The 2010 football season in the state of Colorado will probably go down as one of the worst of all time, and possibly the most negative. Going into the season many fans of the CU Buffs, CSU Rams, and Denver Broncos could already see the writing on the wall. This was going to be a long season for each one of those football teams.
On the personal side, I chose to stay optimistic about the Broncos chances, so I put them down for ten or eleven wins on a wing and a prayer. Neither the wing nor the prayer was answered, but it’s been said: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” This season, the Buffs and the Broncos both proved one thing, that they both had the wrong head coach in place to captain their respective ships.
With last evening's termination of Josh McDaniels, it really brought to mind a number of his decisions. Certainly in the last month things got so bad on the Broncos' road map that termination appeared inevitable, but perhaps seemed premature. Josh McDaniels did bring in some great wide receivers over the last year, however that may go down as his best accomplishment as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Certainly what stands out prominently for most Broncos fans is that he opted to party ways with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Peyton Hillis, and Tony Scheffler to name a few.
It’s now time to look at what the Denver Broncos should do to make things better on and off the field. Here is a list of the top ten things that need to happen at Dove Valley to make the Broncos a well respected NFL franchise once again.
The Broncos Front Office Needs More Talent, Less Ego
Probably by the time you read this, or perhaps by the end of the season, current GM Brian Xanders will be let go. It’s only logical, considering he was not a true GM under Josh McDaniels. Xanders was highly unconventional through the NFL Draft, to the point of running the storied franchise into the ground. The Broncos have proven if nothing else, that they need the right talent in house, which starts at the front office.
During the Mike Shanahan era, his power apparently was too much for many of the staff and the team. That’s why it was hard for Pat Bowlen to make such a difficult decision on an old and trusted friend. Still it was Shanahan’s ego and failings down the stretch that ended his stay in Denver. With Josh McDaniels his ego clearly was an issue from the Jay Cutler debacle moving forward and it never changed.
Whoever takes over as the Denver Broncos head coach should have a true general manager working with him or overseeing the draft. The NFL is a challenging business, from a front office - personality standpoint because most people involved are big thinkers, leaders, usually confident in their approach because they are competent in their skill sets.
The breakdown that happened under Josh McDaniels is obvious, but what happened under Mike Shanahan is more important to keep in mind. With Mike Shanahan in control, he was the head coach of a team that won back-to-back Super Bowls. His teams were so good then that they might have won three or even four championships in a row, if not for some bad luck and an untimely retirement. Had the Broncos not dropped a playoff game to Jacksonville in 1996, they may have won a third title. Additionally after winning back-to-back Championships, John Elway retired and Terrell Davis was injured seriously during the fourth game of the following campaign.
Mike Shanahan built an amazing but short lived dynasty that leveled off after John Elway’s departure. The Broncos did return to the AFC Championship in 2005 but that proved to be the beginning of the end for Mike Shanahan. Following the devastating loss in 2005, the Broncos lost out on a Super Bowl that they should have won. The effort the Broncos brought against the Steelers in the AFC Championship was a fraction of what they brought the week, before keeping the New England Patriots from their bid at a three peat. Mike Shanahan made numerous poor contract signings of free agents that had the Broncos over-paying for sub par results.
Mike Shanahan was essentially the team president, head coach, and acting GM. That much power by the coach caused friction and eventually led him to terminate Ted Sundquist the team’s general manager for the better part of a decade. The problems were compounded when Mike Shanahan would cut players or ask them to cut their salary numbers in order to better serve the team. Some players bought in, others didn’t. However players did feel like they were being taken advantage of which made it harder for them to feel like they could play for Mike Shanahan.
By Mike Shanahan’s final season he was clearly under the microscope, but made a few critical errors which lead to his demise. Mike Shanahan made a guarantee on a local radio station that the Denver Broncos would make the playoffs in 2008. His coaching staff also mishandled John Lynch’s situation during that off-season. They promised Lynch his starting job back only to wait through part of the pre-season to strip the starting role from the veteran safety. Having some knowledge of the situation that had taken place, Mr. Bowlen and his family were upset with the decision in part because of Lynch’s positive image and contributions to the community. It was a classless move at a time when the Broncos were trying to get through the loss of a fallen teammate, Darrent Williams (D-Will).
