Denver Broncos Are in Good Hands and Improving

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IAugust 15, 2011

John Elway's belief in John Fox appears to be heading in a good direction for the Denver Broncos.  The defense is improving and the offense still has potential to turn the corner under an improved run scheme..
John Elway's belief in John Fox appears to be heading in a good direction for the Denver Broncos. The defense is improving and the offense still has potential to turn the corner under an improved run scheme..Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are a professional football franchise in transition, without a doubt.  Many see the Broncos' change as a major undertaking, while others see them as having a shot to go .500 or better this season—one that most prognosticators would put them in the bottom part of the overall league standings. 

There is still a feeling of uncertainty in who the starting quarterback is and who it will be in the long run.  In fact, it’s absolutely not known who the long-term starter in Denver will be, and even if he can get it back to the playoffs. 

If it were the time of day, it could be best described as a tequila sunrise; it’s got a cherry red summer hot sunburst of color on the horizon. Only one problem—there’s a hangover in the Mile High City and it’s far too early to tell if it’s going to be a good day (season). 

Without a doubt, the Broncos have some of the most devout fans in all of football on any level.  What they are hoping for is for John Fox and John Elway to deliver the goods sooner than later.

Through the abbreviated training camp and one preseason game thus far, a wide variety of questions have come to light and a number of questions have been answered.  So with everything in Dove Valley these days, you have to take things with a grain of salt and be patient to see things crystallize (materialize). 

It will take some doing to fairly analyze the situation and weigh all the raw data available, but all in all, the Broncos should anticipate a season that sees them as an elite football franchise on the mend—heading in the right direction to compete at higher levels in the near future.


 Offensive Numbers vs. Dallas

The Broncos rushed 30 times for 119 yards in Dallas against the Cowboys and threw a combined 27 times with 16 completions for 238 yards through the air.

The Broncos had 18 first downs, with only six coming on the ground, and 11 through the air and one on penalty.

Generally speaking, those are the sorts of offensive numbers the Broncos should produce in order to win more games this season.


Offensive Improvements to Look For

Solidifying the quarterback and running back depth chart is certainly one of the top priorities going forward.  The Broncos are focused intently on making sure they have the most talented producers on the roster and in the right order.

With regards to the quarterback controversy, logic would say that, more than likely, someone will be traded prior to the mid-season deadline.  The issue as it stands now is just as convoluted as ever.  In Dallas, Kyle Orton, the starter, clearly had the worst outing among the QBs, however brief.  He only connected on two of his six passes. 

Tim Tebow showed that he is behind where the team would like him to be at, still, he did a decent job, but was it good enough for him to be the starter, let alone backup?  Brady Quinn absolutely has all the physical tools, yet he has lacked certain leadership capabilities and some consistency in the past. 

The game in Dallas may be the greatest indicator that Quinn may be ready to actually step-up and contend for the starting position.  Whatever the case, the quarterback position is anything but solidified in Denver.

When it comes to the running back situation, the Broncos appear to have a strong stable of backs able to carry the load into the future.  It is obvious that this group must be physical to give the Broncos offense a chance, and the first impressions are that they ran well against Dallas.  Six running backs and Tebow put the Broncos at 119 yards on the ground in the Cowboys house, against a fair defensive front. 

The Broncos backfield is like the quarterback situation and the rival Oakland Raiders—it's outcast central.  There are players who may be main-stream, or star wannabes, journeymen or even regular guys just hoping for their shot.  The Broncos backfield has them all and they are an interesting bunch, they are a diverse and talented bunch, so look for good things on the ground. 

The issue from the backfield is how well the quarterback will lead the team and how physical will the run game is when they need it most?  The Broncos offensive line had an infinite number of problems trying to find the right push up front.  From trying to spring a young Knowshon Moreno to failing to get short yards in crunch time, the run game in Denver was the worst in the NFL the last two seasons, bar none, and much of that fell on the offensive line. 

With a run-first philosophy now, the Broncos will most certainly improve because of their dedication to the run. How much could be anyone’s guess, but the pieces of the puzzle are there to have reasonable success.    

