|12-30-2008, 08:14 AM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Atlanta, GA
Broncos simply didn't finish.
Tuesday morning quarterback: In the end, the Broncos simply didn't finish
ENGLEWOOD — It took 17 football weeks for hope to evaporate for the Broncos.
It took 17 football weeks for things to go not how the Broncos expected, not how they wanted, but exactly how they should have, it seems.
They will dispute that, of course. But there is but one thing they had absolute control over in every game - themselves - and in the end, they just didn't have enough talent, motivation, good timing or good luck to finish what they had started.
Because, for all the things that happened to the Broncos, and there was no shortage of injury drama, they still led their division from the first week of September to the last week of December.
Sure, the division was the league's ugly duckling for much of the season. Yet the Broncos still resided in first place until the final game they played.
"We just didn't finish it when we had the chance," Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. "We had a chance to take care of things ourselves. We had chances earlier. We could have won other games and it wouldn't have mattered what happened (Sunday). But we didn't, and that's disappointing.
"That's my word. Disappointing because we had more chances than you usually get, and we still didn't take advantage of it."
And perhaps that is the story of the year, that the Broncos' optimism in themselves never quite matched their results.
They continually said they had plenty of time to straighten themselves out, until they ran out of it.
They continually said what had happened along the way didn't matter as much as how they played down the stretch, just before losing their last three games.
"Disappointing" is how quarterback Jay Cutler described it when asked how he would file it away.
"Just disappointment" is the way receiver Brandon Stokley put it.
Coach Mike Shanahan consistently believed this was a playoff team, and he consistently believes whatever team he sends out each and every season ought to be able to win at least 10 games.
Had he pushed this one to 10 wins and a postseason spot, it would have been one of his best coaching jobs. That thought won't appease many of those who pay to sit in the seats because missing the playoffs has become far more of a habit than making them during the past nine years. But it is true.
In the end, this team had too many players on injured reserve and too few game-breakers, especially on defense, on the field.
Not enough sacks, not enough turnovers, not enough tackles at the point of attack. And they couldn't overcome that, no matter how they tried to arrange the players in the formation.
The bottom line: In the game they needed most, they surrendered 289 rushing yards. When all was said and done on Sunday night, Shanahan said he had a "championship"-level offense.
Perhaps so, but now the real work begins because they are most certainly still looking for the rest of the equation.
Turning point: K.C. loss
It was a season of erosion for the Broncos.
In a 3-0 start, they were the highest-scoring team in the league and had folks searching for the calculators to see how it would all turn out.
But an injury here, a fumbled opportunity there, and pretty soon it was real trouble. It started to go bad as soon as the Broncos went to Kansas City to close September and faced a Chiefs team that had not won a game to that point.
The Broncos were buried under Larry Johnson's 198 rushing yards and never really dug themselves out the rest of the way.
Offensive MVP: Riding Cutler's strong arm
In the end, after all the passes were thrown and all the games played, Jay Cutler set single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,526), total offense (4,726 yards), attempts (616) and completions (384) to go with 25 touchdowns, which tied him for the third-highest single-season total in Broncos history.
With seven running backs having been put on injured reserve this season, Cutler compiled those numbers with the least-productive rushing attack in Mike Shanahan's tenure as coach.
The Broncos rushed for 1,862 yards this season - just below the previous low under Shanahan of 1,864 yards in the Broncos' 6-10 finish in 1999.
"And without that consistent run game, that makes things a lot harder," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "For (Cutler) to do what he did shows you the potential in this offense."
As a result, though, the Broncos were tied snugly to Cutler's performance, which some league personnel executives said Monday showed Cutler had to perform with down-in, down-out pressure few other quarterbacks had to face. But it also meant Cutler had four games, including Sunday's, in which he threw at least two interceptions, and the Broncos lost all four.
Defensive MVP: Winborn does it all
There are plenty of places on the Broncos defense that need attention - the team set a franchise high for points allowed (448).
But that doesn't change the fact some players simply had to step in and dig in when asked this season. For that reason, linebacker Jamie Winborn, who finished the season as the team leader in tackles, gets the nod.
Winborn started 10 games in place of injured strong-side linebacker Boss Bailey, and when D.J. Williams was out for four games because of a knee injury, it was Winborn who wore the earpiece in his helmet and called the team's defenses in the huddle.
He can play all three linebacker spots and is a front-line player on special teams.
Winborn had 107 tackles - by coaches' video review - going into Sunday night's game and initially was credited with nine more tackles against San Diego.
Winborn's versatility was needed, as was his play on special teams. And while the Broncos defense didn't do enough of what was needed to avoid a playoff miss, Winborn still performed when called upon.
Break it down: Finding the right fit on defense
Blame it on personnel, blame it on the scheme, blame it on three-leaf clovers, ladders and broken mirrors, but to start rebuilding a defense, the Broncos have to decide what scheme they will play and then fit players into it.
For the past two seasons, which also are the only two seasons in franchise history when the team has surrendered at least 400 points, the Broncos have tried to fit the players they have on hand into the scheme they choose to play.
And despite the howling from near and far to blow up the roster and the playbook, it's time to find the pegs that fit instead of trying to jam them in.
"We just never had anything to hang our hat on, week in, week out," defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. "Week to week, we never showed anything that was consistent, that we did consistently well every time, that we could count on."
And it will be a significant challenge. The Broncos, like many teams, will take a hard look at just how involved they want to be in free agency.
They have nine picks in April's draft, and given the impact the rookies had this season, it's clear they could find help with another quality year on the draft board - especially if this one leaned toward defense.
