DETROIT -- **The path might not have been the one the Broncos expected to take, but the end result was what they wanted: a 24-12 win over the Lions that improved the Broncos to 3-0 against a formidable September slate that included two of last year's playoff participants.
How did the three keys turn out?
- FIND A RHYTHM ON OFFENSE.**
Outside of the second quarter -- in which the Broncos marched to two scores, including Demaryius Thomas' 45-yard catch to cap a drive in the final 63 seconds -- the Broncos struggled to find a rhythm, and the ground game struggled to mount any consistent production.
Running backs C.J. Anderson, Juwan Thompson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 42 yards on 18 carries, with a 6-yard run by Thompson before he left with a neck injury the only gain of more than five yards.
The pistol was effectively the Broncos' base formation. Their first two plays were from that formation, and the Broncos used it on a majority of their snaps, with most of the others coming in a traditional shotgun alignment. The Broncos didn't go under center until they had first-and-goal from the Detroit 2-yard-line with 5:19 left in the second quarter.
"I like things that work and, what's the old saying, 'Insanity is doing something over and over again, it's just not going right?' So, obviously, we have been working on the pistol for a period of time," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We had done a little bit of it. Obviously, we did a lot more tonight, but the key is balance formationally as a football team. You don't get there and you're offset all the time. It's a concern, but there was some improvement tonight."
But over the course of the win, the passing game was effective. Peyton Manning had a typical Manning performance: 31-of-42 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas had 87 and 92 receiving yards, respectively. Owen Daniels overcame some drops in traffic with a gorgeous 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:28 left that effectively clinched the win.
The struggles for consistency on the ground will continue to be a topic of discussion in the days to come, but in the meantime, the Broncos have found a way to get by without it, with the offense accounting for 24 points in each of the last two games and the passing game finding its form.
To wit: Since the Broncos fell behind 14-0 at Kansas City -- after which point they went with a shotgun-heavy, no-huddle-intensive attack -- Denver's offense has averaged 29.9 points per 60 minutes, and Manning has completed 51 of 78 passes for 533 yards, five touchdowns and one interception, good for a 101.7 quarterback rating.
In that same span, the Broncos have run 92 plays from shotgun or pistol alignments, and 18 with Manning under center. Against Detroit on Sunday, 58 of the Broncos' 62 snaps were in the shotgun or pistol.
The alignment has helped Manning stay upright. The sack rate allowed by the Broncos improved from one every 9.2 pass plays on the offense's first 91 snaps (prior to the 14-0 deficit at Kansas City) to one every 40.0 pass plays on the 110 snaps since then.
- MAKE MATTHEW STAFFORD UNCOMFORTABLE.**
The sack statistics don't entirely tell the story, as the Broncos ended the game with four -- a healthy total, but nowhere near illustrating the havoc the Broncos' pass rushers wreaked on Stafford.
In the second half, Stafford found more success with screen passes and dump-offs that took the edge off the Broncos' pass rush. Denver still got pressure, punctuated by Shaquil Barrett's strip sack of Stafford that led to a fumble that the offense converted into a 48-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
This is three conseutive weeks in which the Broncos have pressured an opposing quarterback into errors. Is it the scheme or the mindset of the plaeyrs?
"It's scheme," said CB Chris Harris Jr. "Coach Wade [Phillips] has a great scheme for us. We're playing great in it. We're playing aggressive, and we're playing without fear. That's what it takes to make these plays."
3. DON'T ALLOW EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ON SPECIAL TEAMS.
McManus took care of kickoffs, blasting all of them for touchbacks -- including one from the Denver 20-yard-line after a taunting penalty against Thomas on his 45-yard touchdown reception.
Punter Britton Colquitt did a good job with placement of his punts, dropping three of his five punts inside the Detroit 20-yard-line. Only one was returned, resulting in a 28-yard runback that was the longest allowed by the Broncos on a punt return this year. However, Barrett's forced fumble effectively rendered that return moot.