October 26, 2013 Updated: October 27, 2013 at 7:51 am
DENVER - Peyton gets hit.
For all the X's and O's that turn football into a more complex game than what it really is, that's the only cause-effect scenario that truly impacts these Broncos.
Aside from bubble wrap and a security detail, what can the Broncos do to ensure No. 18 remains in one piece?
"We want to continue to work on the running game and see if we can continue to get more effective with that, rather than dropping Peyton back every time," executive vice president of football operations John Elway told me at Broncos headquarters.
"If you drop him back every time, he's going to get hit."
I don't want Peyton to get hit. Do you?
Manning has brought joy to Broncos Country. He has brought freedom, too, from the tyranny of 7-3 losses to the Chiefs.
Now it's time to Free Peyton.
To navigate a schedule that gets tricky after the bye week next Sunday, the Broncos must tinker with an offense shattering NFL records like wine glasses in a mosh pit.
The patchwork offensive line, undone by injuries, is an issue, but not the issue. The issue is a running game shackled by bad draft picks and a contagious case of the fumbles.
"The way that we're fumbling, it's just unacceptable," offensive coordinator Adam Gase said.
When a team scores 35 (against Jacksonville) and 33 points (Indianapolis) and critics in the cheap seats wonder what's wrong, you have a team built for a Super Bowl.
But there's nothing wrong with a little home improvement as the Broncos near the midpoint of the season. Teams were bound to find a soft spot in Manning's machine.
"The NFL is all about adjusting," Elway said.
The Jags and Colts slowed down the Broncos, kind of. How? For one, they beat up the Broncos wide receivers at the line of scrimmage and beyond.
Colts cornerback Vontae Davis, a strong, physical veteran, slapped and clawed the Broncos receivers until they were unable to run clean routes in a timing-based offense.
Davis scored the highest grade by an NFL cornerback this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Manning scored his lowest completion percentage (59.2) since Week?3 of last season.
See a connection?
Is this a problem against the Redskins, who play at Sports Authority Field on Sunday?
Probably not. Much like his latter years with the Broncos, Mike Shanahan fields a Redskins defense that couldn't stop Todd Helton from stealing home plate.
But it could be a problem against the Chiefs and Patriots, who comprise three-eighths of the Broncos' schedule after the bye week.
What the Chiefs and Patriots do to receivers in the secondary would be considered criminal assault in some states.
After seeing the Patriots maul the Saints in Week 6, it's fair to assume the Pats should have been charged with a felony.
Hey, if you do it every time, the refs can't throw a flag every time, right?
This is smart football. This is also the kind of physical, edgy football that can bring down the Broncos.
One Broncos defender told me it takes about one quarter of football to grasp how certain officiating crews will call a game.
Kansas City's physical defense dictates the officiating. The Chiefs and Patriots also have the big, bad cornerbacks to slow down the Broncos record-setting passing game.
The NFL is all about adjusting. Gase said the Broncos will adjust by putting their wide receivers in motion in order to free them from hand combat at the line of scrimmage.
"We probably should have run the ball a little more (against the Colts)," Gase said. "I did a poor job of that."
Let's keep some perspective: Complaining about the Broncos' offense is nitpicking the color of Scarlett Johansson's eyeliner. The Broncos offense has scored 35 touchdowns. Second-most is 20.
Their offense hardly needs major change. Just a tinker here, a tweak there.
The most important adjustment for Denver's scoring machine is this one: Fighting back with a running game that frees Peyton to be Peyton.
"There's a lot of pressure on the offensive line," Elway said. "We put pressure on the offensive line because we haven't run the ball as effectively as we'd like to."
Then Peyton doesn't get hit.