First impressions on the quarterbacks are diverse, but they all have elements of good game management.  The question is can they make plays in the clutch? 

With the Broncos running backs, it will be somewhat of a platoon and a "who’s hot, who’s not" system, and that is what you have to like about the Broncos backfield—there is rich talent in that backfield, much of it still needing to prove that they belong, but they are in a great system for that, so expect great things on the ground this year.

Now the one thing that could hold the Broncos back on offense is Mike McCoy, the offensive coordinator.  McCoy needs to find solid plays and play call combinations for the regular season.  As of now, he has much to prove in this area. 

Given the holes in the Broncos offensive scheme over the last two seasons under Josh McDaniels and McCoy the scheme was a flat-out bust.  There needs to be an admission there on behalf of McCoy and the Broncos brass.   With the new scheme predicated on the run, the issue of play calls in key situations, and play combinations that complement one another will fall under sharp criticism, especially if similar patterns of failure arise over time. 

The holes that existed under McDaniels' scheme made the Broncos the worst team on third down conversions the last two seasons.  Should the Broncos fail to have good play calling, something similar will occur this season.  That is why it’s paramount to keep this point under constant focus and scrutiny. 

The Broncos' holes the last two seasons were similar to a hitter in baseball having a hole in his swing.  It’s the same exact principle, only there is a hole or holes in the former scheme.

Under Fox, there is the potential to fall into the similar trappings, scheme wise. The black hole envisioned under Fox’s regime with McCoy at the offensive helm is that running plays appear to be somewhat out of synch or called for the sake of running the ball and the clock rather than having good, fundamental, situational play calling in place. 

The reason this is being brought to light here is that Brian Griese hinted as much in the broadcast Friday night in Dallas about McCoy’s inexperience in finding good play combinations that work together. 

It is a challenge for McCoy to reign in and reconfigure the offensive approach in part because it’s all new, sort of.  McCoy was in Carolina under Fox prior to coming to Denver, yet there were times in the Dallas game where his offense looked uncomfortable executing certain plays and play combinations. 

If the Broncos fail on offense, it’s highly probable that the finger should be pointed at McCoy first.  So this is a critical year for him as an offensive coordinator; he has to step up and figure out how he’s going to keep this team competitive offensively.

One suggestion is for him to use the tight ends more in space.  Great ground games are complemented by great schemes that involve the tight end.  The yards picked up by tight ends are usually in the middle of the field and generally create mismatches for the defense. 

That in turn sets off a chain of events which can make it hard for any defense to play straight up against an opponent.  If defenses can’t play straight up, there are obvious flaws in the scheme that show up and are exploited. 

Finally, back to the run game again just briefly, the Broncos saw a taste of what they should utilize most as they showcased their solid run game in Dallas. 

Running back Jeremiah Johnson, all 5’9” and 200 pounds of him, showcased a real talent to go north and south.  He ran just four times for 28 yards but they were memorable carries with meaning and a purpose. 

If the Broncos are to improve this season on the ground, Johnson laid out template simplistically; it’s hard-nosed running out of the backfield focusing on heading north and south.

So enough with the offense, now let’s look at the defense.


Defensive Numbers vs. Dallas

Against the Cowboys, the Broncos defense yielded 103 yards on the ground on 25 carries.  Through the air, the Cowboys connected on 20 of 33 passes for 264 yards and one interception.  So Dallas wound up edging the Broncos in first downs by two with 20 chain-movers.



Defensive Improvements in the Works

Defensively the last six seasons, the Broncos have suffered on defense due to instability created under the Mike Shanahan regime. It boils down to having a dubious streak of new defensive coordinators arrive every off season. 

With John Elway selecting Fox, it was certainly an aim to rectify the entire team, though Fox brings stability and a system the players trust on the defensive side of the ball.  That should make the fans feel good; the defensive players know they can trust their head coach and his credentials on the defensive side of the ball.  That trust lends itself to the concept of team, great tempo, dictating the action on the field, turnovers, and pressure—lots and lots of pressure.

Up front, the Broncos had to make some key trades and signings in order to land the long sought-after talent they will need in the middle of the defensive line.  The Broncos are running at least four deep at the defensive tackle position, which was lacking those four bodies prior to the NFL lockout ending.

