|01-06-2007, 03:49 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
From 2006 To 2007
PASSING THE BATON
Mike Shanahan on his quarterback:
"I love the way he competes. He's not afraid to put all of the responsibility on his shoulders when he doesn't play well. I think he's got a real high standard. I'm glad he's our quarterback. I think he's going to keep on working to improve, and if you've got a guy like that, you've got a chance for real good things to happen."
That's what Shanahan said about Jake Plummer at the end of the 2005 season.
Less than a year later, Shanahan almost certainly ended Plummer's tenure with the team when he put rookie Jay Cutler in the lineup for the final five games.
The Broncos love Cutler's composure, his arm and the swagger.
The next few months, however, are key to where Cutler goes from here. There is almost no one in the league who doesn't believe the biggest jump a quarterback makes in his development comes between his first and second seasons.
Cutler finished the season 81-of-137 passing (59.1 percent) for 1,001 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. And his 7.3 yards per pass attempt - anything more than 7 is considered good, anything more than 8 usually will put you near the league lead - was a full yard more than Plummer's 6.3 yards per pass attempt.
The youngster's hurdle will be to learn what he can and can't do with all of that arm strength the Broncos dearly love. But if the Broncos consistently run the ball better, the field will open up more for Cutler.
BREAK IT DOWN
Getting more payoff from nickel
A poll of several offensive coordinators who faced the Broncos this season made clear that two things happened when teams took on Denver's five-defensive back package (the nickel):
• The Broncos didn't get to the quarterback enough.
• They couldn't always hold up against the run as well.
Many personnel executives believe that's why the Broncos will at least have to debate how to get D.J. Williams more into the nickel mix with fellow linebackers Al Wilson and Ian Gold.
Gold's speed is a huge asset, but some offensive coordinators believe the veteran's size - 225 pounds or so - means the Broncos look more like a dime defense (six defensive backs) when they actually were in the nickel, which caused them trouble against some of the better running teams.
The Bengals, for example, kept the Broncos in the nickel for much of the game and romped for 149 yards.
The Broncos also didn't consistently get to opposing passers enough on third-and-long downs that usually favor the pass rushers. Elvis Dumervil had some impact in the look and Ebenezer Ekuban, who would move inside to defensive tackle in the nickel, usually were the ones creating the pressure.
"We didn't get it done," Gold said after the season- ending loss to the 49ers. "But nobody's kicking himself. We walked into this locker room with our heads up and we'll walk out with our heads up. We're very prideful men, we take pride in our work.
"We know we left it out there on the field, we played our rear ends off. That's the best we can do. Unfortunately, San Francisco just outplayed us."
. . . and still champion
Once more, with feeling.
Cornerback Champ Bailey not only was the Broncos' best defensive player this season, plenty of NFL pro personnel executives believe Bailey is the best defensive player in the league.
Just do the math.
Despite most offenses doing all they could to avoid him, Bailey led the league in interceptions with 10 and broke up another 21 passes. He also made 83 tackles. There is simply no other defensive back in football who can do all that, especially when every quarterback he faced was told to try to avoid him.
Bailey might also be the best open-field tackler in football.
"An elite tackler," is how Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has described Bailey. "Not just good, great. Really great. Maybe nobody better."
The brace Bailey wears on his left shoulder in games is a testament to that. He suffered the injury - a dislocation - while making an open-field tackle in the 2005 opener in Miami.
"You play with a guy like that, to know what his character is, what he's about, you have the utmost respect for that guy," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "But Champ wants to be the best to ever play the game. You have a guy like that on your team, you just don't have to worry."
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN
Pressure still is precious
Also on the things-to-do list in the coming months is to find some more pop in the pass rush - again.
The Broncos improved slightly from 2005 to 2006 but will need a bigger jump in 2007 to rejoin the league's elite.
In 2005, the Broncos ranked last in the league in sacks per pass attempt - 4.57 percent. By comparison, Jacksonville was first that year at 9.75 percent (47 sacks in 482 pass attempts by opponents).
The Broncos were better this season, ranking 18th in sacks per pass attempt at 6.69 percent. However, Baltimore had the league's top defense in many categories during the regular season, including finishing first in sacks per pass attempt at 11.75.
Since the start of the 2000 season, the Broncos have not finished in the league's top 10 in sacks per pass attempt. Pressure always is the key, but sacks are an indication of that pressure.
