It’s finally here, the extended preseason is over, and the playoffs are upon us in Denver.
The Broncos players, coaches and fans spent the weekend on the edge of their seats, waiting for their target to become official, and the news may not have been the best. The Chargers come in to Denver on Sunday as the only team to have left Mile High with a victory, and they did it in dominating fashion.
For the Broncos to be able to turn that result around, and head to the AFC championship, they are obviously going to need a team effort, but Denver needs three players in particular to be on top of their game.
1) Knight Time
Although it may not always show up on the stat sheet, Terrance Knighton has been solid clogging up the middle for the Broncos this year. Such was not the case the last time Denver faced San Diego. Whether they were disinterested as some people have claimed or not, Knighton, and the rest of the Broncos defensive line were flat-out pushed around by the Charger offensive line. They gave up 177 yards on 44 carries, or 4.0 yards per carry, to the Chargers stable of running backs.
If the Broncos are going to be successful in this game, and prevent the Chargers from walking all over them and possessing the ball for 38 minutes, they are going to need Knighton to do what he does best. He has to plug up the middle of the line, forcing the backs to the edge where the Broncos quick linebackers and sure-tackling corners can take care of business.
2) Montee Ball
As well as the Chargers ran the ball in the last meeting, the Broncos were the opposite, putting together their worst effort on the ground all season. Moreno had 19 yards on eight carries, while Ball amassed negative one yard on three carries, an all-around poor performance by the running backs, the offensive line, and the play-callers.
For the Broncos to win on Sunday, they are going to have to be able to run the ball, and the most important piece to that running game is going to be Montee Ball. I’ve been saying it since before the postseason, Ball is the one player that can spark a Super Bowl run for this Broncos team. Of course, Knowshon Moreno has been the workhorse this season and he will get his fair share of carries on the field, but Ball has the fresh legs, carrying the ball just 120 times to Moreno’s 241 in the regular season. On top of that, Ball is the better runner, and it has showed in the yards per carry category, with Montee averaging 4.7 yards per carry, to Moreno’s 4.3.
Both players are going to need to have an impact on the game, but Ball is going to be the key to the running game.
3) Peyton Manning
Sure it seems obvious, the Broncos need their MVP to play well to win the game, but this is more about Peyton himself and the rest of the playoffs. If Manning plays just well enough to win, or loses, the narrative about Peyton not playing as well in the playoffs and Peyton not playing well in the cold is going to rear its ugly head. Manning needs to go out there and surgically pick apart a defense like he has done all year for himself more than anybody else. It showed when the quarterback had his famous “shove it” quote, that these kinds of things do get to him, even if just a little bit. There is nothing he would like to do more than throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, and be ale to go into the postgame press conference and tell whoever created the Peyton doesn’t perform in the playoffs narrative to shove it as well.
It’s not very often that a team beats Manning twice in a season, and you can be sure that he is going to put in even more work than he normally does this week, to make sure that won’t happen this time.
Peyton needs this one.
The Broncos are going to need big games out of all of the usual suspects to win this game — it’s the playoffs after all — but if they can get big time performances out of these three players, it’s going to make the game a lot easier for the rest of them.
Follow Ryan on Twitter (@RyanKoenigsberg).
Like this? Read here why the Broncos defense has to get off the field against the Chargers.