Denver Broncos: Has The Defense Been Reborn?

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Denver Broncos: Has The Defense Been Reborn?
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

 

 

Can Dawkins and Company Improve?
After last season’s tumultuous collapse and ultimate undoing before a national audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football against the Chargers, the Denver Broncos face many questions in 2009.
Their season finale finished with an embarrassing 52-21 loss to their hated division rivals (Chargers) from Southern California and concluded a three game meltdown that cost the team the division, a playoff berth, and ultimately former head coach Mike Shanahan his job.

A lot has changed since that game. The team has added a new head coach, a new coaching staff, and a new quarterback. One more important thing the team has done this offseason is given the defense a complete makeover, or so it would appear.

Last season the defense was the team’s Achilles heel and the biggest culprit in the team’s disappointing finish, allowing 112 points scored and an average of 388-yards of offense in their three game slide to complete their horrid 2008 campaign.

As a result one of new head coach Josh McDaniels' tasks was to reinvent the defense, by giving it a new look, a new attitude, and leadership that just might help it find a new identity. Last year, the Broncos had one of the league's best offenses but one of the worst defenses (ranked 29th overall).

One of McDaniels' first tasks was to find the heart and soul for the 2009 edition. With the acquisition of former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, the team may have done just that.
Dawkins brings in a winning attitude and the type of give-it-all-you-got relentless style of play the team hopes will be contagious. More importantly, he leads by example.

McDaniels has not wasted anytime lowering the boom on underachievers and less than stellar performers, including DL Dwayne Robertson, LB Jamie Winborn, DL John Engelberger, and DB Marquand Manuel (all cut in the offseason). All were average performers at best, and none made the defense any better than mediocre.

The new faces to join Dawkins in Denver include LB Andra Davis, DL Darrel Reid, DB Renaldo Hill, and DB Andre Goodman. With existing talent returning, like LB DJ Williams and DB Champ Bailey, the defense certainly has an improved look.

One of the big keys for the defense will be the big boys up front stopping the run. Last season the defense ranked 27th against the run, allowing almost 150-yards/game on the ground.
This has been an area of noticeable weakness for the Broncos in seasons past. The team will be counting on the addition of a ball-hawking Dawkins to help fill some gaps and, with Davis and Williams adding great speed inside and Boss Baily and Elvis Dummerville on the edge, the defense is hoping to shore up its duties against the run.

Bailey will do his usual formidable job on one side, locking down the opposing team's big receiving threat. However, because this defense is still considered by league standards and averages to be undersized, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will have to find creative ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

From 2002-2004, as the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator, Nolan’s defenses averaged over 35 takeaways and more than 39 sacks.
The Broncos defense recorded just 26 quarterback sandwiches and 13 takeaways. The Broncos are a far cry from the Ray Lewis-led Ravens, but there’s no question this unit was made to improve.
With the ingredients McDaniels has added, it seems the defense may have a few of the flavors needed to cook up something sweet in 2009.

After ranking near the cellar in consecutive campaigns, there’s no need to fool oneself into believing miracles can happen overnight, but the fans in the Mile High City have to already like the look of what will take the field this season as compared to last.

By making the move to the 3-4, the Broncos are addressing the biggest deficiency on defense; stopping the run.
Not to go too far out on a limb, but if Nolan and Dawkins can get these bad boys in Denver to believe, the defense could be reborn in 2009, or at least improve considerably.

By David Ortega
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