Diagnosing the Problem: Time to Abort the Failed 3-4 Experiment

Most of us have lost what little faith we had left in the Denver Broncos coaching staff by today, especially after witnessing the woefully predictable play calling given to Tim Tebow last week. Unfortunately, we also learned that the two biggest problems with this team have little to do with the quarterback position.

The first problem is the exposing of the reality that Josh McDaniels' biggest failure was his selection of the coaching staff around him. I am not a big fan of throwing down the gauntlet like that, especially to other human beings whose livelihoods are at stake, but to deny it is to deny the truth. I personally wish them all the best, but I believe the Broncos organization would be better off completely replacing the entire coaching staff after the new head coach is hired in January.

The first problem will solve itself in January, so the other problem is this embarrassment the Broncos have tried to call a 3-4 defense. The only time it was sort of successful was when Mike Nolan ran it as a 5-2 hybrid. It's time to end this fiasco of an experiment and return to the 4-3 defense.

I think Wink Martindale tried his best to make the 3-4 defense work, but like Nolan before him and Bob Slowik before that, he failed. He failed even to hold teams to four touchdowns per game. There is just no way anyone can make excuses for that kind of performance. I like Wink, but he will have to find gainful employment someplace else next year - that's just how it goes in the NFL.

The good thing is, at least from what I have seen on the field starting in 2007, the personnel being deployed on defense are largely good players - good players in a bad scheme with bad coaching.  In fact, the personnel I see on the field would likely fit better as a 4-3 anyway. There are some holes to fill and looking ahead there isn't much to look at to fill those holes. The biggest of which is the middle linebacker position, aka the Mike. The closest we have to a true Mike is Joe Mays and though I love his fire and tenacity, he lacks the physical ability to be the elite "Al Wilson" type Mike this team requires at the position. It's no coincidence that this defensive unit has never recovered from Al Wilson's career ending injury late during the 2006 regular season.

Back to the point, many of you are already rolling your eyes and disagreeing with me about the Broncos already having the personnel to bring respectability back to the defensive side of the ball. So let's take a look at this nifty chart I assembled that shows all of the defensive guys I would prefer the Broncos keep going into the next season. The chart is broken down by position and where I'd rank each player (Starter or Backup/ST). For a position of major need, I included the draft/FA instead of an actual player.

2011 Potential 4-3 Defense
Pos. Starter Backups/ST
LDE Robert Ayers Jason Hunter
LDT Jamal Williams Marcus Thomas
RDT Draft/FA Justin Bannan/Kevin Vickerson
RDE Elvis Dumervil Draft/FA
LOLB D.J. Williams Draft/FA
MLB Draft/FA Joe Mays
ROLB Wesley Woodyard Mario Haggan
LCB Champ Bailey (Draft/FA) Perrish Cox
RCB Andre Goodman Syd'Quan Thompson/Cassius Vaughn
SS Draft/FA Renaldo Hill/David Bruton
FS Darcel McBath Draft/FA

You would think, from looking at this chart, that I want to keep everyone on this list. This is not the case. As you can see, I have "Draft/FA" mark on three starting positions. If the Broncos were to fill the DT or SS positions adequately, then I could foresee the team saying goodbye to one of the two backup positions. It would be great to have Brian Dawkins back, but I'm just not seeing him coming back for another year.

Naturally, I am not claiming this new defense would suddenly be the Pittsburgh Steelers or anything, but it would be a step in the right direction. Right now, starting from rock bottom, the middle of the road would be just enough to make this team competitive again. 

The position that is the cornerstone of any 4-3 is the middle linebacker position. Unfortunately, I am not very high on any of the 4-3 Mike's in this years draft, so we may have to unleash Joe Mays for 2011. He is feisty enough and has a big enough heart to give this unit some edge - edge its been woefully lacking. I just honestly believe that the Broncos next Super Bowl ticket hinges on finding the next dominate middle linebacker, hopefully they find him by 2012. 

As each week passes, the only certainty is that the Broncos coaches and players appear lost out there. The Broncos have no speed or quickness at the linebacker positions and it shows. Switching to the 4-3 would close up some of those interior holes that the linebackers consistently get blocked away from and moving the slower rush linebackers back up to the defensive end position would free up the linebacker position for the smaller, quicker guys to cover route runners.

I am cautiously optimistic that this will happen, because with each passing blowout the certainty of mass firings becomes ever more assured. As I said earlier, I'm not a huge fan of wholesale firing, but in this case it is almost necessary for this team and franchise to start fresh in 2011. With Tim Tebow at the helm, an average defense and some good play calling skills, this team has a chance to completely reverse their fortunes next season.

Go Broncos!

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