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Placing This Preseason Into Context

Every year, both fans and the MSM focus on potential when watching preseason games. Some teams (Indianapolis) rarely win during the preseason, only to march on to win their division during the regular season.

With injuries, holdouts, newly signed free-agents, new coaching staffs and rookies, the preseason games are only going to be so valuable when trying to predict the upcoming season.

However, there are some elements of each team that do carry over into the regular season. Here is a look at Denver's last two preseasons with data detailing only the performance by the starters.

In 2010, Denver's biggest question marks on offense were at the wide receiver and offensive line positions. Marshall had been traded, and Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris were recovering from injuries.

On defense, Dumervil was gone for the season, and there were gaping holes across the linebacker and defensive line position. The secondary was also aging, even though Champ still put together an excellent season.

Here is a chart detailing their performance in the 2010 Preseason (Weeks 1-3)

They played Cincinnati (4-12 in 2010 Regular Season), Detroit (6-10), Pittsburgh (12-4)

Possessions 12 Possessions 12
Plays 76 Plays 93
Yards 391 Yards 510
Avg. 5.1 Avg. 5.5
3rd/4th Dwn % 13-19 3rd/4th Dwn % 9-17
Sacks All 2 Sacks 2
Tos 2 Tos Forced 2
Points Scored 38 Points All 26

Rush Att 25 Rush Att 36
Rush Yards 67 Rush Yards 154
YPC 2.7 YPC 4.3
Tds 1 Tds All 1

Pass Plays 51 Pass Plays 57
Pass Yards 324 Pass Yards 356
YPA 6.4 YPA 6.3
Tds 4 Tds All 1

Here a few key notes:


  • Denver had very little balance, running the ball on only 32.9 percent of their plays.
  • As a result, Denver had an embarrassing 2.7 YPC, and only managed 1 rushing touchdown.
  • While Denver's passing game was responsible for 4 touchdowns, Orton was inconsistent and averaged a very poor 6.4 yards per attempt.
  • The most amazing stat is Denver's impressive 68.4 percent conversion rate on third and fourth downs. This had the most positive effect on Denver's scoring total.
Conclusion: As a whole, Denver did manage to score 5 touchdowns in 12 possessions, but they only averaged 5.1 yards per play. Obviously scoring is much more important that yards, but Denver had tons of plays for negative or short yards. In 2010, only three teams in the top 20 in scoring averaged 5.1 yards per play or less.

While it is difficult to know exactly what the circumstances were, Denver's offensive performance came at the expense of two losing teams (CIN, DET) and one winning team (PIT). Denver's best performance came against Pittsburgh in week 3, but Roethlisberger was only in the game for the first quarter.

Overall, Denver had a solid performance in the passing game, but there was a glaring need in the running game. Denver's pass-oriented offense and struggles in the running game all of last year should not have come as a surprise. Since Denver struggled to convert on third and fourth downs (32.2 percent), Denver's preseason scoring success evaporated. Denver's offense only scored 330 points, or 20.6 points per game.

  • Denver's opponents weren't exactly balanced in their attack either, with a run percentage of 38.7 percent. For many teams, the preseason is the time where teams test their quarterbacks, leading to a spike in passing plays.
  • Denver was mediocre at defending the run, although their performance in the preseason was more respectable than in the regular season, where Denver went from allowing 4.3 YPC to 4.7 YPC.
  • Denver's biggest achievement was holding their opponents to field goals (4 to be exact) instead of touchdowns. Although they allowed Cincinnati, Detroit and Pittsburgh to move the ball relatively easily at 5.5 yards per play, they stood tall near the red zone and forced field goals instead of touchdowns. Unfortunately, that did not carry over into the regular season.
  • Finally, Denver struggled to force many punts. Their opponents converted their third and fourth downs 52.9 percent of the time.
Conclusion: Denver struggled to force many negative plays, but stiffened near the red zone. Despite allowing lots of yards, they were able to keep the score respectable. They were much better at defending the pass than the run. However, the loss of Dumervil and the void of talent for the rest of the front-seven led to a historically awful regular season performance.

Now, fast-forward to 2011. Denver has played a decent team in Dallas, and two bad teams, Buffalo and Seattle. Still, Denver has performed rather consistently in all three games.

