Yes, I understand that Mike Shanahan won two Super Bowls in Denver.
I understand that before last year, he hadn’t had a losing record since 1999.
I understand that he has the best record of any coach head-to-head against the best coach of his generation, Bill Belichick (5-2, winning 5 of the last 6 match-ups).
I understand all of this.
I’m just curious how long he’s going to be allowed to wallow in mediocrity before he’s actually held responsible.
The Broncos have turned into one of those perennial also-rans. They’re never bad, they’re always on the fringe, but they’re never a Super Bowl threat either.
If the NFL were truly a “what have you done for me lately?” league, Shanahan would be fighting for his job this season.
Since John Elway left, the Broncos have been mediocre.
They’ve had some decent seasons, they’ve even managed to win a playoff game, but they haven't been a threat to win the AFC since the 90s.
And this year is no different.
Jake Plummer was a terrible quarterback. Jay Cutler is not Jake Plummer. That said, he’s not John Elway either.
Cutler has a fantastic arm, as strong as they come in the NFL. The problem is he’s convinced he can squeeze a football into a golf ball sized hole, and this tends to get him in trouble.
He does have a premier weapon in Brandon Marshall. Off field issues are a concern, but they lucked out when his suspension was reduced to one game. If he can get his off-the-field situation in check, he’s a superstar in the making.
The other wide receiver, Darrell Jackson, is 72 years old. Keary Colbert is a good fourth or fifth receiver. Brandon Stokley is underrated. Eddie Royal should be a decent third option.
Daniel Graham is a great blocking tight end, but doesn’t offer much in the passing game outside of his blocking. He’s questionable, both on the injury report and the scouting report.
Selvin Young was tremendous last year. I’m a little concerned about his durability, but if he can stay on the field he’ll be fine.
Of course, the Denver offensive line can make almost any running back look good. Ryan Clady should be an excellent addition at left tackle. Tom Nalen is old, but he knows the Denver zone blocking scheme better than anyone. Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper are both perfect fits for the Denver system.
One thing you have to give Shanahan credit for: he knows how to pick offensive linemen who can thrive in his system.
Defensively, there are some holes. The secondary, however, is not one of them.
Dre’ Bly would be a number one corner on almost any other team, but in Denver he’s comfortably behind Champ Bailey. Together, they can shut down even the best WR tandems.
Hamza Abdullah is tough to beat deep given that he’s faster than anyone else on the field most times. Marlon McCree should do a good job filling in for the departed John Lynch. He might even be better at this point in their respective careers.
I’m not sold at all on the defensive line.
Dewayne Robertson was a bust in New York. Sure, he was playing in a system that didn’t exactly fit his strengths, but he didn’t show me anything that would lead me to believe a system change would turn him into an all-pro.
Alvin McKinley and Marcus Thomas are both very average. As is John Engelberger. Elvis Dumervil is too small to be overly effective against the run, but he’s shown an ability to get to the quarterback.
Boss Bailey was good in college. Niko Koutouvides would have trouble starting for a college team, and he was signed to replace the current starter Nate Webster (which tells us all we need to know about Webster). D.J. Williams is the only legitimate linebacker on the team.
This team can be run on.
OK, that's a slight understatement.
This team might be the worst run defense on paper in the AFC West—and that’s saying something, considering the Raiders also play in the West.
Taxes, Brett Favre contemplating retirement, and Darrell Jackson getting hurt are three things you can count on every year. He’ll start week one when Marshall is out. He’ll start again once Jackson gets hurt.
Probably by week four.
Fighting for draft picks, fighting for the playoffs, or contending for the Super Bowl?
The Broncos just barely fall into the fighting for the playoffs category. Barely.
More mediocrity in Denver, as they’ll finish a respectable but disappointing, 9–7, and only because they get to play the Chiefs and the Raiders twice each.
If either one of those teams is better than expected, the Broncos could be looking at a second straight losing season.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here.