Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

What Now Broncos?

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 1, 2010

By now I certainly don’t have to tell you that I bleed orange and blue.  I’ve been a die hard Broncos fan since I’ve been seven years old.  In that time, I have only seen four sub-.500 seasons, and this is roughly my 25th season of watching the Broncos with a fine tooth comb every Sunday.  With those numbers it’s certainly fair to say that us Broncos fans have had it pretty darn good compared to a lot of other franchises. That time span (since 1986, the first season I even was aware of who the Broncos were or what football was) has seen five Super Bowl appearances with two wins, and 12 playoff appearances.  Simply put, we’re used to seeing the Broncos succeed, or at the very least be in position to compete for the playoffs every year.  3-8 is uncharted territory for the Denver Broncos and is frankly not acceptable.  The last time they started a season this bad was in 1990, and from what I remember it was because the team was littered with injuries that season.  They made the Super Bowl the year before and the AFC Championship game the year after, so clearly 1990 was an aberration.  This feels different, this feels worse.  I look at the current Broncos and find myself realizing what fans of the Lions and other such teams have been feeling for many years.

The negativity toward Josh McDaniels is absolutely staggering these days, and frankly it’s not hard to see why.  He is just 5-16 in his past 21 games, his 6-0 start last season long in the rear view mirror.  The videotaping incident in London certainly only adds fuel to the fire (For those unfamiliar, McDaniels and the Broncos were fined a combined $100,000 for illegally taping a 49ers walkthrough the day before the game.  The person who shot the video has since been fired).  For now, I believe the Broncos when they say the tape wasn’t viewed, but I am very skeptical as to why it wasn’t reported sooner and I am also fearful of connections to Spygate.  After all, McDaniels was New England’s offensive coordinator during that time.  While it seems as though the Patriots’ transgressions in 2007 constituted much more blatant cheating, the fact that the Broncos might have engaged in anything even a little wrong is very disconcerting .  I just hope that we don’t see any new, worse evidence coming to light on this. If we don’t, I’m willing to give McDaniels the benefit of the doubt that it was an honest mistake.

Getting back to the team, the on field product is getting so bad that I sometimes wonder if it’s not worth just blowing the entire thing up and starting over.  This doesn’t all fall on McDaniels, for I documented a number of embarrassing moments late in the Mike Shanahan era as well when he was fired.  Unfortunately, the trend of embarrassing losses has continued.  In two of the past three home games, the Broncos gave up a franchise record 59 points to the arch rival Raiders in three quarters, and then trailed by 20 to the hapless Rams a few weeks later.  I know the Rams are improved, but come on, there is no occasion when it’s even remotely acceptable to trail them by 20 in your own house, ever.  My question is though, is this just a rogue bad season, or are the pieces there for the future?  In an effort to assess the team, I offer a position by position breakdown:

Quarterback: This to me is not the problem.  Kyle Orton is having a Pro Bowl season.  His red zone passing numbers have been particularly outstanding (only one red zone interception as a Bronco in two years).  I’m still not sure what Tim Tebow brings long term because we haven’t seen much of him, but he has been productive in the red zone as well.  I do not think Orton deserves to be benched, but in some ways I wouldn’t mind seeing if Tebow is going to be a bust or not.  Brady Quinn is useless right now and that is proving to be a horrible trade (more below).  While many people still grill McDaniels for trading Jay Cutler, I think Orton is actually better.

Running back: I really like Knowshon Moreno, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.  When he’s been in, he’s been effective when he’s had room to run.  After him there is nothing whatsoever, which is part of the problem.  Correll Buckhalter is considerably slower than last year.  Lance Ball?  I’m not sure how many other rosters he would make.  Laurence Maroney?  I think he might benefit from a change of scenery, but it’s clear now we lit a draft pick on fire by acquiring him.  The Broncos need some depth so Moreno doesn’t have to do it all by himself.  Meanwhile, Peyton Hillis is the toast of Cleveland and has outrushed the entire Broncos backfield by himself.  This after McDaniels stubbornly refused to use Hillis last season.  Hillis for Quinn has be in consideration for worst trade in Broncos history doesn’t it?

Wide Receiver: Again people roast McDaniels for trading Brandon Marshall, but the Broncos’ passing game is thriving just fine without him.  Brandon Lloyd is a sure fire Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection for the season he’s having, and Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal are catching their share of passes as well.  Demariyus Thomas is a real talent and made a number of terrific plays, but he continues to be plagued with a foot injury he suffered in college.  I do think the tight ends on this team are way too absent.  Daniel Graham is way too talented to not be more involved, and I do not understand the obsession with Dan Gronkowski.  Gronkowski was acquired from Detroit for Alphonso Smith, which has to rank as another boneheaded trade (more on Smith in the defensive backs section).  Overall I think this position is fine, but I would like to see more from the tight ends.

