we made a lot of strides today as a team," said Dumervil.
That they did; Broncos became a team Sunday!
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