With so much going on in Denver this year, I thought it would be interesting to try to look back and at least attempt to understand what has just happened.
First, I do believe in God (Jehovah, Yahweh, Adonai) and his Supernatural power. I believe things happen that are simply inexplicable on the human level. Since we are only natural beings, we cannot grasp who God is and how he thinks, acts and feels apart from what his Holy Spirit reveals to us. That also means there are events or a chain of events that could last for years that happen and we are incapable of understanding why or how on our own.
What does this have to do with Denver? To me, everything. Why? ...because of where the Broncos were at the beginning of the season and where they are now. ...because the Denver Broncos are led by a young man who puts his faith in God Almighty. After the jump is a breakdown of events before the season, during Denver's 1-4 start and during Denver's current win streak of 6 out of 7 games.
This outline will describe in detail the significant events of the season up to week 13 where the Broncos sit atop the AFC West with a 7-5 record.
Trading Kyle Orton
The 2011 season started with the front office attempting to trade Kyle Orton before the first preseason game. Instead of receiving valuable practice time, Tebow was pushed back to second string (or third or fourth or whatever) when the Orton trade fell through and Kyle remained the starter for the Broncos.
- With a shortened off-season, John Elway, Brian Xanders and John Fox likely felt none of the quarterbacks were good enough to build a team around. Since Tim Tebow was essentially a rookie drafted in the first round with a big contract, they may have felt it was a good idea to see if he was capable of living up to his draft status.
- The reasons as to why the trade fell through have ranged from Orton asking for too much money and/or an extended contract to the Dolphins being reluctant to sign a veteran who was already with his second team and would have been costly for a team that needed to rebuild on the offense. The truth is, it was probably a little bit of both. Blaming one party or the other is pointless and impossible since we weren't there behind the scenes.
- What we can deduct in hindsight is Miami showed too much faith in Chad Henne but surprisingly did a good job with the signing of Matt Moore. For Denver, Orton may have let his pride get in the way, and with Tebow in Denver, he was unable to handle the distraction and lead the team with any kind of success that he had enjoyed with Josh McDaniels as head coach during the first 5 games of the 2011 season.
- Denver's defense struggled to stop anyone in 2010. Denver allowed a team to score 24+ points 12 times last season, including 7 games over 30 and 2 games over 40 points.
- Forced 18 turnovers on defense, with their 10 interceptions ranking 31st (tied) in the NFL.
- Totaled 23 sacks on the season, last in the NFL.
- Allowed 390.8 yards per game, last in the NFL. Allowed 5.9 yards per play, 29th in the NFL.
- Allowed 154.6 yards per game on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry.
- According to my quarterback rating (which has improved since then), Denver allowed quarterbacks to have a rating of 86.8, or 30th in the NFL. Their NFL passer rating allowed was 93.0, also 30th in the NFL.
- The most obvious reason for a decline in performance might go to the injury to Elvis Dumervil. With his NFL-best 17 sacks gone, the front-seven was going to have to pick up the slack. The problem extended beyond him, though. There was a serious lack in talent and production.
- The secondary played very well in 2009, but Hill, Goodman and Dawkins struggled last season. With few good pass rushers, mediocre quarterbacks were having great games against this defense.
- The first thing EFX did was draft a player who could put pressure on the passer. They envisioned Von Miller having a greater impact and more talent that Marcell Dareus, a defensive tackle that was viewed as a perfect fit for Denver. This season has shown that they made the correct choice here.
- EFX drafted FS Rahim Moore and MLB Nate Irving to take over as starters in either 2011 or 2012. So far, these players have done little this season, but with an offseason with Fox and Dennis Allen, I imagine there will be some improvement.
- Elvis Dumervil returned. Although his production was limited because he was still not in football shape, he and rookie Von Miller forced Oakland to max protect before they had played a single down in the 2011 NFL season.