The Broncos suffered crucial losses down the stretch, ultimately ending their playoff hopes. The final straw came in San Diego when the Broncos were embarrassed on national television on New Years Eve. Mike Shanahan was promptly terminated the following day once the team returned to Denver. The reality was Mike Shanahan had too much power and it led to a dysfunctional franchise, from the front office to the locker room. The model was never fixed upon the arrival of the younger Josh McDaniels which led to a more comprehensive compound fracture of the organization.
So it’s the most obvious thing the Broncos franchise must work on fixing.
With Mr. Bowlen aging and facing questions of his health and well being, it certainly makes sense to decentralize the power within the franchise and make it a more functional and cohesive unit. The Denver Broncos have Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis focused on the big business decisions. Yet the team still lacks a real general manager empowered to guide the draft in a trusted and thoughtful manner. Additionally they need a head coach who can be an administrator. This time around the head coach figure should more immersed within the football side of the equation, while distancing himself from the business side.
The Broncos Must Hire the Right Coach at All Cost
The Denver Broncos have led the NFL for the better part of 30 years, being the single most competitive franchise in the NFL. They have still played in more Super Bowls since their first in 1977 than any other franchise since that time. The Broncos are a proud franchise with one of the best fan bases in all of professional sports. The owner Mr. Bowlen is also among the best in all of professional sports. In order to fix the franchise, the Denver Broncos must get the right coach with character that encourages winning now.
The bottom line here is there are a handful of excellent candidates that could potentially fit the part. Yet, Jon Gruden is the guy Denver needs right now. He is the most capable of handling the current state of the team, and has the experience to steer the Broncos to a better place. Gruden recently turned down the University of Miami football program, perhaps to stay with his Monday Night Football gig, or hopefully to wait for a great opportunity to coach in the NFL again. Jon Gruden knows he could be content working in an environment like the Broncos have. Mainly because Mr. Bowlen is one of the most supportive owners in the NFL, which is what attracts the best to coach in Denver.
Broncos' legend John Elway was spotted having dinner with Mr. Bowlen this evening, as rumors continue to swirl that he will soon accept a position as a consultant.
Finally there is a small issue of the Broncos being on the hook to still pay Mike Shanahan and Josh McDaniels and his staff. However the franchise has already dedicated efforts to get the team back on track, so spare no expense should be the mantra.
The Broncos Must Ditch the New England Spread Approach
Just for the sake of the 2010 players to remain competitive down the stretch, the Broncos won’t change the offensive scheme prior to the end of this season. However during the off season the Broncos must make the adjustments. The team will have to focus more on one fact while moving forward: Josh McDaniels's New England Spread scheme resulted in the Broncos only averaging around a 37% conversion percentage, which would kill any team, any coach, any time. There are a number of positives within the scheme, but the net result killed the sum of all things. Defenses understand the spread now and know how to make adjustments to counter it. It should be a piece of the overall offensive scheme, but not the entire scheme itself, unless your name is Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
On The Field the Broncos Must Get More Physical
The Broncos recognized last year their offensive line was not very big. They were being out-matched physically on the field and ultimately leading to s subpar run game. The 2010 offensive line got better and bigger, however they were less effective in the run game. The newly implemented offensive scheme led to an obvious lack of dedication to the run. On the defensive side of the equation, the Broncos had to switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 because of their defensive personnel being undersized.
It made the Broncos competitive, but the reality is the team suffers from several things: a lack of pocket pressure in the pass game, undisciplined play, to being physically worn out by the oppositions' rushing attacks. The Broncos generally are undersized due to the impact of playing in high altitudes. The team still needs to get bigger, stronger, and nastier. Teams that have a lot of sacks generally put an exponential amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, something the 2010 Broncos have had trouble doing.
Offensively the Broncos Must Balance Their Attack
The missing piece in Denver since Mike Shanahan left has been the rushing attack. Last year the methodology was all wrong when they did run; this year there was no dedication to the run game. The Broncos averaged approximately 60 yards per game the rest of the season on the ground, which is absolutely pathetic and unacceptable. The Broncos offensive line is certainly culpable on this, however it’s possible the Knowshon Moreno can still emerge as a feature tailback in the NFL. He certainly shows signs of promise and getting better, but he’s not exactly reeling off long touchdown runs. At the end of the day, running the ball well always takes the pressure off of the quarterbacks and allows the offense to control the clock.
