Broncos riding high but have some blemishes, too

The Denver Broncos are as complete a team as the NFL has to

offer, with Peyton Manning’s pinpoint passes and Von Miller’s

sack-strips setting the tone for a squad that hasn’t lost in two

months.

Still, there are blemishes for these Broncos (10-3), whose quest

for that proverbial complete game marches on through maladies – red

zone stalls, pass protection pitfalls, coverage blunders – that

could derail their dreams.

As coach John Fox said Friday following his team’s latest win, a

methodical 26-13 beatdown of the Oakland Raiders: ”We still need

to get better.”

Even though they’ve won eight straight, they have a lengthy

to-do list.

”Each week, there are little things we can tweak and fix,”

linebacker D.J. Williams said.

To still be searching for that all-around game this time of year

is actually a good thing, Manning insists. After all, what good

does it do to peak before the playoffs?

”We’re still looking for that perfect four-quarter game,

60-minute game. I’m not sure if you want to play it early in the

season. I think you hopefully want to find it somewhere in the

month of December, maybe going into January,” Manning said.

The Broncos really haven’t been threatened in any game since

their 35-point second-half onslaught at San Diego on Oct. 15 that

thrust them into this prolonged tear. They nonetheless keep finding

enough flaws to prevent them from getting big-headed.

”It’s hard for any team to run on all cylinders,” Fox said.

”Everybody looks for that perfect game. You prepare for that

perfect game no matter what phase. Very seldom do you reach that.

We still need to get better. Guys have that mindset. We as a staff

have that mindset. And we’ll see where it takes us.

”I know coming back after this little break we’re playing a

very good team in Baltimore. So, it’ll be a good measuring stick of

where we are.”

Even though the Broncos found a ground game to complement their

passing prowess – Knowshon Moreno had a career-high 32 carries for

119 yards against the Raiders – there were enough problems popping

up to keep the coaching staff busy over the long weekend as they

prepare for their biggest game of the season Dec. 16 against the

Ravens (9-3).

After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Broncos

offense sputtered, turning the ball over at the goal line once and

settling for field goals four other times while also scoring a TD

on a 2-yard drive following Miller’s fifth forced fumble in five

weeks.

”Kicking a field goal is not the worst thing ever,” tight end

Jacob Tamme said, ”but there are going to be some times with those

drives when we get great field position on offense, we need to

score touchdowns.”

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas bemoaned the Broncos’ inability

to finish off drives, which is becoming a nasty habit.

”We’ve got some things to work on,” Thomas said. ”We’ve got a

great team coming up, and we’ve got to work on them a lot, because

we need touchdowns, not three points.”

The Broncos’ final trip into the red zone didn’t produce a

touchdown, either, but they didn’t mind as Manning took three

kneel-downs after Moreno carried eight times from midfield to the

Raiders 8, forcing Oakland to use all three of its timeouts.

”I was really proud of that last drive,” Manning said. ”I

thought that was really something special. Probably more of a line

coach’s dream. Probably not exciting for anybody doing fantasy

(football).”

The Broncos have been emphasizing a better ground game for

December, when weather becomes more of a factor but also because it

will keep Manning’s play-action effective and his jersey clean.

Moreno has made the most of his promotion from the scout team to

the starting lineup these last three weeks following Willis

McGahee’s knee injury that landed him on IR. The Broncos are

averaging more carries (31 to 27) and more yards (109 to 105) and

their first downs rushing per game (6.3) are exactly the same as

when McGahee was in the lineup.

It doesn’t always look pretty, though. Plenty of times, Manning

has to tell Moreno where to line up – or even grab him by the

jersey and shove him from one side to the other.

”I’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He’s been running the

service team, scout team, for the majority of the season. All of a

sudden he steps right in, our offense is evolving each week, we’re

putting new stuff in, changing things and he’s virtually had to

learn on the run,” Manning said. ”So, when you’re in the

no-huddle, you can tell him what to do, he’s not sure. I just say,

`Knowshon, ask me, make sure we’re on the same page.”’

Denver’s defense has had its issues, too. The Broncos gave up

pass plays of 58 and 56 yards Thursday night, the latter one for a

catch-and-run touchdown toss from Carson Palmer to Darrius

Heyward-Bey. This after allowing Tampa Bay to score 10

fourth-quarter points to turn a 31-13 lead into a ballgame.

”We’d like to put together four perfect quarters, but we’ve got

some fighters in this room,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. ”I’m

proud of what we’ve done up to this point but we obviously have to

look back and see how much better we can be. When we do that as a

group, the sky’s the limit for us.”

Players had Friday off after two physical games four days apart.

Some came in for treatment like Thomas, who caught five passes for

83 yards despite jamming his right shoulder just before

halftime.

”He’s being evaluated. It doesn’t appear to be anything real

serious. Hopefully, he’ll be ready Monday when we reconvene,” Fox

said.

The Broncos have their share of thirty-something veterans who

can sure use the extra rest, Manning said.

”I think the guys are tired. You use these next three days to

get your mental rest, your physical rest and to get recharged,” he

said. ”We’ve been on a pretty good run. We have some guys pretty

beat up and mentally drained, as well.”

Notes: The Broncos’ winning streak is the fourth-longest in

franchise history. … Miller is one sack shy of Elvis Dumervil’s

club single-season record of 17 set in 2009. … Miller and

Dumervil each have forced six fumbles, tying Dennis Smith’s club

record set in 1989.

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