DENVER -- **Many a forest was cleared to create paper on which was printed endless stories about teams needing an "identity."
But perhaps the best identity -- or at least the one that has the best chance of success in the postseason -- is a diverse one, particularly on offense.
It is possible that the Broncos of the 2014 postseason will be a chameleon. During a four-game winning streak, they won with power running, play-action passes and a deliberate pace that shortened games -- by an average of 10.4 total plays (for both teams) from all of 2013 through Week 11 of 2014 to Weeks 12-15 (135.7 to 125.3).
But last week, in the third quarter, the Broncos went back to the no-huddle offense, following up on a quick-snap march at the end of the first half that got the offense into scoring range for the first time. They scored three consecutive touchdowns -- first on a short field set up by Omar Bolden's 77-yard kickoff return, then on drives of 75 and 91 yards. Cincinnati couldn't get make its usual pre-snap adjustments.
It worked. But sustaining the up-tempo offense is easier said than done. You can't play 60 minutes of prestissimo football without consequences.
"It's a lot of work on the quarterback, it's everybody being on the same page," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "Peyton (Manning) makes a lot of this stuff look really easy and it's come over time and experience.
"So it's easy to say, 'Hey just go up-tempo and you'll have the same success,' but we've kind of moved in and out of that this year. One game we've been good and one game we haven't. So once again it's just trying to find what's best for that game."
And warp-speed pace affects the defense, as well as the offense. In Weeks 1-11, the Broncos' defense was on the field for 66.6 plays per 60 minutes. That dropped to 60 in Weeks 12-15. And the defense cut its points allowed down by 1.95 points (from 21.7 to 19.75), while the offense, working at a grinding pace, only lost 0.1 point from its Weeks 1-11 average (28.6 to 28.5).
Don't expect the Broncos to accelerate from start to finish in any game from this point forward. But after the third quarter last week, do expect them to pick up the pace when the opportunity arises, if only for a short to intermediate burst.
It's possible the Broncos try and go up-tempo for a time against the Raiders on Sunday. But you can also expect the Broncos to be patient and grind. As the team heads into the playoffs, it does so with an identity that is adjustable -- and that could give it the best chance to win different types of games that loom in January -- and, they hope, February.
Tempo is one of the three keys to success for the Broncos in Week 17 as they try to clinch the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that accompanies it.
- CONTAIN THE RAIDERS' GROUND GAME.**
The emergence of rookie Latavius Murray has revitalized the Oakland rushing attack, and helped the Raiders establish a greater ball-control presence in recent weeks. When the game flow allows Oakland to stick with the run, the Raiders have the situaton they want; all three of their victories came when at least 40 percent of their plays were on the ground.
If they have early success, they'll stick with it, and could force the Broncos into a street fight.
2. NEUTRALIZE OAKLAND'S PASS RUSH.
It starts with rookie Khalil Mack, knowing where he is and using the tight end, extra offensive tackle or running back to help block him. Last week, Mack had a virtuoso performance: two tackles for losses, a sack and three quarterback hits.
His array of hand moves has improved in the last few weeks, and helped create his sack last week when he separated himself from Buffalo tackle Seantrel Henderson with a quick move, then accelerated to corral Kyle Orton for his fourth sack in six games.
3. USE TEMPO TO KEEP THE RAIDERS OFF-BALANCE.
The Broncos were able to mount their most successful drives last Monday in Cincinnati with up-tempo offense, but given the strain that places on a defense that is without three starting linebackers (Nate Irving, Danny Trevathan and his replacement, Brandon Marshall) and a nickel safety (Quinton Carter), and could be without a Pro Bowl safety (T.J. Ward), the Broncos will have to pick their spots -- and will need to have more success when they attempt to grind out a drive than they did against the Bengals.
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