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The Denver Broncos continued their undefeated 2015 campaign, moving to 6-0 after an overtime win over the Cleveland Browns.
While there should be positive feelings about being one of the five remaining undefeated teams this season, instead there’s fear over whether the Broncos can keep this up.
In Week 6, the Broncos were once again carried by their league-best defense, while the offense continued to struggle with Peyton Manning behind the wheel.
The calls for Manning to retire grew louder after he went 26-48 for 259 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. Manning threw what looked like the game-clinching interception in the fourth quarter, before responding with a touchdown drive, only to throw another interception later on.
The third interception was saved only by the Broncos defense and the inept Browns offense. Starting from Denver’s 42 with a good opportunity to at least kick a go-ahead field goal, the Browns defense instead moved backwards as Denver’s defense came up with a tackle for three yards and two sacks to push Cleveland back to the 48.
The stats show how impactful Denver’s defense has been. Entering the week, they had Football Outsider’s No. 1 defense, and they’d been getting a healthy, if not unsustainable, amount of offensive production from their defense.
- Broncos defense: 24 points off three interceptions and one fumble return.Broncos kicker: 61 points off 16 made field goals and 13 made extra-point kicks.Broncos offense: 54 points off seven passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns
The Broncos look like polar opposites on the two sides of the ball. While they have the best defense in the NFL, they were ranked dead-last in offense by Football Outsiders entering Week 6, with the No. 30 passing offense and No. 31 rushing offense.
It’s fair to wonder how long this can go on. With colder months ahead and more wear-and-tear, it seems Peyton Manning’s performance will only continue to go downhill.
There’s some reason for optimism, but none of it really involves Manning simply getting better. The Broncos are still acclimating to a new head coach with a new offense and a fairly inexperienced offensive line. The run game could get a boost as these things develop, and running back Ronnie Hillman provided one in Week 6. Thus far, however, the combination of Hillman and 2014 sensation C.J. Anderson haven’t inspired much confidence.
As ProFootball Talk’s Michael David Smith wrote about the Broncos’ future this season:
“So while it’s great that the Broncos are finding ways to win with a shot Peyton Manning, let’s be honest: It’s going to stop. The Broncos get the Packers this Sunday night and have games coming up against the Patriots and Bengals, and Denver won’t be able to beat good teams the way they beat the Browns yesterday. To beat a good team, the Broncos will need a good game from the offense, and this offense just isn’t ready to deliver.”
Thus far, the defense has been covering for the offense’s mistakes. When the offense turns it over – which they’re doing at a league-high rate – the defense has been there to stop opponents on a short field, or even get the ball back and score some points.
Manning is still capable. In the fourth quarter against the Browns, Manning gave the team shots to win in regulation. Demaryius Thomas had two huge drops on wide open passes, and Emmnauel Sanders nearly came down with what would have set up the game-winning score, but a review showed he didn’t complete the catch.
Nonetheless, as Smith notes, the offense has no explosion, and as the quality of the Broncos’ opponents goes up, it’s going to be tough for the defense to keep carrying the team.