Six things we think about the Denver Broncos at the halfway point

5 min. read
Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray (56) reacts after scoring a touchdown after a strip sack by Von Miller during fourth quarter action against the Indianapolis Colts during the game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, CO, September 18, 2016. Photo by Gabriel Christus

Shane Ray is playing a big role on a dominant Denver defense. (Photo by Gabriel Christus/Denver Broncos)

The Denver Broncos are halfway through the regular season. Eight games in the books, and so far, things have gone fairly smoothly for the defending Super Bowl champions.

They're 6-2 — tied for first in their division with an 87 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to Five Thirty Eight. Pretty impressive considering their starting quarterback is a seventh-round pick who had all of one NFL snap under his belt coming into the season.

The Broncos play the Oakland Raiders in a massive AFC West game Sunday. But before they do, we figured we'd glance back at the first half of the season one last time.

Here's what we think about the Broncos so far:

Denver's defense is still putting the fear of God into opponents

If this defense isn't as good as last year's, it's certainly close. The Denver "D" ranks first in yards per play (4.5), sacks (26) and passing yards (183.9), and is fourth in points allowed (17). It's looked dominant apart from some occasional mistakes defending the run.

For the second season in a row, Denver's defense is propping up a pedestrian offense. The Broncos have forced 16 turnovers, which turned into an obscene 80 points.

41.2 percent of all their points! Absurd. While were on the subject of points off turnovers...

Aqib Talib is somehow playing the best football of his career

Confession: I thought Talib was going to fall off this year. He turned 30 in February. In June, Talib got very drunk and shot himself in the leg. Call me crazy, but those looked like red flags.

Guess not. He's picked off three passes already. Inexplicably, he's playing better than ever. Next summer I'm going to drink a six pack, stab myself in the leg with a sharp pen and see what it does for my writing career. That's how it works, right?

Von Miller was worth the money

In July, the Broncos gave their star pass rusher a six-year, $114.5 million deal worth $70 million in guaranteed money. It was the most guaranteed dough ever for a defensive player. It was also well deserved. Miller was transcendent in the Broncos' Super Bowl run.

So far, he's picked up right where he left off in February. He's second in the NFL in sacks (8 1/2) and fourth in QB hits (14). With Texans star J.J. Watt out, Miller is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. These are the prime years of the 27-year-old Miller's career. Soak them in.

The offense is just mehhhh

The good news: The Broncos' offense isn't as terrible as last year's.

The bad news: It's still not good. Denver is averaging 5.2 yards per play, 25th in the NFL.

Second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian has seven starts under his belt. The book on him seems to be he plays the position extremely conservative. He's only attempted 12 passes all season that traveled 20-plus yards in the air, according to ESPN. Only four were completed. He's avoided mistakes for the most part — with eight TDs versus four interceptions — so that's a positive.

The running game is a major disappointment. As a team, Denver is averaging 3.9 yards per rush. Starting running back C.J. Anderson is likely out for the year after meniscus surgery. Rookie Devontae Booker (298 yards, 4.3 yards per rush) will get most of the carries now, and he's showed flashes this season. But he'll need to be more consistent and quit fumbling the football.

Better offensive line play would also be a tremendous help.

The kicking game has been excellent

Highlighting good kicking/punting is about as sexy as Vince Wilfork in those overalls, but we're going to do it anyway.

Kicker Brandon McManus is enjoying another excellent season. He's sunk 16 0f 18 field-goal attempts thus far. Rookie punter Riley Dixon is also quietly putting together a fine season. Dixon's 39 punts have traveled an average of 46.6 yards, the 13th-best mark in the NFL. His 68-yard bomb in the fourth quarter Sunday bailed Denver out.

Kickers and punters: They're people, too!

Denver plays in the toughest division in football

Take a gander at the AFC West standings. Denver and Oakland — both 6-2 — sit atop them. Then Kansas City, winners of three straight, is not far off at 5-2. Pesky San Diego is last at 3-5.

The AFC West is the best division in football, and I don't think it's particularly close. The Broncos still have two games against the Raiders and two against the Chiefs. How they fare in those contests could determine if they win their sixth-straight AFC West title.

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