- EFX signed Brodrick Bunkley to shore up one of the worst rush defenses in the league. Marcus Thomas was also brought back, along with Kevin Vickerson. While announcers have stated Darren Sproles was the best offseason acquisition in the NFL, and the Saints have definitely benefited from his play, Bunkley has also been a terrific acquisition.
- The Broncos switched to a 4-3. This allows Denver's players to line up in their preferred positions. Robert Ayers is a great run-stuffing defensive end/tackle hybrid. DJ Williams is a superior outside linebacker than he is an inside linebacker. Joe Mays remains the starting MLB and is a more natural fir than Williams. Although this is only the base defense and often only happens on less than half of the plays, the change has definitely allowed more star players to be in on a single play. With Dumervil, Ayers, Bunkley, Miller and DJ on the field at the same time, the front-seven has greatly improved in talent and production.
- Denver drafted Orlando Franklin in the second round to be the starting right tackle. Although he played time at guard as well, he was viewed as a replacement for Ryan Harris, a good pass-blocking right tackle who had struggled to stay healthy. Franklin is a huge lineman at 6-6/6-7 and 315-330 lbs. and was viewed as a great run-blocking tackle who had versatility for both the interior line and on the outside. Franklin is learning how to pass-block and definitely needs to improve, but he has performed very well at times in run-blocking. This is also an extremely young offensive line - Clady is the only lineman with more than 1 full year of experience in the NFL. All of them are also in their first year in Fox's system.
- Denver drafted Julius Thomas (4th round) and Virgil Green (7th round) to bolster an under-performing group of tight ends. Denver later added Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario to compete with the rookies for a spot on the team. Fells has been the featured tight end because he can run block most effectively. Both Fells and Rosario have made some big catches over the Broncos winning streak. Rookies Thomas and Green have struggled and had virtually no impact on the offense.
- Denver signed Willis McGahee from Baltimore to bolster a running back group that featured too many injuries and inconsistent performances. So far, he has been one of Denver's best players, with 886 yards on 182 carries (4.9 YPC) and 4 touchdowns. He also has 11 receptions for 49 yards and 1 touchdown.
- Game 1 Review (Home vs. Oakland): Von Miller forced a turnover on his first play in the NFL deep in Oakland's territory, yet Denver only scored 3 points. Denver had a punt blocked, but still held Oakland to 3 points. Denver gets called for a 15-yard face mask that allows Janikowski to tie the record with a 63-yard field goal just before half-time. With Denver trailing 16-13 but with all the momentum of the game and 1st and 10 on Oakland's 24, the football slips out of Orton's hand and Oakland recovers it. On the next drive, Oakland scores a touchdown that proves to be enough. After only gaining 120 yards in 3 quarters (40/Qt) on the ground, Oakland gains 77 yards in the the final quarter. Dumervil, DJ Williams, Champ and other defenders are hurt in the game.
- Game 2 Review (Home vs. Cincinnati): Denver jumps out to a 17-3 lead, only to have Cincinnati battle back and make it close. It was the only good game Orton had, but he struggled at times in the second half and had another fumble lost. Denver was so thin at wide receiver that Tebow lined up at wide receiver. Orton and Eric Decker came up with a big play for a touchdown. This was a game Cincinnati could have won in the end down only 2 points, but the defense got enough pressure to get a sack and force an errant throw by Dalton on 4th and 1.
- Game 3 Review (Away vs. Tennessee): McGahee ground out 52 yards on 22 carries. The defense had played well at times in the first two games, only allowed 22.5 points per game, but they played very well in this game on the road against a Titans team that just upset Baltimore the previous week. Leading 14-10, Denver has 1st down at Tennessee's 13 following Miller's sack fumble. After Denver gets a first down following two defensive penalties, they fail to convert on fourth down and miss out on either taking a commanding 21-10 lead in a defensive battle, or going up a touchdown with a field goal. Two drives later, Tennessee gets a 58-yard pass play that sets up the game-winning touchdown. Down three, Denver gets to the Tennessee 38, but Orton throws an interception that ends the game.
