For those of you who care, I found the footballguys discussion on the Broncos an interesting one. These guys are usually very thorough and look at data, rather than just thier guts.
In the end, two of the five writers say yes, the Broncos are for real, one is on the fence and one is totally negative. I am sure that all five considered the Broncos a joke before the season started... All details after the jump.
To many, the Broncos looked like a train wreck before the season started. But now they're sitting at 3-0, in sole possession of first place in the AFC West. Are they for real?
MARK WIMER: I think the Broncos are for real, but not because of their offense (though I agree that Correll Buckhalter has been a pleasant surprise and that Stokley and Gaffney have helped bridge the gap while Brandon Marshall got back up to speed with the new offense).
The main reason Denver is 3-0 is that they are sporting the league's seventh-best rush defense and second-best pass defense, at least statistically. They're giving up just 78.3 rushing yards and 136.3 net passing yards per game, and have allowed only a single offensive touchdown so far. They also have five interceptions and a tied-for-league-best 10 sacks.
So you'd give the credit to Mike Nolan rather than Josh McDaniels?
MARK WIMER: Yes. Mike Nolan is a great defensive coordinator. He's reformed one of last year's worst overall units in the NFL into one of the strongest, at least through three weeks of play. That's pretty incredible. These guys couldn't beg, borrow or steal a sack for years, and now they lead the league? Wow.
Jeff, what's your take?
JEFF HASELEY: I too think the Broncos are for real. Their defense, as Mark mentioned, is the main reason for their 3-0 start. Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill and Alphonso Smith have really been big contributors in the secondary. Elvis Dumervil has been superb rushing the passer, which makes the secondary's job a lot easier.
WILL GRANT: I'd like to see Denver play a little more consistently against a tougher opponent before I bless them as 'for real.' Let's not forget that Stokley's stats include that 87-yard tipped pass in week one against Cincinnati when Stokley was just in the right place at the right time. If that play doesn't happen, Denver loses the game. Their next two wins were against Cleveland and Oakland, neither of whom has shown much promise.
Even this week, Dallas comes to town after a Monday night game. They are banged up and sputtering on offense. Unless Denver blows out the Cowboys from start to finish, they could be 4-0 and I'd still have my doubts. With New England, San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh as their next four games after Dallas, they could easily be 4-4 by the halfway point of the season.
JEFF PASQUINO: I have to agree with Will on this one. Denver's schedule looks like it was set up by the Nebraska Athletic Director back in the 1990s - I think Southeast Middle Western Tennessee State should be coming up next. They stole a game in Cincinnati and then beat to JV teams.
The Broncos are doing well by giving the ball to their two backs, but they have to play a real opponent before they can be considered "for real." Their schedule is about to get much harder and the lack of creativity in the passing game is about to catch up with them. They're wasting talented receivers like Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler in that scheme, and they won't get away with it against stronger competition.
Are the Broncos the worst 3-0 team in the league? What are their chances of winning the division?
JEFF PASQUINO: Denver is the weakest 3-0 team by a long shot and their only real chance to win the division is a collapse by the Chargers. Even without a real offensive line and with an ailing Tomlinson, San Diego has enough on both sides of the ball to be in every contest. I don't think that can be said about the Broncos.
Correll Buckhalter has been surprisingly effective so far. Will Knowshon Moreno take over as the team's featured RB this season, or will it remain a full-fledged RBBC?
What's going on with the team's WRs? Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney are leading the team in receiving yards right now. Will Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal come around, or are they destined to be huge fantasy disappointments this season? Are either of them "buy low" candidates, or are they "get rid of them while you can" candidates?
JEFF HASELEY: Kyle Orton is spreading the ball around a bit, which accounts for the lesser production from Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall. Last year, the Broncos used Marshall and Royal predominantly with Brandon Stokley and Tony Scheffler sprinkled in. This year there is a much more balanced approach. Coach Josh McDaniels has mentioned that he doesn't want any one player to be forced the ball; he wants Orton to find the open man - and that's exactly what he's done so far. Brandon Marshall is starting to become a bigger part of the offense and I think Eddie Royal will soon follow suit. Royal's hands, speed, and route-running is too good for him to be forgotten in this offense. Both Royal and Marshall saw a lot of passes last year when the team was trailing. This year they haven't trailed much. They're allowing an average of only 5.3 points per game. When the Broncos face a team that can put points on the board, that's when Marshall and Royal will make bigger contributions.
JEFF PASQUINO: Jeff hit the nail on the head. We won't really know what kind of numbers Royal and Marshall can put up in this offense until the Broncos find themselves trailing in a game. Eddie Royal fans (and owners) are going to have to hope that he gets on track when they play stiffer competition, but I fear that Josh McDaniels doesn't have a clue how to use the weapons he has and will get a hard dose of reality throughout October.
We've got only three games worth of hindsight to work with. But as of right now, how does the Cutler trade look for the Broncos?
JEFF PASQUINO: Based only on the first three weeks, I'd say that Denver really messed up by getting rid of Cutler. Without Cutler, Eddie Royal, Brandon Marshall and Tony Scheffler are mere shadows of what they did in 2008, while Chicago is 2-1 thanks to Cutler's performances. Cutler made the Broncos offense hum last season, and either Orton is holding back those weapons or McDaniels is - or both. My money is on both but I lean heavily on the head coach's poor choices so far.
I can't wait for Jeff Pasquino to eat crow. Go Broncos!