Somewhat amazingly, the Denver Broncos are a quarter of the way through the 2016-17 season already. It seems like they just beat the Panthers on opening night, but here they are, one of only two 4-0 teams in football.
With 25 percent of their regular season in the books, it’s probably safe to start drawing some conclusions about this team. Here are five things I think about the Broncos so far.
- The pass rush is still terrifying.
Can you name the last seven quarterbacks the Broncos have faced? In chronological order they are: Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Newton again, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston.
Denver took down Roethlisberger, Brady and Newton 14 times in its Super Bowl run last season. And in four games this year, the Broncos have sacked Newton, Luck, Dalton and Winston an NFL-most 17 times.
Von Miller, who got paid this offseason, leads the league with 5 1/2 sacks. One of Miller’s partners in crime, defensive end Derek Wolfe, has four. That’s 9 1/2 alone from them, which is better than 21 NFL teams. I wouldn’t want to face this defensive line and linebacking core.
2. Aqib Talib is fully recovered from that offseason shooting.
It was fair to wonder about Talib entering this season. By football standards, the 30-year-old is creeping up there in age. He also spent the summer recovering from a gun shot wound to the leg he sustained after a heavy night of drinking. Dallas police are now saying Talib shot himself, which: not great.
The Broncos stuck by Talib, though, and have been rewarded. He’s already got three interceptions this year — one a pick-six against the Colts, and the other two coming against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Talib is also perhaps the best shit-talker on the team. The Broncos mic’d him up against Tampa Bay, and the results were amazing. I’d seriously consider voting for someone whose only plank was “Aqib Talib must wear a microphone at all times.”
3. The Broncos are getting average quarterback play, which is a major improvement.
Aliens are going to look back at the the 2015-16 Broncos and wonder how the hell they won a Super Bowl with the ghost of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. (Well maybe not, global warming is going to ruin us and destroy all football footage long before the aliens get here.) Manning and Osweiler threw 19 touchdowns and 23 interceptions last season, which you don’t need me to tell you is pitiful.
So far, Trevor Siemian and 2 1/2 quarters of Paxton Lynch have outperformed the QBs on last year’s roster. A lot was made about Siemian, a seventh-round pick who played one snap in 2015. He hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot — he’s only thrown the ball 101 times (27th overall) in four games — but he’s played well in that role. He’s ranked fourth in yards per attempt (8.16) and eighth in completion percentage (67.3) among qualifying passers.
Siemian has thrown six touchdowns and three picks, and Lynch added a touchdown pass against Tampa Bay on Sunday. All Denver needs is average quarterback play to contend for another Super Bowl, and it’s getting that thus far.
4. Denver hasn’t been too dependent on its magic in one-score games — yet.
Luck, “clutchness” in high-pressure situations, or a combination of both? Whatever you believe determines a winner in close football games, the Broncos had it in 2015. They went 9-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Some smart folks on the internet believed that meant the 2016 Broncos were a prime candidate for regression to the mean in one-score games. Denver’s only played one such contest yet, when it beat Carolina 21-20 on opening night because Graham Gano pushed a 50-yard field goal left in the final seconds.
What we don’t know: When the Broncos are inevitably involved in close ones the final three quarters of the season, will they continue eking them out?
5. Denver is good enough to contend for a Super Bowl again.
Well, my prediction about the Broncos not making the playoffs looks dumb. Denver is the second-most dominant team in football in terms of point differential at +47. It only trails the Philadelphia Eagles, who are an absurd +65 in three games.
In 2015, the Broncos limited opponents to 18.5 points per game and 4.4 yards per play. Those numbers through four games this year — 16 points per game and 4.3 yards per play — have somehow improved. The offense looks competent.
So far, that’s been a winning formula. Can the Broncos keep it up?