- Game 4 Review (Away vs. Green Bay): It started off well with a defensive stop on 4th down, but Denver failed to score a touchdown and had to settle for a field goal. After Green Bay scores a touchdown on a 50 yard play taking advantage of Denver's young secondary, they intercept a poor throw by Orton and return it for a touchdown and then recover an onside kick and then Rodgers rushes for a touchdown. In 8:04 of game time, Green Bay scores 3 touchdowns. Denver then scores two touchdowns to pull within 21-17. Unfortunately, Green Bay countered with another touchdown right before half and then another one to start the third quarter to take a 35-17 lead. Turnovers and an overwhelmed defense doomed Denver against Green Bay that played well for most of the game.
- Game 5 Review (Home vs San Diego): The defense struggled to stop the big play, despite one of their own on an interception by Vaughn that was returned for a touchdown. Orton struggled even more and the Broncos fell behind 23-10 at half time. After a few rough possessions for Tebow and trailing San Diego 26-10, Denver rallied with 2 Tebow touchdowns, including one successful 2-pt conversion and a failed 2-pt conversion. In the end Denver's comeback fell short after Tebow's Hail Mary pass fell incomplete with a pass interference penalty that was not called in the back of the end zone. Regardless of whether it was or wasn't a penalty, Denver had fallen to 1-4 and last place in the AFC West.
- The first game of the season was simply random. How often do punts get blocked? How often do kickers hit a 63-yarder in the rain, even if it is in Denver? How often do quarterbacks just drop the ball and lose it? Okay, now how often do they all happen in favor of one team? Yes, Denver returned a punt for a touchdown, but returns for touchdowns happen more often than the events that helped Oakland pull out of Denver with a win. To put it simply, Oakland needed a lot to go their way to win the football game, and they got all of it.
- The combined record of the first 5 teams is 38-22 (0.633 win pct.). Even if you take away the totals against Denver during the 5 game stretch they are 34-21 (0.618). The fact is, Denver played some good teams to begin the season.
- As much as the media has declared the defense as the reason for the turn around, they only performed poorly against Green Bay and San Diego (for a half) with Orton as the starter.
- Against their first 3 opponents that are currently 7-5, they held them to 20.6 points per game on offense.
- They registered 11 sacks (2.2 / Gm) and forced 7 turnovers (1.4 / Gm) and held opponents to 32-73 on 3rd and 4th downs (43.8) in the first 5 games.
- These aren't great numbers, but they are improvements on last season considering they were against 4 teams with a winning record, including the team with the second best scoring offense in the NFL (New Orleans is first with 389 offensive points while Green Bay has 378 offensive points).
- Over the last 3 years, San Diego's offense has averaged about 26 points per game, one of the best in the NFL over that span. Last season, Oakland scored 357 points (22.3 / Gm) on offense, good enough for 10th in the NFL. This season, they are averaging about the same with 21.7 points per game on offense.
- Statements have been made that Von Miller has only played well during the last 7 games where Denver has gone 6-1. However, in the first 5 games, he recorded 15 tackles, 4 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 QB Hit and 2 FF. Von Miller may have stepped up his game the last few games, but he has been very good for the entire season.
- Offensively, Denver was never really that good either. As much as experts and fans insist that a pocket passer with great mechanics is the only way to go instead of recognizing it is simply the preferred way to go, here is the Broncos' quarterback rating (using my formula) with Orton as the starter: 55.8. His NFL passer rating was 75.7. With Orton as the quarterback, the Broncos rushed for 422 yards for an average of 4.0 yards per carry.
- The best way to describe the first 5 games is that they were just like the last 7:
- Denver gets blown out by a good team? Check.
- The rest of the games Denver was close or losing and had a chance to win the game near the end or go into overtime? Check.
