The Broncos' 31-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts was not perfect by any means, but plenty went right against a team that is looking for its 12th season of 10 or more wins in the last 13 years.
BY THE DOZEN
The one-running back, two-tight end alignment is often called "12" personnel, and was effectively the Broncos' base offensive package Sunday, as they used it for 34 plays, compared with 30 that were run in last year's base set, "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers). This was a point of emphasis during organized team activities and training camp.
This was effectively their base offensive package Sunday. The Broncos ran 34 plays with two tight ends and two wide receivers. With this packaging, they averaged more yards per play (6.0) than they did in the three-wide set (5.5), and more per pass (8.5 to 6.1). They averaged more per rush in three-wide (4.1) than with two tight ends (3.8), but also did not run as frequently in that package; the Broncos had 18 carries for 68 yards with two tight ends, and nine carries for 37 yards with one.
Denver's longest gain -- a 40-yard Peyton Manning-to-Emmanuel Sanders connection -- arose out of the two-tight end set.
The frequency of the run and the effectiveness of Julius Thomas (who already had two touchdowns) forced the defense to stay in the box and account for the threat of Thomas, who ran a short route to the right after Manning faked to C.J. Anderson, who stayed in the backfield after drawing the Colts to what they played as a stretch play to the right.
Meanwhile, from the other side of the field, Sanders had a free release. LaRon Landry had no help against Sanders, and the throw was on target. Two plays later, the Broncos scored their third touchdown of the second quarter.
IRVING'S BIG NIGHT
As was the case last January, middle linebacker Nate Irving seems to thrive with game opportunities. He had his best defensive game in Super Bowl XLVIII, and delivered another strong performance Sunday. He started with a bang on the first series, reading a handoff to Trent Richardson perfectly. He capitalized off the Colts' unbalanced formation -- three offensive linemen to the left of center A.Q. Shipley, and only guard Hugh Thornton to the right, with tight end Dwayne Allen outside of him. Terrance Knighton drew the attention of two Colts blockers, and Shipley was too slow to prevent Irving from corralling Richardson.
Irving's second-quarter sack of Andrew Luck was simple: the Broncos brought six pass rushers, and got solid man-to-man coverage on the back end. Irving and Brandon Marshall sized up the Colts' interior line, and Irving shot through for the sack.
This is the kind of pass rush the Broncos will be able to execute if the secondary has more games like it did Sunday; if they can trust the cornerbacks in man coverage with a single high safety monitoring the back end, the linebackers will have more possibilities.
DROPPING THE GREEN FLAG
The Broncos' "NASCAR" package of three defensive ends (DeMarcus Ware, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe) and linebacker Von Miller -- had some success Sunday, holding the Colts to 27 yards on seven plays, allowed three first downs on those seven snaps, and notching a sack of Luck with six minutes left in the second quarter to force a punt.
What was interesting about the sack was how the Broncos used this package: they only rushed three men. Jackson lined up on the inside, and Wolfe worked at left defensive end. Miller stood two yards away from the line of scrimmage, near the center, and didn't rush; as would occasionally be the case; he spied. Jackson fought to the outside of Colts right guard Hugh Thornton and burst into the pocket, guiding Luck to where Ware awaited. Miller had any scramble contained, standing six yards back.
Ware's sack of Luck in the next quarter wasn't out of the "NASCAR" package, but was one of the four most important defensive plays of the game, along with the goal-line stand and Bradley Roby's game-saving deflection. Luck had five potential targets-- including three in the end zone -- but the Broncos dropped seven into coverage. Bradley Roby had tight coverage on Hakeem Nicks inside the end zone; Nicks tried to attract the attention of Luck, but the quarterback was already under siege, and Roby would have been able to break up the pass.
- Only two teams used fewer offensive personnel groupings than the Broncos' 13 in Week 1. The league average was 23. But on defense, only the Bills (44) used more personnel groupings than Denver's 40. The league average on that side of the line of scrimmage was 25.
- Denver played 56 of 70 snaps with at least five defensive backs on the field -- because Indianapolis played 57 of its 70 snaps with three wide receivers.