Join Date: Jan 2005
Vegas Dave's Broncos Preview
Never heard of this guy, but it's a solid writeup
Vegas Dave's NFL Previews - The Denver Broncos
By Dave Golokhov
Thursday, August 10, 2006
The Denver Broncos have tied or increased their win total in each of the last four seasons but following a 13-win campaign, a disheartening playoff home loss has left them with a sour aftertaste. As the Patriots, Steelers and Colts have all taken a step back in the offseason, the Broncos return virtually the same team and will once again have an opportunity to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
What We Learned From Last Year:
As poorly as the Broncos performed in the final game of their season, a 34-17 route on their own turf, their 2005-06 season was a very successful one on many levels.
For starters, Jake Plummer output his most efficient season as a Pro quarterback. Prior to last year, his best touchdown/interception ratio was a +8, in 2003, but he bested that total with 18 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Plummer had the fewest interceptions among fulltime starters and the second-closest quarterback was Matt Hasselbeck, with nine.
Plummer didn't exactly have the support of a clear-cut running back such as Clinton Portis or Reuben Droughns. Mike Shanahan, who at one point detested the 'running back by committee' approach, suddenly fell in love the tactic last season.
Plan A was to have Tatum Bell emerge into the typical all-around back that we have seen the Broncos pump out from season to season but he proved to be too soft. Bell had just a 2.8 yards-per-carry average in the red zone and his biggest flaw was that he grew less effective the more he carried the ball.
In carries one through 10, Bell averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 128 attempts and totaled six touchdowns. In attempts 11 through 20, Bell averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 45 attempts with only two touchdowns.
Shanahan's philosophy tends to emphasize pounding the ball, especially as the game progresses, and Bell was just not up to the task. Enter Mike Anderson.
Anderson, who posted a 1000-yard season in Denver in 2000, was essentially the exact opposite of Bell and provided the lacking toughness and consistency. He doesn't dance in the backfield and he doesn't really make people miss; all he does is pick up yards.
Between the two backs, Denver totaled 1935 yards and 20 touchdowns.
While the Broncos were consistently a threat running the ball on the ground, they were not as dangerous through the air.
The wide receiving corps performed virtually exactly the same as the previous year: Rod Smith seemed ageless, Ashley Lelie wanted nothing to do with picking up tough yards and Darius Watts dropped a lot balls.
After the Indianapolis Colts prolific passing game shredded the Broncos' secondary in back to back seasons during the playoffs, the defense entered the season with questions at cornerback.
Champ Bailey was a given, but rookies Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth both exceeded expectations - especially since Shanahan drafted them.
Shanahan, of course, has had little luck finding serviceable cornerbacks but finally struck gold with these two. Both were pretty good in coverage while Williams also provided a spark on several occasions as a returner on special teams.
The defense line was completely retooled as a number of former Cleveland Browns linemen took over jobs. Gerard Warren finally played like a first-round and logged the most snaps among Broncos defensive linemen. Along with Michael Myers, he was a major factor in the Broncos run defense finishing second overall. Even Courtney Brown, tabbed a bust, flashed some potential and although injuries limited him he should be stronger in the coming season.
While the Broncos were stout against the run, they were unable to manufacture enough pressure on the quarterback to slow down the passing attack of quality opponents.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers came to town on January 22nd, not only did they watch a lot of previous Colts-Broncos game film, they noted that Denver only totaled 28 sacks in the regular season.
The Steelers were a team who passed the football only 41% of the time but out of the first 30 plays they ran in the AFC Championship game, 19 of them were passes.
At the NFL level, when a quarterback has enough to check more than two receivers, eventually he will find someone open - no matter how good the cornerbacks are.
The Broncos have upgraded their passing game in the offseason and will be better suited to play catch-up football if necessary but they have to find a way to drop the quarterback if they plan on making a long playoff run.
Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer should feel some pressure on his shoulders because he will likely be the first tree to fall should the Broncos pass defense fail once again.
With a solid linebacking trio of DJ Williams, Al Wilson and Ian Gold and a reliable but aging tandem of John Lynch and Nick Ferguson at safety, there is much praise to be handed out to this defense for its ability to be stingy against the run.
But how will the pass rush improve?
