Good Day Broncos Fans. This is Rocky Mountain Thunder. Many of you may not be familiar with me as It's been awhile since I have been a regular fan poster/commentator on this site. This is for several reasons. 1. The heartbreak of a 4-12 season. 2. The lockout didn't leave me with much to say. I'm not an expert on those negotiation issues so I didn't have much to contribute. 3. Been exceptionally busy in my professional and personal life.
But with a new season and new team, hope springs eternal. I would like to share my comments on the AFC West and read your takes as well. I love that NFL Network shows all preseason games, so we can analyze opponents with our own two eyes.
I think this is going to be an exciting year in the AFC West. With an improving ground game and revamped pass rush, I feel the Broncos are better equipped to compete with the division because the Broncos strengths play well against division weaknesses. I am going to start with our old nemesis, the Oakland Raiders.
Strengths: Running game, running game running game. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden are an excellent tandem at running back. The offensive line is also better built for run blocking than pass blocking (well get into that later) and excelling opening up lanes for McFadden and Bush who are, dare I say, almost adept as Clinton Portis at finding the cutback seam. On defense the Raiders have talent at various spots especially in their front seven. However that talent will have to produce results First year head coach Hue Jackson will have to prove himself but he has shown in the past to be an excellent play caller and terrific developer of the QB position. As such, Jason Campbell looked to be vastly improved against the Saints.
Weaknesses: The biggest challenge for the Raiders is losing some of their best talent. Nnamdi Asomougha is obviously the biggest departure and as shown in the preseason he leaves in obvious void. However, the other corner Chris Johnson is an up and comer in this league. Despite having depth of talent like Richard Seymour on the defensive line, plus Rolando McClain and Kameron Wimbley in the linebacking corps, the Raiders have struggled against the run. This is what I mean by the need to produce results. On offense Zach Miller was a devastating loss at tight end as he was a key go to guy for Jason Campbell. One of the best tight ends in the league that nobody knew about because he played for the Raiders.
In the preseason they struggled defensively against New Orleans, which okay everyone struggles to stop the Saints. More alarming was a lackadaisical performance against the Niners. The Niners do not look like a very good team, uncoordinated on offense and besides Patrick Willis a lack of playmakers on defence.
The biggest concern is the offensive line in pass blocking. They have a couple new pieces along the front 5 with departures of Robert Gallery and Langston Walker. Last year as a rookie LT Jared Veldheer was a sieve in pass protection and will need to make a big jump. Of course the Raiders may be able to run the ball so well that will mitigate concerns about pass protection, but this in my opinion is the Raiders biggest obstacle to success.
Overall I anticipate the Raiders to win at least 1 less game this year than last year because of losing Namdi Asomougha and Zach Miller. Call it a 7 win season for the Raiders.
How the Broncos can beat the Raiders: A better running game with the Newshon Moreno (yes I misspelled it on purpose) and What you talkin about Willis McGahee will go a long way. Also Kyle Orton and the receiving corps should be able to take advantage of the inexperience in the secondary. I also expect Julius Thomas to have big games against the Raiders as he is a matchup nightmare for their defense. They don't have someone to put against his size speed combination.
If the Broncos can load the box against the run and put the Raiders in 3rd and 5 or more, than the Broncos will have a field day with the pass rush. Dumervil, Miller and Ayers will be able to consistently get pressure, but stopping the run for 5 yards or less on 1st and 2nd down. Obviously when you lose to a team 59-14 it takes a lot to make the case the Broncos can win the opener, but with the Raiders down and the Broncos now having a ferocious pass rush, I believe this can be done.
Next on to the Chiefs. Warning Chiefs fans, you're not going to like this probably.
Strengths: Jamal Charles is a dynamic playmaker. Problem is, I don't think the Chiefs are any better along the offensive line and Casey Wiegmann, although a long time favorite of mine is showing his age big time this preseason. The Chiefs do have excellent special teams with Ryan Succop and Britton Colquitt's brother Dustin able to create a positive field position situation. Dexter McCluster and Javier Arenas are also excellent in the return game. Tamba Hali showed that he successfuly transitioned to his 2nd year in a 3-4. I expect him to have double digit sacks. I do like the Chiefs secondary all the way around. Brandon Flowers is one of the best corners in the game and does not get enough credit by the mainstream media.
Weaknesses: The Chiefs have looked awful in preseason. Matt Cassel seems to have gone backwards. The offensive line doesn't give him enough time and besides Dwayne Bowe, he doesn't have the receivers in the right spots. Cassel is athletic but he still struggles with accuracy, especially in the inetermediate 10-20 yard range. On defense I love Tamba Hali, but who else will step up and rush the passer.
