I was going to do a quick breakdown, but why re-invent the wheel??? Solid job, Sakysak!! - TSG
The Broncos-Saints game today bore an eerie similarity to last week's Broncos-Chargers game. Again, not only did the Broncos come out of the gates with a huge lead then blow it, but the scales of victory tipped in the Broncos favor only after several very lucky developments - none of which was larger than Grammatica's missed field goal. So what you ask? We won the game. The Broncos are undefeated. Buy them playoff tickets immediately... Yes, the Broncos are undefeated, but they are a good call from Ed Hochili and a made field goal away from a 1-2 start to their season. What's readily apparent is that if the Broncos have any hopes of advancing far into the playoffs, they have a long long way to go. But I get the feeling that Broncos fans, no matter how optimistic, already know that.
Before we move on to discuss the blatant weakness on the Broncos team, let me briefly touch on the offensive and special teams performances. Though the Broncos offense still managed to put up 27 points, they certainly were not as sharp as they were the past two games. Cutler had several errant passes that missed open receivers, and a costly momentum-changing interception. Marshall and Royal both had drops. Scheffler had a fumble(probably both his fault and Cutler's). Give the Saints credit for putting more pressure on Cutler than was seen in previous weeks. But at the end of the day, the Broncos offensive line protected Cutler, gave him enough time to find open receivers, and opened sizable running lanes. Cutler made the throws when it counted, and probably did a better job of finding different targets than he did last week (this will prove valuable once defenses scheme to stop Marshall). I think most Broncos fans can live with a 4-to-1 Td-to-Int. ratio, and Brandon Marshall proved that last week was no fluke, and he had another 150+ yard game.
The most improved aspect of the Broncos performance this week was their special teams play. Prater consistently produced touchbacks on kickoffs. The Broncos punt team did a good job of containing Reggie Bush, maintaining their assigned lanes, and preventing the big plays. On the other side of the ball, Andre Hall, Hillis and Royal all did fairly well returning kickoffs and punts. On his only punt return, Royal gave the Broncos great field position for their opening drive. Special teams probably deserve the game ball.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I'll move on to discussing the deficiencies of the defense. Although the Broncos defense performed very well against the run again, the Broncos gave up a colossal 400+ passing yards against the Saints. It's not a defensive victory to go from a team that was the worst in rush defense one year to being the team that is the worst in pass defense the next year. Once again, the front four (often front three), got dominated by the Saints pass-blockers. Drew Brees had all day to pick apart the Denver secondary. Tell me how this makes any sense: the Broncos put fewer pass-rushers on the line so that they could have additional cover guys, but the Saints still moved the ball at will? It appears as if the Broncos are playing an extremely risk-averse brand of defense, that eschews blitzes for safety in coverage numbers. The only problem is that this brand of defense fails to achieve what should be the goal of any defense: to get the hell off the field. The Broncos defensive schemes were meant to keep everything in front of them, but the Saints just took what the Broncos D gave them, moved the ball and ate up the clock. And at the end of the day the Saints put up 32 points. All that the Broncos defensive scheme achieved today was to let the opposing team score on sustained drives, and keep our explosive offense off the field. As of right now, it seems as if powerful offenses such as the Chargers and Saints can pretty much keep pace in a shootout with the Broncos. If they're going to score anyway without blitzes, then why don't the Broncos employ more blitzes. Sure, sometime those blitzes will result in big plays by opposing offenses, but big play or not, opponents are racking up the points anyway. At least with blitzes, our corners, safeties and speedy linebacking corp will have more opportunities to make plays on the ball. With a less conservative defensive scheme, the Broncos stand a better chance to create turnovers and sacks. It's not like the Broncos have anything to lose, because they're already giving up the points.
As bad as the defense looked the last two weeks, critics, like myself, have to remember that the Broncos played two very explosive offensive teams with elite quarterbacks at the helm. Today in the NFL, it appears as if a match-up between an elite offense and an elite defense, will undoubtedly be won by the offense (look at the Eagles/Cowboys game last week, and look at both teams' stellar defensive performance this week). The bright side of the Broncos defensive performance the last two weeks is that they managed to hold powerful opposing offenses to scores that were just enough for the Broncos to eke out a victory. And to their credit, the Broncos D did show mettle in stopping the Saints in a key third and one at the end of the game, forcing the Saints into the long field goal. Also, the Broncos held on a fourth and goal attempt by the Saints, saving a touchdown.Those are the types of plays that can initiate and shape the identity for defenses. Lets hope that's the case for the Broncos.
