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3 things we learned about the Broncos

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DETROIT — Peyton Manning just wanted to get a first down in the closing seconds of the first half. With a lot of help from his top receiver, Demaryius Thomas, Manning ended up making the biggest play of the game.

Manning’s 45-yard scoring strike to Thomas gave the Denver Broncos an eight-point lead and they held on for a 24-12 victory over the winless Detroit Lions on Sunday night at Ford Field.

Manning was looking to hit his other favorite target, Emmanuel Sanders, on a shorter route, but that was covered. So he took a chance down the right sideline and Thomas out-fought cornerback Darius Slay for the ball, then sauntered into the end zone to give the Broncos a 14-6 lead with five seconds left in the half.

Thomas caught nine passes for 92 yards and running back Ronnie Hillman added a rushing touchdown for the Broncos (3-0).

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 282 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Stafford was also sacked four times.

Denver’s offense was held to 41 rushing yards, but Manning was efficient, completing 31 of 42 passes. Denver used the Pistol formation extensively to allow Manning to scan the field, rather than having him under center.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught eight passes for 77 yards, and running back Joique Bell had a rushing touchdown for the Lions (0-3). But they couldn’t overcome Stafford’s turnovers. He was battered in Detroit’s first two games and once again took a beating.

“Regardless of injuries and all those kinds of things, we still should be playing better,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s the key. We ought to be playing better. You can make all the excuses you want but the fact of the matter is we should be playing better.”

What we learned about the Broncos:

1. They have got to put Peyton Manning in pistol and shotgun formations on a regular basis. Though coach Gary Kubiak prefers to have his quarterback under center, Manning clearly feels more comfortable when he can set up shop several yards behind the line of scrimmage, scan the defense and make adjustments. It also gives his patchwork, young offensive line a better chance to protect him. Manning completed 31-of-42 passes against Detroit while getting sacked once.

2. The Broncos need to find a lead back and get some rhythm going in their running game. They once again went nowhere on the ground, gaining 41 yards on 19 carries. The player who carried the load during the second half of last season, C.J. Anderson, gained just 18 yards on eight carries. He was evaluated for a possible concussion after taking a hit to the helmet late in the first quarter but was cleared after going through the concussion protocol and returned to action. Anderson split carries with Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson before Thompson suffered a neck injury. It’s time to pick one of them and get some continuity.

3. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware appears to be in top form. He terrorized Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford in the early going on Sunday night. Ware sacked Stafford on the Lions’ first pass attempt and added a half-sack later in the quarter. He finished with three quarterback hurries, giving him 15 quarterback knockdowns and hurries through the first three games. He has 3 1/2 sacks as well, showing renewed vigor after a disappointing 2014 campaign.

Etc.:

–WR Bennie Fowler caught the first four passes of his career for 50 yards at Detroit on Sunday night. The Broncos have been looking for a No. 3 receiver to complement Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Fowler gives Denver another option and it allows Thomas to play in the slot to keep defenses off balance. Making it even sweeter for Fowler is that he’s a Michigan State alum. “Bennie’s been making plays on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, so we gave him a chance on Sunday,” coach Gary Kubiak said.

–RB Juwan Thompson suffered a neck injury in the first half on Sunday and did not return. Thompson was injured on a goal-line carry midway through the second quarter. Thompson had three carries in the game and was in the mix for more touches when he left the field. The Broncos will likely platoon C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman against Minnesota on Sunday if Thompson cannot play.

–WR Demaryius Thomas finally found the end zone with a 45-yard, leaping grab in the closing seconds of the first half on Sunday. Thomas had 15 receptions during the Broncos’ first two games but didn’t score. “Those are the types of plays he can make,” Broncos safety David Bruton Jr. said. Thomas fumbled after one of his second-half receptions while trying to extend his arm and pick up a first down. He has 24 receptions for the season.


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