So it is mid-season in what has shaped up to be a very hopeful year for the Denver Broncos. Coming into the season Broncos Country has been filled with a previously unknown level of anticipation due to the acquisition of one Peyton Manning. I think much of our concerns revolving around Peyton have at this time been addressed by his spectacular play on the field.
I remember looking at this season's schedule and being pretty darn optimistic. You can check it here if you like. I predicted a 13 - 3 season. So far we're still on track for that to unfold. I thought in the off season that if we could get out of the first six games with a 3 - 3 record we'd be in pretty good shape. I'm holding to that opinion. Baltimore will present a challenge to us. I don't see any other teams that seriously worry me. I think 13 - 3 or 12 - 4 is pretty realistic at this point.
Most Valuable Players and Wasted Roster Spots
In honor of our sorely missed "Studs and Duds" I'm going to list out the guys in the running for MVP from our different phases of the game as well as WRS (aka "Duds")
- Peyton Manning - is there any question? The most valuable position on the team is being manned by one of the greatest minds to ever play the game. This guy is offensively pushing us to a season that will make many forget 2011's magic carpet ride. He's on pace to set personal records in many categories and more importantly to me he is making our younger guys improve their play at an alarming rate. His impact to our team will last long after he is gone.
- Eric Decker - Since he's come into the league Eric has been showing on the field and off a deep desire to be a premier WR in the NFL. Now he's plugged in with a master-mind and his route running, speed, size, and desire to win is showing up big.
- Deymaryius Thomas - His size and speed alone make him a freak of a target on the field. What's impressing me most about him is similar to Decker - he's working at the finer things - reading defenses and running precise routes. He'll probably never run as smooth of routes as Eric Decker, but if he can just get "good" at it, he'll blow teams away.
- Lance Ball - King of up the middle for 0-2 yards, Master of doing lots of things decently, but nothing above average, and champion of lunch-pail workers everywhere. I and many other Bronco fans actually have measurable dips in happiness when we see him take the field.
- Knowshon Moreno - here's the guy that makes the most sense to banish the memory of Lance Ball from the memory of Broncos Country...yet you aren't even being dressed on game day. What the heck is the problem son? Our coaches seem in every other way exceptional in their running of the team so I can't buy that this is some colossal mistake by them.
- Von Miller - This guy is causing fits in the front 7 at an impressive rate. His success has been pretty easy to predict ever since his rookie season last year. This guy is the real deal. He looks good in every facet of the game, and looks like a monstrosity in the pass rush department. He definitely seems like the front-runner
- Champ Bailey - Here's the guy I cheer the hardest for. He's just a classy cat who deserves better than the teams we've put forth the past few years. I hope for his sake we get him to the big dance soon. He's a guy that I'd hate to see retire before he's had a shot at the big dance. Even given his poor performance vs Cincinnati I have to list him here because he's just that good.
- Wesley Woodyard - to some he's the surprise of the defense. I've been talking up his game for a long time though. He's an upgrade to DJ Williams hands down both on and off the field. This year he finally got a shot to prove it long-term and he's been doing a supreme job.
- Joe Mays - I bought a little of the hype in the off season. No team or front office is perfect and here's the gaffe for Denver in 2012. We signed this guy to a decent sized contract after very little promising play. I will say his redeeming quality is his Special Teams play where he actually brings it. He doesn't belong as a starter on the D though.
- Tracy Porter - this is more from circumstance than anything, but he's become completely replaceable due to the emergence of Chris Harris and Tony Carter. Once cleared for play, I don't expect to see much of Porter unless one of our young guns gets hurt.
Special Teams MVP
- Matt Prater - he's mister automatic this year...10/10 on field goals and consistently gets a good leg behind kickoffs.
- Trindon Holliday - so far he's given us 6 points for free. If he can do one more of those and rattle off some long returns, he'd make a very solid case for the ST MVP.
