Denver Broncos’ Vice President of Football Operations John Elways has gone to great lengths to distance his franchise from the stink of the Josh McDaniels era. In less notable moves, he hired head coach John Fox and rebuilt the complementary pieces on both sides of the ball. In his headline moves, he convinced Peyton Manning to be his quarterback, parted with Timothy Richard Tebow, and drafted Von Miller.
It’s hard to find any scraps that are left from the nightmare that was Josh McDaniels, but two of his high draft picks remain in the fold: defensive end Robert Ayers and running back Knowshon Moreno. Both will play key roles for the Broncos today as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Sports Authority Field at Denver.
For all of the success of their revamped running game, the Eagles are still in a tough spot when they are in obvious passing downs because they have trouble protecting Michael Vick. We know that Vick still struggles with his accuracy and decision making under pressure. One way to slow down the Eagles offense is to keep them off the field; another way is to prevent them from picking up chunks of yards on first and second down. If the Broncos are able to at least somewhat contain the prolific running game of the Eagles, one key to victory will be to pressure Vick in obvious passing situations.
That brings us to Ayers. When the Broncos first learned that Von Miller would miss the first six games of the season due to a suspension, the attention largely turned to Shaun Phillips to pick up the slack. Instead it has been Ayers who has led the way: two sacks, two QB hits and 11 hurries. That ranks him 11th in the whole NFL in ProFootballFocus.com’s ‘Total Pressure’ statistic with 15. If the Broncos build a lead against Philadelphia, Ayers can play a key role in putting the game away by pressuring Vick.
Now let’s take a moment to consider the Broncos’ running back situation. Whether or not they truly did play rock, paper, scissors to determine who got last week’s goal line carry, the philosophy behind the story is fitting: none of these three backs really stands apart from the others when it comes to carrying the football. Moreno has set himself a cut above, however, in another facet of the game: pass protection.
The importance of protecting Peyton Manning is without question. The difficulty of doing so is a looming question as the Broncos play their second game today without left tackle Ryan Clady, who was recently lost for the season. There is a stability that Moreno brings in pass protection, and the Broncos will need that to continue today so that Manning can have the pocket to continue his torrid play and outscore the Eagles if necessary.
Nobody will be sending McDaniels any ‘Thank You’ cards anytime soon, but there are at least two useful players from his otherwise miserable tenure with the Broncos. Both will need to play well as Denver looks to go 4-0 this afternoon in Denver.