I think we can all agree that the Denver Broncos' season hinges on putting a respectable defense on the field. Right?
Well what about the offense? No Jay Cutler? No Mike Shanahan?
Enter Knowshon Moreno.
The curve ball first round selection that initially left Bronco Nation scratching their heads and cursing their televisions, will soon have fans thanking the Gridiron Gods for bringing them an elite playmaker to the Denver backfield.
I am going to largely stay away from the inevitable comparisons to a former Bronco/Bulldog that many will make, but I will say that Knowshon has achieved more, impressed more, and dominated more than TD at similar stages in their careers.
For all the critics: Have you even seen this guy? Are we talking about the same Knowshon Moreno? I challenge you to resist getting goosebumps watching his YouTube highlights. Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders hit a home run with this pick. They helped the offense, they helped the defense, and they re-ignited their fan base with one player.
For all of the grumbling that analysts and fans have done in the weeks following the draft about the Broncos not taking a defensive linemen in the first round, I think they are missing a huge point. Knowshon makes your defense better too. Ball control = clock control = a fresh defense. Simple math.
The Broncos number twelve selection in this year's draft signals a welcome change in philosophy, especially now that Denver's former best offensive weapon has headed to the Windy City.
Another fact the "experts" and arm-chair GM's may have overlooked is the deep class of defensive linemen set to come out in 2010. Todd McShay's early 2010 mock draft has five defensive tackles going in the first round next year. This defense was not going to be a finished product after one off season folks. Knowshon makes this team better right now.
Aside from Knowshon, the Broncos have gathered a stable of dependable, versatile, tough running backs that will bring out the best in each other through competing for roster spots. Correll Buckhalter will help to form a lethal one-two punch with Moreno, while J.J. Arrington will contribute with spot duty on third down situations and special teams.
Lamont Jordan, Ryan Torain, and Peyton Hillis will also be in the mix for a chance to tote the rock. Keep an eye on Torain. If he can stay healthy, he could surface as a nice complement to Moreno, and a hammer to wear down opposing defenses with.
Speaking of hammers, Peyton Hillis will line up at the fullback/H-back/tailback to be Mr. Everything for Denver. Not having this guy incorporated into your offense to run, catch, and block would be like making John Elway your longsnapper. Use your talent wisely.
All of these weapons in the backfield is a good start, but who will be blocking for them?
No worries here. The Broncos are returning all five linemen and both tight ends from last season. Sounds pretty good when you consider that the 2008 Denver offensive line gave up fewer sacks than the other 31 teams in the NFL, and plowed holes wide enough for cell phone salesmen to gain considerable yardage.
This unit is primed for another great season. They have an excellent mix of talent, youth, and experience that will make transitioning to a new offense that much easier.
The future is bright for this group.
Can the Denver receiving corps produce without No. 6 throwing to them? In a word: Yes.
The Broncos pass catchers may actually benefit from Jay Cutler's absence. Quickly rewind back to the end of last season. Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal were routinely drawing double coverage from back-end heavy defenses geared to stop our pass saturated offense.
It would be hard to imagine these receivers compiling more catches than last year, but that would be a good sign for Denver fans if they didn't. How many of those catches were substitutes for a hobbled running game? Bubble screens work great, but not when you're throwing 10-15 of them a game.
With a fresh cupboard of dangerous ball carriers, defenses will be forced to play Brandon and Eddie honest. That is a tantalizing thought for Josh McDaniels, and a scary thought for defensive coordinators.
If the prospect of this dangerous pair isn't enough to convince you, consider adding sure handed options Brandon Stokely, Jabar Gaffney, Tony Scheffler, and Daniel Graham to the equation. (I won't even mention the safety valves in Knowshon and Hillis for fear of melting faces.)
Josh McDaniels' spread offense is not going to skip a beat as long as they can get steady, smart play from the quarterback. He dosen't need a gunslinger, He needs a distributor. Fortunately, the Broncos have two capable distributors on their roster.
