So I have this Denver Broncos desk calendar that I received as a parting gift from co-workers at my last job (good people!) and as I peeled away the July 4th date, I saw that the factoid was about Brandon Marshall making his first Pro Bowl in 2008. BMarsh, there's a guy I barely think about anymore, yet he was kind of a big deal around here just a few years ago.
That got me to thinking about how much change this franchise has gone through over the last few years - a sea of change if you will. To really examine the depths of this change we need to step into the way back machine and travel to 2006.
One of my last posts briefly touched on the change and all that, but I had somewhat of a tiff with a fellow Mile High Report member over 2006. I ended up letting it go, because I could never really figure out what the disagreement was over. In any case, the tidal wave of change began in 2006. Larry Coyer's defense was centered around the all-world talent and leadership of Al Wilson. I consider his career ending injury to be the watershed moment for this organization - an event which it is essentially still reeling from.
Why? Because with Al Wilson still playing, I guarantee the Broncos win one of those final few games it lost. Getting to the playoffs would likely have saved Coyer from being the fall guy for the failure, and may have led to a more long-sighted draft strategy, rather than a short-sighted one.
Here's the thing though. Though I think Al Wilson's injury brought the five years of pain we have all endured, I think the loss of Al Wilson may have also been the best thing that could have happened to this franchise from a long-term view. I'll elaborate on this later.
Ah, the year of so many hopes dashed. We believed, at the time, we still had an elite defense. All we lost really was Al Wilson right? We still have Champ, Lynch, DJ - so we should have dominated. STOP! Obviously, we were all drunkards off a 27 day koolaid binge, but I digress. 2007 was a year when we started a rookie quarterback in a highly complex offensive system. 7-9 is actually pretty good all things considered there.
The big concern was on defense. The scheme wasn't horrible per say, but Mike Shanahan failed to recognize the heart and soul of the defense was gone. For good. And instead of recognizing that fact early on, he pretended it was a schematical problem and proceeded to fire Jim Bates (technically Bates resigned, yeah right!). The Broncos defense went from 9th in scoring to 29th and couldn't stop the run.
This should have been a wake up call to all of us, but we had the three-headed beast of Cutler, Marshall, Scheffler...so who needs defense? Right.
In what I thought was the worst season I had ever experienced in my 30 years on the planet - this is pre-2010 of course - Jay Cutler and the Broncos led the franchise into the most humiliating late season collapse I've ever seen. Yes, I've ever seen, because I've never had my favorite team so humiliated, so don't go bringing up some other example of a catastrophic collapse unless it involves the Denver Broncos. Or what not...
All complaining aside, we all got a good taste of what Cutler isn't that year. He isn't a big game quarterback, nor does he have that consistent competitive fire to win. The proof in this is his ability to win a game one week and lead the team to a massive blowout the next. It was
disgusting - no wait, I'd like to save that word for later - frustrating.
Personally, the year couldn't have started out better as I sat in the Oakland Coliseum to watch the Broncos open up a can of whoop ass on the Raiders on Monday Night. However, it ended in a Broncos bar in San Diego when the Broncos lost their third straight game to blow the division title.
2008 could only end with Mike Shanahan's firing. Looking back, the firing came 2 years to late.
You were either invigorated and excited about the 2009 season or you were disparaged by the firing of Shanny, hiring of Josh McDaniels and trading of Jay Cutler. I personally was feeling invigorated, having gone from being one of Cutler's staunch supporters to realizing his was a great talent with little heart. It is universally recognized that the Broncos fleeced the Bears on the deal, so that all turned out well.
In reality, Josh McDaniels was nothing but a Mike Shanahan clone. We, the Broncos faithful, ended up becoming the 1988-1989 Los Angeles Raiders. I have no doubts McD will take what he learned coaching and managing our organization and will build a championship program somewhere, someday. Part of me resents that, but another part of me understands it is all part of the learning process for coaches. It just sucks to be the guinea pig.
