Film Room: Breaking Down the Denver Broncos’ Dominant Passing Performance in Week 5


What a week it was for the Denver Broncos.

Peyton Manning tossed his 500th career touchdown (and 501st, 502nd, 503rd) in a 41-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Big performances such as the 479 yard, four touchdown effort Manning put up Sunday is nothing new, but he did it on a secondary containing two of the top lockdown cornerbacks in the league in Patrick Patterson and Antonio Cromartie.

The Broncos didn’t receive much help from the running game as they managed just 92 yards in the ground game—as opposed to the whopping 37 from Arizona—but Manning & Co. still dominated despite Arizona defending against the pass most of the game.

Granted, the Broncos were helped mightily in the second half after injuries to Cardinals second string quarterback Drew Stanton and All-World defensive lineman Calais Campbell, among others, but Denver’s offensive performance was absolutely dominant, showing flashes from last year’s record setting unit.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of Denver’s key plays and how they were able to reach pay dirt on Manning’s historic day.

A big day from Demaryius Thomas

Strong performances have become something that we have come to expect from Demaryius Thomas, even during the Tim Tebow era.

Because of the high expectations, many were surprised to see Thomas managed just 13 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown through the first three games of the season.

With Denver fans—and fantasy owners—wavering on the Thomas train, he came back in a big way against the Cardinals.

He hauled in eight receptions, adding 226 yards and two touchdowns in the process.

His Week 5 performance gave him a career-high for yards in a single game, which he previously set last season against the Ravens with 161 yards and it was also the highest amount of receiving yards accumulated in a single game in Broncos history.

Thomas also had a 77-yard touchdown reception wiped away in the second half due to a Julius Thomas holding penalty.

Denver utilized Thomas in a variety of ways. Knowing that the Cardinals use Cover 1 looks in with man coverage on the outside a majority of the time, the Broncos drew up route designs that would break those man coverage looks.

In regards to Thomas, another receiver would run crossing patterns in order to set a “pick” like in basketball on the assigned defensive back (Antonio Cromartie most of the time), in order to create enough space for Thomas to haul in a reception in stride. They also designed a lot of crossing patterns that created “picks” for Emmanuel Sanders as well.

Here are a few examples of those occurrences.

NFL Game Rewind

Thomas gets a clean release inside with Welker running a quick slant at a depth around three yards ahead of Thomas.

When Welker gets his outside release on the nickelback, it essentially sets a pick on Cromartie like in basketball.

With the nickel staying on Welker, Manning hits Thomas in stride with Cromartie trailing.

NFL Game Rewind

From that point, Thomas uses his field vision, lateral quickness and burst to blow through the thin alley created by the Cardinals secondary.

Here is another example of Denver using complex crossing patterns to free Thomas of Cromartie.

Again, the Cardinals are running Cover 1 with a single high safety, allowing Cromartie to take Thomas again in man coverage.

NFL Game Rewind

At the snap, Thomas uses a quick double move to gain inside leverage while running a short crossing route.

Then, as Thomas gets to the middle of the field with Cromartie trailing him, Emmanuel Sanders sets another “pick” similar to the Welker one above.

NFL Game Rewind

The design allows Thomas to gain more separation from an already trailing Cromartie, catching a perfectly place Manning pass in stride and bursting towards the boundary for a 28-yard gain.

In addition, Thomas used his straight line speed to beat Cromartie on this 86-yard touchdown reception, which gave him a career and team-high in single-game receiving yards.

Julius Thomas continues to provide a security blanket

As with most big time tight ends in the NFL, Julius Thomas continues to increase his reputation as a top tier player at the position.

Thomas caught two touchdowns Sunday, the first occurring while Thomas was blanketed by a defensive back, using his large frame and athleticism to release towards the boundary in the end zone (this was also Manning’s 500th career touchdown pass).

Thomas’ second touchdown reception stuck out the most.

As most “joker” tight ends do in today’s game, Thomas can line up in-line, in the slot and outside near the boundary.

Here, Thomas is lined up out wide to the right facing man coverage with limited safety help over the top.

NFL Game Rewind

The formation creates a mismatch because of the Broncos loading the strong side of the formation with three receivers and a running back. Because of this, the safety will feel pressured to watch the strong side with Thomas uses a double move and his size to gain separation on the weak side of the formation.

At the snap, Thomas uses a quick double-move to widen the defensive back’s hips and takes off up field.

Manning delivers a pass right into Thomas’ hands before the safety is able to break on the play.