As we head into Week 13 of the NFL season, the Denver Broncos sit atop the AFC West with a record of 9-2 and are at this point a lock for the playoffs. With a legitimate shot at pinching the number one seed in the conference from the New England Patriots, who are now no longer undefeated thanks to the Broncos victory over them this past week, head coach Gary Kubiak now has a decision to make regarding the most important spot on his roster. Do the Broncos stick with their newfound gun-slinger in Brock Osweiler at quarterback, or revert back to the struggling veteran who has seen and done it all in future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning?
Peyton's Struggles Have Become Brock's Fortune
To this point, Peyton Manning leads the league in interceptions with 17 through 10 games played with just nine touchdown throws. It’s an astounding drop off considering just the year prior, Manning threw 15 interceptions the entire regular season, while racking up a massive 39 touchdowns.
Whether it be learning a new offensive system, injury, age catching up to the 39-year-old, or a combination of all these things, there are many theories behind the issues Manning has been facing this season. Despite the legendary quarterback's miscues and the lack of offensive firepower being created, the Broncos are still winning on the back of an elite defense.
After throwing four interceptions and amassing a total of 35 yards of passing offense against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10, the Broncos benched Manning for their backup quarterback Brock Osweiler late in the 3rd quarter.
With the Broncos down 22-0 and the game seemingly out of reach, Osweiler made the most of his time throwing for 146 yards and one touchdown. Despite a shaky first few series, the 6’8'' quarterback showed a lot of confidence in his ability and by and large looked comfortable, highlighted by a scrambling, eight-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes to Andre Caldwell.
It was certainly a sign of things to come for Denver as the past two weeks have shown, the young quarterback is the perfect fit in Gary Kubiak’s ‘West Coast’ offense. Leading the Broncos to a road victory over the Chicago Bears and most recently an astounding overtime comeback victory against the previously mentioned undefeated New England Patriots, Brock Osweiler has shown he may in fact be the real deal.
This season, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has attempted to opt for a run oriented offense catered to Denver’s running back’s C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman with the aim being supposedly to take the offensive pressure off of his aging quarterback’s arm. The system requires a highly accurate quarterback much like Manning, but due to the amount of play action and movement from under center required to make the system truly effective, it is easy to see why the Broncos have struggled.
Despite being one of the greatest to play the game, Manning has never been a mobile quarterback, even in his younger days. Mainly operating out of ‘Shotgun’ sets his entire career, Kubiak decided to invent a somewhat hybrid version of his offense, incorporating the ‘Pistol’ formation to combat Manning’s lack of movement and take advantage of his experience in the ‘Shotgun’. Manning has clearly found the adjustment difficult, shown in his performances. Osweiler however, seems the perfect fit.
After the defeat to the Chiefs, news broke that Manning had been dealing with torn plantar fasciitis in his left foot, a condition causing pain when pressure is placed on the foot when planted. The result would mean that Manning could possibly miss several weeks. Many Denver fans saw the news as possibly a final nail in the coffin for Manning and possibly the season.
However the situation is seemingly reminiscent of the Colin Kaepernick situation with the San Francisco 49ers in 2013, when the starting quarterback, at that time Alex Smith, went down with an injury, leading to the back-up, Kaepernick, taking over. Much like the Broncos, the 49ers had an elite defense and combined with their new faith in their back-up quarterback, the team would go on to meet the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl that year. Much like Kaepernick did, Osweiler has taken the reigns of this Broncos squad and shown that they may still be Super Bowl bound.
With the ability to scramble when under pressure, Osweiler is able to extend plays and create much needed time for receivers to get open. Having only played a handful of NFL games, mainly in the preseason, many question the young quarterback’s inexperience. Against the Patriots however, Osweiler has shown he can stay within his strengths, and unlike many other young quarterbacks, he does not force throws or make questionable decisions.
Having spent three seasons studying from Manning, Osweiler has had the best mind to help him read defenses. The former Arizona State product reportedly called the audible for the game-winning touchdown against the Patriots, showing the confidence and ability to read coverages. The Broncos have also found new life in their running game with Osweiler under center, with both Ronnie Hillman rushing for over 100 yards against the Bears, and C.J. Anderson having over 100 yards rushing against the Patriots.
Two games is hardly enough to judge a quarterback by any means. The Broncos have found themselves in a tough spot, as Manning is expected to return as the starter when healthy. However if given the chance, Brock Osweiler has shown in a short period of time that he may be the right man, in the right system to help carry the Broncos the rest of the way.