- In the end, Denver made too many mistakes to win 3 out of the 4 games they played. Against Oakland, they had a fumble. Against Tennessee, they failed to convert a 1st and goal into a touchdown and leave with no points. Against San Diego, the defense allows a 42-yard touchdown right before halftime and a 38-yard completion on 3rd and 10 on San Diego's 20 when Denver was only down 26-24.
- If these critical plays don't happen, Denver would be sitting pretty with a 10-2 record. If only.
- The problem with the bullet above is that they did happen. Those 7 plays against (1 vs. Oak, 4 vs. Ten and 2 vs. SD) did turn out that way. The problem was Denver just didn't make the plays they needed to in order to win the games.
- Game 6 @ Miami Review: Down 15-0, Tebow goes 9-13 for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 rushes for 17 yards and 0 touchdowns and 1 sack allowed. He ran in the 2-pt conversion to tie the game. The second drive only happened because, for the first time in the career for John Fox as a head coach, his team recovered an onside kick. As random as the first game against Oakland was, this was almost as random as well. Finally, Denver's defense recorded a sack-fumble in overtime on the Miami 35 that gave the offense the ability to score the winning field goal.
- Game 8 @ Oakland Review: Down 17-7 at half time, Tebow had struggled and needed to play well, seemingly in order to keep his job. He was only 1-1 as a starter, with a horrible game against Miami until the last 5 minutes and then took a beating against Detroit the week before. Reports had stated that Fox was considering bringing in Quinn if Tebow continued to struggle in the second half against Oakland. On offense, Royal and McGahee scored 3 touchdowns while Prater kicked a field goal. Denver allowed only 1 touchdown on defense in the second half. On special teams, Royal returned a punt for a touchdown. In 30 minutes, Denver's whole team scored 31 points in 30 minutes.
- Game 9 @ Kansas City: Against KC, Denver rarely passed the football. McGahee and Moreno suffered injuries and Lance Ball received the bulk of the work with 30 carries for 96 yards. With the game close at 10-7 on 3rd down and 7, Tebow threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker. Denver's defense kept Kansas City from scoring a touchdown, forcing KC to kick a field goal and go for the onside kick down 7. The special teams for Denver recovered the kick to finish the game.
- Game 10 vs. the New York Jets: With virtually no offense again for most of the game, Denver's offense needed to travel from their own 5-yard line to at least the 30 to get a quality field goal opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Tebow led the Broncos 95 yards to take the lead 17-13 on 3 of 5 passes for 35 yards and 6 rushes for 57 yards and the touchdown. Royal, Thomas and Rosario each made big big catches on the drive. On the last drive, Miller had a great sack on Mark Sanchez and the Broncos defense forced the Jets to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game that fell incomplete.
- Game 11 @ San Diego: Down 13-10 on 3rd and 11, Tebow completes a 39 yard pass to Eric Decker to keep their last drive of regulation alive. Tebow finished the drive 2 of 3 for 62 yards and 2 rushes for 4 yards. Rosario and Decker made great diving catches. Prater kicked the tying field goal. On defense, Dumervil sacked Rivers when the Chargers had 1st and 10 on their own 40 yard line with 1:08 to go in the game. As a result, San Diego had to settle for overtime instead of kicking the game-winning field goal. In overtime, Von Miller made a great tackle for a 4-yard loss forcing a 53-yard field goal that was wide right. Tebow then rushed for 16 yards and McGahee ran for 24 yards to set up the game winning field goal by Matt Prater.
- Game 12 @ Minnesota: Down 15-7, 22-14, 29-21 and 32-29, Tebow completed 6 of 9 passes for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran 2 times for 5 yards. McGahee ran 12 times for 85 yards and 1 touchdown. With Denver trailing, they scored on 4 of 6 possessions. With the game tied 32-32 and 1:33 left to go, Andre Goodman intercepted a pass on the first play. The Broncos ran the ball down to the goal line and killed the clock. Matt Prater kicked the game winning field goal.