Opposing quarterbacks also completed 60.8 percent of their passes against the Broncos this season.
HOME IS WHERE THE QUESTION MARK IS
Bring back that lovin' feeling
Many fans have made it clear they miss old Mile High Stadium. They say it was louder, rocked more and felt better for football than does Invesco Field at Mile High.
But there is no turning back the clock.
The Broncos missed the playoffs this season because they lost four home games; conversely, their 8-0 record at home in 2005 fueled their 13-3 finish.
Worst of all for the Broncos was they led all four of those home losses by at least eight points at some point.
Walking the walk
When the Broncos finally waited out the Green Bay Packers and secured Javon Walker for a second-round pick in a draft-day trade, it turned out to be a steal for an impact player. (Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson had said for weeks he would accept nothing less than a first-round pick.)
Coming off surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, how much Walker would give the Broncos in 2006 was uncertain. The Broncos had him practice once a day during training camp to keep from overworking him in his return.
He finished with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Broncos had 14 pass plays of 30 yards or longer, and Walker had nine of them. He made the team's five longest touchdown receptions - 83, 39, 71, 54 and 39 yards - and had the longest run and scoring run, a 72-yard touchdown romp against Pittsburgh.
In all, he made 16 receptions this season of 20 yards or longer, more than triple the next highest total on the team - rookie tight end Tony Scheffler's five.
"I felt like I could come in and do the things I did when I was at my best in Green Bay," Walker said just before the end of the season. "I feel like I've done that, but I feel like I can give even more."
The Broncos always run the ball, and they finished eighth in the league in rushing yards per game this season, the 10th time in coach Mike Shanahan's tenure they have been among the top eight.
Tatum Bell did finish with 1,025 yards, the 10th time Shanahan has had a 1,000-yard rusher with the Broncos.
However, quality, not quantity, was the problem this season.
The proof could be found inside the 5-yard line in the season finale.
• In the first quarter, the Broncos had a first-and-goal at the 49ers 1-yard line. On the next three plays, Mike Bell went for no gain, Jay Cutler fumbled and Mike Bell was tackled for a 3-yard loss. Jason Elam kicked a 22-yard field goal.
• In the second quarter, the Broncos had a first-and-goal from the 49ers 3. On the next three plays, Jake Plummer was sacked for a 3-yard loss, threw an incomplete pass and ran for 3 yards. A running back never touched the ball on the doorstep, so Elam kicked a 21-yard field goal.
• In the third quarter, the Broncos had first-and-goal from the 49ers 4. On the next three plays, Mike Bell lost 1 yard, Cutler was sacked for a loss of 9, then Cutler hit Javon Walker for 10 yards. Elam kicked a 22-yard field goal.
The Broncos went on to lose by three in overtime as playoff chances evaporated.
It's also why they are expected to take a long look in the draft at the available running backs - they would have taken Laurence Maroney had they not traded up to get Cutler - as well as in free agency.
2006 could become a very good year
In what was a top-shelf year for the draft throughout the NFL, with rookies from almost every round making an immediate impact on their respective teams, the Broncos might end up looking back at their 2006 list with fondness.
Rookie quarterback Jay Cutler started the team's last five games. He went 2-3 but showed composure as well as that rare right arm that lured the Broncos to trade up in the first round to get him.
Second-round pick Tony Scheffler, a tight end, and fourth-rounder Brandon Marshall, a receiver, saw their roles in the offense blossom with Cutler throwing the ball and offered a nice glimpse of what might be down the road. Marshall had 14 of his 20 receptions in Cutler's five starts; Scheffler had 12 of his 18 receptions and all four of his touchdowns with Cutler behind center.
Another fourth-rounder, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, was the only defensive player drafted by the Broncos and finished with 8 1/2 sacks to lead the team. Fifth-rounder Chris Kuper, a guard, played in only one game but showed enough that he is expected to compete for a starting job in 2007.
Fourth-rounder Domenik Hixon (left foot), who is an option in the return game next season, and sixth-rounder Greg Eslinger (right shoulder) spent the year on injured reserve. Eslinger is seen as a potential down-the-road replacement for veteran center Tom Nalen.
Last edited by dragondawg; 01-06-2007 at 03:58 AM..