Defensive end Trevor Pryce, who tied for the team lead in sacks last year has departed, leaving the Broncos with more question marks. The new starting tandem of defensive ends, Courtney Brown and John Engelberger, were solid against the run last but the Broncos would be lucky if these two could total 10 sacks together this season. Ebenezer Ekuban and Kenard Lang, another Cleveland Browns defensive lineman to defect to Denver, are also in the mix. The team is high on undersized rookie Elvis Dumervil, who led the NCAA in sacks in his senior season, and he will get on the field on passing downs. Scouts say he's not big enough and he's not fast enough but all he does is get to the QB. Expect him to be effective.
While the front four does not appear any stronger than last season, the secondary is banking on the continued development of Williams and Foxworth. While the two will battle it out for the starting spot opposite Champ Bailey, the Broncos have the makings of a secondary that can play a lot more man-to-man coverage and therefore send more defenders to get to the quarterback.
On offense, the Broncos have added one key weapon that should also be of great help, should their secondary continue to get shredded in the playoffs.
To this point, the Broncos have had a run-first mentality on offense but problems arise if they fall behind on the scoreboard early. When this happened in the past, the Broncos didn't have the weapons in the receiving corps to play catch up and their gameplan of ball possession flew out the window.
After skinning the Atlanta Falcons in a pre-draft trade, the Broncos produced an excellent draft by acquiring Jay Cutler, Javon Walker and Tony Scheffler.
Cutler figures to be the quarterback of the future and enters an environment where he can quietly learn for at least a season. The other two players figure to make more of an immediate impact.
Walker, who has recovered from a serious ACL injury, instantly becomes the dynamic wideout that Denver had hoped Ashley Lelie would become. While Lelie failed to take any burden off of the shoulders of 11-year veteran Rod Smith, the Broncos are expecting Walker, who finished third in receiving in 2004, to do more than just that.
Tight end Tony Scheffler should also contribute right away and should be the best pass catcher and route-runner the Broncos have had at tight end in the past couple of years. While he isn't a two-way tight end just yet, the Broncos have a blocker at the position in Stephen Alexander.
If all goes well, Scheffler is going to demand attention in the middle of the field making it harder to double or "bracket" Walker and Smith.
These two additions, along with the alleged great strides that wide receiver Darius Watts has made in the offseason, will tempt the Broncos to pass the football more often but they have to stick to their roots.
Throwing the ball around increases the chances of Jake Plummer turnovers and a large part of why he was so efficient last year was because Gary Kubiak didn't ask him to be much more than a manager. The Broncos have to continue emphasizing the play-action pass and pounding the ball on the ground to be successful.
The running game will likely feature a committee between Tatum Bell, Mike Bell and Ron Dayne. Mike Bell is a rookie but runs with the power and quickness that Shanahan loves. But he's still a rookie and that means he will be on a short leash. Tatum Bell has added quite a bit of muscle mass to toughen up and although everyone is waiting for him to take control of the carries, it might not happen this year - again.
The Broncos are still - quite easily - the class of this division but to get by in the playoffs, they have to find a way to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They have more weapons in play on offense but if last year's version of the Steelers can pass on them, then teams like the Patriots and Colts will pick them apart.
Over/Under regular season wins 10:
With Hudson Houck, the heralded Chargers offensive line coach, departing for Miami last season, Chiefs tackle Willie Roaf's retirement this season and the Raiders front five in flux, the Broncos boast the most consistent offensive line in this division. The production of the Chiefs' defense and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers remain as wild cards but its unlikely any team in this division has enough moxie to unseat the Broncos as reigning champs. They play: @STL, KC, @NE, BAL, OAK, @CLE, IND, @PIT, @OAK, SD, @KC, SEA, @SD, @ARZ, CIN and SF.
Everyone knows the fantasy value of a Broncos running back and even though Mike Shanahan displayed a fašade that he was comfortable with the committee approach, he wants to give the bulk of the carries to one guy. Undrafted rookie Mike Bell has been the training camp stunner and is the surprise starter for the Broncos first preseason game. Unless Tatum Bell can disprove that he is one-dimensional runner who can't handle more than 10 carries a game, Mike Bell, who averaged 4.9 yards per carry at Arizona, will start since he can offer the complete package.
This is the fourth consecutive season of comprehensive NFL previews by Dave Golokhov. He can be reached at email@example.com