The four-pick 2007 draft, which included defensive ends Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss and defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, has not been what the Broncos wanted or needed - and has left a hole in the team's developmental curve.
Crowder and Moss were game-day inactives 10 and four times this season. And for a second-round and a first-round pick, that is nowhere close to fulfilling expectations.
The other player in that draft - tackle Ryan Harris - and Thomas are starters, but the fact the two ends the team selected are not close to being regulars left Elvis Dumervil largely fending for himself in the pass rush this season.
And without controlling the line of scrimmage, without a firm vision of what they want the defense to be and who they want to play it, whatever scheme the Broncos try to play is going to be an academic exercise, at best.
This year showed that trying to match opposing offenses point for point puts you on your couch instead of in the postseason.
Break it down II: Finding the winning balance
Cutler's patience was challenged this year. As defenses saw his push-it-hard mentality, they often dropped plenty of players into coverage to see if he would make the right play instead of the one he wanted to.
And often, he did do what he should, but as the defensive struggles mounted and the run game disappeared, he took a few more chances here and there to try to make things work.
Shanahan has said he doesn't want Cutler to lose that edge, but the Broncos are going to have to find a balance. Cutler was third in the league in passing yards, seventh in touchdowns, 10th in yards per attempt and finished the year completing more than 60 percent of his passes.
All quality efforts, and he did all that with an undermanned run game.
But he also was second in the league in interceptions - with 18 - behind only the Jets' Brett Favre. Cutler did throw more passes this season than anyone not named Drew Brees, but it is his next frontier, as opposing defensive coordinators take apart his game this offseason.
Perhaps if he didn't feel like the Broncos had to score almost every possession, perhaps if he didn't feel he had to ride the razor's edge for the team to win, it would be different, but defenses are going to keep challenging him to find the good things that come to those who wait.
Rookie report: Clady, Royal get high marks
* T Ryan Clady, first round. Started every game and likely will have Pro Bowls in his future.
* WR Eddie Royal, second round. Drafted to be a kick returner who might contribute on offense, then finished with 91 catches for 980 yards.
* C/G Kory Lichtensteiger, fourth round. Could compete for starting job next season if Casey Wiegmann is not re-signed.
* CB Jack Williams, fourth round. Played in 14 games, but game-day inactive in last two.
* RB Ryan Torain, fifth round. Flashed potential in the only half of football he played in 2008, but now coming off ACL surgery.
* DT Carlton Powell, fifth round. Spent season on physically unable-to-perform list after suffering Achilles' tendon injury in offseason workout.
* FB/LB Spencer Larsen, sixth round. Special-teamer who became first player in Broncos history to start a game on offense and defense.
* S Josh Barrett, seventh round. Was a starter as season drew to a close but will need a quality offseason to keep the job despite his physical gifts.
* RB/FB Peyton Hillis, seventh round. Was the starter in the backfield and will compete for the job again in 2009. Finished year on injured reserve (hamstring).
* P Brett Kern, undrafted. Solid all season. Broncos like his potential.
* T Tyler Polumbus, undrafted. Backup at both tackle spots, and the Broncos want to see even more progress.
* LB Wesley Woodyard, undrafted. Was the real find of the draft season. Started when D.J. Williams was injured and forced the Broncos to get him on the field.
* CB Josh Bell, undrafted. Claimed on waivers, Bell started some games and moved past Williams and others on the depth chart.
* RB Cory Boyd, undrafted. Claimed on waivers. Depth player now; will have to fight at a crowded position if he comes to camp again.
The Broncos' foray into free agency last offseason might influence how things go this time around.
One of their issues in the coming months will be what to do with defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson's deal. The contract he signed after being acquired in a trade with the Jets included the potential of a $17 million roster bonus, due this spring, if he played 80 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
An informal count puts Robertson somewhere around 58 to 65 percent of the defensive snaps for the season, so the roster bonus would be lower.
Also, after signing Boss Bailey and Niko Koutouvides at linebacker in free agency - with $4.3 million and $2 million signing bonuses neither was starting at the end of the season.
Bailey will be coming off microfracture surgery and Koutouvides was a game-day inactive for the final two games while also having been switched from backup middle linebacker to reserve strong-side linebacker.
Cutler's selection to the Pro Bowl also kicked in some bonuses in his deal.
In the deal he signed in 2006, he had a $100,000 Pro Bowl bonus in each year of the contract. He also had a $1.95 million bonus in each of the first five years of the deal for a top-five finish in any major passing category - he was third in passing yards.
He also has a $3 million bonus for any two years in which he has 60 percent playing time - he cleared that in 2007 and 2008.
|12-30-2008, 08:19 AM||#2|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Sep 2002
From klis's mailbag article.....Nah no pattern here folks. None at all.
* The Broncos were 6-2 in 2002 and finished 9-7.
* They were 4-0 in 2003 and finished 10-6.
* They were 5-1 in 2004 and wound up 10-6.
* They were 7-2 in 2006 and finished 9-7.
* They started 2-0 last year and finished 7-9.
* They were 3-0 and the NFL's most explosive team this year and finished 8-8.
|12-30-2008, 09:45 AM||#3|
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Jacksonville, FL
Make a real start/finish with 8 game splits for started and finish and you'll get the truth... there isn't a ****ing collapse.
|12-30-2008, 09:57 AM||#4|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Jacksonville, FL
If we don't improve our defense next year, we will be in trouble.
In running game, it is very risky to depend on Torrain,Bell,Young,Pittman.
We need to draft a good Running Back.
We were leading the division from Week 1 till Week 17.
It is really frustrating not to see our team in the playoff's.
Hope our coach realize this and draft good playmakers.