COMMENTARY | Hurdles?
The Denver Broncos already have cleared a Mile High-long row of 'em.
The Orange & Blue have scaled a Pikes Peak-size mountain of it.
At 8-1 and on pace to go down as the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, the Broncos have established themselves as one of the NFL's best a little more than halfway through the season. But just to reach this juncture, consider the unwanted obstacles the Broncos have had to deal with:
- Opening the season without their best defensive player in the suspended Von Miller? The Broncos went 6-0 without him to open the season.
- Dealing with the summer DUI arrests of a pair of front-office execs? The team doled out the appropriate suspensions and moved on.
- Protecting Peyton Manning's blindside without the services of all-pro left tackle Ryan Clady who went down for the season in Week 2? The Broncos have gone 5-1 without him while maintaining their record scoring pace.
- Playing six games without future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey starting in the secondary? The Broncos have won each of those half-dozen contests.
- Having to open the second half of the season without head coach John Fox who needed to undergo bye-week open-heart surgery? The Broncos went on the road and beat a dangerous San Diego Chargers team coached by former Broncos assistant who knows the team inside and out.
These resilient Broncos definitely have come so far, and yet they still have so much farther to travel to get where they truly want to go.
But here's sounding the obvious but can't-be-overstated warning that the Broncos aren't going anywhere if their MVP - the league's unquestioned MVP - isn't along for the ride.
Of course we're talking about the health of the 37-year-old Manning here, and having to play without Peyton is one hurdle, one adverse situation the Orange-and-Blue Crew won't be able to overcome.
Just ask Green Bay Packers fans who have seen a 5-2 start quickly turn to 5-4 without the injured Aaron Rodgers at the controls.
We issue this alert with the lingering image of Manning rising gimpily from the Qualcomm Stadium turf after taking a low, should've-been-penalized shot below the knees from the Chargers' Corey Liuget in final minute of Sunday's win in San Diego.
It was one of the 15 QB hits and eight sacks Manning has endured over the past three games, and if the sheer numbers don't hurt, the pain in the 37-year-old's "lower areas" -- i.e. ankles -- most definitely does.
Comparatively, Manning was hit only 14 times and sacked five times over the first six games, and opponents are increasingly coming to realize that the best way to slow the Broncos is to attack the QB and knock him off his -- if not out of the -- game.
Stating as much may be strictly taboo in today's NFL, but it's time-tested defensive strategy that will be employed as long as it remains legal to tackle the quarterback.
This should be of utmost concern for Broncos Country with the best pass-rushing teams on the schedule still ahead.
What we're saying is that the schedule toughens up considerably from here -- it actually has to by default with the Broncos having played only one team (Indianapolis) so far that currently owns a winning record -- with the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs, 7-2 New England Patriots and the Chiefs, again, looming the next three weeks, the last two games coming on the road.
It's a daunting three-game stretch that only could decide the AFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
And should the Broncos be forced to tackle any sizable portion of that stretch without Manning, that's one obstacle that would prove insurmountable.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.