At defensive end, there is a clear shot for Robert Ayers to come into his own while Elvis Dumervil is back.  The line-backing core looks solid, and the defensive backfield looks to be tested often but up to the task. 

It’s a new era in Denver, especially on defense. More team pressure is here.  For the first time in a very long time, fans will start to witness the Broncos defense starting to dictate game tempo and cause more turnovers. 

Now don’t expect these Broncos to be the greatest defense in the NFL right away, as that’s not realistic.  The Broncos are clearly a work in progress, but that work is going to keep the Broncos competitive this season.  It was obvious in Dallas that the Broncos will bring it on defense because they realize that is their best option for creating a winner once again. 

Look for a myriad of disguises, contains, roll coverages, pressure sacks, coverage sacks, it’s all become a real possibility again for the orange and blue.  Look for it and expect to see them pick this team up a bit this season.

Additionally, comprehensive coverage in the defensive backfield is becoming a solid realization.  The biggest question marks have to do with how well can Brian Dawkins hold up, and rookie Rahim Moore is now starting at free safety.  Both Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman are long on experience, but there were times when Goodman broke down last season; can he have a solid year this season?

It’s something Denver fans haven’t seen in sometime, but major strides and moves have been made to put a solid defense on the field.  It looks as though a cohesive defensive unit appears to finally be here with loads of potential. 

Keep in mind Dallas is a proud football franchise, always capable of moving the ball, and its production gave a template of how close the Broncos could be to playing against great teams week in and week out.  So take heart Broncos fans, because it does appear as though the defense that has been missing has returned to Mile High.


Special Teams Short Take

Matt Prater’s legal situation has cast some doubt on his availability.  He may be around for a little while, then again, he might not be depending on his court case and how the franchise chooses to respond along with the NFL offices.  It is cause for concern, especially considering how clutch Prater has started to become.  He had been one of the few bright spots for the Broncos under McDaniels.

Will the next big return stud for the Broncos please stand-up?  It’s short, it’s plain and it’s simple, the Broncos need another return specialist besides Eddie Royal.  Royal is now in his fourth season and he will be a starter at wide receiver. It’s time the Broncos groom another returner or two.

In Dallas, an old Achilles heel came to light; the kick coverage still suffers from minor break-downs.  It is no cause for alarm right now, but there are some things that need to get worked on in this area to prevent long returns during the season. 


Coaching Shorts

Fox has the Denver Broncos heading back in the right direction. Just know that he has more talent with him now than when he took over less than a year ago.  He’s a likable person and a likable coach, the players have his back, and this is a group of guys that wants to step up.   The bottom line is the Broncos should surprise some teams this season, just give things time to work themselves out, like the quarterback controversy.

Finally, one of the big failures under McDaniels was his supporting cast of coaches.  As a unit, the coaches under McDaniels did not build a real team.  It was obvious there were shortfalls across the board.  If the Broncos are to bounce back, the coaching staff as a whole under Fox should rise up and elevate the play of the franchise. 

More than likely they will, that is the immediate vibe the franchise has had since McDaniels was terminated and Coach Studesville took the reigns and did an admirable job.  This year, the coaching staff must support Coach Fox (as they already have been), but they must elevate their game as they strive to elevate the game of their team on the field.


The Final Note for Now—In John We Trust

Elway was always known as a hard-nosed competitor on the field; his legacy is growing and may be off the charts should the Broncos return to their dominant ways sooner than later.  The collection of talent, poise, and football wisdom internal to the organization has improved greatly since Elway came on board and started making big decisions. 

This is a wait-and-see experiment with an element of expectation to it, however temperate and patient the fans must be. 

The franchise is clearly in good hands and appears to be heading towards brighter days.  Until proven otherwise, the rest of the league and nation of football crazed fans should know this much about the character of the Broncos and their fans.  There’s one single message that makes a competitive turnaround more possible than not.  It’s already started to prove itself out in the off season through the draft, trades, and even one non-trade that would not return fair value.

“In John We Trust!”


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