DENVER —Above and around Denver, lightning electrified the skies, leading to a first-quarter delay that lasted just over an hour. At Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos provided all the thunder and electricity, jolting the Dallas Cowboys from start to finish.
From a 78-yard march to their first touchdown to Aqib Talib's 103-yard dash to a pick-six in the final minute of the game, the Broncos made a statement in a 42-17 romp over the Cowboys.
Why did the Broncos dismantle Dallas as they did?
BECAUSE TREVOR SIEMIAN SET THE TONE EARLY**
And in part, it was established last week.
The Broncos' success at moving the football through the air via passes to their tight ends and No. 3 wide receiver Bennie Fowler against the Chargers complicated matters for the Cowboys. They couldn't simply move their safeties outside to help against Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. With starting cornerback Orlando Scandrick out because of a hand injury, the Cover-Two-intensive Cowboys allowed the receivers room to start their routes unimpeded. That gave them space to operate, and they pounced.
"We knew with their starters, they would have trouble covering our receivers," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "But the run game — that was the jump-starter. To run the football and force those guys who played single-high [coverage] to get [Thomas] and [Sanders] one-on-one.
"We knew it was going to be to our advantage. We knew that our receivers versus their [defensive backs] was going to be an edge for us, and obviously running the football helped that edge."
On the first series alone, Thomas and Sanders combined for 66 yards on four receptions, including Sanders' 10-yard scoring grab that put the Broncos in front to stay. The duo finished the afternoon with a combined 133 yards on 12 catches, with Sanders adding a second-quarter score that put the Broncos in front 21-7.
Only a pair of turnovers — an interception and a strip-sack-fumble — marred Siemian's day. He finished with 231 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-32 passing.
BECAUSE THE BRONCOS MADE THE COWBOYS ONE-DIMENSIONAL**
Although the Cowboys eventually found some success through that single dimension — via Dak Prescott's right arm — it was too little, too late. Denver dismantled Dallas' cherished ground attack and gave Ezekiel Elliott no room to roam, holding him to a career-low 8 yards on nine carries. His previous career low was 51 yards.
"He could have run it 15 more times for 10 more yards, but that wouldn't have helped them win," Joseph said.
Once again, the Broncos' defensive line came up big. Although it played without Zach Kerr and newcomer Ahtyba Rubin, Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis and Domata Peko Sr. were all stout at the line of scrimmage, offering limited opportunities between the tackles for Elliott to break through.
"As long as we stopped the run game and the massive O-line — which we did — we knew we were going to win the game," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said.
Support came from the linebackers. Shaquil Barrett did a particularly outstanding job shedding blockers on the edge, often breaking free in time to make stops from behind. But what the Broncos did was nothing fancy; they just played their game.
"Basic front, man," said inside linebacker Brandon Marshall. "We just knew what we had to do. It's not like we called any extra blitzes or anything like that. We did the same thing we did last week."
The Cowboys dropped to 0-5 since the start of the 2016 season — when Prescott became their starting quarterback — in games when at least 60 percent of their snaps were passing plays. Heading into Sunday night, the Broncos' third-down defense ranked second in the league, with foes converting just 23.1 percent of their opportunities.
BECAUSE THE BRONCOS AGAIN SUCCEEDED ON THIRD DOWN**
After converting on eight of their 15 third-down opportunities in the Week 1 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Broncos continued that success against Dallas, moving the chains on nine of their first 12 third-down opportunities — including seven in succession during the second and third quarters. Two of the Broncos' five touchdowns came on third downs.
A key was keeping the third-down distances manageable. Eleven of the Broncos' 15 third-down attempts came within six yards of the line to gain; the Broncos converted seven of these opportunities.
"Third-and-long is tough in this league. Third downs are tough as it gets," Siemian said. "Hopefully we can keep staying in those third-and-5, third-and-4s, and keep on the field."
Meanwhile, the defense also continued to come up big on third downs, holding the Cowboys to just two conversions in their first 11 opportunities.
BECAUSE THE BRONCOS CONTINUED TO RUN DOWNHILL**
Siemian's pinpoint passing early got the Broncos out in front to stay; he went 5-of-6 for 74 yards on the first series, guiding the Broncos on a 78-yard touchdown march that put them in front to stay.
That drive helped open up lanes for Anderson and Jamaal Charles, both of whom capitalized. Anderson posted the sixth 100-yard rushing day of his career and became the first 100-yard runner against the Cowboys since Week 17 of the 2015 season. Charles added another 48 yards on eight carries as the two combined to average 5.19 yards per rush in Sunday's win.
As a result of their stellar ground work in the first two games, the Broncos went into Sunday night leading the league in average rushing yardage per game (159.0), while ranking eighth in yardage per attempt (4.2) and fifth in first-down rate (one first down every 4.17 carries).