ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As the Broncos offense has rolled up an NFL-high 127 points in the first three games of the season, two key components to that offensive outpouring have been wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas.
The pair of targets in the passing game found the end zone in both of the Broncos' first two contests this season – and Monday night against the Raiders was no different.
Welker hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peyton Manning early in the second quarter to put Denver in front of the Raiders 17-0. Less than four minutes later – Thomas answered with a 13-yard touchdown of his own, extending the Broncos' lead to 24-7.
The touchdowns mean that Welker and Thomas are two of just three players in the NFL who have caught touchdown passes in every single game this season – Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the other.
After the game, Welker said that the wide-open distribution of passes has helped enable the offense to operate at a high level.
"Everybody is going to be an option on every single play and it's never going to be one guy," he said. "It's everybody collectively as a team, making it happen and that's what football's about. That's when you can really start doing things."
Both players have caught four touchdowns on the season – tied for second-best in the NFL with two other players – and against the Raiders, their steady productiveness was again apparent throughout the game.
Welker finished the game with seven catches for 84 yards and Thomas hauled in three balls for 37 yards.
But while the offensive explosiveness has been exciting to watch, Thomas was quick to point out that it's not something that happens without a challenge.
"It's definitely not easy. I just think it speaks to our preparation," Thomas said. "We work so hard every day during the week, getting ready for the game. To be able to come out here and execute is not something that just happens automatically."
Instead, it's been the hungry diligence of the entire corps of targets – Welker, Thomas, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and others – that has put the offense on a record-setting pace.
"We work hard we push each other," Julius Thomas said. "And then when the game comes we're trying not to have any off weeks. That just shows the kind of leaders we have around our team. They do a great job of making sure that every day we go out there and we improve. It's been happening in practice and its showing in the games."
Learning from Defending Pryor
Countering Terrelle Pryor's elusiveness was an unmistakable X-factor coming into Monday night's showdown for the Broncos' defense.
It also provided the defense with a preliminary window for assessing some of the other mobile quarterbacks it will face this season.
"The game plan was simple," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "Even when we did allow him to run out, we had somebody over the top of him. We wanted to just contain him and not let him get it started with his feet. He could kill us with his feet and make plays extending the passing game, so that's something that we wanted to do – contain him."
And, for the most part, it's precisely what the defense did.
Although Pryor had his moments – he finished the game completing 19-of-28 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown – the Broncos managed to keep him in check for most of the evening.
Pryor only picked up 36 yards on the ground and was under constant duress from swarming defensive linemen and linebackers – he was sacked three times.
"We tried to eliminate his runs and we tried to get a little bit more pressure," cornerback Chris Harris said.
Harris noted that the lessons learned in defending against Pryor's mobility should help the defense in fronting other mobile quarterbacks, such as the Eagles' Michael Vick.
"We should have gotten a little bit more pressure on him," Harris said. "That's something that we can get ready for (Eagles QB Michael) Vick next week."
Staying on top of Pryor burdened the defense with a unique slate of demands – both in maintaining assignments and in physically containing the threat of a scrambling quarterback – but it's a burden that other quarterbacks will also pose this season.
"It's definitely a challenge, but that's something we're going to have to get used to because it seems like the league is changing to a more versatile quarterback, running around, attack," defensive tackle Mitch Unrein said. "We're just going to have to be clear on our rush lanes and where we go from there."
Ultimately, seeing a mobile quarterback early in the season was a test that Woodyard believed would help benefit the defense down the road.
"Vick, a lot of guys are running that. Washington is running the same-style offense," Woodyard said. "It's good that we can get that game action and kind of learn what the other teams are going to do, try to do the same, similar things."
Webster Cranks the Physicality
It hasn't taken long for rookie Kayvon Webster to carve out a reputation as a physical player.
"Big banger, man," Vickerson said of the cornerback. "I like him."
After demonstrating his punishing hitting ability throughout the preseason, Webster made his mark emphatically in Monday night's game.
Webster twice throttled Raiders receivers with big hits that drew a rise from the crowd – and from his teammates.
"Kayvon had a lot of swag, man. He's so confident," safety Rahim Moore said. "He's not a rookie to me."
"I expect that from him," linebacker Shaun Phillips added. "We know he can play and we just have to find ways to get him on the field."
Webster said that the support from his veteran teammates has helped fuel his play.
"The players that we have on our team, they do a great job of helping the young guys stay involved and cheering us on when we're out there," he said. "It's very encouraging that they're behind us."
Moore noted that Webster's awareness and assuredness on the field have been impressive.
"He's got a lot of confidence," Moore said. "Good confidence, too. He's not overconfident. He's just sure on his technique and he makes plays."
And Webster's play had Woodyard already envisioning bright things for his future.
"He's going to be a player," he said. "I think Kayvon will have a long career in this league. He's going to be one of the dominant cornerbacks in the future. Mark my word for that."