HOW THE FULLBACK CHANGES THE OFFENSE
Start with these numbers:
5.8 yards: C.J. Anderson's average yards-per-carry against Carolina with Andy Janovich on the field.
3.4 yards: Anderson's average without Janovich.
Four and a half years ago, I wrote a story with the headline "Death of the Fullback" after the release of Spencer Larsen following the 2011 season. The Broncos would use Chris Gronkowski sparingly at fullback in 2012, but aside from his work and a brief Jacob Hester cameo late in that season, the fullback vanished from the offense for nearly all of the next four seasons. The 2013 and 2014 seasons passed without a fullback anywhere on the roster; whenever the Broncos needed someone for a fullback-type role, they would call on a tight end like James Casey or Virgil Green, or a lineman such as James Ferentz or -- memorably -- Mitch Unrein.
Now, the fullback lives.
It's too soon to guess where this might go. Is this just a product of the Broncos running the pure iteration of the Kubiak offense, leaving it a relative novelty league-wide as teams abandon use of the fullback? Or is it possible that the pendulum swings of football strategy could bring the fullback back on a widespread basis?
Janovich's play may have a lot to do with what happens.
In Week 1, he was a difference-maker as a blocker. But his 28-yard touchdown run will linger and will be at the forefront of how teams try to defend the Broncos.
Now the opponent has to take seriously the notion that the rookie fullback can make plays with the football. (Which is something they should have accounted for to begin with, given his two 50-plus gains last year at Nebraska.)
Defensive backs like Benwikere will no longer be able to ignore the threat of Janovich with the football. When they account for Janovich, that leaves their focus divided, likely creating openings in coverage, and lanes for the running backs.
That's one reason why you throw a play like that on the table in Week 1. For the next 15 games -- and beyond, the Broncos hope -- every opponent will have to strategize knowing that Janovich can rip off an explosive play when given space to do it.
TODD DAVIS AND TEAM RUN D
Working mostly against the run, Davis was crucial in ensuring that Carolina's runs did not cause more damage than they did.
One example of this came early in the third quarter, when he stopped Jonathan Stewart for a 5-yard gain on second-and-6. Davis isn't in a good spot, but he quickly shakes off Carolina's Andrew Norwell, and is the first man there with help from Darian Stewart to make the play before the line to gain.
The next play saw perhaps the most important stop of the game, and was the very epitome of a team effort. Davis is aligned directly over the center, with Darius Kilgo and Jared Crick immediately flanking him at the A-gaps. Davis' responsibility is to fill a hole on the inside; he does that.
Cam Newton quickly rolls left. This leaves the fate of the play in the hands of Shane Ray, who was engaged with Devin Funchess, and Aqib Talib, who followed the motion man over to that side. The instant Ray sees Newton break toward the edge, he engages in heavy pursuit, and with Talib playing his side of the field, Newton is stopped, giving the Broncos the stop they desperately needed.
Too many runs reached the second level against the Panthers, and with another tough, large, mobile quarterback lurking Sunday in Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, the Broncos will need to improve -- fast. But Davis was a big part of ensuring that the paper cuts didn't become open wounds.
SPECIAL TEAMS: CONTAINING TED GINN, JR.**
WR Cody Latimer was the team's special-teams player of the game, and with good reason; he provided two of the Broncos' three tackles on returns, playing a big role in neutralizing Carolina's Ted Ginn Jr.
But it was a team effort. On his first tackle -- on the kickoff after Andy Janovich's 28-yard touchdown run -- safety Justin Simmons is the first one downfield racing forward to dive at Ginn at the 13-yard line. Simmons guides Ginn outside, and into the grasp of Latimer and Janovich, who followed his touchdown run with a 52-yard sprint to help stop Ginn.
Late in the second quarter, just after the two-minute warning, Latimer plays his role as gunner perfectly on Riley Dixon's 44-yard punt, reading the trajectory of the football and Ginn perfectly to cut back inside and meet Ginn right after he fields the football. With an assist from Kayvon Webster, who got up the opposite sideline, Ginn had no place to go and settled for a 4-yard return.