Special Teams WRS
I really don't have a guy in the running for this. Even my ire for Ball doesn't make him make any sense. We've seen some gaffes in Special Teams, but it hasn't been from the same source. No one is looking that poor from what I've seen to deserve mention.
Offensive Review and Outlook:
I mostly have been concerned about our offense. Would our young receivers get on the same page with Manning quickly enough? Would we find help for McGahee in the backfield? Can our O-line stay healthy? We've seen mixed results with this, but in the end the offense is now the least of my worries. Our WRs are doing great, McGahee is staying healthy, and Hillman is looking like he might be a solid 2nd RB. Our line health has been problematic, but I'd say that hasn't cost us any games yet.
Our outlook for the back half of the season is definitely looking up. The offense is only going to get better and our opposition actually looks much worse than the first half of our season. This provides us with a very positive spring board into the playoffs. I think if we can secure the #2 seed in the AFC, we'll be favorites to go to the Super Bowl. I also think that is a realistic and achievable goal.
There are some possible pitfalls to look out for. They revolve around our offensive line and our running back situations. We just aren't deep at either of those positions. I think the team could be in some serious trouble if McGahee goes down. I also think if someone else goes down while Kuper is out we will be in a world of hurt. Lots has been said about Manny Ramirez's poor play, but let me tell you this: The guys behind him are worse. Given that the trade deadline has passed, there's nothing the team can do this season to seriously upgrade these weaknesses. I do take some level of comfort that our coaches have shown some seriously reputable evidence of actually improving the play of our players. Maybe if we do hit an iceberg, they will be able to steer us home in safe fashion.
Defensive Review and Outlook:
Let me start by giving a HUGE "Thank You!" to Jack Del Rio. Broncos Country is very VERY happy to have you coordinating our defense. One thing we haven't had is consistency from our Defensive Coordinator position for almost a decade. I implore the Broncos Organization to keep Jack around. He's a great leader for our team!
The Defense has shown some serious improvements from last year. We've thankfully moved on from Mays, upgraded our DBs, and solidified our front-7. Our defense looks scary honestly. We're creating turnovers and rushing the passer. Our run defense is not a sieve in the least as it has looked in years past. We look full of young talent and it is obvious to me that our team is getting more and more comfortable with the playbook and each other. I think the coaching staff is getting to be very familiar with our guys and how best to use them. You put those together and you get a defense that is a major strength instead of the liability it has been in years past.
Again given the level of the competition we have ahead of us I think the defense is going to trend up. We have dangerous pass rushers with some serious depth at DB. The only hole defensively that I see is at LB (Specifically Middle). I think we can improve there and luckily for us, DJ Williams is returning. The coaching staff may use him to shore up our LB group thought I honestly don't see exactly how...DJ has been vocal about not being fond of the MLB position and he just isn't an upgrade to the Sam or the Will from what my eyes tell me.
The only pitfall I see on the defensive side of the ball is losing one or both of Von Doom. I think Ayers can sub in and I liked what Jackson showed in the preseason, but those two are a far cry from either Miller or Dumerville. Luckily for us, DE isn't a position that you see more injuries from (knock on wood).
Special Teams Review and Outlook:
We started the season off with a pair of supremely talented kickers and I think they've looked fantastic. Our return game looked pretty bland early in the season while our coverage units have done a solid job. I think we've definitely upgraded our return capabilities by adding Holliday. So far he's been a mixed bag honestly, but keep in mind he is very young. Given his speed I think he is well worth the time developing and he showed us the type of potential he has in last week's game by taking one to the house.
It can be argued that we were better off with Bolden and Leonhart, but I'm more aggressive than most...I don't want guys who just fair catch. I want guys who gain us yards and have the potential to do some serious damage in the game. Special Teams plays are opportunities just like any other area of the game...you should put guys in place to make an impact and I think our coaches have been doing that.
I'm not terribly worried about any pitfalls for our ST units. They've looked like a superior product to the past handful of years.