Hard to Tell on Defense Improvement
The Denver defense, who ranked dead last in the NFL in 2010, is the strongest concern for Denver’s success in 2011. I don’t even think we have to look at the offense as they were at least competitive for much of the season to be at least an 8-8 team if not better. I personally can’t stand watching the statue known as Kyle Orton as our Quarterback, but he can run an offense to score enough to win at least half of our games. The defense, not the offense, is the primary reason why Denver had the worst season in team history (Only season with 12 loses) and the second pick in the draft. So as Bronco fans have the usual "let's drink the Kool-Aid" conversations I would have to urge them to look at the reasons for the 2010 failures first.
More after the Jump...
It's hard to be encouraged on the defense from the Broncos recent preseason performance with the limited preview. The reason being is that three of the four teams that Denver played were bottom of the barrel competition. Any defense should look good against poor offenses. This was the case in the preseason.
Preseason Opponent’s 2010 Offense Rankings
Game 1 - Cowboys - 7th
Game 2 - Bills - 25th
Game 3 - Seahawks - 28th
Game 4 - Cardinals -31st
The Bills and Seahawks games were the only two contests where we had seen signification playing time from the starting Denver defense. In the Dallas game the starting D only had seen a single series, and the Arizona game the starters were all on the sideline for the full 60 minutes. So truly we have only a couple of sample games of our first string defense playing against the 25th and 28th ranked offenses who may have gotten worse at the quarterback position. Matt Hasselback had left the Seahawks being replaced by a career back in Tavaris Jackson, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was the holdover from 2010 for the Bills after taking the job from Trent Edwards. You could argue that these are the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL at this point shy of a few rookies.
Worst Quarterback Situations in the NFL
Buffalo – Ryan Fitzpatrick
San Francisco – Alex Smith
Miami – Chad Henne
Seattle – Tavaris Jackson
Washington – Rex Grossman
Carolina – Rookie – Cam Newton
Cincinnati – Rookie – Andy Dalton
Tennessee – Rookie – Jake Locker
Chicago – Jay Cutler (Just kidding)
Von Miller and Dumervil combo
Ironically Buffalo played into Denver’s strength, and passed the ball a ton in their preseason game. We saw that Von Miller was an excellent choice as the second overall pick as he continually beat his blockers to get to the QB and Ryan Fitzpatrick in particular. With Dumervil on the other side opposing offensive lines appeared to have their hands full on passing downs. Both guys on the field at the same time will at least give Denver a strong point to lean on in third down and passing situations. Problem again is that Buffalo and Seattle have really poor offensive lines. So it’s hard to tell how teams with more talent and better offensive coordinators will be able to neutralize both players. Screens and inside running come to mind.
Moore Safety in The middle.
Another improvement is in our new young safety Rahim Moore. He looks to be an major upgrade at the position with some hard hits and pass deflections. I disagree that his big hit was dirty, and even if it was I am not against it. I miss the hard hitting safeties Denver used to have. Brian Dawkins was a great player in Philly, but he is almost done and is more of a mental and emotional leader than a physical threat. Denver really had no top notch talent at the safety position until they draft Moore.
The Unresolved Problem
With all that much said very little else (personal wise) on a horrid defense has become an improvement. I think that the defensive scheme could be more aggressive which will help, but the big holes in talent are what I was hoping to see improvement on.
Marcus Thomas (injured)
Ty Warren (injured)
This was the position that Denver completely ignored on draft day and they will pay for that again in 2011. I am not sure what Brian Xanders issue is with drafting Defensive Tackles, but when it was an issue three years ago he never has seemed to go after any of them during any draft from 2009-2011. I am not saying Denver shouldn’t have taken Miller with the second overall pick. I am saying that in three years as GM he should have taken one Defensive tackle in the first three rounds in any of those drafts. You can’t plug the defensive tackle position with free agents who have a lot of mileage and injuries. However, this is the direction that Denver has gone and I see it as our Achilles heel all season long. Teams will run at Denver when and I am not sure how Denver will stop them consistently. I doubt any of Denver’s current Defensive Tackles would be starting for any other team. Vickerson and Bunkley are a laughable starting group. They are both rejects from other teams and are essentially temporary starters. Ty Warren and Marcus Thomas who are currently injured aren’t much better. This is the group that is supposed to hold the line and free up line backers. They will get pushed around and Denver will wear down in games where the opposing team runs a large amount.
Defensive End (opposite Dumervil)
This position also is in trouble. Sacks and stopping the run will be in short supply. Derrick Harvey doesn’t look like he is going make a major comeback after being a first round bust in Jacksonville. He makes bad reads and gets caught up in blocks. Jason Hunter is a rotational player. Also, It is becoming more and more apparent that Robert Ayers is going to be a bust. Denver fans must pray that he will show why he was a first round talent at his natural position, but honestly he looks lost from what I can see in the few games he has played so far.
Middle Linebacker and DJ Williams
I know this isn’t popular to say, but DJ Williams is not that good. He picks the wrong holes, can’t get off blocks, and can’t change directions to run down opposing running backs coming around the edge. DJ is a cleanup king. He is there to make the tackle after the offense has made a first down or decent yardage. Joe Mays is an average middle linebacker who is not a leader that is needed at the position. For Denver to have success they need a strong linebacking corp.
Cornerback (opposite Champ)
Syd,Quan Thompson (Out for Season)
This is where QBs will go early and often. Denver has OK guys, but nothing like the top defenses in the NFL. They are average at best and can’t cover against bigger faster receivers. Their only saving grace is that Miller and Dumervil will be putting so much pressure on the QB that they only have to cover for a second or two. Andre Goodman is 33 and is starting to show his age. Cassius Vaughn got beat several times in preseason and Syd, Quan Thompson is gone for the season. Goodman is not a strong candidate to make it though the entire season given his age. So I think Denver may be relying on Vaughn often this season, at least in nickel and dime, and that doesn’t pose well from what I have seen.
With the limited action and poor preseason completion it is hard to see a large leap for the defense from last year. Denver has improved its defense in a few areas, but there are so many gaping holes that they could not all be fixed in a single off season. The Broncos may not end up ranking 32nd in defense, but I have a hard time seeing them stop the run until they prove me wrong. Denver will again be the victim of large rushing yardage totals throughout the season. The defensive line will get pushed around and running backs will be looking forward to playing Denver. On offense Denver will continue a lot of what they did last year by putting up near 20 points a game, but they could often find themselves trying to come from behind. Denver’s first three games are against running teams that feature Darren McFadden, Cedric Benson, and 2,000 yard rusher Chris Johnson. Other running teams that Denver will have a hard time stopping will be the Jets, the Vikings with Adrian Peterson, and KC twice with Jamal Charles. I think we are still a season away from seeing a real turnaround with some stability. I would look for improvements on defense from our young studs, but this is a building year where Denver will not see playoffs, and a likely top 10 pick in the 2012 draft. For the Kool-Aide drinkers add a little more water. It’s going to be fun rooting for the Orange and Blue as always, but I would push back playoff and Super Bowl hopes out at least another year until 2012.