What do these games that Denver won have in common?
- In 5 of the 6 games, Denver trailed until the fourth quarter.
- Denver scored enough to get within a touchdown in all of them in the fourth quarter.
- Players made outstanding plays-Rosario, Thomas, Decker, Royal and Fells all came up with clutch receptions. McGahee and Ball had great runs to score or set up touchdowns and field goals. Tebow completed great passes and ran for first downs to extend the drives. Miller and Dumervil put great pressure on the quarterbacks. Bailey, Goodman and Dawkins were great against the pass. Williams, Mays, Haggan, Bunkley, Ayers, Thomas and McBean contained the running backs as well. The offensive line, with Clady, Beadles, Walton, Kuper and Franklin have opened up holes for the running backs and given Tebow time to throw the ball. Colquitt has been punting the ball out of his mind is one of the best in the NFL. Prater has hit field goals when Denver needed him to.
- I just named over half of Denver's team above. This team is making plays that they failed to do in the first 5 games of the season. This team is slowly coming together. Under the leadership of Tebow, this team has played inspired football. No matter what the odds have been, despite being an underdog in seemingly every game except Minnesota (even in the Minnesota game to some), Denver found a way to make one more play than the other team and get the win.
|First 4.5 Games||After 12 Games|
|Pass Yds / Gm||217.6||155.8|
|Rush Yds / Gm||93.8||158.9|
|Points / GM||20.2||21.3|
|Turnovers / Gm||2.7||0.9|
|Strength of Schedule||38-22 (0.633)||75-69 (0.521)|
- With the focus on the running game and Tebow's athleticism, it is no surprise that Denver has vaulted to the top of the NFL in rushing yards per game. They are second in the NFL in attempts per game (33.2) behind Houston (36.0).
- The points per game total also includes defensive and special teams scoring, like Goodman's interception return for a touchdown against the Jets and Royal's punt return for a touchdown against Oakland.
- The QB rating in the second column is only Tebow's rating instead of a cumulative rating with both Orton's and Tebow's numbers combined.
- It should be noted that despite the huge improvement over Orton, Tebow still has a lot of room for improvement. Given that he is essentially a rookie and has had to learn as the weeks go on with a young offense, a rating of 72.0 is very impressive. As long as he keeps his turnovers down and continues to work on his accuracy, you will see a huge jump. The goal for every franchise is to have a quarterback rating over 80. This number indicates a lot of production and few mistakes such as turnovers, incomplete passes and sacks.
- It is important to note that Denver faced 5 talented teams while Orton was the starter. Since then, they have teams that have struggled. However, they faced 2 teams (Oakland and San Diego) on the road after two home losses, and played much better and obviously squeezed out two wins. For this reason, strength of schedule is only so valid. They may have faced tougher competition, but they have won because they have played better.
|First 4.5 Games||After 12 Games|
|Pass Yards All / Gm||290.7||245.2|
|Rush Yards All / Gm||120.4||121.2|
|Points All / Gm||29.8||24.3|
- Denver struggled to defend the pass, and much of that had to do with the struggles of rookie FS Rahim Moore. Elvis Dumervil was also not 100%, and his performance over the last 7.5 games has been awesome. While the run defense has been good at times, it still continues to struggle on occasion. Still, they are a much improved unit compared to last season. In his first year as the head coach for Denver, Fox has done a tremendous job with the defense.
- Again, the Broncos have allowed a couple high scoring games, but have done very well in most of the games in limiting the scoring opportunities. Although it seems like only a small improvement, to average almost 2 field goals less per game means over the last 7 games Denver has allowed only 21.1 points per game, almost 3 field goals less per game. This is a huge improvement from last season, where they allowed 29.4 points per game. Even if the argument is used that the offenses they have faced are struggling, Minnesota, San Diego, New York, Detroit, Oakland and Miami have all played well recently and are capable of scoring well over 20 points per game.
