Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Another Gutsy Road Win

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 17, 2008

There is no doubt the Broncos-Falcons game will certainly be flying under the radar when compared to other games around the league this week.  You’ve got Tennessee coming from behind in a division road game to improve to 10-0.  You’ve got the Giants dropping 30 points on the Ravens defense.  You’ve got a crazy finish in the Steelers-Chargers game that resulted in an 11-10 final score for the first time in NFL history.  You’ve got a tie in the NFL for the first time in six years (Still perplexed by that one, was either team actually trying to win in overtime?).  You’ve got the Cowboys showing a pulse again in the NFC.  I could continue, but the point is the Broncos have very quietly opened up a two game lead in the AFC West, and they’ve done it with seemingly half the roster on the injured list.  Denver has won back-to-back road games for the first time in years, and dare I say it they actually seem like they could be dangerous again especially once they get healthy.

Denver’s win in Atlanta today was all about the unsung guys, starting with Spencer Larsen.  The rookie has quietly shined on special teams for the Broncos as a sixth round pick out of Arizona, but today he became the first player in Broncos history to start on offense, defense and special teams in the same game.  He played fullback, opening up holes for Peyton Hillis and Tatum Bell, had seven tackles on defense, and was around the ball on special teams.  First of all this should tell how banged up the Broncos are at multiple positions, but also that the team has a chance to succeed with guys like Larsen filling the void.  

Besides Spencer Larsen, even a die hard fan like me is needing a program these days to keep track of all the new faces.  How about Wesley Woodyard getting the start at middle linebacker?  He combined for four tackles in the first eight games while playing sparingly, but now has had 18 in the last two games, including nine today against Atlanta.  Or how about Josh Bell, who got a surprise start at cornerback today with Champ Bailey still hobbled, and multiplied his season tackle total by five?  Running back P.J. Pope had spent his entire career on the practice squad with three different clubs before being activated this week, and contributed 35 yards on four carries.  Even a familiar name like Tatum Bell required a double take as he rushed for 34 yards on seven carries, including the clinching first down in the final minute.  Even Peyton Hillis, who is a household name among Bronco fans now but was completely unkown a month ago, did very well in his emergency tailback duty, scoring two touchdowns.

This is not to say that the usual suspects didn’t do their part.  Brandon Marshall caught six balls, including a critical 47 yarder on third down in fourth quarter that prevented the Broncos from having to punt in their own territory.  Jay Cutler was sensational in the fourth quarter, leading a clutch drive that culminated in a zinger to Daniel Graham for the go-ahead score that evoked memories of an Elway fastball in the final minutes.  Eddie Royal didn’t have a great game statistically (four catches 34 yards) but his presence was critical in areas besides the box score, especially when he flattened Falcons safety Lawyer Milloy on a Tatum Bell run in the fourth quarter.  Even Dre’ Bly, who has had his fair share of tough moments this year, came up with a crucial momentum turning interception in the third quarter.  

Needless to say this game did not at all unfold the way I expected it to go.  The Broncos inability to stop the run this season has been well documented, yet a banged up Broncos defense gave up just 114 yards on the ground, allowing 3.3 yards per rush.  That’s definitely not bad at all considering Atlanta ranks second in the NFL in rushing, averaging 153 yards per game, while the Broncos rank 26th in the league, allowing 143 yards per game while allowing 4.9 yards per carry. The Broncos kept Michael Turner in check most of the day, although he did finish with 81 yards and two scores.  The Broncos offense actually did not make as many plays as I expected them to, but they got the job done at the end when they needed to.  The bottom line is anytime you’re winning on the road you’re doing something right, and the Broncos suddenly find themselves in a position where their confidence is sky high with what should be a very winnable home game against the Raiders on the horizon.

Some other thoughts from the game:

– How on Earth did the Falcons have that many empty seats at the Georgia Dome?  Do the fans there realize the Falcons are actually playing well?  I swear anyone could have walked up five minutes before game time and purchased an entire section.  The attendance is listed at 54,644.  The Georgia Dome seats over 71,000.  Something is seriously wrong with Atlanta sports fans, although maybe it’s not surprising considering how many non-sellouts the Braves had for playoff games over the years.

– The Broncos were almost in a position where they would have needed another clutch drive in less in a minute to win.  Matt Ryan’s deep ball on 3rd & 18 just missed Roddy White in the corner of the end zone with 1:05 to go.  If White catches that ball, and it was very close indeed, Denver would definitely have felt the pressure.  It goes to show how many little things can alter the outcome of a game.

– Speaking of Ryan, he is playing phenomenally well for a rookie.  Ryan showed poise that many veterans don’t have, and showed ability to make plays out of the pocket.  The few times the Broncos were able to get pressure on him, he got away easily while making throws on the run.  He is already a very good quarterback and the Falcons have long forgotten about Michael Vick.

– Jay Cutler seems to be learning how to make plays while at the same time taking care of the ball.  He made good decisions today even when no one was open.  He spread the ball around to multiple receivers and didn’t try to force something that wasn’t there.  If he can continue that, the Broncos will have success going forward.  

– If the Broncos are to keep up the pace for a division title, they will need to get the running game going consistently.  Denver did very quietly rush for 124 yards, but they will need to be more consistent.  Two times in the first half the Broncos passed on 3rd & 3 or less, and were not confident the running game could move the chains.  That will not work in the playoffs.  This area should improve when Selvin Young returns and Tatum Bell gets more in game shape.  

– The defense needs to continue to improve.  They need to progress from the bend but don’t break ideal to forcing turnovers and getting more pressure.  They are moving in the right direction and need to continue to make progress.  

For all of Denver’s struggles this year, they are 6-4 and have a two game lead in the AFC West.  Their 6-4 record matches New England, Miami, Baltimore and Indianapolis in the AFC, and perhaps Buffalo if the Bills win tomorrow.  The Broncos have an advantage those teams do not, and that is that they play in the weak AFC West.  The Chargers are 4-6 and look like they might be in real trouble.  I realize the Broncos still have issues and are not in the class of Tennessee or Pittsburgh right now, but If they  get healthy they can be dangerous, perhaps just in time to maybe even make a run at the top teams in the AFC.

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