FanPost

Is Denver any better than they were last year? (a Season Preview)

Are they better?

Let’s cut to the chase.  We’ve been essentially waiting for this season to start since around 3:00 pm Mountain on October 24th of last year.  That was mid-way through the second quarter of the Raiders’ visit to Mile High last season.  Oakland was up 38-0. In our house.  And we looked like I would imagine the Detroit Lions usually look to their fans.  The season was over.  Officially.

The question you should be asking (rather than the ones you shouldn’t – like: Tebow or Orton?) is simple: Are the Denver Broncos better today than they were on October 24th of 2010 (Black Sunday?).

It’s easiest to look at the units and players and coaches and compare them with their 2010 counterparts and find out who is better on paper, but we won’t truly know until October of this year what this team can or can’t do.

So, let’s look at the “on paper” comparison and go from there.

Defense:

Denver has moved back to a 4-3 on base downs.  Probably a smart move considering that they were not effective in a 3-4, nor did they have the defensive line talent for the alignment.  Keep in mind that Denver will still spend at least 60% of their time in other alignments (3-4, 5-2, Nickel, Dime).  But a 4-3 seems better suited to Denver’s talent.  It also seems more suited to correct their biggest defensive weakness form 2010, the running defense.  With another large down lineman, Denver should have, at very least, clogged up the middle of the line of scrimmage just by employing a 4-3 versus a 3-4.

Denver also added two pro bowl pass rushers.  Elvis Dumervil from IR and Von Miller from A&M.  I’m willing to say that as of today, Denver has one of the NFL’s 5 best (maybe better) pass rushing tandems.  In base, Robert Ayers will lineup opposite Doom.  On obvious passing downs though, Ayers will move inside and Miller will play with his hand in the dirt as a the DE.

Denver added much needed youth at Safety in Rahim Moore, who will play centerfield behind the slower, but still intense and intelligent Brian Dawkins.

The linebackers are a question mark.   Especially considering that Von Miller is more of a pass-rusher or rush-end than he is a true outside linebacker.  Denver’s linebackers are basically a combination of Miller, DJ Williams (injured for a few weeks), Joe Mays (never gone in to a season as a starter) and Wes Woodyard (also never gone into a season as the planned on starter).

Let’s compare:

DE

Bannan

Dumervil

DE

Vickerson

Ayers

DE

Hunter

Miller

DT

J. Williams

Bunkley

DT

Fields

Vickerson

DT

Thomas

Thomas

LB

Ayers

Miller

LB

Mays

Mays

LB

Williams

Williams

LB

Haggan

Woodyard

CB

Bailey

Bailey

CB

Goodman

Goodman

CB

Cox

Vaughn

S

Dawkins

Dawkins

S

Hill

Moore

 

Offense:

I don’t want to stir the pot, so I won’t get into the QB thing because it hasn’t changed, and more importantly, only one QB earned the right to start in the NFL this preseason.

On the O-Line, Denver added Orlando Franklin and lost Ryan Harris.  Otherwise, it’s the same unit that looked lost in the running game, when there was one, and seemed to hold up relatively well in the passing game although two rookies were starting and the premiere talent (Clady) was coming off of a scary knee injury.  The biggest news here is the addition of one of the NFL’s pre-eminent offensive line coaches in Dave Magazu.  The returns will certainly not be immediate, but the line should improve with time and repetition in the running game.

Schematically, Denver will run more, and when they do, I fully expect Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno share the duties.  McGahee is a professional when it comes to tough yards.  Denver hasn’t had a talent like that for since the Mike Anderson days.  It remains to be seen if one of the backs will carry more of the load or not, but Fox and Magazu are known for going with the hot hand if they can.

At WR, Denver looks only slightly different however.  Going into 2010, Brandon Lloyd was the biggest question mark.  Going into 2011, he’s the leader of this unit and coming off of a Pro Bowl.  Eddie Royal and Eric Decker will play opposite Lloyd and it will be interesting to see which of those two players gets more snaps in the slot.  Demaryius Thomas is the forgotten man this season.  This oft-injured first round pick (by McDaniels) should be available to the Broncos by early to mid-October.  If he can recapture the physicality and speed he showed only in glimpses (like vs. Seattle in 2010), he may end up seeing more snaps at the Y receiver position than any other WR.