- The front seven has come alive with Dumervil getting healthy and Miller progressing as a pass rusher. Averaging just under 3 sacks per game (2.8) is impressive considering they only had 23 sacks all of last year (they have 33 after 12 games this season). They are currently on pace to have 45 sacks.
- Despite the added pressure and quarterback hits, the Broncos still have only forced 1.3 turnovers per game. While Denver has avoided turning the ball over, this is an area that needs the most improvement.
- While the QB rating for the first 4.5 games is absolutely atrocious, they did face some quality quarterbacks. Campbell has played surprisingly well with one of the best running games. Dalton has been a solid rookie, Hasselbeck has energized Tennessee's offense, Rodgers is have one of the best seasons a quarterback has ever had, and Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. While the quality of NFL players has diminished considerably, Denver's performance against the pass has also improved.
Quarterback Rating - This rating measures not only the accuracy of the quarterback, but the ability of the quarterback and wide receivers to score touchdowns. It also measures the quarterbacks ability to throw down the field as well as avoid costly turnovers. Finally, the offensive line is extremely important and this measure's their ability to protect the quarterback.
Defensive QB Rating - It measures the defense's ability to stop quarterbacks from being effective.Plays Per Touchdown - This rating simply measures an offense's ability to score in as few plays as possible. While the offense tries to score as quickly as possible, the defense's job is to force the offense to run as many plays as possible to score 7 points.Net Miscellaneous - This measures each team's ability to avoid turnovers, penalties, and covert on third and fourth down more effectively than the opponent. Although these are not updated after this week's win over Minnesota, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at where Denver stands after two-thirds of the season.
Efficiency Rating Score NFL Rank QB Rating 69.1 12th* Def QB Rating 81.7 30th Off. Play / TD 25.1 23rd Def. Play / TD 21.5 21st Net Misc 20.7 24th (t)
- While Tebow has shown improvement and his current quarterback rating after Minnesota is 72.0, the ranking is a little skewed because of quality quarterbacks like Cutler and Schaub that have been injured. Needless to say, he has performed very well given the circumstances (rookie, new head coach, no offseason....). We have all seen him, the wide receivers and offensive line improve. He has outperformed more acclaimed quarterbacks such as Roethlisberger, Sanchez, Flacco, Rivers and Carson Palmer. The truth is, he has been very good for a young quarterback.
- The Broncos defense got off to a horrible start against some quarterbacks that are having good seasons. They have shown improvement from earlier in the season. Look for Denver to draft a CB in the first round as this is the biggest area of need. Some growth by the young defensive backs would also help.
- Denver is not efficient in scoring or defending other teams from scoring. This is evident with all of their close games.
- Despite the Broncos winning 6 out of the last 7 games, they have committed far more penalties than in the early stages of the year. Their 3rd/4th down production is also worse on offense than at the beginning of the year. Most of this has to do with a new offense and new quarterback with no experience working together. Denver has improved in the turnover battle and is one of the biggest reasons why they have been able to win the close games.
Denver has faced a lot of criticism over the last 2 months, whether self-inflicted or from outside of Dove Valley.
- Elway and Fox have appeared at times to not want Tebow as their quarterback.
- McCoy's play-calling has come into question seemingly every game as being too conservative.
- The wide receivers have been questioned at times for dropped passes.
- The defense has given up big plays on occasion.
- Finally, Tebow is at the center of it all, and many have said he can't throw, can't play quarterback, can't carry the offense and should play fullback or tight end. The offense is too limited with him as the QB.
It seems there is an unending list of quotes from notable people in history that talk about how things in life may never be what you would like them to be, but its how you deal with that adversity that "defines" you.
Tim Tebow, the leader of the surging Denver Broncos, would probably quote from the Bible with these verses - James 1:2-6 (NIV)
2. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
3. because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
4. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
5. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
6. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.