The Defensive Front Seven Needs Fixing
The Broncos did a good job in finding serviceable defensive players along their front seven, but are a long way from having a fierce front that is intimidating to opposing offenses. The Broncos are going to have to really look at things, starting in the middle and working their way out.
DJ Williams needs to move back to outside linebacker to lengthen his career, adding a solid playmaker on the outside to complement Elvis Dumerville. This reiterates the idea that the Broncos need to get bigger in the middle. Whether the Broncos choose to go 4-3 or 3-4, they have to have the bodies in the middle to shut things down quickly. The Broncos have had it rough at the linebacker position. The linebacker core had been riddled with injuries all season long, hindering the progress of the team's front seven. On the outside, the Broncos have lacked discipline on the edges against the rush at times and it is looking eerily similar to the end of Mike Shanahan’s era all over again.
The Questions of an Aging Secondary Need To Be Addressed
Had Josh McDaniels stayed in Denver there is little chance the Broncos would keep Champ Bailey. Now there is at least a chance the franchise may be able to keep him, but they will have to act swiftly. Veteran players like Bailey and Brian Dawkins would want to know who the head coach in Denver was going to be prior to returning. Brian Dawkins might be at the point of wanting to retire, but he could still play in a good defense. Champ Bailey proved on Sunday in Kansas City that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Broncos do have question marks with Renaldo Hill and Andre Goodman due to their injuries and sub-par play at times. That coupled with younger secondary players either failing to step up or fighting off injuries of their own has made the water mirky on the future direction of the defensive backfield.
The Quarterback Position Needs to Take Shape
The Denver Broncos used to have a starting quarterback named Jay Cutler who was seen as a baby for wanting out of Denver because of Josh McDaniels, remember him? He’s with a 9-3 Chicago Bears squad these days, apparently living it up. Meanwhile Denver has had three over priced contracts offered and signed by Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn, and Tim Tebow to complete their quarterback stable. Therein lays a perfect reason why there will be changes at that position internally by the Broncos before next season. Kyle Orton has proven he can be a decent starter on a team that has a great defense and a decent run game. Brady Quinn proved in the off season he had a ways to go as a leader. Then there was Tim Tebow who looked good in limited pre-season action, but also showed he wasn’t ready to start, so now he might finally get his shot.
Tim Tebow nation is chomping at the bit, but all Broncos fans want are a reliable starting quarterback.
If Tim Tebow Proves He’s not the Best Quarterback Option Then What Next?
So assume Tim Tebow stays par for the NFL course and that he is not ready to be a starting quarterback. What should the Broncos do then? They could keep paying him tons of money for little production because his jersey sales are off the charts. The Broncos could potentially trade him to the Jacksonville Jaguars or Buffalo Bills (two teams that were interested in him at the April draft) for a bag of pretzels, considerably less than they paid to get him. Or the Broncos could be forced to give him an outright release. For the Broncos sakes Tebow needs to pan out.
Bring Back the Original ’77 Orange Crush Throwbacks with A Twist
This final suggestion has started to gain momentum lately, however it is still important enough to bring to the forefront. The Denver Broncos original identity became the Orange Crush after 15 years as a struggling expansion franchise. The Broncos were the only team in the NFL to have a red-orange color that was bright, sharp, and most importantly – easily recognizable. The Broncos were a team on fire in those jerseys, and they could help infuse a whole new love for the franchise given all of the recent drama.
The Broncos should bring back the original helmet with the ‘D’ on the side; however they should make the helmet a metallic navy blue. If the team want to update the look a little the only thing they really should do is give the orange jersey side pipes like New England. The original jerseys infused a love for the Broncos Orange Crush defense and a marketing cash cow was born. It’s time to revisit that; the franchise should inspire the fans with this becoming the primary jersey and the blue jersey being put back as an alternate home uniform.
Both jerseys clearly have a place in Broncos lore, so why not use both of them, but make the Orange Crush the primary jersey starting next season.
Circle the wagons, bring back the jerseys, bring back the fire, bring back the fans.
It’s that simple.
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