The Broncos' 35-21 victory over San Diego on Thursday night was impressive because the Chargers did so many things well, and still weren't close to winning. San Diego's defense forced punts in three of Denver's first four drives. Philip Rivers orchestrated some long drives despite constant pressure. The Chargers have been one of the best teams in the league, and they had to play well to keep things interesting.
This Denver team is better than the group that was embarrassed in Super Bowl XLVIII because of its defense. Von Miller added another sack, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits to his 2014 resume. He made Chargers 2013 first-round pick D.J. Fluker look like an also ran. (Miller facing right tackles is unfair.) If it wasn't for J.J. Watt, Miller would be our pick for Defensive Player of the Year at midseason.
Aqib Talib put on a clinic in coverage for most of the night, and is a terrific open field tackler. Cornerback Chris Harris continued his Pro Bowl-level play. Linebacker Brandon Marshall has been a revelation while hunting running backs. Denver absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Branden Oliver to 13 yards on 12 carries before a meaningless garbage time carry.
This looks like the best defense that Peyton Manning has ever played with. The 2007 Indianapolis Colts finished the season ranked third in yards allowed, but didn't even win a playoff game, losing to Rivers' Chargers. This Broncos defense ranked second in the league entering Thursday night in Football Outsiders' numbers.
Manning, meanwhile, is playing at an incredibly high level again. His deep passes are hitting their targets more than last season. The Broncos put up 35 points with ease on what was the third-best scoring defense in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders scored three touchdowns Thursday night and now ranks in the top ten in the NFL in yards. Demaryius Thomas leads the league, and put up another 100-yard game. Running back Ronnie Hillman looks like he was shot out of a cannon every time he got the ball. We doubt Montee Ball will get his primary runner role back when he's healthy.
It's only October, but the Broncos are the best team in the NFL because of their balance. Look at their roster and then look at their resume. They have dispatched half of the best teams in the league: Indianapolis, San Francisco, Arizona and now San Diego. Denver has arguably faced the toughest schedule in the league, they are 6-1, and they are only getting better.