The Quest: Defensive Comparison '07 vs '08

“The Quest” for me must begin with the defense.  2007 was the worst defense statistically the Broncos have fielded in a long time. At least when it comes to the most important stat, Points Allowed.  The Broncos gave up 409 points last season, only the 1-15 Miami Dolphins gave up more points in the AFC. 

In short, this defense was an embarrassment to the organization and its fans.  I want to believe that our veterans have a quiet determination and swagger this offseason that they didn’t display at the beginning of last season.  Okay, so the veterans are saying all the right things again this year.  What does that mean?  Nothing actually.  They are professionals and any company/organization wishes to portray a united front to the public.  What we need to do is to compare this year’s projected starters with last years dismal group.  And as a group, 2007 was quite dismal.

NOTE: I saw that HT had already posted a similar post over the weekend.  They say great minds think alike!   I had started writing this while I was in Lake Tahoe, no where near a computer.  Since I was already almost finished with this post I decided to go ahead and post it.  So I apologize if this comes off as redundant.  HT's post on positional comparisons is located here.

 

Defensive End

It looks like we have finally found our long term answers are this position.  Jarvis Moss, Elvis Dumervil, and Tim Crowder should continue their progressions into becoming good, if not great, defensive ends in the NFL.  Doom has already proven he can dominate on a consistent basis, Crowder was a solid rock for us last year, and management still has high expectations for Moss.  The unit continues to improve over last season, as Ebenezer Ekuban returns also.  Overall, the once glaring hole on our defensive line is finally filling up with concrete.

2007 Grade: B

2008 Grade: B+

 

Defensive Tackle

If asked what our biggest glaring weakness last season was, what would you say?  I say it was our defensive tackle position.  The Broncos had some absurd number of players hired to play at the DT position in 2007.  I can’t recall the exact number, but I want to say it was over twenty.  Hopefully someone can give me the exact number of players signed by the Broncos to play DT in 2007.  In any case, the lack of consistency cost this team big chunks of yardage against the running game.  So who here thinks that DeWayne Robertson is 2008’s version of Sam Adams?  I never liked the Sam Adams signing as I prefer athletes to immovable objects, because even so-called immovable objects have knees that can be taken out.  I think the DRob trade may work out to our advantage, especially with a solid back-up like Carlton Powell soaking up 40% of the plays.  I am also a firm believer in Marcus Thomas, as long as he can keep his nose clean(pun intended).  In the end, I see the DT position improving enough to be above average and if players stay healthy this group could easily become quite good.  Not great, but good.  And that is all we really need from this position.

2007 Grade: F

2008 Grade: C+ (Possible B by season’s end)

 

Middle “Mike” Linebacker

I know a little more than half of you believed that the DT position was our Achilles heal last season, but the other half definitely thinks that our LB core stank last season.  In many ways I would agree, except that truly poor DT play ruins any gap assignments for the linebackers.  They are reacting to offensive plays rather than attacking the offensive plays.  That’s how I saw it last year anyways.  DJ Williams played solid at the mike spot and racked up a lot of tackles, but that belies the fact that hardly any of those tackles were for losses and many came five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.  DJ is a beast of an athlete, but he lacks true leadership skills that is necessary of a MIKE.  Enter Niko Koutouvides who was the heart and soul of the Seahawk special teams unit and is finally getting a chance to start in the NFL.  Niko is an emotional guy who has that innate ability to fire guys up to play tough football.  The question is, will he be able to duplicate his success as a leader as the mike LB for the Denver Broncos?  I am just not sold.  The guy has been bitten by the injury bug in recent years and he has never started a game in the NFL.  My hope is that he only needs to play solid fundamental football for this new unit to be successful.  We shall see.

2007 Grade: B- (DJ is gifted athletically, but the MLB has to be more of a leader)

2008 Grade: C (If Niko is the second coming of Big Al then bump this grade up to A)

 

Weakside “WILL” Linebacker

Few would disagree that Ian Gold has been a monumental disappointment since his return to Denver.  Well maybe not “monumental”, but he definitely lost a step and was a liability many times in coverage.  Getting DJ Williams back into his natural position should make a huge difference on this defense. Especially when the defensive plays call for complex blitzes and zone coverage schemes.  I predict he will be a real terror this season and we won't be seeing very many tight ends streaking down the seam for a TD pass with #52 clutching at ghosts.  The improvement made on this position is a no-brainer.

