Denver Broncos: 5 Musts for Denver to Further Its Success in 2012
No one could have predicted Denver's wild ride of a season in 2011.
It started with a dismal 1-4 start with former Bronco Kyle Orton and ended with a 7-4 run to the playoffs and an AFC West divisional championship.
The Broncos probably came away with more success than they should have in 2011. They faced teams missing their starters and were fortunate enough to have a few teams hand them some games along the way.
How can Denver manage similar or greater success in 2012?
Receivers Need to Catch the Ball
Broncos fans and football watchers alike witnessed in 2011 the rise of who will surely be Denver's No. 1 wide receiver in seasons to come.
Demaryius Thomas took hold of the receiving corps and acted as Tim Tebow's favorite target in the passing game.
Eric Decker came in as No. 2, but while he was on the field, he could have easily played the part of No. 1 if Thomas was covered.
Both receivers had a breakout season, and it was Thomas' first real shot at having one after recovering from an Achilles injury that held him out of play in 2010.
But what these receivers were so typical of were dropping passes.
Out of 429 passing attempts in 2011—the lowest in the league—there were a total of 28 dropped passes.
At first glance, the number 28 doesn't stand out. But keep in mind how little Denver passed in 2011 and the drops take a much larger role. Consider that the top-ranked team in passing attempts, the Detroit Lions, threw the ball 666 times and suffered only 37 drops.
That gives Denver a 6.5 percent drop rate compared to Detroit's 5.5 percent. More than six percent of Denver's few passes are dropped. That's unacceptable.
With a passing game that takes such a small role in an option offense, it's imperative that when the ball does fly into the receivers' hands that they come down with it.
Somebody Needs to Throw the Ball First
In order for Denver's receivers to not drop the ball, somebody will need to step up and get the ball to them.
Tim Tebow finished the season with a league-low 45.6 percent completion rate.
His passes were usually off the mark, overthrown and batted out of his hands near the line of scrimmage.
His passing motion is elongated, allowing defenders to swipe the ball from his grasp before his release.
And when the ball does get out, more than half the time it ends up away from the receiver he's targeted.
John Elway has expressed interest in working with Tebow in the offseason to improve his passing skills. It's really the only part of his game that requires a decent amount of work.
It's been said over and over and I'll say it again, Tebow will require at least an average passing game in order to be successful in this league.
We all know he can beat teams with his legs, now he needs to add the element of an efficient passing game in order to be effective against every defense in the NFL.
Inside Pass Rushing Will Be Key
Denver already possesses the player that may be the best up-and-coming outside pass-rusher in the league in Von Miller.
Before that the team had the luxury of employing Elvis Dumervil during his league-leading 17.5 sack season in 2009.
Now they're paired up and tearing up the tackles on opponents' offensive lines.
Denver enjoyed plenty of above-average showings from their outside pass rush and completely lacked a rush from the inside.
Whether it be through the draft or free agency, Denver needs to enlist the services of an impact player to rush the quarterback between the guards and tackles, rather than just around them.
Joe Mays served his time well as the middle linebacker, but he rarely made his way to the quarterback.
A defensive lineman that can push people around and make a difference in the backfield would do wonders for Denver's defensive front and help move its defense closer to being the elite squad it pretended to be for seven or eight weeks in 2011.
Tighten Up the Secondary
It was evident more than ever against New England in the divisional round that Denver needs a lot of help in its secondary.
The loss of Brian Dawkins during the end of the season—and possibly for his career—made the rookie safeties and young cornerbacks in Denver's defense stand out like a sore thumb.
Champ Bailey remains the glue of the secondary, but his time is running out and even a veteran great like him can't bring together a young defensive unit against the likes of Tom Brady.
Denver was thought to have made a steal in the draft when they picked up safety ball-hawk Rahim Moore in 2011. It will need to strive for more five-finger discounts in 2012 in order to shore up its defensive backfield and remain competitive against the more high-powered offenses of the league.
Find an Offensive Coordinator That's Committed to This Offense
John Fox jumped on the Tebow-train—albeit he was forced, but he still jumped on.
John Elway's even drinking some of the Tebow Kool-Aid going into the offseason after shrugging through almost all of Tebow's starts.
But the most important element to Tebow's success in 2011—Mike McCoy—is most likely on his way out of the organization.
McCoy has interviewed with the Raiders and Dolphins so far this offseason and is presumed the front-runner for the head coaching position in Miami.
Without McCoy, Denver's main focus in this offseason, aside from Tebow's throwing arm, will be to find a coaching mind that will work well with Tebow's strengths and weaknesses just as McCoy did last year.
Without the right offense, Tebow may never see his 2011 success repeated again.
There's plenty of assistants and coordinators looking for a promotion in the NFL this year, but it's hard to imagine that too many of them will be willing to accept the current limitations that a Tebow-led offense would produce.
If Denver can find one that's a perfect match for Tebow, Fox and this run-first offense, their success in 2012 would take a terrific head start and surely end with more wins by the end of the year.