3 steps to success: Can Denver's defense support Peyton Manning?

USA TODAY Sports

John Fox finds himself in an unfamiliar position, as his team enters 2013 with questions in their run offense and defense.

It's rare to see a team get a player regarded as their 'final piece' and have it all work out. Typically, when organizations acquire a highly-coveted player it's a letdown. However, Peyton Manning was everything and more to the Denver Broncos. Now, the team is looking to take the next step, but has new questions to answer in 2013.

Manning was the Broncos' biggest question entering last season. John Elway made a calculated risk by jettisoning Tim Tebow in favor of the veteran. It paid off in spades. Manning didn't just look like himself, he almost looked better than ever as the season went on. He posted his best season since 2004.

Free agency added new weapons, but it remains to be seen if a team that will lean more heavily on stars of the past will result in a brand of football that works with John Fox's sensibilities.

Three Steps To Success

1. A running back needs to step up

Willis McGahee wasn't always effective, but he was a reliable rusher. Now his position will need to be filled by either Ronnie Hillman or rookie Montee Ball. The Broncos must be confident in both, but this doesn't mean they've made the right decision.

2. Wes Welker needs to be Wes Welker

It's less of a risk, but the New England Patriots seem to know when to part ways with their players. They're far from omniscient, but there is a trend of once-reliable Patriots' players looking like shadows of their former selves elsewhere. Manning hasn't had an option in the slot since Austin Collie, and this could be a union that puts the offense over the top -- provided Welker is the player the Broncos expect.

3. Lean on Von Miller more

In 2012 he took the step from league's best defensive rookie, to one of the best defensive players in the game. His 18.5 sacks helped separate the Broncos' defense from the rest of the pack -- but he'll need to be even better in order to keep the pass rush potent, especially with Elvis Dumervil gone. There are bigger questions at defensive end now, and the team can't afford Miller to be schemed for.

Three Feats Toward Failure

1. Elvis has left the building

The fax machine snafu that caused the Broncos to lose Elvis Dumervil could come back to haunt them, as Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe now represent the team's defensive ends. Von Miller helps mitigate a lot of the pass rushing woes, but pushing more on a star's plate isn't the best way to handle things. Either Ayers or Wolfe need to have the same impact Dumervil did, and that's a risky proposition.

2. The Champ is still here

When his career ends there's no question Champ Bailey will be a Hall of Fame player, but risks mount when a player gets to his age, 35. There are no signs of Bailey slowing down, as he was named second team All-Pro in 2012, but keeping up that pace is near-impossible. If Bailey falters, the Broncos' secondary quickly becomes suspect.

3. New defensive tackles need to be the answer

As it stands the Broncos have new-look starting DTs in Terrance Knighton and rookie Sylvester Williams. The problem is that both players have had motor concerns in the past. If they're unable to hold the middle, while there are still questions on the outside -- it could be a problematic.

Ultimate Answer

The Broncos have concerns, but they're minor in the scheme of things. They're in the best position to take advantage of a weak AFC West schedule, and have the veteran talent to carry them through. Losing offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will hurt, but ultimately they're still one of the class teams in the AFC.

Taking the next step is the key, and making it to the Super Bowl -- however, the addition of Wes Welker could be enough to give the team an overwhelming offense that can't be matched.

It will be a change of pace for head coach John Fox, but his defensive sensibilities, paired with Manning's offensive knowledge, will continue to be a dynamic threat in the NFL.

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