I don't know about you, but I am ready to move on from Ref-Gate and get the focus back on the football field and "The Quest". The Broncos have gotten out of the gate fast and sit at 2-0, with both wins coming in the AFC West, a huge advantage as we head through the rest of the season.
With the off-day today, however, I thought I would take a look at the 2007 Broncos who also started the season 2-0 and had all of our hopes on high. Knowing how the season turned out in '07 will likely shade your memory on how you felt after 2 wins last September, but with everyone booking their trips to Tampa for February I felt it best to take a look back and compare what we saw then to what we see now.
Let's start by taking a look back at the two games the Broncos won starting 2007 -
Buffalo -- The Broncos started 2007 in Buffalo before playing a home game against the Raiders. Buffalo was a team that many thought might challenge for a wild card spot, though there were questions about J.P. Losman at quarterback. In the end, those concerns were justified as Losman was only able to throw for 97 yards. The game was marred, of course, by the Kevin Everett injury, which overshadowed a solid performance by Jay Cutler, making his first opening day start. The Broncos struggled getting into the end zone, scoring just once on a Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall TD pass.
Despite and solid defensive effort, the Bills had the lead late on the shoulders of a Roscoe Parrish punt return and a 23-yard run by rookie RB Marshawn Lynch. Cutler was able to rally the Broncos in the final minutes, however, and Jason Elam kicked a game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired to get the Broncos the win.
Buffalo was decimated by injuries in 2007 and ended up making a change at quarterback, going with Trent Edwards over Losman and finished 7-9. The Bills have started this season 2-0 and look like they will be a tough ouot for anyone in the AFC East.
Oakland -- The Raiders were up next for the Broncos, coming off a bad loss to the Detroit Lions at home. Lane Kiffin was in his 2nd game as Coach in Oakland and the match up between the old Mastermind and the young offensive Guru was highly touted.
Early on, it didn't look like it was going to be a game at all with the Broncos dominating play. Denver jumped out to a 17-3 lead at halftime behind a Jay Cutler to Brandon Stokley TD pass and a 4-yard run by Cecil Sapp. It appeared the Broncos were going to put the game out of reach in the 3rd quarter when Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall for a 25-yard touchdown, but the play was called back by a penalty. The Broncos missed the field goal and the Raiders were right back in the game.
After a 46-yard TD catch by Jerry Porter, the Raiders used an onside kick to regain possession and the Broncos were on their heels. After a Gerrard Warren sack of Jay Cutler in the end zone, Thomas Howard actually gave the Raiders the lead when he intercepted Cutler and ran it back 44-yards for a touchdown. Once again, Jay Cutler was asked to bring the team back. He did, with the Broncos kicking a game-tying 20-yard field goal, sending the game to OT.
In Overtime, the Broncos appeared to have lost the game when Sebastian Janikowski drilled a long field goal, only to find out Mike Shanahan had called a time out. SeaBass missed his next effort and the Broncos were able to take advantage with Jason Elam kicking the game winning field goal. The Broncos had stolen victory from the jaws of defeat two weeks in a row and sat at 2-0, alone in first place in the AFC West.
Hopefully that is a good history lesson. At this point last season the Broncos were in the exact same spot as they are now - 2-0, 1st place in the AFC West. There were question marks on defense, but hey, a win is a win and 2-0 was the most important thing. We know how 2-0 finished off last season, with the Broncos going 7-9 and missing the playoffs. Here we are today, with questions about the defense, but at 2-0 that is the most important this. Is there reason to be concerned?
Let's start with the very general, the schedule.
The record of the 14 opponents the Broncos played after 2 weeks last season was 16-12. Five of those opponents were 2-0 after two weeks, while three were 0-2.
This season, the record of the 14 opponents the Broncos play after Week 2 is not nearly as good - 10-18, with only three of our remaining opponents also undefeated. Conversely, six of the Broncos remaining opponents are 0-2 heading into week 3.
Based on that, the appearance would be the Bronco play an easier final 14 games than they did back in 2007. (There was much rejoice......Yaaay.)
Now let's look at some stats after 2 games. First, here is what Jay Cutler's numbers look like after two games -
The numbers are pretty similar, with 1 glaring exception - TD/INT ratio. Last year, Cutler was already throwing INT's at a 2/1 clip. He finished out the season strong, however, flipping that number the other way(18 TD / 10 INT). This season, however, Cutler is protecting the ball much better, with a 6/1 TD/INT ratio. The result? A much better, more efficient quarterback.
What about the entire offense? Let's look at total offense, along with points scored -
Again, the numbers aren't that different, except for points scored. IT shows the growth and maturity of an offense, specifically at quarterback. The Broncos moved the ball up and down the field in 2007 but couldn't score touchdowns. In 2008, Jay Cutler is getting the ball in the end zone.
How about the defense? There is an excellent post about the defensive problems the Broncos face, and there is surely going to be more talk about it, especially if the Broncos keep winning. Let's look at the defense through 2 game in 2007 and 2008 -
At first glance, it would look like the Broncos defense is getting worse. The numbers are a bit misleading, however, and while there is a need for some adjustments, a definitive conclusion cannot be made.
I thing the 2008 Broncos defense has proven is they struggle once the offense gives them a lead of 17 points or more. The Broncos jumped out to a 27-0 lead before allowing the Raiders to score, in the 4th quarter, and the Broncos took a 21-3 lead before the Chargers were able to get back into the game. The Chargers were also helped by the Sproles kick-off return.
Truth is, the Broncos defense has given up 17 points in the first half of football games this season. They seem to start strong. Secondly, against the Chargers, in a game that was still in doubt, they were able to force San Diego into kicking two short field goals while the offense could get it going. Yes, the defense has given up some big plays, but when they needed to pick up the offense in the late 3rd/early 4th quarter, in a game that was close at the time, they did the job.
Yes, there were breakdowns, but the Chargers are a solid offensive team, a team that has won a lot of games the past 4 years. Looking at the competition, I feel the Broncos have actually done a nice job learning how to play with a big lead, which can be tough. Yes, there are adjustments that need to be made, but the Raiders are arguably a better offensive team than they were in 2007, and the Broncos defense did a solid job.
I guess what this is all about, all things being eqaul, I feel much better about the 2008 version of the 2-0 Denver Broncos than the 2007 version. The competition has been tougher, and most importantly, in a League that is dominated by quarterback play, the Broncos offense and quarterback are playing at a MUCH HIGHER LEVEL than at this time last season. That, alone, will be able to overcome alot of defensive shortcomings and will help the Broncos avoid a repeat of the 5-9 finish to the season.