Denver Broncos: Midseason Report Card for Every Positional Unit
The Broncos have had some inconsistent games in the first half of the 2012 season and will need to play more consistent football in order to stay on top—and win—the AFC West.
For now, I'll grade each positional unit through the first half of the 2012 season.
I'm supposed to be grading the quarterback unit, but there's only one that has produced points, leadership and wins for the Broncos: Peyton Manning.
Peyton Manning has been better than expected. After starting out slow in Week 1, Manning is second in passing yards (1,808), passer rating (105.0) and touchdowns (14). Manning also made history when he was the first quarterback to pass for 300 yards and three touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his passes in three straight weeks.
What makes this even more impressive is that this is all under a new team, new coaches and new fans. He is also improving the team as a whole and making his teammates play better.
If something happens to Manning, the Broncos are in trouble at the quarterback position. Backup quarterback, Brock Osweiler, is a rookie and has very little experience. John Fox does keep him prepared by having him study the game plan and giving reps during the week, but he hasn't seen any game experience.
Caleb Hanie is the third-string quarterback, but hasn't shown much productivity over his short career in Chicago and Denver.
In the first half of the season, Denver's running game has been performing well against some of the best defenses. In Denver's first two games against Pittsburgh and Atlanta, Willis McGahee totaled 177 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He has also fumbled the ball twice, something he is trying to change during the bye. Although McGahee is performing well, he is in his early 30s and the Broncos need to have more depth behind McGahee.
It seems rookie Ronnie Hillman has emerged as the No. 2 running back. In Monday's game against the Chargers, Hillman wasn't as active in the passing game, but he did have one carry for six yards. Hillman has 50 yards so far this season.
If the Broncos coach and groom Hillman to follow up McGahee, the Broncos will be set at running back for the next few years.
Joel Dreessen is No. 1 on the depth chart and has seemed to move ahead of Jacob Tamme in terms of targets from Peyton Manning. On Monday night, Dreessen had six catches for 57 yards. Dreessen also has three touchdowns.
Jacob Tamme had two catches for 27 yards on Monday night. Tamme does have history with Peyton Manning from their time with the Indianapolis Colts, but at the midseason mark, it seems Dreessen is Manning's favorite target.
The production of both Dreessen and Tamme at the midseason mark is very promising, as both are seeing valuable catches from Manning and forming good relationships with the quarterback.
The steady improvements of the offensive line is one of the best things about the midseason report.
Last week against the Chargers, the offensive line didn't allow a single sack. The 2012 offensive line has offered great protection, allowing Manning to effectively run plays to the wide receivers without worry of opposing defenses.
The most effective member of the offensive line is Zane Beadles, who has participated in 100 percent of offensive snaps through Week 6. He also hasn't allowed a sack so far this season.
If the offensive line can sustain this productivity throughout the season, Peyton Manning shouldn't fear being sacked and re-injuring his neck.
Another strong positional unit is wide receiver. The Broncos have three great WR's in Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Brandon Stokley.
Eric Decker had a big night against the Chargers, finishing with six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. He did offer a humorous moment for Broncos fans when he was tackled by a phantom blade of grass on the 45-yard line that would have otherwise been a scoring run.
Demaryius Thomas has been suffering from a lingering hip injury, but is still productive for the Broncos. Thomas has three touchdowns so far. Thomas' action was low Monday night, but he is expected to bounce back after recovering from the hip injury.
Brandon Stokley saw a big part of the action Monday night, including giving the Broncos the lead in the fourth quarter. Stokley had 48 yards that night to add to his total of 216 yards and three touchdowns for the year. Stokley has an advantage over the other wide receivers because he formed a relationship with Manning back in Indianapolis.
This positional unit is very strong at the midseason point and just needs to stay healthy throughout the season.
The Denver Broncos defensive line is stacked. With new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio at the helm, the defense has looked great at times.
Last week, the defense forced six turnovers, totaling 10 for the year. The standout on the defensive line is Von Miller, who has 26 tackles and six at the midseason point. Elvis Dumervil follows up Miller with five sacks of his own. Chris Harris also has two interceptions, with one returned for a touchdown.
While the defense has looked great at times, it is still one of the Broncos' weakest links. The defense needs to step it up more often, rather than waiting till the fourth quarter to make big stops and plays.
The Broncos have two of the best corners in Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter. Porter has turned out to be a great offseason acquisition.
Bailey is getting older, but he is still very productive. He has recorded 19 tackles so far this season, 17 of them solo.
Acquiring Tracy Porter in the offseason also meant acquiring more experience to back up Bailey. He totaled 227 tackles with the New Orleans Saints and has 21 so far this season with the Broncos. Porter is currently sidelined with an illness, but hopes to play Sunday against his former team.
Between Bailey and Porter, the Broncos have two of the top corners in the league right now.
The Broncos' worst positional unit is special teams. They rank 17th in kickoff return yards and 22nd in punt return yards. The special teams have also fumbled twice.
Trindon Holliday signed with the Broncos the week before the San Diego game and made a less than spectacular debut. After narrowly missing being hit by a San Diego player, Holliday muffed a punt and turned the ball over to the Chargers on the Broncos' 20. Thankfully, the defense saved the mistake by only allowing the Chargers a field goal.
The only silver lining in the Broncos special teams is kicker Matt Prater, who was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week earlier this season. Prater has produced touchbacks on all eight kickoffs and is the franchise's all-time most accurate kicker.
The special teams needs to improve mightily in order for the Broncos to improve and make it through the second half of the season with more wins than losses.
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