ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Statistically speaking, the Broncos' offense in the last eight weeks has been the best through a season's midway point in NFL history. No team has ever scored as many or more points through the first eight games, and only two teams have ever gained more yardage at this point in the season (the 1951 and 2000 Rams).
Finding five defining plays of significance beyond the obvious (points scored) from this eight-week onslaught was a challenge. But there were a few that jumped out and reveal the breadth of the offense.
5. Knowshon Moreno runs 1 yard on third-and-1 to gain the first down — but not the touchdown; Week 5.
There's no better example of this offense's collective understanding of situational football than Moreno hitting the turf at AT&T Stadium without scoring, but having gained the first down necessary to prevent another Dallas possession. Remember when then-Bears running back Marion Barber III traipsed out of bounds late in regulation on Dec. 11, 2011, giving the Broncos just enough time to mount a desperate, game-tying drive? Moreno's run late in the 51–48 win over the Cowboys was the exact opposite.
4. Eric Decker gains 12 yards on third-and-9; Week 2.
A play that was quickly forgotten, this helped show the Broncos' flexibility with various formations. This was one of the key plays on a drive that saw the Broncos march to a touchdown, with six consecutive plays to open the series coming out of a two-tight end package. The Broncos had not previously established a passing tendency with this package, but this play — out of a pistol formation, and with three targets running routes to the right and another on a short cross near the middle of the field — showed how the Broncos can use the concepts in their three-receiver packages with other position groups.
3. Moreno runs 5 yards on fourth-and-2; Week 8.
One quarter earlier, the Broncos had fourth-and-3 and punted. But in that situation, they led by 7 and were at the Washington 43. When they faced fourth-and-2 in the following quarter, they trailed 21–7. Still, the success of the play — Moreno blasted his way for five yards, setting up a touchdown three snaps later — is further example of the Broncos' do-or-die proficiency.
Moreno's run and Joel Dreessen's fourth-and-goal touchdown catch a quarter later moved the Broncos to 7-of-9 on fourth-down conversions the last two seasons (including 4–of-4 this year). That is a 77.7 percent figure that is best in the NFL and nearly twice the league average of 40.2 percent in that same span. Some of that is due to the fact that the Broncos have rarely been in position where going for it was a need; a 20–4 regular-season record since last year doesn't happen without playing from ahead more often than not. Still, the Broncos might be compelled to roll the dice a bit more often, given this success rate.
2. Julius Thomas' 44–yard reception; Week 1.
A play later, he scored his second touchdown of the quarter, which firmly established his presence, but it was this play that showed what kind of a matchup problem he presents. He was covered by a linebacker off the snap, and easily got past him, working his way into open space on an out pattern 14 yards upfield. By that time, the linebacker had ceded coverage responsibility to the safety, Michael Huff. His missed tackle after Thomas' reception near the sideline added 27 yards to the play. Thomas can't be covered adequately by a safety or a linebacker, and this play illustrated the coverage challenges Thomas would provide in the weeks to come.
1. Peyton Manning's 35–yard touchdown pass to Moreno; Week 8.
I find it appropriate that Moreno makes three appearances on this list; he leads the Broncos in yards from scrimmage and has played like the first-round pick he was in 2009. And while the teamwork is good on this play — led by Manny Ramirez's downfield block — this is also Moreno at his best, reading the play perfectly, accelerating at the perfect moment and, finally, making a man miss with a quick cut en route to the end zone. Well-executed screen passes are usually symphonic in nature, but this was a piece punctuated by a dazzling solo from the Broncos' most underrated skill-position player.