QUARTERLY REPORT: DENVER BRONCOS
But wait—the Broncos are...undefeated? 4-0?
Yes, you read that correctly—the Denver Broncos are undefeated after a total offseason meltdown.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here and look at things for what they really are. A fluke, tipped pass that miraculously fell into Brandon Stokley's arms for the game-winning TD with only seconds left in the fourth quarter saved the Broncos from starting 0-1 against the Bengals, which they should have.
Then the Browns and Raiders? Two teams that couldn't win if they both took the field at the same time against an average NFL team? Then yet another last minute, fluke TD pass against an underachieving Cowboys team that has a bottom 10 defense and an offense that looks lost without Terrell Owens.
But we'll still give credit where credit is due: It is all thanks to the Broncos defense. Only 26 points given up through four weeks? That's the third best since the merger. While these defensive efforts haven't come against anyone notable, save the frazzled Dallas Cowboys, it is still an impressive feat for a defense that has ranked at the bottom of the league the last two seasons.
The Broncos offense, on the other hand, hasn't been awful, but it hasn't been spectacular either. It's been...Orton-ish. It looks much like the offense that Chicago left behind when they traded Kyle Orton away for the Pro Bowl QB Cutler—an offense that won't singlehandedly lose the game for you, but does close to nothing to help you win.
Take Sunday's Broncos-Cowboys game. The Broncos defense destroyed Dallas' offense all game. The Broncos had great field position most of the day and were given several opportunities to put the game away while Tony Romo was constantly being shut down.
Yet Orton and the offense failed to capitalize on several drives and once again got lucky with a last second touchdown pass. Orton underthrew an ill-advised pass to Brandon Marshall, who made an amazing play and snatched an interception from the claws of the Cowboys' defense.
He had also thrown an ill-advised pass earlier that went right through a defender's hands in the red zone and luckily turned into a Broncos touchdown. Even Orton later admitted that he "got lucky on that one, thought it was going to be picked off."
Orton's NFL career seems to have lady luck on its side. In 2005, when Orton stepped in for an injured Rex Grossman in Chicago, he was the worst-ranked passer in the league that year, yet went 11-5 thanks to a No. 1 defense, a solid run game, and special teams play.
In 2008, he was yet again a bottom-ranked passer and managed to stay afloat thanks to rookie RB Matt Forte, who burst onto the scene, and once again the No. 1 special teams in football.
Now he finds himself on a Broncos team that has seemingly pulled a No. 1 defense out of a hat, and it has saved him on more than one occasion.
Let's put Orton on the Broncos last season with the same defense—do they still go 8-8? Not a chance. The 2008 Broncos defense gave up 33 points per game, and Orton averages one TD per game. The Broncos' 2009 offense overall averages 18 points a game, which currently ranks 19th in the league (as opposed to the Bears, who rank sixth in the league with Cutler at QB, scoring nearly 30 points per game).
Orton's game management skills have been amplified and overrated, and he has become the quarterback that is commonly defended with the absurd statement, "All he does is win."
Broncos fans have quickly become the mirror image of Bear fans in 2008 when Orton was about the best we could do at the quarterback position. We overlooked his flaws, his inability to make the big play and win the game for you, and we pulled the truth over our eyes.
Denver is about to get a big eye opener on what they really have, not only in Kyle Orton, but in their defense as well.
These are the defenses that Orton and the Broncos offense have faced in their first four weeks of the season:
* Week One: Bengals—Ranked 17th overall in defense
* Week Two: Browns—Ranked 32nd overall (last) in defense
* Week Three: Raiders—Ranked 19th overall in defense
* Week Four: Cowboys—Ranked 26th overall in defense
Not a top 10 or even a top 15 defense in sight.
Likewise, the Broncos defense, which has seemingly stepped up out of nowhere, hasn't exactly faced top-tier competition. These are the offenses that the Broncos have faced thus far:
* Week One: Bengals—Ranked 21st overall in offense
* Week Two: Browns—Ranked 29th overall in offense
* Week Three: Raiders—Ranked 32nd (last) overall in offense
* Week Four: Cowboys—Ranked fourth overall in offense
So in four weeks of play, the Denver Broncos have faced one top 10 offense and have pretty much had the bottom of the barrel otherwise. Is it really that hard to see why they're a top 10 defense?
The Bengals seemingly have turned it around but are in no way a major competitor in the league (not yet anyway), the Browns are in ruins and just scored their first offensive TD since last November last week, the Raiders are giving Al Davis his money's worth, and the Cowboys have fallen apart after a seemingly strong start with Romo looking to be on the hot seat.
Not taking anything away from a victory—a win is still a win—but let's take a look at who the Broncos face in the coming weeks:
* Week Five: New England—Ranked eighth on offense / seventh on defense
* Week Six (and 10): San Diego—Ranked 12th on offense / 24th on defense
* Week Seven: Baltimore—Ranked third on offense / eighth on defense
* Week Eight: Pittsburgh—Ranked sixth on offense / fifth on defense
* Week 11: New York Giants—Ranked fourth on offense / first on defense
Need I go on? Are we getting the picture? This isn't even mentioning all their opponents. The Broncos will go from facing bottom feeders to some of the absolute best in the league.
Now while I can see the Broncos defense still faring decently against some of these teams, the Broncos offense is in for a big wake-up call.
Kyle Orton will need more than a dumb luck TD pass at the last second (weeks one and four) in order to beat the heavyweights in the AFC. Don't be surprised in the coming weeks if you see the Broncos suddenly bottom up and fall into .500 territory. Then we'll see if the fan support for Orton and Josh McDaniels stays afloat.
2009 Broncos Prediction: 7-9 (miss playoffs)