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Three Keys Unlocked: Broncos vs. Titans

Posted Dec 8, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes a look back at the keys to the game, and how the Broncos fared.

DENVER -- Peyton Manning was barely touched; the Broncos continued to hound the Titans offense into errors, and Denver kept the Titans defense guessing, leaving them grasping -- and occasionally being penalized for their efforts. All that was enough to ensure a 51-28 win that sealed a third connective playoff appearance and preserved the Broncos' one-game lead in the conference and division standings.

Here's how the three keys to the game, identified Sunday morning, unfolded:

1. KEEP PEYTON MANNING UPRIGHT.

Only one team had more five-sack games than the Titans coming into Sunday, and they entered coming off their best pass-rush game of the year. But the Titans didn't sack Peyton Manning and hit him just once, as he defused their quick-attacking interior pass rushers with the Broncos' requisite array of quick outs and inside routes.

Eventually, the Titans started dialing up blitzes to try and defuse the Broncos, but those were effectively dealt with -- never moreso than when Montee Ball made Manning's 38-yard completion to Demaryius Thomas possible by picking up a blitz, something he acknowledged he wouldn't have been able to do as effectively a few months ago. Ball is mastering pass protection, as any running back playing alongside Manning must do, and this enhances the offense. 

2. FORCE MISTAKES.

Going into Sunday, the Titans were 4-1 when they didn't turn over the football, and 1-6 when they did. So when Terrance Knighton grabbed the second interception of his career to end the Titans' first possession after halftime, the Broncos had them exactly where they wanted them -- and had exploited the turnover tendency that keeps quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick from being perceived as a long-term answer at the game's most prized position.

This was also the third time this year that the Broncos have had a positive turnover margin (plus-two), and only the second time this year that they didn't turn over the football. It's not a coincidence that the Broncos also broke 50 points the last time they avoided a giveaway (in Week 4, against Philadelphia).

3. SPREAD IT AROUND.

Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker were each targeted at least 10 times -- which, for Welker, was quite impressive, given that he only played the first half before being forced from the game because of a concussion.

But the defining statistic of an offense that had arguably its best overall day of the season rested in how the touchdowns were dispersed: six scores by six different players: Decker, Welker, Thomas, Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas. This game wasn't about Manning finding one mismatch and repeatedly exploiting it; it was about Manning finding a different weak spot on each play.

"All year, we’ve been talking about how dynamic our entire offense is," said Julius Thomas, who grabbed five passes for 35 yards and the touchdown in his return to action. "There are guys that maybe hadn’t been getting as many touches in the beginning of the season. Now, they’re going out there and they’re showing everybody what they can do."

This should not change Thursday, even if Welker is not cleared to play after going through the post-concussion protocol. Manning targeted Welker's replacement in the slot, Jacob Tamme, five times in the second half; he caught four passes for 47 yards in one half of work.