DENVER —The Broncos' Sunday game against Arizona was nothing short of an examplary performance of how dangerous their offense can be, with a number of players setting records or reaching milestones. The offense set the field aflame, but the defense also was spectacular, effectively shutting down the Cardinals for only 34 yards in the final three quarters outside of needle-threading 81-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Offense sets franchise record for total yardage
In a game full of impressive individual offensive performances—Peyton Manning throwing for 479 yards and four touchdowns (including his milestone 500th), Demaryius Thomas setting the team record for receiving yards with 226, Wes Welker passing Rod Smith for the most career receptions as an undrafted player, to name a few—the offense as a group set a team record that has gone a bit under the radar.
With 568 total yards against the Cardinals, the Broncos set a franchise record for most yards of total offense in a game. Sure, it was only by a yard (the previous record was set in 2004 with 567 yards), but still, the new benchmark has been set. And when you consider the talent of the opposing defense, it made it all the more impressive, as Head Coach John Fox noted.
"I think Arizona had been statistically over three games a top-five kind of defense," Fox said. "They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. To do that there are certain coverages you play and it was something that we were going to have to execute well in that department—whether it was protection, the timing of the passing game, getting things going—they had some big guys up front that do pressure the quarterback very well. So it was just going to be one of those games where we had to perform well and luckily we did."
Putting pressure on the quarterback meant that Arizona had to dedicate more defenders to the pass rush than just the front line, often leaving the receivers in single coverage, which gave the Broncos some pretty favorable looks that led to such a historic mark.
Another encouraging part of the offense's afternoon was how well they finished the game, totalling 159 yards of offense in the fourth quarter. Manning said that late-game execution was something they were looking to improve upon from weeks prior.
"That's something we talked about in the first three games—we haven't finished late in the game. We were fortunate to win two of them but didn't win the last one, so probably definitely won the fourth quarter today and finished the game we wanted to. Now, it's obviously not that perfect four-quarter game, [we've got to] try to avoid those three-and-outs and those mistakes in the second and third quarters. But it was definitely a good finish today," he said.
Welker moves atop history books as undrafted receiver
As far as indivual accomplishments went, Thomas' record-breaking game got most of the attention amongst receivers, but Wes Welker's own record-setting day deserves its day in the sun.
With seven receptions, Welker became the all-time leader in receptions among undrafted players and moved into 23rd in all-time receptions overall, passing Irving Fryar.
The catch that put Welker past Broncos legend and Ring of Famer Rod Smith for most receptions as an undrafted player came on the last play of the first half on a 5-yard reception, though he didn't realize that was the one until he heard it announced over the stadium's speakers.
Being in the same company as Rod Smith was an honor for him, and he said as much after the game.
"The way I look at it is any time you're in company with Rod Smith, you know you're doing something right," Welker said. "I remember growing up watching him and being a big fan of his and not knowing that he was undrafted just because he was such a great player and what he's been able to do. I think it's a tribute to him of really being able to get this milestone."
Manning was complimentary of Welker's game and his career in his press conference afterward, saying "It's pretty much just kind of a 'ha ha' moment for scouting for not drafting him in that draft class. So whoever was a general manager during—when was that, 2003-04?—Those guys ought to send him an apology letter. But it's a credit to Wes. He's been what I call a grinder. He works, he works, he loves football and I really appreciated the way he played today."
On a day when all the receivers had their chances to shine against the Cardinals' defense playing with fire by bringing blitzes on Manning, Welker cherished the play from the entire receiving corps.
"I'm with a very talented group of receivers and overall offense, and it's been a pleasure being out there with those guys and getting to work with them and just trying to help where I can," he said.
Ultimately he said the offense made improvements but he still saw room to get better.
"We had a few drives where we weren't really clicking and everything like that. Overall, we put up 41 points against a really good defense like that. It's not easy to do. It's attributed to a lot of guys going out there and making plays."
Pressure comes up big against Cardinals
Though Arizona's blitzing packages received a lot of attention prior to Sunday because of the success they had when they were undefeated, it was the Broncos' pass rushing that had a greater effect on the opposing quarterback.
All told, the Broncos had 10 quarterback hits, three sacks and seven tackles for loss. The Cardinals got one hit on Manning, one sack and five tackles for loss. The Broncos didn't even have to bring extra rushers often with their front four getting a good push to disrupt the pocket in pass protection and finding the holes in defending the run.
"It makes our job way much easier when you get to the quarterback," Danny Trevathan said. "We've got a great group of rushers: Von, D-Ware, Malik, D-Wolfe, everybody, man. We've got a great group of guys that love rushing for the quarterback and just playing football, and it makes the linebackers' jobs real easy."
With Arizona's quarterback depth already a bit thin, starting backup Drew Stanton because of nerve complications in starter Carson Palmer's shoulder, a concussion forced them to turn to their backup's backup, rookie Logan Thomas.
"We've got a new quarterback? Send the dogs, man," Chris Harris Jr. said of what he saw when Arizona had to put in the rookie.
"We're trying to get sacks. We're trying to go after him and make it uncomfortable for him. That's our job as a defense and we did a good job with our D line and our rushes," Trevathan said. "When you take that quarterback out, that other quarterback's going to be a little bit nervous and for us to go out there and play like we did, I'm proud of it. [...] We still worked within our scheme. Our scheme was to get a little bit of pressure on the quarterback and play our defense. You know, second half, we kind of got after them a little bit more and got a feel for the way their linemen was blocking and all this and that."
"Our rush was getting back there so fast, especially with a third-string quarterback," T.J. Ward said. "It's going to fluster him a lot. When he has that pressure in his face and he's not that familiar with the game plan or the defense, you can tell."
"Each game is a step, is another step in the right direction. We're just trying to get better every week and the rush was coming today."