Broncos Bloodletting as the Rocky Mountain Smokescreen Continues

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IJanuary 20, 2010

You can call it whatever you like, but if you fail to read the tell-tale signs, sorry you might not be looking for the answers to what the problem with the Denver Broncos really is.

There are a number of deep regrettable scars that have developed in Denver over the last football year, and for a number of team loyalists, things have reached a new low. 

For some it was bad enough to lose coach Shanahan. Then Josh McDaniels traded Jay Cutler for Kyle Orton. Then Brandon Marshall threatened to have a long hold-out unless he got a new contract and was eventually banned from team facilities not once but twice this season. 

Then the Broncos got off to what was viewed by most as a surprising 6-0 fast start. Unfortunately, the offensive scheme was nothing short of predictable, and then the offense could not support the defense and then the implosion began.

The regular season has been over for going on three weeks now, and it still has not ended. 

On and on it goes, and that is the problem.

So now it’s come to this—the Broncos' coaches are starting to leave the organization. With the likes of Bobby Turner and Rick Dennison on the move it’s safe to say even the die-hards who stuck it out over the last year are spent and ready to move out of Dodge. 

Now the most recent news comes of the departure of Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator.  All reports are that the split was mutually agreed upon. 

Read into it what you will, but this is now officially a lateral move for Nolan from an organization that has welcomed him twice into the fold.  Nolan is not going to be a head coach next season, and he is not going to coach the Broncos' defense either.

So the only logical speculation at this point is that Josh McDaniels believes the defense is not what it should have been last season.

He may have also seen the opportunity to work with former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees as ideal when regarding where the season wound up for the Broncos and how Josh wants to implement his version of the New England Way.

There are some holes, however, in Josh McDaniels' approach to handling of the team thus far. 

Discernible football fans can see that this approach is not equating to wins and does not equate to future stability, let alone championships. Fans in Denver know what it’s like to have a dynasty in place. 

The Broncos ruled the AFC for the better part of 20-plus seasons. They also won back-to-back Super Bowls. People saw those teams and know all of those components working and functioning in harmony.  So to act as though this organization and fanbase has never been in the presence of greatness is a primary false premise with installing the New England Way in the Rocky Mountain region. 

What coach McD’s approach in Denver has done is pander to the football fans and isolated much of the fanbase. In a down economy—and in a league that has an uncertain future past 2011 with stadiums losing fans left and right—it seems like the worst kind of PR campaign.

Still there are doubters of what the Broncos had with Jay Cutler and Mike Shanahan.  And there are others who are believers in the direction Coach McD has the team going in right now, despite the late-season slide that put the Broncos at 2-8 down the stretch.

Certainly missing the playoffs is a big deal in Denver, but it was a bigger deal because the largely veteran defense was positioning this team for opportunities to win—only to have the offense squander those opportunities.  Again, the primary gateway to the mountains peak of information on this subject is understanding that Josh McDaniels runs the offense.


McDaniels Lacks Accountability... Statistically Speaking

Josh McDaniels was brought to Denver to lead the football team but also for his contributions as an offensive coordinator.  He then abruptly pursued some top talent in the free agent market and eventually traded Jay Cutler, who was a draw for veteran signees.

It seems Josh has held everyone in the organization accountable with the exception of himself and his failures as a head coach and offensive coordinator.  This has caused some coaches to leave and will in all likelihood lead to an exodus of coaches, players, and staff.

Once the Broncos started the season on the field, it was said the Orange and Blue caught other teams off guard. These teams, however, later caught up, and the Broncos finished the season with an 8-8 record.

There is an interesting dynamic and trend analysis that should be examined regarding the Denver Broncos 2009 season under Josh McDaniels.

When the Broncos won, the stats were more on their side than when they lost.  Common logic generally bears those points out. 

However, there are some interesting numbers to look at, because they are great indicators on how the team executed on both sides of the football.


Consider the Point Differential

In games the Broncos won, they averaged 25 points per game—a full 10 points better per game than when they lost.

The point of note here is that is a huge gap.

The political point of note is that Mike Nolan was being made the scapegoat due to the failures on the defensive side of the ball. Down the stretch, the Broncos had slow starts in Indy and Philly, which cost them games. 

In Denver, the team lost to the Raiders due to a late-game defensive breakdown after playing well for most of the game. Finally against Kansas City in the finale, the defense didn’t really have a pulse.

Still there is no excuse to having an offense that only averages 15 points per game in losing efforts.


Consider the Failures on Third Down

Offensively, much was made during the season regarding the drive breakdowns and the failures to find the big plays.  The offensive scheme was poor and predictable.  Talent such as Tony Scheffler, Eddie Royal, and Peyton Hillis were all underutilized. 

All that aside, there is no excuse for a professional football team to consistently average less than a 45 percent conversion rate on third down, let alone 40 percent.  The Broncos average a 39 percent conversion rate across all of their wins and 35 percent during their losses.


