The San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos square off on Sunday Night Football, and it is time to wrap up our week of cross blog chatter. Thanks to Kyle Montgomery and the folks at Mile High Report. We had a chance to send a few questions his way. I'll add a link when he posts my answers to his questions over at MHR.
Niners Nation: Peyton Manning can seem fairly immobile, and yet he generally seems to avoid sacks for the most part. PFF has him with the second fastest average time getting a pass off. What do you think allows him to avoid the sacks?
Mile High Report: Manning gets the ball out quickly thanks to a lot of talent at wide receiver and a lot of pre-game and pre-snap preparation. Manning is a coach on the field, spending as much time as he wants pre-snap to diagnose a defense and interpret coverages. It's very tough to fool him. Manning's success is compounded by the fact that, odds are, someone is going to be open.
Take last week. The Jets did a lot of things in coverage, leaving eight and even nine guys to cover Broncos receivers and jam them off their routes. It worked to some degree; watching the game, it felt like the Broncos offense only briefly found its rhythm in the middle of the game, and it struggled to close out the match in the 4th quarter. This technique helped keep Wes Welker without a catch until very late in the 4th quarter, which is sort of unfathomable. But Manning still found a way to get Wes the ball in the end to help convert a crucial third down. Someone is going to be open.
NN: Speaking of Manning, how much of this offense is Manning, and how much is Adam Gase? How does that dynamic operate given that this is Peyton freaking Manning we're talking about?
Mile High Report: It's obviously tough to quantify or distinguish, because Manning and Gase are not mutually exclusive components of this offense. But this offense is all about Peyton Manning. Adam Gase is following in the footsteps of the Broncos' former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, now head coach of the San Diego Chargers, who was very successful at molding his offenses to the talents of his quarterback. Just look at the two-year period of 2011 and 2012 for the Broncos, where McCoy was offensive coordinator and Gase was QB coach. The Broncos promoted Tim Tebow to starter in 2011 and completely shifted their offense to play to his strengths. They allowed Brandon Lloyd, who had a career year in 2010, to leave because, ostensibly, he wasn't happy with the switch. They went all-in. Then, an offseason later, they have Peyton Manning, and the offense is completely overhauled again. The Broncos took Peyton Manning's playbook and wiped out their offense to play to his comforts. Adam Gase didn't do a lot to change that when he took over OC duties last year.
Still, there's something to be said about an offense that breaks the single-season touchdowns, passing touchdowns, and points records like the Broncos did a year ago. Gase deserves credit for maximizing the tools at his disposal, with Manning being the most lethal one, of course.
NN: As we can see, Manning overshadows a lot of things. The Broncos defense is playing great, and seemingly not getting a ton of credit. What are the basic strengths and weaknesses of this unit?
Mile High Report: Right now the Broncos are the 2nd-rated defense according to Football Outsiders' DVOA, showing they're a very efficient defense in most aspects of the game. They're strong against the run and in points allowed (ranking 4th and 7th in the NFL in those areas). They also lead the league in 3-and-out percentage. This unit has the potential to be dominant. Which is why it's so frustrating that, right now, they are not.
Every game, there seems to be a drive or even a single play where an apparent lack of discipline leads to a score for the other team. Perhaps you saw the highlights of Arizona Cardinals rookie QB Logan Thomas burning the Broncos with an 81-yard TD toss two weeks ago. There was no reason that touchdown ever should have happened; in fact, it was the only first down the Cardinals converted in the second half. But Nate Irving didn't play the ball, and Aqib Talib took a bad angle, and suddenly Andre Ellington is free down the sideline.
These little details are hurting the Broncos; these types of miscommunications have allowed mobile QBs in particular to have some success against the Broncos. Right now we hope it's just a need for all of these new pieces to gel. By the time the playoffs roll around, hopefully they're playing to their potential.
NN: The Super Bowl was obviously not a pleasant experience. What did the Broncos do to address their issues there, and how have players handled it with the media?
Mile High Report: Thirty-five. That was the offseason mantra of the Denver Broncos. Every rep in the weight room was with a shout of "35!", according to the players, to push each other for that extra rep. Every offseason drill was 35. What does that number mean?
43-8. The point differential between them and the NFL's best in February.
Then, when training camp began, the Broncos embraced the new season, and they haven't talked about the Super Bowl since. They spent an offseason letting that embarrassment, that fury, fuel them. And now they're completely focused on the 2014 season. I've liked the approach so far.
NN: What is your prediction for the game? Bonus: How does the AFC West shake out between Denver and an impressive looking Chargers squad?
Mile High Report: I see a very close game. The 49ers are as tough as any opponent the Broncos have faced to date. But the Broncos defense is really playing well, and that's what gives me the most confidence in a victory. Broncos 24, 49ers 20. Denver doesn't cover, but they win in a close one.
Bonus: In the AFC West, it's clearly between the Chargers and Broncos, and a lot will be made of their two games. The first one is coming right up after Sunday Night - the Broncos host San Diego on Thursday Night Football in less than a week. Right now I think either one of them could win the division. My heart tells me the Broncos will do enough to win its fourth straight AFC West title, but my head knows there are no guarantees. That's why this game against the 49ers, and every game, is so important for the Broncos. They can't give up their chase of the Chargers, who have also only lost one game.
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $250,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 7's NFL games. It's only $5 to join and first prize is $15,000. Starts Sunday, October 19 at 10am PT. Here's the link.