DENVER --By the time the players and coaches exchanged handshakes at midfield, the scoreboard line of 41-20 came close to reflecting the statistical dominance the Broncos exacted over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The Broncos out-gained the Cardinals by 343 yards, and established a single-game total yardage record in the process, racking up 568 yards from scrimmage. Peyton Manning threw for a career-high 479 yards, which was the second-most in Broncos history and most in a Denver win.
It wasn't a perfect win; both teams were besieged by injuries, and the Broncos were without running back Montee Ball and No. 4 receiver Andre Caldwell by the end of the day. But it was the closest to a complete game that the Broncos have produced this year, and that's where we begin our look back at the pregame Three Keys:
1. NEUTRALIZE ARIZONA'S PASS RUSH.
Pressure helped lead to one of Manning's two interceptions, but the Cardinals notched just one sack -- for three yards -- and hit Manning once. The Cardinals continued their blitz-centric strategy which left their cornerbacks to press to try and disrupt the timing of the Broncos' passing game. It did not work, because the quick timing routes and Manning's speed-reading of the defense make the Broncos well-equipped to defuse the blitz's explosive effect.
"It wasn't a game where you were going to have a lot of easy runs, because they were piling the box and they were confident in their corners as they should be. So we knew it was going to be a passing game," Manning said.
"We knew there were going to be some incompletions, we knew there were going to be some kind of ugly series. But we thought if we just stayed aggressive, we would get our big plays, and that's what we did."
It was hard to argue with the final result. Manning and the Broncos feasted on the single coverage. He read the blitz well. He stretched the field vertically, with the help of Demaryius Thomas sprinting downfield. A career-high 479 yards says it all about the offense's ability to overcome pressure.
- LIMIT THE EXPLOSIVE PASS PLAYS DOWNFIELD.**
Only a perfect pass from Arizona rookie quarterback Logan Thomas to running back Andre Ellington on a wheel route kept the Broncos from a near-perfect game in this regard.
That 81-yard touchdown to Ellington represented 37.7 percent of the Cardinals' total yardage. Without it, they would have averaged 2.44 yards per play; with it, the per-snap average was 3.84.
"A one-in-a-million pass; a one-in-a-million play, and we missed the tackles," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
Even with the pass, the Broncos limited Arizona to just two pass plays of at least 20 yards in 34 attempts -- one every 17. In Weeks 1-3, the Cardinals' rate of passes that covered at least 20 yards was one every 7.2, one every 14.5 and one every 6.8.
"That was our goal: to not allow any explosives," said Harris.
The Broncos fell just short, but did more to neutralize the Cardinals' deep passing than anyone else has to date.
3. GET POSITIVE YARDAGE ON FIRST DOWNS.
This was more like it. After averaging just 2.825 yards per non-kneeldown run on first down the first three weeks, the Broncos averaged 4.05 yards per first-down run Sunday, as the offense wore down the Cardinals after halftime.
Denver running backs averaged 5.38 yards per first-down run in the second half. Montee Ball gained five yards on his one first-down, second-half carry before injuring his groin; Juwan Thompson averaged 5.0 yards on three carries, and Ronnie Hillman averaged 5.6 yards on nine carries.
The holes were there on a consistent basis for the first time all season, and the results reflected that.