The Broncos acquired four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning in the offseason. They signed him to a five year, $98 million contract. They got rid of temporary franchise quarterback Tim Tebow. They basically put all of their chips on the table for Manning.
So when you look at things at face value, you'd think with potentially the greatest passer in the history of the NFL leading your offense out of the huddle, as Broncos personnel, you'd have no problem with how Manning ran things in Indianapolis, right?
Elway begs to differ. In an interview with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Elway stressed the need for the Broncos to be a balanced offense, similar to how things were ran in Denver's most successful seasons – their back-to-back Super Bowl-winning seasons of '97 and '98.
"Yeah, no question. If that's one thing that I ever learned, having been through three Super Bowls where we didn't run the football very well. Then, once we did it and win Super Bowls, we had great balance and were able to run the ball as well as throw it and play good defense and special teams. To be able to get a football team that's capable of competing for world championships, you always got to get a little bit lucky, but you got to have all phases to win it all."
Later on, Elway states that "one guy doesn't win you a championship, although he gives you a hell of a chance to be able to compete."
Rapoport does a good job of covering Elway's Super Bowl losses to the Giants, Redskins and Niners, documenting how bad the running game was for the Broncos, and how dependent they had to be upon Elway's abilities in order to win games before finally drafting a stud running back in Terrell Davis, who I think even Elway will admit, was the focal point of the offense during Denver's Super Bowl seasons.
Having said that, the game is a lot different from what it was 20 something years ago when Elway played in those three Super Bowl losses. With the rules bent the way they are today, the game places more value upon the quarterback than ever before. The quarterback can just about single-handedly lead a team to contention without a dominant, or even good running game.
Examples of this include the past two seasons alone. Tom Brady led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011 despite a 17th-ranked rushing attack. Eli Manning led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory with a 19th-ranked rushing attack. The Packers, with Aaron Rodgers as quarterback in 2010, won the Super Bowl with the 18th-ranked rushing attack. The Packers ranked 28th in yards per attempt.
So, as much as Elway would like to cite balance as key – and it is – and deflect pressure away from the fact that Manning is returning after four neck surgeries in the past two years, the fact of the matter is the Broncos will go as far as Manning is able to lead them. The running game will be key. The Broncos cannot expect to continually rank near the bottom of the league at pounding the football as the Colts did for so many years after Edgerrin James left, and expect to be a Super Bowl-winning team. In 2010, the Colts ranked at the bottom of the league in rushing.
Having said that, teams go where the quarterback leads them. The Patriots had the second-worst defense in the NFL in 2011 and came up one drive short of winning the Super Bowl. As important as supporting casts are, with the way the rules have been bent, it's become a quarterback-driven league. The Broncos will go as far as their quarterback leads them.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.