December 03, 2014

The Denver Broncos' newfound offensive diversity might have arrived just in time to deal with the Buffalo Bills' stout pass defense.

Then again, the success of that defense seems based almost entirely on the offense it faces, so Peyton Manning and the Broncos' receivers could still do some major damage Sunday in Denver.

The Broncos (9-3), who lead the AFC West by a game over San Diego, have set season highs in rushing yards in consecutive weeks with a 214-yard effort in last Sunday's 29-16 win in Kansas City following a 201-yard total on Nov. 23 against Miami.

"I like it," Manning said. "We kept the defense on their heels."

They've won the last 11 games in which they've topped 100 yards. In their three losses this season, they've averaged 35.7 rushing yards.

C.J. Anderson, the latest starting running back after Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down with injuries, has been instrumental with 335 yards and a 5.68 per carry average the last two weeks. Excluding Anderson, the team's other 225 attempts have yielded a 3.46 average.

"He has been special," said Manning, who threw for a season-low 179 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-34 passing against the Chiefs.

Buffalo (7-5), in the thick of the wild-card race, started the season with an intimidating rush defense that limited teams to an average of 67.5 yards and 2.79 per carry in six games. In six since, the Bills are allowing 125.2 and 4.85.

They've limited opponents to a league-low 15.2 points since the start of Week 7, but that 4-2 stretch - featuring the New York Jets twice along with Minnesota, Kansas City, Miami and Cleveland - is a bit deceptive. Only the Dolphins (25.1 points per game) and Chiefs (23.1) - the two teams that beat the Bills - rank in the top of half of the league in scoring.

Buffalo ranks fifth for the season (216.1 yards per game) against the pass and has limited those last six opponents to 163.0, but those five teams have combined for five 300-yard passing efforts this season. The Broncos have five on their own and average 304.4 per game, though that's not diminishing the growing confidence of the Bills' secondary.

"In the beginning of the year, we had a couple new fresh faces in the secondary that we had to work with. So we had to get used to working with each other," safety Da'Norris Searcy told the team's official website. "And now that we've been together for 12 games, we know how each other plays so now we just feed off each other. We know where each other is going to be so it makes it easier on the back end. Everybody is holding each other accountable and we're all out here getting the job done."

Searcy had two interceptions in Sunday's 26-10 home win over Cleveland, but the heightened task of facing Manning and two of the league's leading receivers looms. Demaryius Thomas (1,255 yards) ranks second while Emmanuel Sanders is fourth (1,152).

Whether standout red-zone tight end Julius Thomas returns from a two-game absence due to an ankle injury remains unknown. He's considered day to day and still leads the league with 12 TDs on just 54 targets.

The Bills' latest win gave them their best start since opening 7-5 in 2000, and they haven't won eight games in a season since going 9-7 in 2004. But with a remaining schedule of Denver, Green Bay, Oakland and New England, there's little guarantee they'll pass that.

Much of the success has come with former Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton starting. The 32-year-old has led them to five wins in eight starts and will be returning to Denver for the second time. He threw for 180 yards as Kansas City beat the Tim Tebow-led Broncos 7-3 on Jan. 1, 2012.

Pressure to put up points figures to be a bit higher this time around. Orton has been about as advertised this season with 13 TDs against five INTs, just two of which have come in the last five games. His 92.0 rating is 16th in the league, but the Buffalo offense ranks 24th with 319.9 yards per game.

The combination of the Bills' 24th-ranked rushing marks of 98.2 yards per game and 3.84 yards per carry and the Broncos' second-ranked run defense (72.7, 3.38) figures to add pressure to Orton.

The problem is Denver has been as adept against the pass, ranking second in yards per attempt (6.16) with a pass rush consisting of Von Miller (11.5 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (10), two of nine players with double-digit sacks. That defense could be without cornerback Aqib Talib, who missed the Kansas City game with a hamstring injury.

Buffalo could certainly return the favor if it elects to come after Manning. Mario Williams (12), Marcell Dareus (10) and Jerry Hughes (9.5) pace the team's league-leading 48 sacks.

The Bills have won the last two meetings, the last coming in December 2011.

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