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So Far, Second Half is First-Rate

Posted Sep 15, 2013

The Broncos have outscored opponents 66-24 in the second half thus far this season.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – John Fox can belt out a stirring halftime speech when the need arises. It can be inspirational; it can be a firm tongue-lashing, or if it’s a truly desperate moment, it can be a “come-to-Jesus,” as they say in North Carolina, his old stomping grounds.

But no such invective is responsible for the Broncos’ blistering second-half performances the last two weeks, the second of which sealed a 41-23 defeat of the New York Giants here Sunday.

“That’s not really it,” Fox admitted.

No, the reasons why they’ve pulled away for two convincing early-season wins are tactical, encompassing the tweaks they made in the locker room, the quick pace and play-calling of the offense in the first half and an aggressive defense that engulfs ballcarriers, hit passing targets to the limits established by rules -- and occasionally beyond, as Duke Ihenacho’s second-quarter hit on Brandon Myers illustrated.

If you view football as a chess game, you can see the Broncos using the first half to arrange their pieces, all the while thinking 10 moves ahead. In the second half, they struck. Julius Thomas’ 11-yard touchdown catch five plays after a Chris Harris tip-drill interception put the Giants in check; Trindon Holliday’s 81-yard jaunt for a touchdown on a punt return through a fatigued Giants coverage unit was checkmate.

Of course, when the pieces are arranged to lead to 66 points, eight offensive touchdowns and an astounding 10.2 yards per pass play in 60 minutes of second-half football, it’s something unusual.

“It’s hard to believe, but I feel like when we get the ball when we come out in the second half, it’s just pedal to the metal and we somehow just get into the end zone,” said Demaryius Thomas.

In Week 1, one Broncos adjustment involved using the Ravens’ increased attention to Julius Thomas and Wes Welker against them; because the safeties concentrated on the inside routes, they left openings on the flanks, which allowed Andre Caldwell to make his first touchdown catch as a Bronco. Sunday, the most significant tweak was the re-acquaintance to an old friend: the two-tight end, two-wide receiver set that was their base package last season but was barely utilized in the Week 1 rout of Baltimore. The tight ends were different: last year they were Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme, and on Sunday, they were Julius Thomas and Virgil Green, owing to the young players’ rise up the depth chart and the knee injury to Dreessen that sidelined him Sunday.

“We ran the ball better out of that personnel grouping for whatever reason,” Peyton Manning said. “We were able to get a couple of big plays in the passing game … That was a good change by the coaches.”

On their first scoring drive of the second half, the Broncos picked up 36 yards on six plays out of the two-tight end set – 17 on two passes and 19 on four runs. With third-and-4 at the Giants 17, the Broncos re-inserted Wes Welker for Green, went back to a three-receiver set and finished off the Giants in three snaps out of that package: a 10-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, a 5-yard toss to Eric Decker and, finally, the 2-yard scoring strike to Welker.

 

Defensively, the divergence in performance by half hasn’t been as striking on the scoreboard. Through two games, the Broncos have allowed 26 points before halftime and 24 points after it. A per-play analysis is more illuminating.

In the first half, the Broncos have allowed 5.49 yards per play, 6.81 yards per pass play and 2.85 yards per rush. In the second half, all of those numbers drop, to 4.37, 5.22 and 0.50, respectively. Think about that: in the last two second halves, the Broncos have allowed an average of 18 inches per carry.

The cause is two-fold: No. 1 is the Broncos’ quick-strike offense building a second-half lead; of the 60 minutes the Broncos have played after halftime, they’ve led for 57 minutes, 30 seconds of them, and have led by at least two scores for 37 minutes, 47 seconds. No. 2 is the run defense itself, which excelled against the Giants. The defensive linemen consistently blasted through the Giants’ offensive line and met ballcarriers in the backfield.

“All those dudes, they did a fantastic job,” said safety Rahim Moore. “I could see the penetration from way back there at safety.”

The combination of stout work up front and the Broncos’ offense building leads effectively removed the run game from the equation. As was the case on Sept. 5, a Broncos foe had to completely abandon the ground game.

“That’s our plan,” said cornerback Chris Harris. “Think about it: Joe Flacco threw [62] times against us. I don’t even know how many times Eli (Manning) threw tonight, but I know it had to be at least almost 40 (it was 49).

“Whenever we can get a team one-dimensional, it’s going to be tough for them to beat us.”

Tough is an understatement. A Broncos team without two of its returning Pro Bowlers is 2-0, has outscored its foes by 20 points a game and asks so many rigorous questions of its opponents that they can’t possibly answer them all – even though the Broncos have spent their first halves arranging pieces for second-half onslaughts.

Of course, it’s not as if the Broncos have been lousy before halftime, either. They only trailed the Ravens by three, and they led the Giants by one.

“It’s not like we’re getting blown out in the first half or anything like that,” Welker said. “Obviously we’ve just been playing well in the second half. We’ve kept it close in the first half and been able to score some points, but obviously there are going to be ups and downs through any game. You just kind of roll with them and do the best you can.”

So far, the Broncos’ best has been elite. But just as the Broncos adjust at halftime, other teams will adjust to them. Dozens of moves and countermoves loom in the coming weeks; how the Broncos handle those will determine whether they return to MetLife Stadium in four and a half months.

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