ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Since the Broncos turned their ground game up to 11 against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 23, quarterback Peyton Manning has a 98.9 rating, a 6-to-2 touchdown ratio and a completion percentage of 66.3 percent.
The Broncos have won all three games in that span, averaging 30.67 points per week in the process. Their success came in spite of missing the league's leader in red-zone touchdown catches (Julius Thomas) and playing one game with Demaryius Thomas hindered by a bruised ankle he suffered in practice four days earlier.
And yet, the reaction in recent weeks in social media, from radio callers and other corners has often crossed the lines into panic and hysteria over production that would project to a 32-to-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio over 16 games.
"It's comical to me," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase. "We heard the same thing about [Patriots QB Tom] Brady, and he's been ripping the league apart since then. You never doubt players of this caliber, I know that. I'm pretty sure every defensive coordinator is not thinking that."
It's one thing to be a Monday morning quarterback. Second-guessing is a tradition since time immemorial, whether it's over the first newspapers dropped on doorsteps after games or after reading a story on a sports website.
Social media, however, takes it to another level entirely. Panic sets in during the first quarter. Umbrage is taken immediately. Reporters see it on their Twitter timelines. Players do, as well -- although the broadsides lobbed at them are usually harsher.
"I just feel like if you let it get to you, you've got to deal with it. If you let it get to you, it can bother you," said running back C.J. Anderson.
Most of Anderson's tweets are about thanking others for their support, his immediate reaction to games and, reminding followers that he doesn't care about fantasy football, and, on several occasions, sharing his mantra, to "keep grinding." But after one tweet about Manning directed at him, he couldn't stay silent.
"There's a couple of responses that might be a little bit absurd, like people talking about Peyton Manning last week and this and that," Anderson said.
"I had to tell a fan on Twitter last week, 'There's two things I know you can't do: a) you can't read defenses and b) play quarterback at a high level like Peyton Manning.' That's two things I know for a fact that that fan can't do," Anderson said. "… And when they attack certain teammates, of course, it's humanly right to let them know, 'This is not easy, what we do every day.'"
It came as no surprise that Anderson came to Manning's defense. When the offensive line was under siege after the 22-7 loss at St. Louis, the young running back defended the group. The criticism of the group bothered him. To him, outsiders didn't know what was happening, but he also understood the only way to silence them was to "shut them up" by executing on the field.
Three days later, Anderson ran for 167 yards behind the line, kick-starting the current three-game winning streak that expanded the offense's repertoire, making it as capable of winning games through power running as through the air.
It's not about balance. It's about being able to do it all, and building toward being an offense that is flexible and adaptable to conditions, schemes and personnel.
"We're hoping that one day, where [the opposing defenses] decide to bring that eighth guy down into the box, we let 18 (Manning) do what 18 does best, so it kind of [becomes] pick your poison," Andeson said. "But if we can be efficient and balanced from here on out, we can put both of them together, and stop leaning on one or leaning on the other. The time we can put both of them together would just be amazing."
And as the offense grows to that goal, Manning remains effective -- perhaps not as efficient as he'd like, but enough to win. And if he struggles, teammates like Anderson can pick him up.
"You want to have your teammates' back because, it's hard to do what Peyton does," Anderson said, "and it's hard to do what he's done for 17 years at a high level, every single week."
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