Now that we have had a day to decompress and cool off, it's time to seriously talk about the Broncos' place in the playoffs this year. The Broncos went into the offseason with an aggressive approach to make them legitimately the best team in the NFL on both sides of the ball.
One could argue that they did just that, by picking up Emmanuel Sanders, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward in free agency. Von Miller looks like he's back to his old 2012 self, ranked third in the league for sacks.Brandon Marshall is third in he NFL in solo tackles. The Broncos are still arguably the best passing offense in the league, with Demaryius Thomas leading the NFL in receiving yards, and Sanders close behind at fifth. Yet something is still lacking.
The Broncos are showing that they can outperform teams statistically on multiple levels. Despite playing one of the hardest schedules in the league this year, the Broncos are still first in the AFC West and third in the NFL. When comparing the Broncos to the average team in the NFL, they outperform almost every single one of them. In anarticle I wrote two weeks ago, I showed that the Broncos played the hardest schedule in the NFL when based on point differential, and had still managed to have the best record in the AFC.
A friend of mine took my strength of schedule analysis one step further, sending me a spreadsheet full of numbers to show just how well each team has handled their opponents. The Broncos numbers are impressive. They are performing above average on both sides of the ball; but they will need more than to be better than average, and better than they have been to make the playoffs in the AFC.
Despite an impressive record on paper, the Broncos have shown a struggle in nearly every game. They let the Colt's close the point gap in game one, never got a comfortable lead on the Chiefs, almost gave all of Broncos Country an aneurism in the first half against the Raiders, and left us feeling the Monday blues after getting beat by the Patriots and Rams. How is a team that is so impressive in numbers constantly looking like a team with no answer?
Explanation of the numbers and rankings:
Taking the score of every game played this season into consideration the amount of points each team scores against its opponents can be compared to the average points other teams scored against the same opponent. For example, the New York Giants scored 20 points against the Dallas Cowboys, and other teams are scoring an average 21.2 points against the Cowboys. This means that the Giants scored 0.99 points (21/21.2) for each point the average Cowboys' opponent scored against them. This number can be averaged for each game to give the normalized offense - with a score of 1 being average, a score below 1 being below average and a score above 1 being above average.
The same method was used for points against. A team allowing less than the average amount of points against a team is above average. Therefore a normalized defensive score of 1 is average, a score below 1 is above average and a score above 1 is below average. Using this method, each offense and defense can be ranked based on how they perform against the average.
A higher normalized offense is better (scoring more points than the average), and a lower normalized defense is better (allowing less points than the average). Each team is ranked for both normalized offense and normalized defense, and the average of those two ranks is the overall rank.
|Overall Rank by Normalized Offensive and Defensive Points|
|Team||Normalized Offense||Offensive Rank||Normalized Defense||Defensive Rank||Average Rank||Overall Rank||NFL Rank|
One week ago the Broncos were number 1 using this system. Two weeks ago I wrote that records don't matter and strength of schedule does. While this holds true to preparing for an opponent, the truth is that records mean everything when it comes to getting into the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl. And when it comes down to it, the Broncos are in legitimate danger of not even making the playoffs. The Broncos play the Miami Dolphins and theKansas City Chiefs in our next two games; these are the two teams ranked number one and number two using this system. These teams have both played hard schedules, reflected in their records, and have consistently performed above average with less talent than the Broncos have.
Statistically the Broncos have the best offense in the league, despite our lack of run game. Statistically, the Broncos have a much better defense than last year, improving on both run and pass coverage. So, what is the problem? One thing to take note of, on the other hand, is that the Broncos are still performing above average on both sides of the ball. The ability is there.
As many have pointed out, the Broncos have a coaching problem. The coaching staff is not making the most of its über-talented roster. All of the tools are there, but they are not being used efficiently. Simply put, they don't trust the talent they recruited.
The coaches are relying too much on Manning. Yes, he is the best quarterback of all-time, but even the best have bad games. And when that happens, there needs to be a plan in place with the weapons the Broncos have to find a way to win. There are teams throughout the league making the most of nothing due to great play calling. The Broncos were simply out-coached on Sunday against a team with a quarterback that was thrown into the mix for game 11 of the season with nothing to lose.
Meanwhile, John Fox and the rest of the Broncos coaches were playing scared, as if we had everything to lose. The worst part is that the coaches will never own up to their poor decisions. They act like Jay Cutler when asked about the problem, pointing out everything that went wrong but never taking any of the blame. That may fool the Bearsmanagement, but it's not fooling Broncos country.
The coaching hesitation was obvious against the Rams. After a breakout week by C.J. Anderson and the return ofMontee Ball, we only gave our running backs 10 attempts to rush, even as Manning struggled to complete passes. The Broncos were attempting 4th and long because of the lack of confidence the coaching staff has in Brandon McManus' kicking ability. It seems as though the coaches don't trust any of the offensive weapons the Broncos have unless they are named Peyton Manning.
On the other side of the ball, Jack Del Rio continues to call for a zone defense, even when it is was leaving receivers wide open and allowing big yards on the run. The Broncos performed great in the red zone, forcing theRams to kick 5 field goals. The only touchdown they had was a long pass in zone coverage. The Broncos have the speed and agility in the secondary to play man coverage on the best receivers in the NFL, yet we are stuck in a zone coverage that keeps leaving us beat on long plays.
If the Broncos want to win the Super Bowl, the coaches are going to have to show more confidence in the players they have, and admit to their failures. The greatest talent in the league were signed to the Broncos for one reason: to win a Super Bowl before Peyton Manning is gone. In order to do that, they are going to have to stop relying on him alone.