The Broncos’ 2011 regular season schedule was announced on Tuesday, and although this year’s opponents were known beforehand, seeing the actual schedule made me realize how bad the quarterbacks are on the teams the Broncos play. In fact, more than half of the games will be played against teams that are desperately looking for a quarterback in free agency or the draft because of how weak their starter is or because their starter will be released once free agency starts (contractual problems, large bonuses due etc.).
Of course, the Broncos have their own issues as well and have to decide whether to try for improved mediocrity with Kyle Orton or go all-in with Tim Tebow. Even if they play Orton, they will have an equal or better player starting in 10 out of the 16 games they play. Choosing to start Tebow, though, is looking a lot more likely because their opponents field a shockingly low level of quarterbacks themselves.
For reference, I ranked the quarterbacks in the league in five categories below,
Mediocre (Six) – Marc Bulger, Alex Smith, Jake Delhomme, Jason Campbell, Kerry Collins, Tim Tebow
Poor (Four) – Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer, Tarvaris Jackson, Chad Henne
There are several teams in the league that don’t have a legitimate starting quarterback or that have questions enough with the position that they will likely pick one up in free agency (Cardinals–Bulger) or have to go with a back-up if they lose their starter (Bengals–J. Palmer when Carson retires). Other teams have their player coming back from injury (Stafford) or are hoping they can re-sign their guy (Hasselbeck) if the money is right.
I’m not trying to open a debate on my QB rankings, as I’m sure there are some Romo, Vick or McNabb lovers out there that think they are elite and others that feel that Cutler and Sanchez are only average etc. For discussion purposes, I’ve slotted the players where a majority of analysts and commentators rank the players with a little of my own bias sprinkled in.
Note that I consider Kyle Orton an "average" quarterback, although he was a disaster in his last starts before Tebow was given the reigns the last three games. Tebow would rank as mediocre mainly due to his lack of experience and a very small sample of play to judge him by. How good Tebow is remains unknown.
Here are the games and the players (projected) that will start at quarterback for each team the Broncos play this year, with their category rank;
Sept 12 - Oakland (home) Jason Campbell – Mediocre
Sept. 18 - Cincinnati (home) Jordan Palmer – Poor
Sept. 25 - Tennessee (away) Kerry Collins – Mediocre
Oct. 2 - Green Bay (away) Aaron Rodgers - Elite
Oct. 9 - San Diego (home) Phillip Rivers - Elite
Oct. 23 - Miami (away) Chad Henne – Poor
Oct. 30 - Detroit (home) Matt Stafford – Average
Nov. 6 - Oakland (away) Jason Campbell – Mediocre
Nov. 13 - Kansas City (away) Matt Cassell – Average
Nov. 17 - New York Jets (home) Mark Sanchez – Good
Nov. 27 - San Diego (away) Phillip Rivers - Elite
Dec. 4 - Minnesota (away) Tavaris Jackson – Poor
Dec. 11 - Chicago (home) Jay Cutler – Good
Dec. 18 - New England (home) Tom Brady - Elite
Dec. 24 - Buffalo (away) Ryan Fitzpatrick – Average
Jan. 1 - Kansas City (home) Matt Cassell – Average
The breakdown for games-by-category is: Elite – four games, Good – two games, Average – four games, Mediocre – three games, Poor – three games.
The Broncos play a surprising number of poor to average QBs this year, and that will allow them some flexibility and time to grow and improve in two important areas.
First, I believe that Tebow will be named starter or at least get a chance to start early. John Fox likes stability and veterans at the position, which is why Jake Delhomme had a job for so long (we hope Fox learned his lesson), but playing teams with bad quarterbacks will allow him to start Tebow instead of Orton. Nothing makes playing quarterback harder than playing from behind, and when your opponent has a stiff playing QB, life for a young player gets a lot easier.
Tebow could develop and thrive given the chance to play closer games against offenses that have trouble moving the ball, and his "intangibles" would be in play instead of trying to come back from two or three touchdowns behind all of the time.
Second, the defense will get a chance to transition to the 4-3 with new starters and will have time to adjust and gain valuable experience without having to face superior quarterbacks each week. The Broncos’ defense is likely to have at least six or seven new starters, including two or three rookies, one or two free agents (pending) and players (Dumervil) returning from injury.
Without the offseason to train and work together, it will be harder for defenses to play successful against teams with good quarterbacks. Fortunately, the Broncos defense will only face good or elite QBs in a total of six games, so the opportunity to keep the Broncos offense on the field without playing from huge deficits each week will contribute to better quarterback play too.
The NFL is a quarterback driven league, and playing teams that have a worse player at the position than you do is a definite advantage. I don’t want to predict the outcome of games for the season so early, but playing 10 games against poor to average quarterbacks bodes well for the Broncos. Tim Tebow may actually get his chance to prove to John Elway, John Fox, Brian Xanders and Pat Bowlen once and for all that he was worth a high draft pick and is the long term solution at quarterback.
If Tebow flounders, Orton will be able to at least keep the team at a respectable level unless he’s traded prior to the start of the season. Whoever plays quarterback, the Broncos QB will be better off than last season when they played most of their games against better QBs running more potent offenses then they will face this season.