By Ken Pomponio 23 hours ago
COMMENTARY | Peyton Manning monopolizes the headlines, the MVP discussion and even the off-field commercial time, Demaryius Thomas garners recognition as one of the game's premier pass-catching talents and Champ Bailey captures the sentimental vote with his first Super Bowl appearance in his storied 15-year career.
But the Denver Broncos' determined drive to East Rutherford, N.J. has been fuelled by a number of factors - some just not as obvious as others. Here are three of the more understated reasons why the Broncos will be playing on Groundhog Night with nothing less than the Lombardi Trophy on the line:
Offensive line: The NFL's Best?
|Broncos Offensive Line and their Superb Play in the playoffs with|
their offensive skill players and Peyton Manning wk 16 at Houston.
Photo Courtesy: +Denver Broncos (AP
Not only has that hasn't happened, but right tackle Orlando Franklin, right guard Louis Vasquez, center Manny Ramirez, left guard Zane Beadles and left tackle Chris Clark have emerged as arguably the NFL's best offensive line. The meticulous, game tape-devouring folks at Pro Football Focus think so, assigning their highest overall OL grade in the league to the Orange and Blue quintet.
The stats back that up.
The Broncos -- admittedly with a big assist from Manning's decisive decision-making -- allowed the fewest sacks (20 in 16 games) in the league while also paving the way for the eighth-ranked ground attack (117.1 yards per outing).
In the postseason so far, those numbers have gotten even better with the Broncos having yet to surrender a sack -- and allowing only a single QB hit -- in 79 Manning drop-backs. Meanwhile, Denver's rushing yards per game has improved to 120 per contest.
Terrance Knighton: Pot Roast Simmering
Of the Broncos' splashy off-season free-agent acquisitions, the signing of this four-year starting defensive tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars barely created a ripple.
Yet fresh off his celebrated and timely fourth-down sack of Tom Brady in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game, the 6-foot-3, 335-pound force nicknamed "Pot Roast" is quickly gaining national acclaim.
Knighton started all 16 regular-season games and finished with 31 total tackles, three sacks, five tackles for losses, seven QB hits, a fumble recovery and even an interception, but he's stepped things up a notch in the playoffs with seven total tackles (tied for second on the squad), including six solo stops and has been a big reason why the Broncos are allowing a NFL postseason-leading 64.5 rushing yards per game so far.
In short, a full serving of Pot Roast has been exactly what the Broncos' defense has needed on a defensive front which entered 2013 without Elvis Dumervil and lost its senior leader, fellow DT Kevin Vickerson, three quarters of the way through the season.
Danny Trevathan: Strength on the Weak Side
The Broncos' linebacker corps has had quite the up-and-down season. Von Miller has been out, in and, now, back out again, while Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon have split time in the middle with mixed results.
Meanwhile, the one constant has been on the weak-side, where second-year player Danny Trevathan, a 2012 sixth-round pick, has started all 18 games and has been a stabilizing and productive presence. His 948 regular-season defensive snaps -- 84 percent of the Broncos' total defensive plays -- were second only to cornerback Chris Harris.
Trevathan, who led the mighty Southeastern Conference in tackles his junior and senior seasons at Kentucky, also paced the Orange and Blue in tackles this season with 124 -- 84 unassisted -- and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, making him one of only seven players league-wide to record at least 120 tackles and three picks.
In the playoffs, he's picked right up where he left off, leading the squad with 12 tackles -- 11 unassisted -- in the two games so far.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.