It was a rough week for the Denver Broncos.
In the span of six days, Denver got beaten to a pulp on Monday Night Football in front of the whole country, they were exposed as "cheaters" in Spygate II, and they just lost another home game to the St. Louis Rams.
Broncos fans have every reason to crawl under a rock and hide, and some are.
2010 has been a tough year for Broncos fans, and not just their own on-field performance. The Broncos and their fans are watching former fullback Peyton Hillis completely shred the rest of the league with the Cleveland Browns and Jay Cutler's team is looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender (despite how much he might or might not have to do with it).
The Broncos' only consistency in 2010 has been inconsistency. They have had ample opportunity to win games, and all but one time, they have failed.
That was the case on Sunday, as the Broncos allowed the St. Louis Rams to climb closer towards a division title, and continued their downward spiral into irrelevance.
Despite the Broncos' disappointing 3-8 record, the season is not lost. The Broncos might not be playing for a spot in the playoffs, but they still have plenty to play for.The performance by the Broncos on Sunday was, in my opinion, both one of the most disgusting performances of the year as well as one of my favorite and most impressive performances in the 2010 campaign.
Amidst the Spygate II situation, fresh off of a blowout loss to the Chargers on a short week, the Broncos came out, pushed the Rams around, and scored on the opening drive. Knowshon Moreno continued his impressive second half by capping off the Broncos' first drive with a touchdown run right up the gut.
After a three-and-out for the Rams, the Broncos put them in an even bigger hole with a Matt Prater field goal extending the lead to 10 points.
Things were looking great for the Broncos, who were playing complimentary football and showing signs of what they had showed a couple of weeks ago against Kansas City.
Then, Sam Bradford happened.
Let me just say, I am a huge Sam Bradford fan. I love the way he carries himself, and I think he proved to me before the draft (he added 20 pounds to his frame) that he was going to be a legitimate professional, and one that was not only smart and poised, but tough as nails.
Sam proved me right today, shredding our pathetic secondary to the tune of his first 300 yard game, three touchdown passes, and zero interceptions. In fact, nobody even came close to picking him off on the day.
Bradford was nearly flawless, and in my opinion, he is going to someday be better than Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. I know, bold right? If he stays healthy, though, he has all of the physical tools and more to become the next great quarterback in this league. I hope to someday say the same about Mr. Tim Tebow.
When the Broncos went up 13-7, I feared we would have a tough time stopping Bradford and the Rams, and sure enough--we did.
After Prater hit his second field goal, this game turned over to the Rams for two quarters.
Bradford and company dominated the Broncos in every area of the game. They took a 33-13 lead into the 4th quarter, though they should have only led 30-13 because of a bogus fumble call on KR Eddie Royal, who in my mind did not fumble the football just before halftime. There was not enough video evidence to overturn the call, so the Broncos essentially had to hand the Rams three points.
That was simply bad luck and not enough camera guys on the scene.
Either way, the 4th quarter was when this game--and my attitude--changed for the next hour.
When the 4th quarter began and all my buddies arrived, I lost it. I wasn't drunk, I wasn't high--I was just rejuvenated. I cannot tell you exactly what it was, but down by 20, I found myself pacing the house telling everyone that the Broncos were going to come back and win the game 34-33.
Maybe it was just my homerism or something, but for the first time since I can remember, I was fired up about the Broncos--and we were trailing the Rams by 20 points.
Right as I stood up to start cheering on our boys (who were on offense at this point), the 4th quarter had just started, and Kyle Orton threw a bomb to a wide open Brandon Lloyd, who sprinted into the end zone for six.
Then Knowshon fumbled.
That was a huge ball buster, but my confidence level remained high, for whatever reason. I sat there the whole day, criticizing every player, calling everyone every name in the book, and essentially ruining the game for those around me. It's a color that does not look good on me, and I was beginning to dislike myself.
I kept my positive attitude alive despite the fact that we now trailed by 16 instead of 13, and the Broncos again gave me reason to cheer.
Eddie Royal caught his first touchdown pass in a long while, and I erupted. I was shaken a bit that we didn't conver the two, but down by 10 with time to spare, and things were looking up. A couple of defensive stops, and we could do this.
When Donnie Jones shanked his next punt that put the Broncos on the 50, I knew something good was going to happen. We then drove it down the field and Brandon Lloyd put us within 3 points with his second touchdown reception of the game.
By this point, I was giving myself a headache and losing my voice screaming. If we could just get this onside kick, we would WIN THIS GAME.
Prater got two chances, but it was not happening, even though number 57 for the Rams cheated on one attempt by hitting the ball out of bounds (what a tool!).
The Rams opted to go with Steven Jackson on three straight plays, and the Broncos would have none of it. Jackson's 2.5 average on the day was a statistic we should be proud of, because he is one of the best in the business.
Bruton got a piece of the punt, and with a minute left on the clock, the Broncos had a chance to get into Prater range or score a touchdown and win. I thought for sure this game was going our way.
And then we laid an egg. Orton botched the first play with an illegal something or other, got sacked on the next play, and then threw two questionable passes to end the game. One of which hit Daniel Graham in the bricks, the other was just a crappy excuse for a throw.
I had not been this bummed since we lost to the Jets, but this one was worse. It's different to lead the whole game and the other team comes back and takes it from you. This game, we were out of. We had no business challenging for a tie, much less a win in this game, but there it was, dangling right in front of our faces.
It was then pulled away right before we could reach it, and the Rams were the ones who got to whip out the old victory formation on this day.
I have to say, I am extremely impressed with the fight this team showed today in the fourth quarter. Kyle Orton was non-existent for the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but in the fourth quarter, something clicked. Perhaps it was the "Tebow" chants. In fact, it very well could have been, because when Orton was playing the role of hero and the chants stopped, he crumbled like we're used to this year in clutch situations.