2007 Grade: D+ (Ian Gold should go talk to Crazy Al, no doubt a big payday awaits!)

2008 Grade: A+ (DJ Williams should be a perennial Pro Bowler in his natural position)

 

Strongside “SAM” Linebacker

This position was probably our most glaring weakness, aside from DT, last season.  Nate Webster just couldn’t get the job done and was consistently hitting the wrong gaps and giving up huge plays by the opposing running backs.  To his credit, I noticed major improvements from Webster towards the end of the season.  It was his play early and in the middle of the season that drove me to never want to see him in the starting lineup again.  I think that might be overly harsh though, after all, the guy played in an unfamiliar position and gave it his all on every play.  I can’t really fault him for not grasping the half dozen different systems we toyed with in 2007(only a minor exaggeration there!).  I think he has a place on this football team and he could contribute greatly as a solid backup and special teamer.  The upgrade at this position comes in the form of one Boss Bailey.   Boss has been bitten by the injury bug over the past few years and his best season was, by far, his rookie season.  He hasn’t even started in all 16 games since that rookie year.  Hopefully the change in scenery and having his brother nearby will energize him to play well for us.  Other than that hope, I wouldn’t expect too much from Boss and it appears he will end up just being an average player for us.  Unfortunately, average is still an upgrade over last season.

2007 Grade: F

2008 Grade: C- (Too many IF’s involved with Boss Bailey to grade any higher)

 

Cornerback

If there is one thing that Shanny learned early in this decade was that the NFL is now a passer's league.  No team can be successful without a solid pass defense.  He has that in Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly.   Those two struggled at times last season as both were trying to adjust to new systems and both gave up a number of big pass plays that cost the Broncos in a bad way.  I fully expect both to rebound like veteran pro bowlers normally rebound after a rough season.  Champ doesn't like playing second fiddle to other corner's out there and expect a big season from him.  Bringing in Jack Williams helps to solidify our long term needs at the position as either Karl Paymah or Domonique Foxworth will be gone this time next season.  This unit improves if only to improve upon their own individual play.  The Broncos pass defense should continue to be top rate.

2007 Grade: C+

2008 Grade: A

 

Safety

Last season we saw just how thin we were at Safety.  Shanny relied too much on the venerable John Lynch.  Lynch gets discounted by thousands of Madden addicts and each year he comes out and turns in another solid Pro Bowl season.  I know Lynch's days are numbered, but I've see his workout during the offseason and only Jerry Rice's offseason workout seemed more physical and punishing.  I think John Lynch could theoretically play another two seasons barring any major injuries, so don't count him out after this season either!  He will be our starter in the box.  I know many around the blogosphere think he is only going to be a situational player, but his football smarts and superior instinct will keep him in the game for a majority of the plays this season.  Although, having Marlon McCree coming in as a backup is fantastic.  The depth here in 2008 as opposed to 2007 is almost like the difference between day and night.   As for the coverage safety we will be relying upon, it really is wide open as to who will be starting.  Marquand Manuel, Hamza Abdullah, and Josh Barrett will compete ferociously for the starting job.  It has been said that McCree lacks the speed to be effective in coverage, but with such a weak cast at the FS position he might get consideration there as well.  My hope is that Josh Barrett proves he has the speed and agility to cover from this position, the guy looks good in college film, but college and pro football is also day and night in its differences.

2007 Grade: C (Without Lynch that defense breaks records for run yardage given up)

2008 grade: B (The depth alone improves this grade, but huge question marks remain)

 

Conclusion

This 2008 defensive roster leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion.  I am a pretty optimistic guy, even delusional optimism at times, but I just see too many so-called "ifs" to be truly excited about our 2008 prospects defensively.   I refer you to the all important IF questions as lamented in Jon Tollerud's recent post

Is Niko the real deal?  Will DRob's knees hold up?  Can Jarvis Moss remain healthy?  What kind of play at safety are we going to get?  Boss Bailey?

I just don't know.  All I do know is that anything will be better than the 2007 performance.  My overall grade for 2008 is a B, as in Better than 2007!

2007 Overall Grade: D

2008 Overall Grade: B

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