Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No Legend Killers Here: Denver Broncos Season Preview

2008 Record: 8-8
Was there an ownership group more in need of a lobotomy after last season than Denver? After an 8-8 season where they led the AFC West until the last week of the year until San Diego claimed the crown from them in a steel cage match, Denver fired head coach Mike Shanahan, traded quarterback Jay Cutler, and has strained its relationship with receiver Brandon Marshall. The worst decision here was definitely Shanahan. Famous for his running back-by-committee approach, he was forced into a hard situation last year when multiple backs went down to injury.

Denver was the definition of a hot and cold team last season. They got off to a torrid 4-1 start, lost 3 straight, went on another 4-1 streak, then limped to the finish with 3 losses. They were also the center of the Ed Hoculi controversy in week 2. Who were the "real" Broncos last season? Were they the team that lost to Oakland, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Buffalo or the team that beat New Orleans, Tampa, Atlanta, and the Jets?

Supposed "boy genius" Josh McDaniels is in as the new head coach. After a rocky start where Cry Baby Jay Cutler demanded a trade, which landed him in Chicago and brought Kyle Orton to Denver, McDaniels has settled things down. The fact that no Broncos blog that we could find has made a Kyle Orton/Randy Orton Photoshop means they're a bunch of jokes. The closest one we found was on the Bleacher Report. Receiver Brandon Marshall still doesn't know how to not get in trouble with the law, and has also requested a trade, but there hasn't been much movement there. Is Orton the answer at quarterback? Well, let's take a look at what we know about Kyle. He's 21-12 as a starter, had a career high 18 TDs and nearly 3000 yards last season. Orton is not a finished product by any means, but he does get the job done. Anyone who would make the argument that his 21-12 career record is "aided" by Chicago's running game is just flat wrong because there was nothing there before Matt Forte.

So what can Kyle do in Denver? With the likes of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Brandon Stokley, he should be able to put up better numbers than he did last season in the receiver-less Chicago offense. Denver's passing game won't be nearly as potent as it was at times last season, but the running game should also be improved with the additions of Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, and Lamont Jordan. Can Orton handle the pressure of a pass-first offense like the one McDaniels designed in New England? Maybe eventually, but it doesn't seem likely that this year will be a shining success, particularly given the difficult schedule they are up against and the defense they are putting on the field.

As you may have noticed as we've gone through these season previews, the growing trend in the NFL is: if you had a bad defense last year, switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Green Bay did it. Kansas City did it. Denver is doing it as well. Elvis Dumerville, who was a terror at DE at Louisville before an injury caused him to miss time and fall all the way to the 4th round in the 2006 draft, will move from DE to OLB. Dumerville tied for the team lead with 5 sacks last season, a mark drastically down from the 8.5 and 12.5 he had put up in his first two years in the league. DJ Williams will move to one of the inside spots and two first-round picks will battle it out for the other OLB position. Jarvis Moss, drafted in 2007 out of Florida is approaching "bust" status, and will compete with this year's first round pick, Robert Ayers from Tennessee.

Denver's defense was downright awful last season. They didn't do any of the things a defense is supposed to do. Stop the other team? Nope, they were 29th in total defense, giving up almost 6000 yards over the season. Prevent the other team from scoring? Laughable. They gave up 448 points, 3rd worst in the league. Create turnovers? Even worse. They were dead last in the league with only 13 takeaways. Only twice did they hold opponents under 300 total yards in a game, and arguably against two of the league's worst offenses: Kansas City and Buffalo. If you'll recall, only Tennessee broke the 300-yard mark against Pittsburgh last season. Their passing defense was 26th in the league, ranking slightly better than their 27th-ranked run defense. The run D gave up over 100 rushing yards 11 times. Seven teams racked up over 150, including Kansas City (213), New England (257), and San Diego (289).

Denver brought in a lot of new defenders this offseason, including DTs Ronald Fields and Darrell Reid, LBs Andra Davis and Nick Greisen, CB Andre Goodman, and Ss Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill via free agency. The Broncos also spent draft picks on Ayers, Alphonso Smith (CB-Wake Forest), Darcel McBath (CB-Texas Tech), and David Bruton (FS-Notre Dame). Denver's face lift on Defense may be an improvment, but one has to wonder after how badly they have been gutted by opponent's running games in the last two years, if the new players will be enough.

Denver has all the pieces in place for a disasterous season: a new quarterback, a new coach, a new defensive system applied to a defense that was already terrible, players who aren't entirely happy with the new coach. This thing could blow up all over them and it really wouldn't surprise us to see Denver picking in the top 5 next April. With Dawkins and Champ Bailey in the secondary, they may show improvement, or they may miss weekly practices to go to AARP meetings. Knowshon Moreno has talent, and Denver's line is good, anchored by tackle Ryan Clady, and the Denver backs should produce excitment this year. However, as Denver showed last season, no matter how many points your offense can score, it doesn't matter if your defense can't stop anyone.

Ian's Prediction: 5-11

Denver starts their season with Cincy, Cleveland, and Oakland, so it is entirely possible that Denver is this year's version of the Dallas Cowboys. The gauntlet of their schedule comes after the bye week, when they play @Bal, Pit, @Was, SD, NYG, @KC, @IND. Not sure if Denver will even win one game in this stretch, particularly with their bad defense. This seems like a situation just waiting to implode on itself, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Brandon Marshall get more vocal after the team loses a few games. The one thing they have going for them is that Kyle Orton knows how to win games and has a good group of receivers, but he's never played with a defense as bad as Denver's, which will put even more pressure on Kyle and the passing game.

John's Prediction:

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