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Broncos looking for more balance from their offense

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Peyton Manning wasn’t beaten in Week 1, but he was beat up — literally and figuratively. The offense struggled, he threw a pick-six, and as the Denver Broncos prepare for a Thursday night showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, he found himself on the injury report with a back problem.

“I was kind of surprised that I was on it, to tell you the truth,” Manning said. “But I think it was a pretty physical game on Sunday, so in many ways, maybe I’m honored to be on it.”

It had been nearly two years since Manning was sacked as many times as he was by the Ravens during the Broncos’ 19-13 win. Baltimore dropped him four times, and another hit by Kyle Arrington led directly to Jimmy Smith’s interception return for a touchdown.

The Broncos’ protection scheme leaked, and now it faces a sterner challenge: Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and a Chiefs front seven that racked up five sacks in their 27-20 win at the Texans in Week 1. And unlike when the Broncos beat the Chiefs last year, Kansas City’s defense is healthy with the presence of safety Eric Berry and linebacker Derrick Johnson.

“I think it’s pretty significant and that will help them with some veterans that are back,” Manning said. “It’s a stout, tough test. We’ve got some new players that it will be their first time playing at Arrowhead (Stadium) and playing against this defense.

“There will be some growing pains along the way. We’ve just got to keep chugging along and keep sawing wood as an old coach used to say. I think that’s what we’ll keep doing.”

A key to keeping Manning upright is the running game, which didn’t finally get going until the fourth quarter Sunday. In the first three quarters, the Broncos struggled when they ran and moved away from that part of the offense, calling three times as many pass plays (39) as rushes (13).

“We got out of whack, especially in the third quarter,” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “What did we end up running the ball, 25 times and throw it 40 times?

“We would like to be balanced. That’s one thing that we’d like to be and hopefully we can get back there this week, but to be balanced you have to feel like you’re making some headway running the ball and we weren’t until the end of the game.”

The Broncos found that balance on their 17-play, 81-yard drive in the fourth quarter that gobbled up 10 minutes and 56 seconds of clock time. And while that didn’t eradicate the stench of the offensive failures to that point, it was crucial in getting the Broncos to 1-0, despite the offensive issues.

“I think we had to keep reminding ourselves around here that we did actually win the game and that we are 1-0. Thank goodness because I can’t imagine what it would have been like had we lost the game,” Manning said. “We are 1-0 and feel good about that.”

Good, yes, but the Broncos and Manning know that 3.2 yards per play and no offensive touchdowns won’t be close to good enough.

“I feel like that Thursday probably couldn’t come soon enough to have another opportunity,” Manning said. “I think everybody wants to do their job better.”

–The timing on the Thursday night game could have been better for the Broncos — much better.

During a Monday night “jog-through” practice, the Broncos worked without running back C.J. Anderson, safeties Darian Stewart and Omar Bolden and defensive end Kenny Anunike. Defensive end Malik Jackson and quarterback Peyton Manning were also among the Broncos listed on the injury report with a back injury.

Manning’s presence on the injury report was perhaps the most disconcerting element, but he was taken aback at being on there to begin with after absorbing four sacks and another hit during Sunday’s 19-13 win.

Manning said he was fine, and Kubiak expected the quarterback to be unaffected. But it was a reminder that the 39-year-old Manning can only absorb but so many hits as the offensive line continues to try and find its footing with four starters who were not on the Broncos’ 53-man roster last year.


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