The linchpin to McDaniels' early success was having Mike Nolan on the staff. Nolan had our inferior talent believing in themselves early on and had Nolan been allowed more control over the defensive decisions, I think that confidence would have carried through most of the season and we would have seen the playoffs. Yet, again bad luck and inferior talent came crashing in on the defense with a 2-8 finish.
Kyle Orton quietly put up nice numbers. After I wrote my third down and out post last year on his failings on third down, I did extensive research into 2009 and found the trend was not nearly as noticeable that season as it was in 2010. I think I know, but more on that later.
Ok, now I can fully use the word "disgusting". Hopes were high, as most of us were keyed in on the 6-0 and not the 2-8 collapse, though in hindsight we all know where our eyes should have been come Week 1. Especially after Dumervil's injury, LenDale's injury and the lack of continuity on the offensive line. One thing was certain back then, I was a staunch Orton supporter. You can actually track my progress from staunch supporter to full fledge Tebowner from here to here (Orton's a stud!) to here to here (support for Orton wavering) to here (support for Orton gone) to here to here and finally to here (full fledged Tebowner). Haha It's fun to self analyze, but at least I'm consistent and not so stubborn that my position is unwavering. Don't feel the need to read all those...this is just a selfish self diagnosis of my psyche that I am forcing you to be a part of. Somehow, I think I am both completely sane and completely crazy.
The thing is, Orton didn't make these mistakes in 2009 and I think a big reason for that is the lack of a threat behind him. Orton took risks in 2009 that he was afraid to take in 2010 and the result was like 90% of his sacks occurring on third down - atrocious! This reminds me of Jake Plummer in 2006 with Jay Cutler breathing down his neck, he began to screw up. It is clear as day to me that Orton felt threatened by a superior talent pushing him and crumbled under the pressure. He will undoubtedly find some other place to start that doesn't have a superior talent pushing him and threatening him from the bench.
So yeah, back to 2010. I hated almost every minute of it, so much so that I wanted little to do with football after the end of the season. I enjoyed exactly three games immensely. Obviously I enjoyed every win, but I particularly enjoyed the route against Kansas City, the uplifting win against Houston and the exciting competitive finale against the Chargers. Everything else, pretty much sucked and isn't worth mentioning.
Suffice to say, McDaniels deservedly got fired, though I didn't like it at the time - enough information has come to light that the firing made absolute sense. Even so, 2010 left a horrible taste in my mouth that an NFL Lockout has only made 10 times worse.
Okay, so as much as I want to remain critical and a downer on this franchise. I cannot. The hiring of John Elway is exactly what this franchise needed. Then the hiring of John Fox was another exactly what this franchise needed. The perfect storm that has hammered Dove Valley for the past 4+ years is finally subsiding and what is left is the makings of a champion.
John Elway and company now have in place a young core on offense. If, and this is still a big if, Tebow works out, this offense is going to be dynamic and frightening to defend for years to come. Yes, I am making the assumption Orton is not a big factor on this team by seasons end.
The problem remains on the defense, which is a defense that is aging. This is where John Fox comes in to play. For the first time in over a decade, I feel like we have a coach who gives preference to defense...THAT is something I've been yearning for from the Broncos for a very long time. As our esteemed Kaptain Kirk reminded us earlier this year, Pat Bowlen has given us 27 years of awesomeness, though I would certainly like to forget one of those years.
Which brings me back to Al Wilson. I love Big Al and have missed his style of play every single game since he's been gone, so don't take this the wrong way. His departure could quite likely be the best thing to have ever happened to this franchise. It set into motion chain of events that led to the departure of a stale head coach, an unruly selfish quarterback and wide receiver, the acquisition of a determined all-world athlete in Tebow, the return of John Elway and the hiring of a defensive minded coach. All of this was cause and effect that led us to the worst season of football in 40 years, but also led us to a bright new era in Broncos history.
Am I excited? HELL YES. Should you be?