We are officially in the doldrums of the NFL off-season. At least for a couple more weeks before I head out to Denver for the Fan Fair. Finding news to discuss is slim at best, and to be honest, since most news coming out this time of year is probably bad, it is a GOODthing when all is quiet on the Broncos front.
One interesting tid-bit today was a column by John Clayton with his big questions for each of the AFC's teams. Never one to miss an opportunity to see what the "experts" think of our Broncos I decided to take a look. Here is what Clayton said was a big question facing teh Broncos --
Mike Shanahan surprised everyone by firing defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and replacing him with the talented Jim Bates. Equally surprising has been the overhaul in personnel. Middle linebacker Al Wilson was released. The Broncos also changed the focus of the defensive line, which had been filled with former Cleveland Browns. The Broncos drafted two linemen from Florida, and acquired Dre' Bly to start at cornerback opposite Champ Bailey. Bates comes in with an aggressive style of coverage. He loves man-to-man and will have his corners in press coverage. Obviously, Shanahan wants more big plays coming from his defense.
That's the big question?? How much different will the defense be?? I think there is a much bigger question, but I'll get to that in a second.
Let me the one to answer the question about the defense. It will be completely different. The personnel is different. The defensive coaching staff is different. There stands to be at least 3 different starters. And most importantly, the scheme will definitely be different.
There is no doubt Mike Shanahan was sick and tired of watching his defense bend but not break. Sick and tired of the defense staying on the field third down after third down. Sick of watching them start strong, only to wear down and fade down the stretch. Sick and tired of the horrible field position the defense left the offense.
Statistically, the defense was ok, but numbers don;t tell the whole story. Even early in the season when the Broncos defense was out to that historic start they were staying on the field way too long. Too many times the defense would allow an opponent to get near mid-field. The result would be a punt that would give the Broncos the ball inside the 5. The Broncos had the worst starting field position in football last season. Some of that was due to lackluster special teams. Alot of it had to do with Larry Coyer's scheme, which didn't give up the big plpay, sure, but also failed to create many either. Only Champ Bailey, who basically made plays on his own, consistently came up with turnovers, and many of them were in the defensive red zone.
Jim Bates will play an aggressive, get-up-in-the-receiver's-face style of pass coverage. He is not going to give receivers 7 yards in order to get comfortable in their routes. Watch the Colts game if you need an example. The Broncos acquired Dre Bly, who fits that style perfectly, to line up opposite Champ Bailey, who can play any style. Incoming is a much beefier defensive line which should free up the linebacking corps to fly around and make plays. We all love Al Wilson, but on the field the Broncos defense got better. Wilson was slowing down, and not nearly as effective. Again, don't look solely at the numbers, both he and Ian Gold had huge games early in the season, before fading down the stretch. Age is cruel that way.
The defense isn't the big questions for he Broncos, probably not in the top 2 or 3, to be honest. If anyhing, I feel pretty sure about what we are going to get from the defense. More big plays. They'll give up a few, no doubt, but they'll make more, forcing more punts, creating more short fields for the offense. Nope, the defense isn't a huge question to me....
I do have my questions, but I don't want to blow my wad early in the off-season. I have alot of days to fill, and want to spread it out. The off-season is a marathon, not a sprint, but to me, the defense shouldn't be the concern....