Broncos back on top as Manning switches to run

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In the rapidly evolving NFL, several teams have looked all-powerful on their given Sunday:  Kansas City, Seattle, New England, Green Bay, Dallas, Arizona all having their moment of looking like the best team in the league.

No team is more of a roller-coaster than the Denver Broncos.  The Super Bowl loser sped to a 6-1 start, only to lose two of its next four games and barely avoid a home loss to the mid-ranked Miami Dolphins.

The peerless commander, Peyton Manning himself, was being widely assailed for hogging the ball, refusing to let a running game flourish.  He did not get the credit he deserved for feeding C.J. Anderson 27 times in the 39-36 shootout with Miami.

In that game the Broncos ran and passed 35 times each, and Manning had them running even more in the next game, in Kansas City, when Denver rushed 45 times, passed 34 and won 29-16.

It helped Manning’s cause considerably when coach John Fox borrowed from the Bill Belichick playbook and reconfigured the offensive line.  It had sagged in protection while clearing little room for Anderson or anyone else to run. 

But with Will Montgomery, discarded by Washington, moving in at center and Manny Ramirez shifting from center to guard and guard Louis Vasquez from guard to tackle, the Denver line somehow gained push and elasticity.

The Broncos physically dominated the Chiefs, and their kicking game got a desperately needed boost from Achilles-rehabbed Connor Barth, replacing the shank-prone Brendon McManus.

Still, the most significant change in the Broncos is that Anderson has given them a burst in the running game that they didn’t have last year or this year.  He rushed for 167 yards against Miami and 168 at Kansas City.

Anderson is an undrafted player who joined the team last year.  He got his chance only because of injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman.

“I feel fresh,” Anderson said.  “I didn’t play seven, eight, nine weeks.  I’m kind of like a pinch hitter.” 

In the 18-degree chill of Arrowhead, the Broncos looked as fresh-legged on defense as on offense.  They swarmed Alex Smith, with six Denver defenders dividing the six sacks, while Manning was captured just once.

Manning may be showing some wear at 38.  His completion percentage is off a couple of ticks at 66.8.  His passes are sailing a bit more than they did last year.  He’s getting calls from Duck Dynasty.  But he can use a good running back the way he once used Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James.

This season the best offenses are showing some balance.  Tom Brady hands off to Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount;  Aaron Rodgers lets Eddie Lacy run.  Dallas relies more on DeMarco Murray’s running than Tony Romo’s passing.

And now we see Manning and Anderson.  We may be seeing them in February.


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