Although the defense continued to struggle this week, it showed improvement over last week. Not only could they come up with major stops, but they also limited big plays (save the Meachem catch). They improved their tackling and were quick to the ball on short dump-off plays. Broncos fans frustrated with the defensive performances can find some solace in the fact that the Broncos defense is young and making improvements week-by-week. Maybe Slowik's current, seemingly conservative, approach to defense will prove to be much better once the players become more accustomed to the system and solidify their collective identity. Maybe the defense will look much better once they face weaker offenses (they looked pretty good against the Raiders). Maybe they would be much better employing more blitz packages. My feeling is that as the season goes on, we will witness a confluence of all those things. Realistically, they can only get better, and hopefully by the playoffs, they're good enough to take some pressure off of the offense.
So where does that leave the Broncos going into the Kansas City game next week? Most people have already penciled the Broncos in as being 4-0 after next Sunday. I even talked to a Chiefs fan who sees no possibility of a Chiefs victory. At the risk of being hubristic, I think if the Broncos prepared as they usually would, there should be no excuse for them not being 4-0. Looking beyond next week, the Broncos aren't facing any teams that have explosive offenses like the Chargers and Saints, other than the second meeting with the Chargers. They're also facing only a few vaunted quarterbacks, in the form of Griese and Anderson (both may be considered vaunted), Favre, Delhomme and Rivers again. As such, it stands to reason that if the Broncos can stay healthy, they should easily make the playoffs, given how many points they've been able to put up. If their defense can take advantage of their favorable schedule to gain experience and improve, then the Broncos could emerge as the playoffs begin as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Some final thoughts:
1) Dre Bly has never impressed me. He can't tackle, and is beat way too often for a self-proclaimed elite corner. He always seems to fall and is getting picked on by opposing teams. Maybe the Broncos should just cede the fact that he isn't an elite cover guy and give him help.
2) Paymah needs to start making plays or get benched. He clearly lacks a nose for the ball.
3) The Broncos need John Lynch back to lay the wood. We're not any better without him anyway. At least he can hit and make opposing WRs think twice about laying out in the middle of the field, which the Saints receivers did about ten times in that game.
4) Yes the Bills are 3-0, but two of those wins came over the Seahawks and Raiders, and against an injury-riddened Jacksonville team. Their first real test will not be until week seven against the Chargers. I wouldn't worry about the Bills until they win that game.
5) The Jaguars are one of the grittiest teams in the league. They may not have the top talent, but they play physical football and are always competitive. That might be our toughest game aside from the last one against the Chargers.
5) The Colts are still the team to beat on the road to the Super Bowl. Once they get healthy, watch out. And I hate the Colts.
6) Brett Favre will dominate in MNF and will help the Broncos to a 3 game lead in the AFC West. I used to hate Favre when Elway played, but he's the only one STILL playing who could even be mentioned in a sentence with Elway. And his love of the game is undeniable.
6) The Eagles are for real and made Big Ben look like Derek Anderson, the 2008 version. Why can't the Broncos defense be like the Eagles?!? Eagles D-coordinator Jim Johnson blitzed all day, rang up nearly 10 sacks, and hit HARD. Most importantly, they disguised their defensive packages. Watching the Denver game on TV, it didn't look like the Broncos D were on the right side of the confusion. It didn't even look like the Broncos D tried to disguise anything. If this is want Slowik means by simplifying the defense, and allowing guys to play, then I don't think it's any better than the one last year. (Yes, I know the one obvious blitz the Broncos sent resulted in a long pass to Meachem, but that Marquand Manuel can shoulder the blame for that.) The worst thing is that the strength of our defense is supposed to be our speed, which is the strength of the Eagles defense, but we're not taking advantage of our speed and the Eagles are.
7) DJ Williams might be giving Champ a run for his money for being the most valuable player on the Broncos defense. He did everything today.