I was fortunate enough to sit down for a few minutes with Lee Rasizer, Broncos Beat Writer at the Rocky Mountain News. He is as close to the team as anyone and has a solid handle on the pulse of the organization. My thanks to Lee for taking the time. Remember to join me, as well as Kyle from BroncoTalk and Sam Adams from the RMN for a Pre-Game Chat about the Broncos over at RMN's website! This week we start a bit early - 12:30 PM mst!!
On to the questions!
MHR -- The Broncos sit at 3-1, alone in 1st Place. What was your expectation of the first quarter of the season? Are the Broncos ahead or behind where you thought they would be?
LR -- To be honest, I don't break them down strictly based on a ‘W-L-W' look down the schedule, so I'm not sure what I would have thought. Most likely, a loss at San Diego would have been considered a given, at Oakland and vs. Tampa Bay toss-ups and Kansas City a win. We've all seen how that's turned out. But overall, I didn't see this team after the preseason as much more than a 7-9 or 8-8 type team. Too many deficiencies on defense. And I guess I probably undervalued just how much of a leap they would make with the passing game on offense. So they're better than what I initially thought, I guess you could say.
MHR - Jay Cutler has started the season strong, but seems to have slid back into some old habits the past couple of weeks. Is this a concern or more likely the growth process of a young quarterback?
LR -- Mike Shanahan said Wednesday when presented with that very question that he'd rather have someone who's willing to push the field, mistakes be damned, then someone who's content to check it down. It seems to me that's the opposite approach he used to take with Jake Plummer - just take the safe play, don't do anything stupid. But it shows just how much confidence he has in Cutler being able to make all the throws, even in tight coverage. That said, I still would counsel Cutler on locking on Brandon Marshall too much. And at one point Sunday, a wide-open Brandon Stokley was bypassed in the red zone, moving Cutler to approach Stokley and in effect, apologize, for missing him. Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler and others can also make plays. And as tempting a target as Marshall is, he needs to work his progressions and not get into the ‘Rod Smith syndrome' that once plagued this offense. By that I mean, it was all or nothing with one target.
MHR - The running game has sputtered so far, with neither Andre Hall or Selvin Young able to make a big impact. Is Ryan Torain close, and how effective do you think he'll be?
LR - It hasn't been as if Hall and Young are ineffective. They've chosen the wrong year to be featured backs within this offense. By my count, Denver is running just 39 percent of the time, then splitting carries at that. Both have good per-carry averages. I thought if there ever was a time to try to get a sense of balance, it was last week against a run-challenged KC defense that had yielded 300 rushing yards to Oakland, which employs a similar zone-blocking scheme. But once again, the Broncos went pass-heavy. What I wonder is what happens in a cold weather game in November when the run is needed and the team needs to lean on it? Will it be there? That's not clear right now. As for Torain, he still has considerable rehab on his arm left. He not only has to regain strength, but his timing in practice. My guess is that he'll get a look in practices and progressively take on more of a role. But will Denver carry a fullback and four running backs on the game-day roster and who sits? To me, it will take an injury for him to log significant carries. I don't know if he'll be any kind of ‘workhorse back' though, since I'm fairly certain that doesn't exist this year in Denver.
MHR - Mid-Season trades in the NFL are hard to pull off. That said, do you think the Broncos will try and make a move, for a pass-rush specialist like Leonard Little, perhaps?
LR - The Broncos front office is looking at the present but with recent moves that have stockpiled picks, have an even keener vision of the future. And what would a rebuilding team like St. Louis, in your example, need to make a deal? Picks. I don't see it, especially for someone older when this team is skewing young. It also would be an admission that they've already given up on Jarvis Moss and Tim Crowder. They haven't (yet). I see more waiver-wire type moves than any kind of big-name deals. And in the off-season, I see a huge push defensively to try and even up the talent differential on the two sides of the ball.
MHR - I know the defense has gotten a bad rap, but I feel they have been put in some bad situations by the offense and special teams. If everything was equal(no turnovers or return TDs) do you think the defense can be effective enough to lead the Broncos on a deep playoff run?
LR - Your point is well taken. The kickoff coverage has been spotty, as has the performances of punter Brett Kern. There were the turnovers in KC, of course. I do see the defense getting better, yes. There are growing pains right now with the scheme, particularly in terms of missed assignments that I see getting smoothed out long term. The question is, if Denver can move to the middle of the pack defensively, which is possible, with the offensive force it's demonstrated, will it be enough for that deep run? Probably not. The biggest problem as I see it is overall a lack of playmaking. Champ Bailey. D.J. Williams. OK, now where do you go on that list? For a suspect defense to contribute, it needs to at least be opportunistic. The goal line stand and Nate Webster TD vs. New Orleans were the types of plays this group has to bring, since there are obvious flaws in the run defense and ability to generate pressure. But right now those types of contributions appear to be isolated incidents. Welcome back, Brian Griese.
MHR - Lastly, who is your favorite Bronco to cover, past or present?
LR - There are many players I like covering for different reasons. Personality is huge. The ability to translate that personality to the written word with informational and humorous quotes, is even bigger. Some - like Tom Nalen - rarely speak publicly but are engaging and difficult at the same time. But certain guys just ‘get it' and can do the above-mentioned things while keeping in perspective that most in the media are just doing a job and not out to ‘get' them. There are myriad players I've enjoyed being around and very few that I've had issues with. I'd hate to narrow it down to just one guy. But Trevor Pryce was a crack-up and thoughtful, too. Champ Bailey and John Lynch are professionals, through and through. But guys like Howard Griffith, Terrell Davis and Rod Smith embodied many of those qualities, too.
Thanks again to Lee, and be sure to join us for the Chat this Sunday!!!