The TEs have been completely reshaped.  Gone are Quinn, Gronkowski, and Dan Graham.  In are Julius Thomas, Daniel Fells, and Virgil Green.  It seems as though Denver has upgraded and in a much more sound position at TE, but we’ll have to wait and see how this offense utilizes Tight Ends, which historically has been a knock against John Fox’s teams’ offenses.

Let’s look at the comparisons:

QB

Orton

Orton

QB

Tebow/Quinn

Tebow/Quinn

RB

Moreno

Moreno

RB

Buckhalter

McGahee

FB

Larsen

Larsen

OT

Clady

Clady

OT

Harris

Franklin

OG

Beadles

Beadles

OG

Kuper

Kuper

C

Walton

Walkton

OL

Hochstein

Hills

WR

Lloyd

Lloyd

WR

Gaffney

Royal

WR

Royal

Decker

WR

Thomas

Thomas

 

Special Teams:

Mostly the same. But Denver’s draft should have added talent to kick coverage units. 

The Results:

I think that every single position on defense (DE’s, DT’s, LB’s, CB’s, S’s) is improved.  Some more than others.  The DE and S positions are most improved.  The LB position is slightly better.  The DT position, although shaky, does have more talent today than it did a year ago and Ty Warren is still on the roster (I expect him to hit IR is Denver can find a good DT within the next few weeks).  The CB position is stronger, as Vaughn has improved markedly and Goodman is healthy.

On offense, I think Denver is slightly improved.  The addition of McGahee and Fells and Thomas are the difference to me. 

The Question marks:

DT, LB, OL.

Offensively, teams will attack Denver’s defense by running up the middle and off tackle.  Teams will try to pull Denver’s passrush upfield and take advantage of the space they leave behind them.  Denver is very susceptible to screens in the flats.

But Denver’s scheme is better and if Denver can get their opponent into a situation where they can bring their Nickel defense onto the field, Denver will see success.  Denver may have one of the best Nickel defenses in the NFL.  With a D-Line of Miller, Ayers, Vickerson, and Dumervil with Woodyard, Williams, and Dawkins in the box, and protected by Moore, Vaughn, Goodman, and Bailey, Denver should be able to handle most teams’ WRs and OL while distracting or reaching the QB.

Defensively, teams will attack Denver’s passing offense by using their best rusher versus Franklin or twisting with stunts.  On rushing downs, Denver has yet to prove that it can dominate the line of scrimmage, but I do expect Denver’s offensive line to improve into a top 15 unit by season’s end.

Denver has a very good passing game.  If Orton gets time (he will get more in 2011 than last year as there is a realistic threat of a run now), he is a very dangerous passer.  Denver’s goal should be a reasonable 4.0 ypc and a healthy Kyle Orton.  I expect Lloyd to have less catches and yards, but still have a great year.

Season scenarios:

So, what’s it all mean?

Wins: Realistically, 6 to 8 wins – barring extended injury to Bailey, Miller, Dumervil, Orton, Clady.

Outlier scenarios:  It’s possible that Denver gets the injury bug and loses a few early games.  If that happens, they could be looking at a 4 or 5 win season.  If Denver is looking at 2-6 or worse after 8 games, I would expect Tebow and Quinn to get long looks. Additionally, if Denver can win its first 3 games (a possibility – OAK, CIN, @Ten) and close strongly (win 3 to 4 of the last 5: @MIN, CHI, NE, @BUF, KC), there’s a very slight chance that Denver could notch as many as 9 or 10 wins and potentially sneak into the playoffs.  The outlier scenarios are both rare cases though.

Last Line: Denver’s Defense can’t be worse than it was last year.  Denver’s offense is above average when it throws and slightly below average when it runs.  If they can bring that running game up to average or better, which I believe they will, they will be a much improved team this year.  With a more seasoned and less emotional coaching staff, I expect the Broncos to impress and compete, but ultimately fall short of the postseason.  Denver should be in a good position to improve themselves with another draft and round of FAs in the spring of 2012 and challenge San Diego for the AFC West.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on MileHighReport.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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