The 2009 offseason has been tumultuous for the Denver Broncos. Josh McDaniels has replaced Mike Shanahan as Head Coach and the litany of moves and decisions that have followed have been met with much criticism by Denver Broncos fans and NFL pundits alike. Everyone is trying to figure out what it is that Coach McDaniels is doing?
We honestly don't know terribly much about Coach McDaniels. His reputation and experience, up until now, in the National Football League are completely tied to the success of the New England Patriots.
Given the track record of other coaches that have emerged out of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, the prospect of McDaniels success is questionable at best. The evidence up to this point seems to support that the magic behind the Patriots' success has been because of Belicheck's knowledge and expertise, not his coordinators.
Add to this the fact that McDaniels has never been a head coach of a football team at any level of competition and is only 32 years old. Then there is enough evidence to cast reasonable doubt on McDaniels ability to be a successful NFL head coach.
But before we make too quick of a judgement about coach McD, lets take a look at his body of work. Being that his NFL career history before this off season has been with the Patriots, doubt can be cast upon his influence and actions being in the shadow of Belichick.
Therefore, I suggest that we focus on what he has done with the Denver Broncos thus far.
There has been a lot of criticism about the decisions that McDaniels has made since taking over the team, but lets take a look at those decisions from a different perspective.
In order to do this we need to take an honest look at what the Denver Broncos did last year. Objectively viewing the team's results on the field and putting aside the fan glasses that we so often choose to view our team through.
The facts don't lie. The Denver Broncos had the second most prolific offense in 2008. Denver fans love this statistic. But despite gaining more yards than their opponents in 2008 the Broncos were outscored by their opponents by an average margin of 5 points per game.
It is a wonderful thing to move the ball down the field and amass great yardage statistics, but if the team is not getting in the end zone, if they are not scoring points, if they are not winning games than all you have is a bunch of stats with nothing to show for it.
This fact is not lost on Coach McDaniels, he knows that the Broncos offense needs to score more points to be successful in this league.
Having coordinated a team that broke records for scoring touchdowns just two years ago, Coach McDaniels has installed his offensive system in Denver to make his mark on the team and give the team a chance to put more points on the board.
Changing the offensive scheme alone will not produce dividends without quality players to execute them. The Broncos offense was full of great players at every position except one, running back.
Denver went through eight different running backs last year due to injuries. None of these players were anything to write home about either. Many of them were one trick ponies who did not excel at blocking or catching the ball out of the backfield, but were serviceable as one cut running backs.
So McDaniels went out and reloaded their backfield with versatile running backs who can run, block, and catch. K.Moreno, C.Buckhalter, J.J.Arrington, and L.Jordan among others.
Having a solid, reliable running game is important in the NFL. Running the ball helps open up opportunities in the passing game, and can help extend drives. That is something that the Broncos didn't have last year. Which is evident when you look at the Denver Broncos Time of Possession statistics verses their opponents.
The Broncos average time of possession was 28:43, while their opponents averaged 31:16. This minute difference may not sound like a lot, but over the course of 16 games with the up and down season the Broncos had that extra minute could have been the difference between a win and a loss.
The bottom line is that the Broncos didn't have the ball more than they did. You can't score points without possession of it.
Healthy and consistent running backs in McDaniels spread offense will help us to keep the ball and manage the clock. Control the game with ball possession makes any team dangerous because it wears down the defense, making it easier to drive the ball down the field and score points.
Developing a strategy to put the offense in a better position to succeed would be key as well, and that is where the defense comes in.
It is no secret to anyone, the Broncos defense was terrible last year. Shanahan's inability to fix it over the past few years is most likely why Bowlen decided to give him his walking papers after 14 years of service.
Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams being the only legitimate starters on the defense, the problem is not just scheme, it is skilled players.
McDaniels focused on the secondary in the off season and because one specific defensive statistic stood out above the rest, Turnover Ratio. The Broncos turnover ratio last year was -17.
The secondary was so porous that they had a tough time even stopping the opposing team from scoring on every play. Asking them to try to pick off the ball was simply out of the question.
So the Broncos brought in some players to rebuild the defense with who know how to create turnovers for the defense: B.Dawkins, A.Goodman, R.Hill, A.Smith, D.McBath, D.Bruton. These are guys who have a nose for the ball, creating interceptions and hitting players hard to help force some fumbles.
These players bring experience and new life are a great start in rebuiding the Broncos defense. They already make the defense so much better than they were last year. If they can level the playing field by getting that turnover ratio back to around even it will go a long way to help the Broncos be more successful this season.
Fixing everything that is wrong with the defense is too big of a job to complete in one off season alone, but by focusing on the creating turnovers McDaniels has at least begun to point them in the right direction. The Broncos revamped secondary should at minimum keep them from getting beat through the air too often.
Bringing in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who has a history of success in this league, to re-scheme the Broncos defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 is another big part of McDaniels plan to restore Denver's defense to being respectable once again.
Improving the offense and defense was only one of the ways that McDaniels knew he needed to improve the Denver Broncos though.
Offense wins games, Defense wins Championships, but Special Teams is what makes it all possible. More than great offensive or defensive schemes or players, special teams is where the game of football can be won or lost.
Football is a game of field position plain and simple. And nothing impacts field position more than special teams.
If you can limit your opponents starting field position on kickoffs and punts with smothering coverage, than they have farther to move the ball down the field increasing the chances that their drive will stall.
Likewise, with good special teams blocking and returning you can shorten the field for your offense, increasing the likelyhood of scoring points through touchdowns or the kicking game.
The Broncos Average Starting Field Position over the past five years has been among the worst in the league. (Espn.com)
McDaniels has made moves to correct this by acquiring players who are special teams aces.
Darrel Reid, Nick Griesen, David Bruton, J.J.Arrington, Darcel McBath, and Alphonso Smith all bring with them great special teams ability in coverage and returning to help the Broncos start with better field position, which should transition into more scoring with a shorter field to work with.
Special teams can make up for a bad defense, and can put your offense in a position to score. Coach McDaniels made it a priority to focus on this most crucial aspect of the game, and it should hopefully pay dividends in the form of more defensive stops and more scoring.
McDaniels' focus on these key area of the game (time of possession, turnover ratio, and average field position) that the Broncos really struggled with last season should set the team up to have a much better all around game on Sundays.
Being better in these areas could allow the Broncos to steal a win or two in games that they "shouldn't" win on paper.
Whether you agree with any or all of the decisions that Coach McDaniels has made, he is making the team better. It may take some time before the Broncos can once again be leaders in their division, but a new day is dawning for the Denver Broncos and the prospects for the future are bright.
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