Earlier this week the Blogging The Boys writers tried our hand at power ranking, and the Denver Broncos were a unanimous selection as the top team in the NFL. There is a good reason for this; they are the most complete team in football at this point in the season. While it is a little early for that undefeated Miami Dolphins team to start getting nervous about their place in football history, it is time for us to start taking a look at the next foe to invade AT&T Stadium. Let's take a moment and get to know the men from the Mile High City.
Two seasons removed from questions about the possibility that his stellar career might be cut short by the four surgeries on his neck, Peyton Manning may be playing the best football of his life. Coming off a season where he passed for 4,659 yards, and threw for 37 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions, the elder Manning brother looks to be even better this season. While that alone is bad news for the rest of the NFL, the news gets even worse. The Broncos have provided him with an even better supporting cast for the 2013 season.
Manning's two top returning targets, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, now have a year's worth of experience working with the quarterback and know exactly what he expects from them. In addition, during free agency, John Elway brought in Wes Welker to man the slot position. The tight ends are Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme. Together, this group gives Denver a passing attack that is lethal, to say the least. In an effort to take some of the burden off of Manning's arm the Broncos also invested a draft pick in Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. He and Ronnie Hillman support Knowshon Moreno to give John Fox's team options to go to on the ground as well.
To keep Peyton upright the Broncos have a solid core of offensive linemen, although health issues are a concern. Left tackle Ryan Clady, who surrendered just a single sack in 2012, has been lost for the season due to a Lisfranc injury; veteran Chris Clark will attempt to fill his shoes. Beside him is the solid Zane Beadles. On the other side, Denver has right tackle Orlando Franklin. Although he only gave up four sacks last season, penalties were an issue for him. Franklin was flagged ten times last year. At right guard Denver also went to free agency signing Louis Vasquez to strengthen the interior of their line. Center has been an issue for the Broncos, with both JD Walton and Dan Koppen experiencing health issues prior to the season, so Denver has turned to Manny Ramirez, whom they signed to an extension following his first start at center.
To upgrade their defensive front the Broncos brought in Sylvester Williams out of North Carolina. Williams had six sacks for the Tarheels during his senior season but he was inactive last week against the Eagles. Ten-year veteran and 2010 Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips will handle the defensive end duties on the right side while the left end will be manned by Derek Wolfe, who is a solid run stopper who can also generate some heat on the passer. Inside, Denver has 325-pound nose tackle Terrance Knighton and journeyman defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio favors a simple philosophy for his defensive linemen: put them in and let them go at it was how Wolfe described the scheme.
Von Miller is currently serving a time out for substance abuse issues and, according to the Denver Post, in his absence the Broncos may have sharpened their edge.
In the absence of Miller from the lineup, Denver is not as intimidating. The 23.7 points surrendered per game are troublesome for any NFL defense with championship aspirations.
But, in the absence of Miller, the Broncos have become a better team.
In the middle, Wesley Woodyard handles the defensive signals for Denver. He is a good coverage linebacker and also racked up seven sacks last season while playing the weakside slot. Nate Irving will handle the strongside position, while second year player Danny Thevathan takes over in Woodyard's old slot.
Future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey still has not returned to action and it is unclear when he will return. In his stead, Denver has two "other" corners that are ranked in the top 25 at their position. Chris Harris is ranked 11th while his running mate, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, is ranked 24th. The third corner will be Tony Carter. The safeties are Rahim Moore who played fairly well in 2012 and Duke Ihenacho, a second year man from San Jose State.
Clutch veteran Matt Prater will handle the place kicking duties. He is 91 for 110 over the past four seasons, including 10 for 14 from 50 yards or more. Punter Britton Colquitt was third in the league last year for net yardage. He averaged 42.1 net yards on the season. Trindon Holliday is the return specialist in Denver. He had two returns for touchdowns during the 2012 regular season and also scored twice during the playoff loss to the Ravens.
Denver is at least solid in every position and stellar in some key areas. So far, nobody has been able to figure out a way to slow down the Manning onslaught. That combined with a serviceable defense will make this game a tough nut to crack for the Dallas Cowboys even if they are on top of their game. If the same Cowboys team that faced San Diego shows up at AT&T Stadium it will be a nightmare. The Denver Broncos are, quite simply, the best team in the NFL at this point and that does not show signs of changing this week.