Fast offense leads to record points for Manning, Broncos
DENVER (AP) — There's no arguing that quantity and quality can go hand-in-hand for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Project No. 1 for the offense this year was to speed things up and run the no-huddle. By every measure, the project is running along smoothly as the Broncos reach the halfway point.
Over the first eight games, the Denver offense has run 593 plays compared to 536 over the first half of 2012. Manning and Co. have started 107 drives compared to 92 last season. And, most importantly, Denver's offense — not counting scores by the special teams and defense — has produced 319 points compared to 212 over the first eight games of last year.
"I'm not going to say it's as easy as it looks," receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "The main part is, everyone needs to be on the same page. You've got to have everyone on the field knowing what they're doing all the time."
The increases of 10 percent in plays, 15 percent in drives and a whopping 50 percent in points have translated to a 7-1 record heading into the bye week.
Denver's overall scoring, 343 points, is on pace to shatter the NFL record of 589 (2007 Patriots). Manning has 2,919 yards and 29 touchdown passes, also numbers that would blow away the current records of 5,476 yards (Drew Brees, 2011) and 50 TDs (Tom Brady, 2007).
All of which the Broncos were hoping for when offensive coordinator Adam Gase took over for Mike McCoy after last season and took the few remaining shackles off an offense that also upgraded with the signing of receiver Wes Welker and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas.
Manning was no stranger to the no-huddle, up-tempo offense during his years in Indianapolis, but over his first year in Denver, the Broncos didn't go fast all the time; there were so many new things to get used to for the quarterback and his new teammates.
One turning point came in a loss to New England last Oct. 7, when the Patriots hustled to the line for every play and ran an almost unheard-of 90 plays on offense, compared to 67 for the Broncos. The Patriots won 31-21 and Manning decided he wanted to go that fast one day, too.
The Broncos pushed the pace a bit more over the second half of last season, when they went 8-0 and ran 577 plays — 41 more than over the first half. But McCoy's departure to become head coach of the Chargers, along with Gase's promotion from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, marked something of a fresh start.
The Broncos started installing elements of the no-huddle during their offseason training program.
In the third game of the preseason, the first-team offense ran 51 plays in the first half against St. Louis.
"That's when we saw we could do it," Demaryius Thomas said. "From there, we just said, 'We want to stick with this."'
Manning has long emphasized that the no-huddle isn't simply a matter of going fast all the time.
By hustling to the line, the Broncos limit what the defense can do, substitution-wise, which makes it easier on Manning to diagnose what might be coming next.
Denver's commitment to the no-huddle was on full display last week in the turning-point play of a 45-21 win over Washington. The Broncos were trailing 21-7 and had fourth-and-2 from the Washington 20.
Instead of calling timeout, or debating how to handle the situation, the Broncos lined up and, without hesitation, snapped the ball. A handoff to Knowshon Moreno yielded 5 yards. Three plays later, Denver scored the first of 38 straight points to close the game.
"We like being able to go quickly in those situations," Manning said. "If you're going quickly on first, second and third down, why do you have to, on fourth down, huddle and let's have this big discussion? (Gase) and I talk about having a plan ready when Coach (John) Fox gives us the go-ahead."
More than the physical side of the no-huddle, it's the mental side — being ready for any scenario — that Manning insists is the bigger challenge of going fast.
"I think you find out real quickly who's not in shape if you're out there on the field for long drives and guys are having to tap out or guys can't sustain the same execution late in the drive as they can early in the drive," Manning said. "Football, if you're not into the mental, cerebral part, it's going to show up at some point."
When the Broncos return from their bye week, the schedule will become much more difficult, with five games against teams that currently have winning records, compared to one over the first half of the season. The weather also figures to get colder, which could curtail the offense's record-setting tempo. Meanwhile, the last few weeks have brought up some questions about Manning's overall health and arm strength.
Regardless, the Broncos figure to keep pushing the pace.
So far, the plan has worked well.
"It's all about players," Fox said. "First, you have to have smart players to do it because you make so many changes. Our guys have been able to do it, whether on the road or at home, at a very high level. It's experienced, smart players who aren't afraid to work very hard to make it happen on game day."