Can Eagles' D slow dangerous Denver receivers?

Can Eagles' D slow dangerous Denver receivers?

September 25, 2013, 1:15 pm
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Wes Welker and Julius Thomas have combined for eight touchdowns, while Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (not pictured) have 559 receiving yards. (USA Today Images)

Too many hungry pass catchers to feed. Not even Peyton Manning could sate all of their appetites. That was the wishful -- and obviously wrong-headed –- thinking levied by some Broncos detractors entering the season. Turns out there’s plenty of passes to go around in Denver, and Manning, as always, is excellent at dishing them out and making sure everyone gets a healthy portion.

When the Eagles face the Broncos in Denver on Sunday, they’ll be matched against one of the deepest and most dangerous receiving collectives in the NFL. The Broncos are first in the league in passing yards per game (375), first in passing touchdowns (12) and second in yards per attempt (9.4).

That obviously has quite a bit to do with Manning, who tops all quarterbacks in nearly every significant passing category this season (completions, completion percentage, yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdowns and passer rating). But the assembly of pass catchers Manning has at his disposal is inarguably the best in the league.

The Broncos have four receiving threats that would be No. 1 options if they played for almost any other team: wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, and tight end Julius Thomas.

Demaryius Thomas is in the top five in receiving yards. Welker and Julius Thomas are tied for second among all pass catchers with four touchdowns each. And Decker is tied for 11th in the league with 19 receptions.

All of that is impressive, but this is flat out scary: Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Welker and Decker are all on pace to total more than 1,000 receiving yards this season. Having one or two receivers on pace for that milestone would be enough to make opposing defensive coordinators sweat. Facing a team with four players who are that prolific is enough to make even the most brilliant defensive minds reach for some extra-strength headache medication.

“Usually you have a main guy that’s part of their offense, a star that you can load up and take him away,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Peyton makes you defend the field. He’s got all his guys. There’s a bunch of very high quality skill position [players]. He distributes it equally. There’s not one guy he favors. He takes what the defense allows him to take. And then those guys do a great job catching the ball and making plays after the catch.”

The Broncos' four main pass catchers have a total of 943 receiving yards -- 31.7 percent of which have been amassed after the catch. The Broncos have parlayed that ability into 15 plays of 20 yards or more. They also have three plays that have gone for 40 yards or more.

Part of the Broncos' success, Davis said, is owed to the addition of Welker, who served as one of Tom Brady’s favorite and best targets. During his time in New England, Welker produced 100 or more catches in five of his six seasons. In 2010, his “worst” statistical season with the Pats, he caught 86 passes. Welker is on pace to haul in 101 balls this year.

“He’s got great quickness and understanding of defense,” Davis said about Welker. “He’s got a great football IQ. He manipulates the zones. He, too, reads the zones. And he knows the soft spots in the zones. He’s very quick and shifty. If you’re in man coverage, he’s turning you around and really attacking the leverage you’re playing with. And in zones, he knows where the soft spot is in zones ... he’s really the key guy in that slot spot.”

It’s not surprising, then, that adding Welker to an already potent passing attack has helped supercharge the Broncos' offense. Denver leads the league in scoring at 42.3 points per game. That’s more than 10 points per game better than Green Bay, the second-highest scoring team in the league. In their three wins, the Broncos have posted 49, 41 and 37 respective points.

“The players around [Manning] are understanding [the system] thoroughly,” Davis said when asked about the challenge of defending the Denver passing attack. “They’re efficient, executing their offense at a high rate right now.”