Also, the best two games of Newshon Moreno's career have been against the Chiefs. Run defense is going to be an issue especially losing Ron Edwards. Coaching wise I think Todd Haley did a good job last year when relinquishing control to capable assistants Weis and Crennel. This year, with Weis gone, something is greatly amiss with the Chiefs offense and they have a couple of weeks to get it solved.
Overall, I think the Chiefs are going to have a rough year. They were a young team and without an offseason I don't think they were able to improve. Last year they won the division with an historically easy schedule. I predict a 4-6 win season for the Chiefs. If I'm wrong, I'll be the first to admit it but they do not look good at all in preseason.
How the Broncos can beat the Chiefs: Dumervil and Miller will once again bring havoc. Expect Champ Bailey to shadow Dwayne Bowe, thus mitigating their best receiving threat. DJ Williams is actually an excellent matchup against Jamal Charles because of DJ's speed. On offense, expect the Broncos to pound it and this time stick with it until the Chiefs prove they can stop it. Stay away from the talented secondary but use play action to attack the deep middle.
Strengths: Phillip Rivers is a stud. Almost as good as Drew Brees (Yes San Diego, that was a dig) I hate to admit it but I have softened my hatred for him now that the Rivers-Cutler feud is no longer an issue. He is a terrific competitor. Accurate, throws a great deep ball. He runs the offense to perfection. The Chargers have big receivers who can get down the field in a hurry. On defense Shaun Phillips is a loud mouthed punk but he gets results and leads an excellent linebacking corps. In Rivera's scheme last year he got after the QB and was a force. Quentin Jammer is an excellent albeit underrated corner. Antoine Cason has good and bad moments but is not as good as expected out of college. (For a bad moment review Tim Tebow to Brandon Lloyd touchdown last year, last game)
Here are some predictions about the 2011 Chargers upcoming season from various sources:
...our models project them to have one of the best records in the league: they have an 87 percent chance of winning eleven games or more. The reasons: a critical mass of talented defenders just entering their primes, an overlooked passing game that’s among the league’s best, and a schedule full of down-and-out division opponents.
Oh sorry that was from 2009 let's try that again
Prediction: 1st AFC West - It would be a big upset if the Chargers didn’t win the West this season
Crap sorry again that was 2010.
Obviously I'm being a bit tongue and cheek and the 2009 quote was actually accurate as the Chargers did amass a 13-3 record. However, this team is often picked to go to the Super Bowl but haven't been to one since Stan Humphries was the starting quarterback and Junior Seau wasn't some creepy old guy.
The Chargers are going to miss the loss of Ron Rivera, who maximized their talent. Larry English is going to have to step it up. The Chargers gave a lot of money to Eric Weddle but he gets beat over the top a lot and struggles in 1 on 1 coverage. He is above average in zone, however. Phillip Rivers is immobile but Norv Turner gives him a lot of extra protection through backs and tight ends staying in to block. Darren Sproles is a huge loss as he was a dynamic component of a very good screen game the Chargers present. While the Chargers were very good last year on defense because they were able to get ahead of other teams early, their run defense was at times not up to standard.
On offense the offensive line is pretty good but is susceptible if you can disguise your blitz packages (see Jets, Steelers) Antonio Gates is one of the greatest TE's to play the game but I have concerns about his overall health this season.
The Chargers have a good punter and kicker but special teams was a disaster. Well that should be mitigated by lack of kickoff returns this year. But as it turns colder this could be a factor.
Overall the Chargers will win at least 10 games and challenge for another division title, after a 1 year hiatus last year. Would not shock me to see them challenge for AFC championship either. However, they are heavily reliant on Phillip Rivers. I know you can argue that every team needs their starting quarterback healthy. However, do you think there would be a vast difference for the Broncos this year if Brady Quinn had to replace Kyle Orton, I don't.
How the Broncos can beat the Chargers: Because the Chargers max protect, Dennis Allen will have to get really creative with his blitz schemes to disrupt the Chargers, But you cannot stand back and let Rivers pick you apart. You must pressure him. Ball control offense will keep Rivers off the field and the defense is susceptible to a balanced run attack. The Chargers are vulnerable to the deep middle throw (see Chargers vs. Cardinals) if you you have time so I would play to Kyle Orton's strengths. Play action and then hit Lloyd or Decker on a post. Also look to the screen game to challenge the Chargers aggressive 3-4 defense. A qucker Newshon Moreno should be able to threaten the Chargers athleticism on screens. Let's also not forget that one of Elvis Dumervil's best games of the 2009 season was against the Chargers.
Obviously this is simply a prediction and I've eaten plenty of crow before. What do you think? Can the Broncos beat their rivals, why or why not?
As a side note you may aks why not breakdown the Broncos? Other writers have done an excellent job of doing this. Also in predicting the record for the Broncos I am too irrational to give an honest analysis and prediction. I always start off 19-0 for the season.