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Denver's '08 Offense - Part One

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My focus has always been defense, since that is what I have always been around in my coaching life.  Writing a long piece on where I see the defense in '08 was easy because it came easily.  But the piece I wrote was still speculative.  There is a lot to address on defense, and there is no way to know for sure how the offseason will fix or not fix our defensive woes.  My conclusion was that we will be much better off.

But on offense we have a much better base to build from.  We have some uncertainty, but on the whole we have youth, depth, and star power.  Because things are more stable on offense, there is much more to write about.  As we go position by position we can reasonably have high hopes for putting high scores on the boards in '08.  We only need our defense to prevent opponents from doing the same.

Quarterbacks

Let's face it, Cutler is already good and only getting better.  Recent articles in the sports media have put him as high as the top ten in current QBs, and most analysts seem to agree that he is the top of his QB draft class.  He completed his 16th game in the course of this season, and so is only just barely out of his "rookie" playing year.

His biggest knock is that he isn't scoring TDs.  His biggest compliment is that he is piling up the yards.  I'm not concerned about the TDs.  I know TDs win the game, but the statistic is an odd one.  His job is to throw the ball, do so accuratley, do so at distance if possible, and avoid turnovers.  He does those things.  TDs are based on a great many variables outside of his control, which include playcalling and the play of the running game.  If the yards pile up, the TDs will come.  If his job was only to get TDs he cold try throwing bombs every play.

Cutler is what we want in the Denver offense.  He throws on the run well enough not to just play the Denver signature "bootleg", but even to run the collegiate "QB option" play.  He isn't afraid to run with the ball and does a good job when he takes off.  He is calm under pressure, and doesn't get rattled after he makes a mistake.  His coolness pays off in late game come-backs.  He does very well on third and long plays.  He has a strong arm.  He enjoys learning and believes in studying game film.  He has the respect of his team.  He has the motivation to work on his game in the offseason along with a few off his team mates.  Yes, I think he's the total package.

Almost any team suffers when they go to a back-up QB.  I think Ramsey is a solid back-up though, and a good fit for the team if Cutler is knocked out a few plays.

With his weapons on offense and the reasonable expectation that he will continue to improve at his very young age, I fully expect Cutler to be considered one of the elites next year (regardless of how far the team goes).

Receivers

Marshall is the perfect fit for Denver.  He is young, so we can expect him to get better and to be around for awhile.  He is the future.  But when I write "perfect fit", I'm talking about the scheme.

Marshall is a physical player that can fight for the ball in short, high percentage catches used in our West Coast Offense.  Denver uses a strange approach to the WCO though, using a "run first" mentality.  Here Marshall shows his ability to run block as well or better than other run blocking receivers in the League.  And when a pass finds Marshall, he has the raw power to knock defensive backs away and pick up yards after the catch.  Most importantly, he has developed that special ESP kind of relationship that some receivers have with a QB that allows them to "read each others minds" (or more correctly, "tendancies").

Stokely has always been an elite receiver hidden behind other recievers.  In INDY he played behind Harrison and Wayne.  In DEN it was behind Walker and Marshall.  Given the chance though, this slot receiver proved he could fill in at the #1 position.  He did so well playing as the #1 in Walker's absence that Denver gave him a three year extension in mid-season.  Stokely's abilities are the same profile as Marshall's.  The only differences are that Stokely has more experience (he runs routes effortlessly), but he is at the op of his game, while Marshall is still improving.

Walker is the first speculative area in the offense that we'll be looking at.  First we'll look at his positives.

He is fast.  He is Denver's downfield threat, and he is needed to spread the defense out north/south.  He has great hands, and makes spectacular catches.  Unlike many speed demons, he also has the toughness to fight for tough catches.  He runs routes flawlessly, as a veteran of his stature should.  When he is on the field and healthy, he bumps down Marshall and Stokely to playing against #2 CBs and nicklebacks.

This last point is his best point.  With out Walker on the field Marshall will be facing the top CBs in the League, and Stokely the opponents' second best.  With Walker we pick up mis-matches in every game.

His down side is attitude and injury.  I'm willing to give the injury a pass.  Walker improved from his injury while playing for GB enough to have a great season last year.  He had surgury to clean up his knee during this season and couldn't really be expected to play at 100%.  But his attitude is another matter.

Walker claimes he doesn't think he is a good fit for Denver anymore.  That is a problem.  He feels frustration at his injury, feels further injured by the team's request that he restructure his contract, and sees Marshall passing him by very soon.  Whether or not Walker returns will have a major impact on the passing game next year.

Walker should restructure and stick around.  In Denver, every spot on the team is open to competition in the summer and NOBODY is safe.  If Walker is the better WR he will play #1.  If not, he gets to excell at the #2 against lesser CBs.  If he restructures his contract, but makes it a heavy incentive based contract, he should do well financialy.  Denver can't afford to drop him (cap penalty) and Walker can't afford to sit on the bench, so something must be worked out.  As long as Walker stays OR we get a good trade Denver will be ok.  If Walker is just flat out cut or sits on the bench it is bad all around.  Because of the cap issue, I think a trade would have to get either high picks or a solid player who is likewise a cap killer for the team he comes from.

Rod Smith.  Let's face it, he's hurt, has another surgery coming up, and is older.  He has served with honor and distinction, and needs to enjoy retirement and start writing his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.

Martinez is good but not great as a slot receiver.  Speed is his game, and he does well (but not great) in the return game on special teams (where he shares time with RB Andre Hall).

A final factor to consider is the potential that Denver picks up a receiver in the draft.  It is an iffy proposition that they will, but another major factor in how the receiving corp will look in '08.

Conclusions

QBs - A

Not yet a Manning or a Brady, but definetly should be at the top of the second tier.  I give Cutler a spot in the top 5 next year.

WRs - ranges from B to A+

If Walker returns and is healty the trio of Walker, Marshall, and Stokely will be an irresistable force.  Add in the "distraction" threats from TEs and RBs, and the receiving corp is legendary.  BUT, without Walker we have a good receiving corp but not great.  Marshall will pair against top flight CBs, and we have little to show at slot.  A good rookie pick up might bump the grade higher in that event.

In Part II

We'll take a look at TEs, RB/FB, and O-line for '08.  The TEs look awesome, the RBs look interesting, and the O-line will be a challenge to predict.

We'll also look at the overall expectations for the offense.

Please let me know what you think.  I enjoy the thoughts (pro and con) I read, and appreciate questions and pledge to respond to them.

GO Broncos!