Offensive Production

The offense produced exactly 50 less yards per game on the ground.  That is a tremendous gap which left little to the imagination. 

When the Broncos won games, they controlled the clock by averaging nearly six minutes more possession time than their opponents. During losses, however, they were behind in time of possession by four minutes. 


Defense and the Fallout

The Broncos did vey well in creating turnovers this season, compared to many recent seasons. The Broncos also found a way to keep the turnover margin at zero in all of their losses and over plus-one for all of their wins. 

Not great, but certainly not bad—it kept the offense in virtually every game.

The Broncos' defense, however, suffered the fallout of the offense, only averaging 15 points in losses and 19 points on the season. The defense gave up an average of 84 yards more per game when the team lost. 

The key point here is that both sides of the ball are connected—when one side did badly, the other did worse. When one side succeeded, they both succeeded. 

Yet the glaring fact was the lack of consistency and the large gap in scoring—or not scoring—between wins and losses for the Denver Broncos.  The statistical analysis bears that out.  Additionally the breakdown below shows offensive output and defensive allowances and team control in a solid window of information.  In essence all of these numbers support all of these assertions regarding the current regime and the failures of the scheme.


The Denver Broncos Season Stats in a Nutshell


Broncos Wins

Opponent             Points   Rush     Pass     Third Down        Yds Allwd   TO +/-         ToP

@ Cincinnati         12         75         243       3/12 = 25%       302                   +2        -6:54

Cleveland           27         186       263       8/15 = 53%       200                   +2        +5:28

@ Oakland           23         95         157       5/12 = 42%       137                   +2        +12:30

Dallas               17         116       221       2/10 = 20%       315                   +1        +5:46

New England       20         103       330       6/14 = 43%       424                   -1         +7:31

@ San Diego        34         101       229       9/16 = 56%       311                   +1        +0:43

New York Giants   26         138       235       4/13 = 31%       373                   +2        +10:30

@ Kansas City     44         245       180       4/13 = 31%       222                   +2        +9:55


            AVG        25         132       232       41/105=39%      286                   +1        +5:51   



Broncos Losses

Opponent            Points   Rush     Pass     Third Down        Yds Allwd   TO +/-         ToP

@ Baltimore        7          66         152       3/13 = 23%       292                   -1         - 7:14

Pittsburgh         10         27         221       5/14 = 36%       375                   -1         - 6:03

@ Washington    17         120       206       5/12 = 42%       388                   -2         - 8:28

San Diego        3          115       181       2/9   = 22%       348                   -3         -14:44

@ Indianapolis    16         95         277       6/17 = 35%       312                   +2        +2:54

Oakland           19         80         278       4/15 = 27%       343                   +2        -2:52

@ Philadelphia    27         70         189       5/15 = 33%       394                   +2        +0:43

Kansas City      24         84         428       7/15 = 47%       524                   -1         +6:06


            AVG      15         82         242       37/110 = 34%    372                   +0        -4:07    



So What Is the Fallout?

In a nutshell, the Broncos are going to fail to continue to land top-notch talent in free agency and coaching markets until they stabilize as an organization and eventually land a top quarterback others can rally around. 

Say what you will, but the Broncos probably don’t land Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, and other veteran talent last season if Jay Cuter was not on the roster at the time of their signings. There is little chance of landing an impact player like Dawkins this offseason.

Good to great quarterbacks make teams, fans, and free agents believe in possibilities. The problem here is that at present there isn't much for Broncos fans to believe in when it comes to this team or the possibilities in what they can become.  Yes they started 6-0 and yet somehow squandered that under the new regime.

Kyle Orton is who he is, but he’s not the type of quarterback that inspires confidence. Moreover the offensive scheme inspired nothing in the fanbase this season, and the statistics bear that out. 

When your team is only over 50 percent in third-down conversions twice over a 16-game season, there are deeper-seeded issues that are leading to failure continually on the offensive side of the football.

Sure the front office can say the team needs to get bigger, stronger, tougher, and all those things are true, but to overlook the obvious lack of production, poor scheming, and lack of a playmaking quarterback is oversight at its worst.


Current Conclusion

The fact that Josh has had multiple tirades and an obvious personality conflict pattern is not conducive to the real world ideology of team. Why is that? 

Because Josh McDaniels emphasizes his will first and disregards professionalism and conduct among peers and subordinates alike. 

What it has proven thus far in the bloodletting within the Rocky Mountain franchise is a sheer lack of being in tune with the core values held within the community and fanbase.  It's a misnomer leading the franchise astray on and off the field.

Moreover there seems to be no hope in sight that Josh McDaniels' leading is turning the fortunes of this franchise for the better. There is a major lack of respect in his demeanor, and yet in all of his moves, accountability becomes a one-way smoke screen that shows the franchise is no better off today than it was just one year ago with no hope insight for improvement.      



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