The Broncos Moving Forward, Looking Backward

Alex HowieContributor IDecember 29, 2008

Now that the Denver Broncos historic collapse is complete, there is nothing to do but look forward to next season and plan how to improve. 

Clearly, the defense is the starting point.  There were a lot of injuries this season, but the performance was not good even at full strength and always failed Denver in the big moments down the stretch this season. 

They need to find a way to stop the rush and pressure the quarterback as well as get better play from their linebackers—or somehow return John Lynch, Al Wilson, Ian Gold, and Bill Romanowski to their prime and put them back in a Broncos jersey. 

Seems like an overhaul of players—or a scheme change—may be needed.

Despite all of these defensive deficiencies, however, there were other problems in Denver this season and perhaps the best way to look forward may be to look backward and discover the hidden weaknesses of the Broncos. 

The defense has received all the blame for the Broncos downfall this season.  They ranked 26th against the pass, 27th against the run, 29th in total yards per game allowed, and 30th in points allowed per game. 

The rest of the team and coaching staff deserves praise for overcoming such a porous defense, but holes can be found elsewhere in Denver.

Denver had no kickoff or punt returns for a TD this season, but gave up one of each.  They averaged less than 10 yards per punt return and just over 22 yards per kickoff, but gave up over 12 and nearly 25 yards to their opponents, respectively. 

Special teams was lacking, but not devastating. 

The high-powered and deadly offense was also not flawless.  The most deadly statistic is turnovers, and Denver had 30 of them, 20 of which came from Cutler (18 interceptions, two fumbles lost).  They were covered up by the 40 offensive touchdowns scored, including 27 by Cutler. 

Aside from turnovers, the statistics look good: the Broncos ranked 3rd in the NFL, allowing only 12 sacks all season, 5th in the NFL with 4.8 yards per carry, and 10th with 7.3 yards per pass.    

Yet, interestingly, Denver finished only 12th in rushing yards per game, but rose to 3rd in passing yards per game.   This reversal resulted from play calling.  The Broncos only ran the ball 38.4 percent of the time, giving up ball control, and ranking 22nd in the NFL in time of possession. 

Despite having seven running backs on the injured reserve, Denver continued to run the ball effectively.  The only thing keeping their ground game from dominating games was play calling. 

It is easy to become pass-happy with a gun-slinging quarterback such as Jay Cutler and flashy young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal and good tight ends in Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham. 

But running the ball and stopping the run is what controls games.  Denver could not stop the run all year, but they were as effective as anyone at running the ball. 

Play calling limited Denver offensively and probably cost them a spot in the playoffs.  In their last three defeats, the Broncos had first-quarter leads, but gave up on running the ball.  They averaged 6.5 yards per rush on 60 total rushes in those defeats and only 6.3 yards per pass on 127 total passes. 

Maybe the defense isn’t the reason Denver didn’t win the division after all.