Not only did the Broncos sign Manning, but they also made a smaller splash in free agency, signing Andre Caldwell, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreesen and Brandon Stokley to bolster the passing game.
But even with all of the talk about the Broncos beefed-up offense, I want to go out on a limb and share my excitement for next year’s defense.
It was the Broncos' up-and-coming defense last year that kept them in games long enough to give former quarterback Tim Tebow a chance to make all those fourth-quarter comebacks. It was the Broncos super tandem of Elvis Dumervil and rookie Von Miller who combined for 21 sacks, more than half of the team’s total (41).
It was some clutch play by the defense that sealed games late during the Broncos' six-game winning streak in the middle of the 2011 season and propelled the team into the playoffs.
Having Manning will be nice, but I am predicting that again the defense’s play will be the difference between winning and losing the AFC West. Despite the ridiculous schedule that the Broncos face, it will be the defense that clinches it for us.
The defense last season was better than average. It did some things well, but was hurt by some of the most high-powered offenses in the league last year. Teams routinely dropped 30-plus points on the Broncos and others dropped more than 40. Yikes!
At times last season, the Broncos were like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One week they would look stupendous. The next week they would get destroyed. Part of it had to do with the inconsistent play of Tebow. But a lack of pressure on the quarterback, blown coverages and missed tackles contributed to some of those blowouts.
One of the biggest changes for the Broncos is at defensive coordinator. The Broncos lost Dennis Allen to the Oakland Raiders before the start of free agency, but quickly snapped up Jack Del Rio, the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Del Rio is a players’ coach. He used to be a linebacker, and he will demand respect and production out of this defense.
Head coach John Fox, a defensive specialist in his own right, and Del Rio have been reunited 10 years after Fox started his career as an NFL coach.
In my opinion, Fox’s presence with the Broncos last year had a bigger effect on the defense than their former defensive coordinator. Fox’s reunion with Del Rio, however, takes it one step forward.
Del Rio has the head-coaching and player experience to go along with Fox’s more than a decade of experience. Last year, Allen was just learning the ropes in his first year as a defensive coordinator.
Adding Del Rio in my opinion is an upgrade to Allen. His experience and ability to motivate and draw out the best of every player will be invaluable.
How many wins will the Broncos get this season?
The Broncos' veteran leadership is stepping up as they get ready for the 2012 campaign. Champ Bailey, the longest tenured Bronco, has taken responsibility for his average season last year and started calling out and spurring on his fellow Broncos to improve in 2012.
Interestingly enough, it is the addition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning that has them motivated for more. Champ views this chance with Manning as a “golden opportunity” for the entire Broncos organization. He believes that this could be the year the Broncos return the Lombardi Trophy to Dove Valley.
While their schedule is one of the most daunting in the league and the entire team will be adjusting to a new quarterback, I am not deterred in sharing his same sentiment.
This team has a legitimate shot to win it all.
In addition to the Broncos signings on offense, the Broncos showed aging veteran André Goodman the door this offseason and added younger cornerback Tracy Porter from the New Orleans Saints.
Porter is a major upgrade. He should add a handful more interceptions next season and increase the pressure on opposing offenses that won’t have someone to “pick on” with top cover corners on both sides of the field.
Denver also added Mike Adams, a strong safety from the Cleveland Browns, who had a stellar 2011 season but remained under the radar. He was a playmaker for the Browns with three interceptions, a forced fumble and 64 total tackles.
A spot is waiting for Brian Dawkins if he decides to return, however, Denver will be just fine if he leaves. With Adams in the secondary, he will further aid the development of fellow safeties Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore, who will be in their second years in 2012.
In the NFL draft, watch for the Broncos to add maybe two defensive tackles to fill the void left by departures of Marcus Thomas, who refused the Broncos' one-year tender, and Ryan McBean, who is suspended for the first six games of 2012 after a performance-enhancing drug violation.
The Broncos have already added Justin Bannan, a late-blooming defensive force at tackle who will add depth and provide more veteran leadership, especially if two defensive tackles are added through the draft. He joins Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson in the middle of the defense, both coming off season-ending injuries in 2011.
I predict that the Broncos will only allow two teams score more than 25 points against them next season. Both of those teams (Week 3 vs. Houston and Week 5 at New England) will come before their Week 7 bye.
Since adding Manning, Denver will be among the NFL’s elite passing teams and will be able to turn up the offense and consistently crank out games of 25-plus points itself.
The tremendous pressure the Broncos defense will put on opposing offenses will be the biggest factor in Manning leading the Broncos to the AFC West title.