Enough of the preseason has gone by to draw different hypotheses about the performance of this team. Thankfully, we will not have a strike season. Another thing that we can be thankful for is the beginning of a new year and the end of the McDaniels era.
Now that we have a taste of what John Fox brings to the Broncos, the following myths can be brought out in the open:
- The Broncos are ready to win the division
- Tim Tebow will be traded
- Tim Tebow will see the field for more than 3-4 snaps per game when the game is on the line
And the speculation:
- The Broncos will make the playoffs
- The Broncos will beat the Raiders in Denver at the season opener
- Kyle Orton will have a 100+ passer rating by the end of the season
And the realities:
- The Broncos have a much-improved pass rush
- The Broncos have an improved run defense due to a better pass defense
- The Broncos will have more opportunities on offense due to a better defense (but the offense is not necessarily improved)
- McDaniels' absence is worth 2+ wins this season versus if he was still leading this team
Philip Rivers is a jerk. Norv Turner has never really won anything. Charger fans are the worst type of bandwagon tools who can't sell out Qualcomm even though they have a top team. These are all true. However, Denver (and the rest of the AFC West) is outclassed by the Chargers. The Chiefs winning the AFC West last year was due to a huge season-long choke by San Diego. It won't happen again.
Denver has been in transition since Shanahan was dismissed. This is especially true on Denver's offensive line. Until Denver can run the ball effectively and keep quarterbacks like Rivers off the field, they are going to struggle against the best teams. Additionally, the Chargers know they own the Broncos. They feel like Denver cannot beat them. They just play lights out against the Broncos. Why will this not be the case in 2011-12?
Tebow was drafted in the first round last year. A lot was given up for him. He still has talent, but really hasn't shown anything spectacular in his career thus far. He looked ok, and even heroic at times, in his starts last year and during this year's pre-season. But he hasn't developed enough yet to demand any value in a trade. Maybe next year after he's put together a few good preseason games and Denver can get anywhere near what they paid for him.
Unless the game is out of reach (winning or losing), Tebow won't see the field unless it's a goal line situation. That's the only place where Tebow has proved himself. Brady Quinn is clearly the backup quarterback, and he is a good backup. Quinn is a prototypical pocket passer with a good arm. Tebow is a Heisman-winning charasmatic player who is a good guy...but won't win many games for you.
McDaniels was tremendously wasteful with his draft choices. Tebow is just one example. Nobody but McDaniels would have drafted Tebow in the first round.
I am of the opinion that Denver won't win more than 8 games this season and that San Diego easily wins this division with 11-13 wins. However, if Denver wins a few games they shouldn't, a wild card is possible. Here are the games Denver shouldn't win:
Oakland - Owns Denver in Denver
Green Bay - I can't remember the last time Denver won in Green Bay
San Diego - Ouch
Miami - Has Denver ever won in Miami?
Oakland - This time in Oakland
San Diego - Ouch again
Chicago - Hate to say it, but they're a better team
New England - Maybe if Shanahan was still around...but he's not
Kansas City - Hard to win in KC
There are multiple opportunities to win these hard games. And these are the games that will determine if Denver makes the playoffs.
I don't know how it happened, but all of a sudden the Broncos haven't beaten the Raiders in Denver in a very long time. It's even more strange that this streak goes back to Shanahan, the master at beating the Raiders. Unfortunately, the Raiders now have a lot of confidence when playing in Denver, and that really showed last year. Until the Broncos man up and defend effectively against the run, this streak is going to continue. McFadden and Bush are a dangerous duo. They seem to be Hall-of-Famers against the Broncos. Campbell is nothing special, but if Oakland is averaging well over 5 yards per carry, Campbell is going to be effective as well. Hence, the keys to Denver's victory at the season opener are:
1. Stop the run
2. Limit turnovers
3. Stop the run
4. Stop the run
x. Stop the run
First off, congrats to Kyle for recently becoming a father. Also, congrats for winning the QB job in Denver. I was of the opinion that he was going to be under center for the Cards. I'm glad he's not. Orton is a good quarterback. In the right system, he's pretty darn good. The system where Orton could be an All-Pro is one that is balanced. If Denver can find a running game, at least in some of their games, Orton is going to complete 60+% of his passes and throw a couple of TDs per game.
Currently, Denver is facing the problem of having mediocre play from the center and guard positions. Not only is this adversely affecting the run game, but most blitzes coming at Orton are coming through the 1 gap and the 2 gap. Why? Because JD Walton and Zane Beadles have looked overwhelmed at times. Orton's weakness is his immobility. He's not going to get away from trouble. The interior line has got to pick it up in order to make Denver's passing game formidable.
When I saw that Cleveland, not Denver, got the opportunity to trade down with the Falcons from a high first round position, I was envious. There was one thing that I overlooked...the Broncos got (and took) their chance to draft Von Miller. He looked good against Buffalo. Against Seattle...he looked like what a lot of people compare him to: Derrick Thomas. The guy was everywhere. He had two sacks, but was in Jackson's face all night long. He was unblockable! Add in the return of Dumervil and Denver goes from laughing stock to a serious contender on defense. If the Broncos can play decently against the run and force teams into an occasional third and long, this defense racks up around 40 sacks this year.
The days of having to bring the house in order to create a pass rush are over. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are versatile players who can line up in different spots to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. It reminds me of Rulon Jones and Karl Mecklenburg. This will allow the Broncos to play out of a lot more base defense and not have to commit LBs and DBs to the line of scrimmage. It will also compel opposing offenses to try to run the ball more...something that Denver can anticipate and defend against. Last year, when the Broncos couldn't defend the pass or the run, opposing offenses could make it a guessing game as to how they would attack. This year, everyone knows that opposing offenses will try to run the ball.
Unlike previous years, this year's Broncos are going to make some stops on defense. Opposing teams are going to punt and turn over the ball more than previous years, and certainly more than last year. In a perfect world, this will mean that the Broncos will average more points per game, and will force opponents to abandon the run in order to keep up. This will be the case in some of the games. In other games, Denver's mediocre offense will not take advantage of the opportunities that the defense gives them. Nevertheless, Denver will be in many more games than last year due to a better defense.
From horrible drafts to questionable personnel decisions to predictable playcalling, McDaniels was Denver's version of Hurricane Katrina. He came in and ripped everything apart, leaving a disaster behind. John Fox and John Elway are acting as FEMA. Thus far, they're doing well in this role. Denver had their first decent draft since 2008 and have started to restock bare shelves. Orton won't have to drop back to pass 70% of the time to keep the Broncos in games. Denver isn't trying to play a 3-4 defense when it is obvious they don't have the personnel to do it. I would be surprised if Denver loses to Oakland by 40 points. In essence, life in Broncoland has improved.