GREEN BAY, WI - OCTOBER 2: Head coach John Fox of the Denver Broncos watches a replay on the scoreboard during the final minutes of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on October 2, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Matt Ludtke /Getty Images)
Heading into week five, the Denver Broncos are 1-3. This Sunday they take on AFC West Rival, the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are 3-1. Some have said they have been the benefit of an easy schedule and are not as good as their record but I'd much rather be 3-1 than 1-3, especially when you are a team that is infamous for slow starts and strong finishes.
The Broncos have one of the leagues toughest schedules this year (based on last year....so yeah....) with some pretty good teams remaining. If you ignore our division, we still have teams like the Patriots, Lions, and suddenly very good Buffalo Bills.
As fans, before the season, some of us were hoping for 10-6 or even 8-8 to show some improvement from last year. Playing like we have, 10-6 could be a bit of a stretch. Even 8-8 could be rough making us have to go 7-5 through the final 12. A lot of fans seem disappointed by this season and are already attacking coaches, players and management.
My question is:
How much better from last year did you expect this team to be? If you look at some of the positions, not very many are that different from last year. Halfback has removed one veteran to add another (although I think McGahee has done a great job). Knowshon is playing like Knowshon has in the past not being able to stay healthy and always having to play catch-up.
Receiver is very much the same as last season. We lost Gaffney but Decker has taken on a much larger role. Brandon Lloyd is still Brandon Lloyd but after that we are currently weak at that position. More than ever, we need Demaryius Thomas to get healthy and jump in the lineup because we lack a tough, physical receiver of his style. Eddie Royal is injured and to be honest, I do not think Eddie Royal will be a Bronco after this season. He has not performed great since his rookie season and will need a strong year to re-sign with this team.
The offensive line I have been happy with. If there was a weak link it would be Zane Beadles. Orlando Franklin has been doing alright but has struggled at times with his blocking schemes. Ryan Clady has not been the same since his knee injury but I sure hope the Broncos can get him re-signed by week 17. But again, this is very much the same offensive line as last season.
The tight end position has gone through the biggest change. Daniel Fells has been up and down for the Broncos. He has dropped key passes but has also made some great catches and has blocked fairly well. Unfortunately, Julius Thomas has been injured and we have not been able to see the monster that was Thomas in training camp. Virgil Green has stepped in and delivered when needed.
I'm not going to get into quarterbacks because this team's problems go beyond that.
Lets talk about defensive line. The defensive line has definitely been aided by the return of Elvis Dumervil but we need him full time and he has to stay healthy. When healthy he has been back to normal this year but when he is not in the lineup its very clear. Robert Ayers is someone who I have hardly seen because he has not done much to stick out. Jason Hunter has played pretty well especially in run defense. Again, this defensive line is very similar to the one the Broncos had last year. Kevin Vickerson is still here doing what he does while one of the Broncos key off-season acquisitions, Ty Warren won't play this season. Brodrick Bunkley won't be the full time solution for the future so when you look at it, the position is very similar to last year.
Linebackers has been a position of strength this season. Von Miller has four sacks and seems to be involved in almost every play. He has the quickest first step I have ever seen. Wesley Woodyard did a good job filling in for DJ Williams and they will rotate in and out and it would not surprise me to see Woodyard take more of the run stopping plays than Williams. We still struggle at middle linebacker but hopefully Nate Irving can turn into a future starter at that position or else that might be a free agency need in the future.
Lets talk secondary. Brian Dawkins is someone who's clock is ticking. I understand the motivational side of him but he does not have the speed anymore to keep up with receivers in today's game. He can still tackle as good as anyone on our team but it is a concern as we still play a lot of good passing teams. Rahim Moore has played well for a rookie and congratulations to him on his first career interception. Andre Goodman seems to be losing his speed with age but unfortunately the Broncos do not have the depth to have a replacement. Cassius Vaughn has been getting picked on and playing like an undrafted player and I think his confidence is shaken. Vaughn is more suited for a nickel or dime roll and I think he will succeed more at that with Champ Bailey ready to go for this Sunday against the Chargers.
This all seems really negative but my point is sometimes as fans, our expectations can be too high. Do not forget. This team last season was 4-12. The roster is not that much different. It is still a young team that has a bright future when the talent develops. If what we have seen from Von Miller through four games is a sneak peak of his career with the Broncos, then the future will be exciting. But we got to relax and understand there will be growing pains. There is a reason we lost 12 games last season and with the right people in place and good drafts, this team can win in the not too far future.
My expectations for the rest of the year is to see improvement at area's of weakness. I want to see an improved running game. I appreciate the balanced attack and when we are not losing games, it has worked for us giving us a CHANCE to win at the end. The secondary needs to improve but as the pass rush gets better with a healthy defense and a healthy Champ Bailey the defense will be better. I want to see the receivers to get healthy. Once Julius Thomas and Eddie Royal are back, it will be Kyle Orton's final chance or else a change will be made whether it is Tim Tebow or Brady Quinn.
To end on a positive note, I am really happy with run defense. We have held teams to small amounts of rushing. Fox's scheme has worked pretty well and it will only get better when Marcus Thomas returns.
Raise your glass to a strong final 3/4 of the season for the Broncos.