1. Brock Osweiler has been given a lot on his plate while replacing Peyton Manning. How has he looked in reserve and how does the offense change with him under center?
In Osweiler's time on the bench, in training camp, and in the preseason he's looked like a young NFL QB with potential. The encouraging thing to us is that he's looked to most of us like he's made progress each year in the league and now seems to have a lot of the little tools you look for in a QB (confidence, looking off safeties, progressing through your reads, etc). I don't think there is any substitute for real NFL game play which means he's still has a lot to learn, but he looks like a guy that can help your team win football games.
The offense is a drastic difference with Brock in vs Manning this year. For one, there's a lot less throwing the ball to the wrong team (I'm joking but not joking really). Brock is a more athletically gifted QB and it really helps the Kubiak offense work. The defense early in the year was able to crowd the middle of the field with the intermediate routes that Manning likes to throw and really key in on the run with no attention paid to the threat of a bootleg or misdirection from the QB.
With Brock in, the defenders have to cover more of the field and it has led to more open routes, easy throws, and most importantly an impactful running game. Do keep in mind this is only off of one game so it should of course be taken with a grain of salt...the Bears could have had a bad day.
2. Gary Kubiak is well known for his multiple tight end, stretch zone offenses, and he has imported Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis to help out. How have the tight ends been a factor in the passing game?
Last week we really saw what I've come to expect from the Tight End position in the Gary Kubiak offense. We attacked the seam, we hit the intermediate levels, we worked the quick cutting short routes with them and it was very VERY productive. Vernon Davis is clearly starting to get comfortable in Orange and Blue. Owen Daniels had the best game of his year so far (which is a big boon, many of us are of the opinion he's lost a step and has trouble getting separation). Even Virgil Green (our #3 guy from a passing game TE perspective) caught a nice pass.
Look for our offense to cause coverage issues in the middle of the field for the TE position. We'll also run them out of the backfield in flare and wheel routes off play action. If your defense doesn't play disciplined, it could lead to big gains by us (though to be fair, it has been quite some time since I've seen undisciplined play from a Bill Belichick coached defense).
3. And how does the Broncos run game win at the line of scrimmage?
As always with a dedicated zone scheme running game, it is all about how your line performs. We've been up and down all year and consistency has been hard to come by. What helped so much last week was having a QB under center. The RB was able to hit the creases so much more quickly and the line didn't have to hold their blocks quite so long.
The big key on the line for our stretch run game (which had good success last week) is the play of our tackles. Can they seal the edge and make a LB outrun our guy to the outside? If so, we'll have a good day on the books. If not, we'll have another underachieving game and an inept looking offense. I'm bullish on our chances though even against a stout unit like the Patriot front seven.
4. The Broncos are recognized as the best defense in the league. Is there a weakness in the defensive front?
Our play at nose tackle has had some poor moments here and there, but it isn't a very exploitable weakness from what I've seen. Some teams have opened up some nice holes there and hit some 10+ yard runs. They have very little or no luck running to the outside, though.
Tight ends have had some measure of success against us in the passing game, and of course that is a big concern going into this game against a team who has the best tight end talent in the league.
5. Denver has been dealing with injuries of their own. Will any of them play a major role this week?
The biggest injuries of note are DeMarcus Ware and Evan Mathis.
Ware really came out of the gates hitting on all cylinders this year. He looked pretty unstoppable until his back started acting up. Luckily we have some extremely promising OLBs backing him up in Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett, so the loss isn't completely devastating, but we would of course much rather he suit up and start.
Evan Mathis is probably our best playing lineman of the 2015 season. That's the guy I'm far more concerned with off the injury report (even with Emmanuel Sanders missing time). He's a big part to our run game working when we run to the left and the offense really does have trouble if the run game doesn't work.