The Denver Broncos are already known for their running game.
After this season, they might be just as famous for their pass defense.
Despite RB Travis Henry's much-ballyhooed arrival in Denver, the team’s most significant offseason move—and, possibly, the league’s—was the trade that brought Dré Bly to the Broncos.
Coupled with Champ Bailey, Bly should help Denver make a run at San Diego in the AFC West.
The Bronco defense began last season on a record pace, allowing only two touchdowns in their first six games. Then things started to come apart against the Colts.
A 34-31 loss exposed the unit, especially in the secondary. While much of the team’s subsequent struggles could be attributed to poor quarterback play, the defense no longer did its part.
The addition of Bly should work wonders. The former Detroit Lion excels in man-to-man coverage, and he succeeded in Detroit despite playing out of position in the Lions’ version of the Cover-2.
On his best days, Bly is a shutdown corner; on his worst, he's still better than nearly every number-two receiver in the league. With teams throwing in his direction, Bly's excellent ballhawking skills should get plenty of use.
Bailey, meanwhile, had one of his best years as a pro in 2006, and should have walked away with Defensive Player of the Year honors. He recorded 10 interceptions, six of which came as opponents were closing in on the end zone. He is as steady as they come at corner, and a fixture at the Pro Bowl and on All-Pro lists.
Together, Bailey and Bly make a terrifying tandem. Throw in the capable John Lynch at safety, and the Bronocs boast one of the best defensive backfields the league has seen in years.
Unfortunately, the news isn't so good for the rest of the D.
Turnover in the front seven may be Denver's biggest weakness. An inconsistent pass rush was an Achilles’ heel for the 2006 Broncos, and there's no guaranteeing that the results will be any different in 2007.
DE Elvis Dumervil led the team in sacks, and he should see more playing time. The Broncos also drafted DE Jarvis Moss out of Florida, and should get help from new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' more aggressive approach.
Gone from the linebacking unit is MLB Al Wilson, whose leadership will be missed after injuries and ineffectiveness spelled his doom in Denver. D.J. Williams should move over from the outside, where he will be replaced by Warrick Holdman.
On offense, some wise free-agent spending and an up-and-coming star give the Broncos a chance to be much improved over last year.
Henry will be the latest in a long line of Denver running backs to benefit from a solid run scheme. He was good on an average Tennessee team last season, and many expect him to have a career year in Denver.
QB Jay Cutler came on late in the year to replace Jake Plummer, and Cutler’s performance in the season's final few games gave the Broncos hope that he'll blossom in 2007. With his cannon arm, which helps on cold, windy days in Denver, Cutler adds a dimension to the offense that was painfully lacking with Plummer under center.
Talent alone would place Denver near the top of the AFC. However, this team has more going for it than just its strong roster.
In January, starting cornerback Darrent Williams was killed following the team’s final regular season game. He was a popular figure in the organization, and was well on his way towards becoming a solid NFL player. His loss, as well as the death of backup running back Damien Nash after a charity basketball game, has given the team a rallying cry for the 2007 season.
With intangibles in tow, Denver has a lot of promise. Both sides of the ball should be better, and the team looks primed to gain ground on the stagnant Chargers.
A strong running game will keep the Broncos in playoff contention, but it will be the cornerback play that gets them over the hump.
Projected finish: 11-5, 1st AFC West
Keep your eyes on: WR Javon Walker—Keeps getting better and better.
Take your eyes off: WR Rod Smith—Keeps getting older and older.