Who will be the Broncos quarterback, and will he be able to lead? Good questions; If I do say so myself.
Kyle Orton appears to be the early favorite to come out of training camp as the primary signal caller. It took a little while for Bronco fans to get over the sting of an Orton for Cutler swap and a couple of unknown draft picks, but the clouds are beginning to dissipate.
I have to preface this analysis by admitting that I was a huge Cutler fan, and I still would like to see him do well, just not this season. Orton is here now, so what can we expect?
It's safe to say that Kyle Orton does not drop jaws like Cutler, but it also safe to say that he has only scratched the surface of his limits. In his short career with Chicago, it has been a roller-coaster ride.
Orton displayed a lot of grit and toughness throughout the ups and downs.
As a rookie, Orton was thrown to the wolves when Rex Grossman went down with an injury early in the 2005 season. He may not have wowed anybody with his statistics, but he showed some serious moxie leading a Bears team to a 10-5 record, including an 8-0 stretch after a 1-3 start.
It's not lost on me that the Chicago defense was among the more dominant units of this decade. I'm aware that Thomas Jones led a punishing Bears rushing attack. The point is that the glue that holds it all together and converts them to wins is the play of the quarterback. His ability to step up for his team when they needed him was gutsy.
Last season Kyle had earned a shot to compete for the starting job and he never looked back. Through the first seven games he was playing like an MVP candidate; leading his team to a respectable 4-3 record, and throwing for ten touchdowns versus four interceptions.
In Week Nine, Orton injured his ankle in a nasty roll-up with Detroit tacklers that visibly put Kyle's season in jeopardy.
Despite better advice, Kyle rushed himself back into the lineup after just one week. The Bears struggled their way to a 9-7 record, and just missed the playoffs. Orton put up a pedestrian eight touchdowns versus eight interceptions.
A lot has been made about whether it is the quarterback that makes the receivers, or the receivers that make the quarterback.
Really it's both. Jay Cutler will probably curb his statistical ascent a little bit with young unproven receivers, but he will still be a sparkly player.
Kyle Orton will probably improve on his career numbers, but he likely won't sniff the yardage marks that Jay Cutler was able to compile.
I know I spent considerable time qualifying him, but forget what we know of Kyle Orton in Chicago. With Josh McDaniels' impressive schematic resume, and a surplus of offensive weapons to work with, Orton has a real opportunity to be successful.
Out of preemptive damage control, I think Chris Simms is equally gutsy, and he still has a chance to earn the starting nod. But Josh McDaniels saw enough in Orton to pass on some good offers and make Chicago the winning bid for Jay Cutler. He will get the benefit of the doubt for now.
I won't neglect the special teams, but I won't overanalyze them either. This phase of the game has some question marks as well.
Will the Broncos kicking game be reliable? Only time will tell.
Brett Kern showed promise as a rookie last year. He should hold on to his roster spot as long as he continues to progress.
Matt Prater, on the other hand, should dress like The Riddler.
He started out the 2008 season with an impressive combination of power and accuracy, but the second half was a different story. Jekyll would hit a 55-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare, and then Hyde would come back out and push, pull, and putz away anything inside of 40 yards.
He has too much talent to give up on. But he won't be around long if he doesn't find a way to control his powerful leg.
The coverage units should be much improved. With all of the competition for starting positions, there will be young play makers left chomping at the bit to make their mark.
Wesley Woodyard, David Bruton, and Spencer Larsen will stand out with their reckless abandonment mentalities. Look for the cream to rise to the top in the preseason, and a revamped unit that wears their hearts on their sleeves.
Eddie Royal and J.J. Arrington have no ceiling on their return game capabilities. It simply comes down to translating ability into touchdowns.
So what can be expected from the 2009 Denver Broncos? The unexpected.
Each area of my analysis tends to magnify the potential for this team, but not all of these areas have to be dominant to make this a special season for Denver. Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore. The difference between winning and losing in this league can be paper thin.
With all of the gloomy outlooks out there for the 2009 Broncos, isn't it nice to look at the bright side?