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30 November, 2015
Now: at the present time
When: at what time
The Denver Broncos season has boiled down to two simples words: Now and When.
When Peyton Manning was the Broncos starting quarterback the offense struggled through most of their games. Yes, the wins were coming weekly, but the running game, the deep pass, the familiar hum of the Peyton Manning machine was no longer there. There were flashes, like in the Packers dismantling when Manning went 21-29 for 340 yards, but that kind of game, once a given, now seems more like a blue moon. For the first half of the season the defense was carrying the team and, in theory, buying time until the offense found their way.
Now that Brock Osweiler is quarterback, opposing defenses have to cover the whole field.
When Manning was making the throws, whether it be because of injury or father time sitting on his throwing shoulder, defenses didn't have to concern themselves with passes outside the numbers or deep down the field. When Charles Woodson picked off Peyton on a pass down the sideline in Oakland earlier this year, he bailed on the deep route and jumped on the intermediate route because there was no need to worry about the receiver going deep. He was willing to gamble that Peyton couldn't get it there anyway. People talk about Manning's diminished arm strength, but I have been alarmed by his arm accuracy on deep balls. He can still throw it 50-55 yards in the air, but it's rarely on target. I can think of a dozen times this season when he overthrew Sanders or D.T. but just as many when a deep ball was 3 yards off to the left or right.
Now that Brock is under center the deep ball is a real threat. One need look no further than the missiles he dropped through the snowflakes and into the hands of #10 and #88 on their last drive of regulation against the Patriots Sunday night. Or how about the laser he drilled into Sanders on a crossing route last night, over two defenders and in front of another? And now that defenses have to worry about the entire field, it creates more space for the running game. Denver has piled up 349 rushing yards in Brock's two starts.
When Manning lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl, the defense was statistically very good, but it wasn't as dynamic as it is now.
Now they are an explosive unit that can win games. They've added Talib, Ware and Ward. Chris Harris has developed into an elite corner. Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams seem to be flourishing in the 3-4 scheme. And they've added Wade Phillips who is one of the better defensive coordinators in the league and has been for longer than Peyton has been an elite QB. You can't waste a D this good with poor quarterback play. I'm sure the injuries had a lot to do with Manning's 5-20, 4-pick poop-bomb he dropped against the Chiefs, but most defenses would have allowed 59 points that night, not 29. You can't have your defense turning around two minutes after they got off the field and ask them to go right back out there and defend a short field time and again.
When Peyton is running the offense the team is trying to combine what he likes and what Kubiak's system is. It's been very hit and miss. The number of times Peyton has thrown it to the other team hasn't helped.
Now that Brock is the man they are running Kubiak's system. It's only been two games but you have to like what you see.
When Peyton is running the show, it's all about mind games and trying to out-think the guys on the other side of the ball. It's obviously been hugely successful for a long time, but with injuries and fading attributes, there are only so many Jedi moves left in the bag.
Now that Brock is in there, it's about executing the system. It's a challenge given the issues they have with their offensive line, but they've found a way to make it work so far. As an aside, I also like that Brock has targeted 8 and 9 receivers, respectively, in his two starts. He's not locking in on one or two guys.
This storyline, Old Warrior vs Young Gun, has been around since sports started being played. I'm sure there were some Romans who were in the ring with the lions and there was some dude who outsmarted the lions for a long time, but eventually that guy got eaten because he wasn't quick enough to get away anymore while the younger guys ran around and survived on athletic ability alone. Do you play the Hall of Famer when he's healthy or stick with the "heir apparent" who is performing well? It's got to be one of the hardest lines for a coach to walk in sports. I don't doubt for one second Elway and Kubiak had a conversation during the hiring process that went something like, "Look, we're done with Peyton after this season. Just come in and manage it for a year and then you can do your thing." But the injuries have allowed Denver to accelerate the process and the future may be now, regardless of when Manning is healthy. If you're asking me who I'd go with, I still think a 100% healthy Manning at this point is better than 100% Osweiler, I just don't think 100% is in the equation for Peyton anymore.
The Wizard of Os has come out from behind the curtain and all of Bronco Country is paying attention to him. Denver has a championship-caliber defense and, in Osweiler, it appears they have a QB who can handle the bright lights. For most Broncos fans wondering if this is Brock's team the question is simple, if not now, when?