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Best Yet to Come for Broncos O?

Posted Sep 29, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason examines the record-breaking performance of the Broncos offense through four games.

DENVER -- The numbers continued to fall like golden leaves from the aspens, and the result in Sunday's 52-20 rout over the Eagles was at least as dazzling as the fall colors in the high country.

The Broncos set a franchise single-game record for points, eclipsing a record that would have turned 50 years old next week. They've scored more through four games than anyone in 47 years, and haven't won a game by less than 16 points. They've spent nearly half of their four games up by at least two scores, and they haven't trailed in 155 minutes, 47 seconds of play dating back to Week 2.

Peyton Manning is off to the best four-game start for any quarterback in the sport's history. Three receivers are on pace for 1,000 yards; two are on a 100-catch pace. A pass rush without Von Miller has more than twice as many sacks as its opponents and features two defensive ends on a 14-sack pace. Trindon Holliday continues to amass kickoff and punt return touchdowns at a staggering rate: one every 10.7 returns since he joined the Broncos.

At one point, Sunday's game resembled Canadian football, as the Broncos went three consecutive drives without even being forced into third down. Sixteen of the Broncos' last 26 drives led by Manning that didn't involve kneeldowns have resulted in points.

"You sit back and watch it and you're in awe," said Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Just reciting those superlatives leaves one as breathless as the Eagles were Sunday as they tried to execute their high-tempo offense without the benefit of practicing at over 5,280 feet; working the offseason and training camp at 36 feet above sea lavel simply wasn't going to cut it.

The difference between the Broncos and Eagles was as vast as the elevation discrepancy between their home cities, yet it doesn't seem as though the Broncos are peaking. Not with the offensive line still adjusting to a pair of starters who had never been NFL regular-season first-teamers at their position before this month, and not with a defense that played a fourth consecutive game without its only two returning Pro Bowlers in Miller and Champ Bailey.

The defense has been put in position to succeed by an offense that has bolted to leads, but it has done enough -- particularly against the run -- to hold up its end of the bargain. Sunday was the only time that the Broncos have successfully been run upon, but they continued their run of holding elite running backs to below their norms, limiting LeSean McCoy to 4.6 yards per carry -- 1.8 below his average heading into the game. And the primary cause of the defense's ability to withstand the personnel hit it absorbed might rest in the offense and the experience of facing it daily in the summer; by comparison, the games have been a relief.

"A lot easier," said safety Rahim Moore. "But a lot of that is the competitive nature that we've had. We've scrapped and fought and challenged each other, so when game time comes, it's like we've been there before."

Some performances are going to be more superlative than others, and it's not reasonable to expect 50 points every week or even every four weeks -- considering it took the Broncos one week shy of 50 years for them to reach that milestone again.

But the last four weeks have established that a seemingly unreachable collection of goals are attainable; just look at how Manning is the first quarterback with 16 touchdown passes in a season's four games -- while also becoming just the third with at least 1,430 yards and the second with a completion percentage at or above 75 percent (with at least 100 attempts).

"You're not going to put up 50 every week. But we're definitely striving for it," said Bailey.

As long as the Broncos can avoid being complacency, they can return to the level they reached Sunday -- and perhaps multiple times. The key is finding areas that need improvement, and emphasizing them.

On defense, it's about finishing stronger; multiple players expressed frustration at giving up a fourth-quarter touchdown for the third time in four weeks. On offense, it's avoiding the hiccups that send it temporarily backwards, and as was the case following a Knowshon Moreno penalty late in the first half, ultimately derailing what looked like a certain scoring drive.

"Yeah, we've got a lot of things to work on," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "We talk about not getting any negative plays. We want to go out and keep the ball going forward -- first down, second down, first down. When we can do that, it might be a perfect game."

That the Broncos don't yet consider any of their performances "perfect" could be a frightening proposition for the teams that will cross their path in the next 13 weeks.

"I think the sky's the limit for this team," said defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. "As long as we stay injury-free and keep our nose to the grindstone and keep working hard, I feel like we get better every single week, and that's what we want to do."