Here is a chart detailing their performance in the 2011 Preseason (Weeks 1-3)

Dallas (6-10), Buffalo (4-12), Seattle (7-9)

Possessions 13 Possessions 14
Plays 83 Plays 67
Yards 533 Yards 190
Avg. 6.4 Avg. 2.8
3rd/4th Dwn % 8-16 3rd/4th Dwn % 5-16
Sacks All 2 Sacks 6
Tos 1 Tos Forced 1
Points Scored 34 Points All 9

Rush Att 38 Rush Att 25
Rush Yards 145 Rush Yards 95
YPC 3.8 YPC 3.8
Tds 2 Tds All 0

Pass Plays 45 Pass Plays 46
Pass Yards 388 Pass Yards 95
YPA 8.6 YPA 2.1
Tds 2 Tds All 0

Again, here are a few notes:

  • Denver averaged 6.4 yards per play on offense, compared to 5.1 in 2010. Denver scored 1 less touchdown, but 1 more field goal.
  • The biggest difference is Denver's ability to run the ball effectively. Even though they have only averaged 3.8 yards per carry (compared to 2.7 in 2010), so many of their attempts have come in short yardage situations. With a run percentage of 45.8, Denver has a much more balanced offense.
  • Not to be outdone, Denver has had a great passing performance, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt with Orton under center. While there is little chance he will duplicate that kind of number for the regular season, it will be much easier to have a high average when the running game is present.
  • Finally, Denver has been able to score because of 50.0 percent conversion percentage on third and fourth downs.
Conclusion: One of the reasons Peyton Manning struggled last year was due to a lack of running game. Winning, no matter who the quarterback is, will always be tough when the offense passes at least 40 times a game. Fox and McCoy will do their best to run as much as the situation allows.

The keys for Orton is for the offensive line to stay together and Moreno and McGahee to play at the same level they have so far this year. If either situation goes south or Denver continually finds themselves trailing in the second half, expect Denver to revert a little back to last year.

  • As good as Denver has been on offense, their defense has been even better. Aside from only allowing 9 points compared to 26 last preseason, Denver has done what good defenses do - dominate bad offenses. While Dallas did march down for an opening field goal, Denver has still been awesome, allowing 2.8 yards per play. Although there no chance that happens in the regular season, Denver has improved from last year, where they allowed 5.5 yards per play during the preseason and 5.9 yards per play during the regular season.
  • This has been talked about a ton this off-season, but Denver really struggled defending the run. Even with questions revolving around the defensive line and lack of depth (and health) at the defensive tackle positions, Denver has done well considering. Felix Jones and Fred Jackson had some success against the Broncos, but overall, Denver was able to limit the rushers to 3.8 yards per carry. This is a significant improvement from a year ago.
  • If being more stingy against the run wasn't enough, Denver has limited one good quarterback and made two others look awful. Denver's starters are only allowing an average of 2.1 yards per pass attempt. That is unheard of, not just on a few possessions, but 14. This is the Von Doom effect. Their presence has been felt a little in the running game, but so far, they have destroyed the opponents ability to pass the ball.
  • As expected, Denver's improved pass rush has led to a good defensive effort, only allowing a conversion on third and fourth down 31.3 percent of the time. This is one of the biggest improvements from last year, where Denver just could not get off the field.
Conclusion: Denver has done what they were incapable of doing last year, whether preseason or regular season - limit big plays, pressure the quarterback and force punts or turnovers when facing bad competition. They made David Garrard, Jason Campbell, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford look like pro-bowlers in 2010.

The improvement in the front-seven is a result of Dumervil's return, the addition of Miller and Bunkley and the steady improvement of Mays at MLB. In the secondary, depth is greatly improved over last year. A healthy Goodman, rookie Rahim Moore, and the improvement in Cassius Vaughn will definitely help the pass rush.

In the end, this team has some good linebackers, safeties and corners, but their defensive success hinges around the play-making abilities of their pass rushers. Dumervil and Miller must stay healthy and provide pro-bowl caliber years for Denver to overcome the difficulties that come with a new coaching staff and the lack of depth at the defensive tackle positions.

So far, they have shown that they can handle poor offenses like Buffalo and Seattle. This year, they will get to play against Oakland, Kansas City and the New York Jets rushing attacks (5 games), and San Diego, Green Bay and New England's superior passing attacks.

If they are going to win any of these games, they will need to duplicate their preseason performance as best as possible. I fully expect Denver to make huge improvements in both their run defense and pass defense from last year.

However, teams watch and learn. Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen will be tested each week to craft intelligent schemes that are unique for each opposing offense. His ability to do this, along with maximizing the talent present, will determine the success of Denver's improving defense for 2011.

2011 Forecast

Denver's success on offense will hinge on their ability to maintain a balanced and efficient offense. Orton will only throw for about 20-25 touchdowns, so he will have to maintain a low turnover ration.

The offensive line will have to block well (they allowed 40 sacks, 24th in the NFL) and open running lanes for Moreno and McGahee. Since there is no way for Denver to be as bad as they were last year, expect a huge improvement with run-guru John Fox as head coach. Since McCoy is still the OC, expect the offense to play well on a consistent basis and score more points than last year.

On defense, there is no way they can perform as poorly as they did last year. They were in the bottom-three in almost every category, including points allowed, yards, sacks, turnovers and third and fourth down percentage. Expect an improvement in all of these areas, with the biggest improvement most likely being in points allowed or sacks.

If this preseason is any indication, Denver will at least provide a little resistance to quarterbacks on a weekly basis. I fully expect the defense to surprise many fans and journalists, and maybe even me. Hopefully, I am right.

And Go Broncos.