Despite it all, the Broncos should build off of this fourth quarter as a whole. I love it when they attack down the field. The offense was scoring points, and the defense took advantage of the conservative play-calling for the Rams. In the first and fourth quarter, the Broncos played complimentary football, but as the case has been all year, penalties and mental mistakes prevented this team from coming away with a "W."
Sorry for making you all relive it.
Moving forward, this team obviously is going to be frustrating. We cannot play consistent football for four quarters. It's as simple as that.
Some of the players' post game comments about Josh McDaniels (this has been the case for two years now) have me conviced that either he's the world's best liar, or he's genuinely loved by his players.
What has become apparent to me is that the Broncos' biggest weakness is the area they have tried so hard to upgrade since McDaniels came here, and that is the pass defense. McDaniels has brought on Brian Dawkins, Renaldo HIll, Nate Jones, Andre' Goodman, Perrish Cox, Syd'Quan Thompson, David Bruton, Darcel McBath, Cassius Vaughn, Alphonso Smith, Ty Law, Kyle McCarthy, and others in order to defend against the pass.
We all know this league is a pass-first league, so the Broncos have tried to take the necessary steps to stop it. For one, they cannot rush the passer (get well soon, Elvis), and they cannot stop the pass. They are too slow. Champ Bailey has been slow to the ball the last few games (though his pick against SD was vintage and fantastic). Brian Dawkins has made some plays, but he's often out of place in coverage. Renaldo Hill is simply baffling me with his coverage.
It also seems to me that Perrish Cox is either not getting better, or he's even possibly regressing. He showed in the Seattle game what I thought he could be, but since then, he's been below average at best. I know he's only a rookie, but he might need more development than we think. Not having Andre' Goodman hurts.
The Broncos' pass rush is hardly even worthy of being called a "pass rush". They will send players on blitzes, and Sam Bradford or QBX will stand back there, knit a sweater, scratch his chin, and decide which player he wants to throw to. This has a huge effect on the coverage, so I realize it's not completely the fault of the defensive backs.
I don't know what these guys have to do, but Martindale is going to need to be more creative with his pass rush schematics, because what he's doing now is pathetic. The key today was clearly to bottle up Steven Jackson.
While that was successful, the Broncos allowed Bradford to have the best game of his young career in the team's first road win in a long, long time.
Building for the Future
The has probably been said already, but the Broncos showed me their needs today are as follows:
1. Pass Rush
2. Secondary Help
3. DL Depth
4. Tight End
We have five games and an offseason to build on these things. As for our number one need, getting back Elvis Dumervil will be a huge boost, at least on paper. Dumervil signed a huge contract, and even coming off of a torn pectoral, I expect him to hold up his end of the bargain. He is one of the best defensive players in the game today. The Broncos could also use some pop from their defensive linemen. Justin Bannan has been getting good pressure lately, and Kevin Vickerson had a sack today.
As for the secondary help, I think a complete overhaul is needed. Renaldo Hill should be let go this offseason, and despite my previous stance that trading Champ Bailey would be a giant mistake, I think that may be the best route. I wouldn't let him walk, but I would probably trade him to the highest bidder. If we could get a 2nd round pick for him, I would probably let him go.
The Broncos need to draft a cornerback high this year, either with their first or one second round pick.
I also think the Broncos could trade D.J. Williams. He is a liability in coverage, the free agent options are better, and he's a better fit on the outside in a 4-3. I think a team like the Giants or Vikings would give us a decent pick for DJ, and the worst case scenario would have the Broncos using Joe Mays and Mario Haggan on the inside.
Right now, the Broncos have six picks in the draft. I would like to see them wind up with 8-10. This draft is rich in DL and CB talent, and they can not afford to pass it up. If they can obtain an extra second and/or third round pick, they can even use a high pick on a TE like Kyle Rudolph or D.J. Williams.
As for the DL depth, I think the talk of needing a new starting DE is a little overblown, but if we could get a guy like Nick Fairley or Marcell Dareus, I would not be opposed. My boy Adrian Clayborn from Iowa is falling down my charts after some of his post-game comments after Minnesota, and his lack of pure passion for the game right now. I am not a fan of anyone who quits when the going is tough.
The big question is whether or not we will trade Kyle Orton. If we are cleaning house, I'd say do it. If not, I might wait for a team to get desperate. there are plenty of teams who need QB's right now, and the Broncos have good depth at that spot. I have seen the Broncos work a situation like this recently in two different ways.
With Matt Prater and Britton Colquitt, the Broncos said, "OK, the job is yours to lose. We are putting all of our chips in the middle with you, so if you fail, we will be set back a bit."
With Kyle Orton this year, the Broncos said, "OK, we're going to put two young, hungry players behind you to light a fire under your butt."
In my opinion, Tim Tebow is the kind of guy who thrives under any kind of pressure. He wouldn't care if Orton was there or not, he is going to work his butt off no matter what. Because of that, I think it could be beneficial to trade Orton while his selling price is red hot, start Tebow, and maybe draft a late-round QB or sign a veteran guy to be the third string behind Brady Quinn (who I also believe will make great strides for 2011).
Either way, it can't get worse than this year, so the Broncos might have to just gut the roster and start from scratch. They can utilize free agency to fill some needs with veterans (TE is an option here as well).
This team needs more time, and being that they have not lost a whole lot in the last 30 some years means that this re-building phase is both shocking and almost foreign. The times they are a changin', and the Broncos will have the rest of this season to try and make as much improvement as they can. Let's enjoy these last five games, and stick with this team through this lengthy and frustrating process.