Offensive Line: This is where the problems lie on offense right now.  The unit has frankly been terrible in every game this season except for a couple.  This is why the running game is the worst in the league.  People bag on Moreno constantly, but it’s not his fault he’s continually dodging defenders before he gets to the line of scrimmage or doesn’t have holes to run through.  Ryan Clady is a Pro Bowl left tackle, but even he hasn’t performed to his full ability this year, partially due to the fact he tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game in April.  Ryan Harris is a solid right tackle, but he has been beat up as well and wasn’t in the lineup most of the first half of the year.  There are two rookies on the interior of the line, left guard Zane Beadles and center J.D. Walton, which explains a lot.  At some point though, the Broncos need to find out if they are answers long term or not.  This is the area on offense where the most improvement is needed.  It’s also the area that was never a question under Mike Shanahan.

Defensive Line: This unit has been mediocre at best.  The Broncos are running a 3-4 scheme, which should play to their advantage considering their linebackers, but the linemen up front have largely been dominated in their battles with opposing offensive lines.  This unit was a major question mark for years under Shanahan as well, with numerous wasted drafted picks, so this is not completely a new phenomenon on the new staff.  Still the acquisitions they’ve made, specifically Jamal Williams and Justin Bannon, have not worked out.  The defensive line to put it simply needs a major upgrade, and this area has not been addressed even remotely in either of Josh McDaniels’ first two drafts.

Linebackers: The talent is here for this group to be very good.  D.J. Williams is one of the best tacklers in all of football, but had a DUI a few weeks ago and could face a league suspension next season.  Robert Ayers has made significant improvement over his first season, but like many other players has not been able to stay on the field due to injury.  Mario Haggan is one of the few McDaniels additions on defense that has worked out, for he has been very active and his enthusiasm spreads to the rest of the defense.  Elvis Dumervil is one of the best pass rushers in the league, but the Broncos lost him on the first day of training camp.  If this group returns healthy next season, it’s the one area on defense that doesn’t need a lot of tinkering.

Defensive backs: Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins are two great players who have been around for a long time, but both are entering the twilight of their careers.  It’s hard to believe that this is Bailey’s seventh season with the Broncos after being acquired via trade for Clinton Portis.  The Broncos have certainly gotten used to him being back there, but his interception numbers have really tailed off the past few seasons, partially because he has lost a step but more so because the Broncos have been unable to find a complement on the other side of the field.  Other teams are having a field day throwing towards rookie Parrish Cox, and there were others before him (Dre’ Bly anyone?).  As for Dawkins, he is a great leader in the locker room, but he is not the same player as he was even last year.  He is just not getting to the ball and making tackles the way he used to.  I do like Andre Goodman and Renaldo Hill, and Darcel McBath I think has the talent to eventually make an impact as a safety.  I mentioned Alphonso Smith earlier, for this is a player the Broncos drafted in the second round last year (after trading a first round pick the next year to move into that slot), and then the team gave up in him before this season started.  Smith has five interceptions for the Lions this season and seems to be thriving there.  This is just another example of a move that hasn’t worked out.  In short, I think the secondary could need major retooling soon, unless the aging veterans find the fountain of youth in the offseason.

Special teams: Kicker and punter are fine.  Matt Prater is largely accurate and has a good leg, while Brittan Colquitt has been one of the few bright spots this season.  The Broncos have a number of guys with potential to return kicks (Royal, Thomas, Cox), but so far no one has made a major impact there.  By and large I don’t feel this has been a major issue, but there is always room for it to be retooled and improved.

I know a lot of fans really want McDaniels fired and think that will automatically make everything better.  I will admit that it is becoming harder for me to back him, but I want to believe he can turn this around.  Let’s not forget the Broncos fired Mike Shanahan because he missed the playoffs in six of his final 10 seasons, including his final three.  Shanahan is 5-6 in Washington right now, so it’s not like he’s going gangbusters there.  Josh McDaniels has come in and has basically retooled every area of the team in his image.  Similar to a college program, I think it’s fair to give him time to see if it will work once everything is in place.  This team has been decimated by injuries, and some of his moves can’t be judged until the rookies get more experience.  The Hillis and Smith trades were awful no question, but you can’t deny that he made the right call trading Cutler and Marshall.

I just worry that if Pat Bowlen fires McDaniels after this season, what happens if a new coach wants to come in and start from scratch with his guys?  Will we be waiting another two years from him to get his team in place?  Does Bowlen even have a name in mind if he does make a coaching change?  I say unless Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden is in the bag, we’re in deep enough with McDaniels at this point that we might as well give him another year to see if it works.  Let’s see what happens with a healthy O-line and Elvis Dumervil back.  I will say these final five games could be telling.  It may sound crazy, but a positive end to the season can have a carryover effect into next year.  If we don’t win another game the rest of the way?  Well then I might change my mind, especially if the Broncos continue to get blown out each week.  But if they show some fight, are competitive, and can even steal a couple, than I’m willing to roll the dice and see what this regime does in the third year.

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