5 Fixes for the Denver Broncos After Playoff Loss
Whether it's pass defense or winning the turnover battle, Denver struggled with numerous opportunities to put the game away. Resiliency was consistent throughout the duration of 2012's regular season, but it did not appear in January.
The end result is a brief postseason showing and a long offseason to ponder what might have been.
And the need to fix the weak spots before the 2013 season kicks off is without question, especially with Super Bowl expectations still relevant.
Draft a CB and Safety Early in the Draft
The Broncos aren't exactly young in the secondary.
Champ Bailey will be 35 years old before next season, and Mike Adams will be 32.
Despite selecting Arizona State's Omar Bolden in the previous draft, Denver still needs to strongly consider the secondary's future this spring.
Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks is a playmaking corner with 41 defended passes and 221 tackles. Having also recorded 15 picks, Banks' instincts will easily make an immediate impact.
Should Denver look for a safety in Round 1, LSU's Eric Reid or Florida's Matt Elam would suffice. Each bring impressive field awareness and ball skills to sit back in a Cover 1 or 3.
As for the middle rounds, Washington Huskies cornerback Desmond Trufant is quite appealing. He's a solid tackler and reliable in man coverage. At safety, Alabama's Robert Lester and Georgia's Bacarri Rambo fit nicely as well.
These guys are both capable of generating turnovers and reacting quickly to anything downfield. Lester defended 24 passes (14 picks) the past three seasons and Rambo logged 235 tackles with 34 defended passes (16 picks) throughout his career.
Reduce Number of Big Plays Allowed
Allowing the big play was by far the biggest flop of Jack Del Rio's defense in the AFC Divisional Round.
Joe Flacco only completed a mere 52.9 percent of his throws, but averaged 18.3 per completion.
Four of Flacco's receiving targets—Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta—averaged above 11 yards per catch.
Smith and Jones each hit over 30 yards with their average per reception.
This is what happens when the opposing quarterback only completes 18 passes; however, still manages to get a victory. The consistency of Baltimore's big plays stretched the Broncos out and allowed Ray Rice to become established on the ground.
Not to mention that Champ Bailey got burned by Smith on most deep balls which didn't help; neither did the misjudgment from the safeties. For as talented as the Broncos are up front and at applying quarterback pressure, they remain suspect to any strong-armed quarterback with playmaking receivers.
That vulnerability was echoed from the regular season as well, because there Denver gave up an average of 11.08 yards per completion.
Entering the 2013 NFL playoffs, Denver had a minus-1 turnover ratio.
Peyton Manning may have only tossed 11 picks during the regular season, but he accounted for all three of the Broncos' turnovers against Baltimore. Now, yes, the first interception should not have occurred, since Eric Decker needed to make that catch.
Nevertheless, the turnover proved significantly costly as the game unfolded. The biggest issue, however, resulted from fumbles.
Denver lost 14 fumbles in the regular season, the most of any team that made the postseason. Unsurprisingly, a fumble from Manning in the third quarter gave the Ravens excellent field position that led to a Ray Rice touchdown.
The defense needs to capitalize on turnover opportunities without question, instead of misjudging passes and dropping interceptions. At the same time, turnovers had cost Denver early in the season and it came back to bite it on Saturday.
It wasn't often that opposing offenses moved the ball into Denver's red zone this season.
But when opponents did get into scoring position, quite often did they reach the end zone.
Throughout 2012's regular season, the Broncos allowed a 59.5 red-zone touchdown scoring percentage. That ranked No. 26 in pro football and it's a number it must improve to become a complete defense.
Although the Ravens received just one red-zone opportunity, they took advantage when Ray Rice scored six on a 3rd-and-1. For certain, it is unrealistic to expect Denver to stop opponents every time on third down, or every time when opponents are inside the red zone.
But failing consistently when backed up inside the red zone all season revealed itself against Baltimore.
Provided the Broncos get more physical in these situations, we will then see Denver hit another level of defensive football.
Establish Running Game Sooner
Early in the game against Baltimore, the Broncos were airing it out quite often.
Peyton Manning attempted 10 passes in the first quarter and 13 in the second.
Obviously it's reasonable to rely on a future Hall of Famer, because that's why John Elway brought Manning to Denver in the first place.
The passing game, though, was not getting Baltimore on its heels enough as intended. Also, would Denver have been in position to win if we take away Trindon Holliday's unbelievable performance on returns?
Well, had the game played out in the same manner, Baltimore would have run away with it in the second half.
So, when it came time to really put the game away in the final minutes, the running game was not established to the point of making Ravens honor the potential threat of play-action.
Ronnie Hillman stepped up in a big way during the fourth quarter, which does add promise for the young ball-carrier next season. Regardless, attacking more up front during the beginning stages of any game forces a defense to remain honest in the most crucial of moments.
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