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The 2016 Denver Broncos identity has shown itself

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The No Bull Review this week covers where we are at a critical juncture in the 2016 season. Let’s talk about who this team is and what might keep us from the playoffs.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Tennessee Titans Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

This week I’m taking a slight departure from my regular review. For one thing, I only got to watch the 2nd half of the game. For another thing, I’d like to kind of take a step back and give my overall thoughts on the team through 13 games of the 2016 season. The season’s playoff hopes are on the line and I think it would be interesting to talk about the big picture of who the 2016 Denver Broncos are from what my eyes are telling me.

Overall I’ll start by saying that this team is overachieving in my opinion. Denver is in my opinion a 6-7 team masquerading as a 8-5 team. Now don’t get me wrong...I’m pumped that we are actually at 8-5. What I’m saying is that the kind of talent, coaching, and on the field play I’m seeing is that of a mediocre NFL team.

So the good thing is that we still like any good team are finding ways to win. That’s a big time good thing. That shows the team is making the most of what they have. I dig it. I like to see the Broncos in the playoffs and if we are going to make it this year, they have to keep digging out wins the way they have been.

Defense

This is still the pride and joy of the football team. We have the most devastating pass rushers in the NFL. We have the best secondary in the NFL. Wade Phillips is still showing that he’s one of the absolute best defensive coordinators in the NFL.

There’s honestly very little bad you can say about the coaching on this side of the ball. They adjust in game. They blitz unpredictably. There’s just not much you can really point at from a coaching perspective as lacking for the team.

Front 7

Von Miller is the best defensive player in the NFL and it isn’t even close. He’s the heart and soul of the defense and I’m just blown away by how much he is doing this year on the field at such a high level. We’ve seen him in pass coverage as well as some of the best run defense we’ve seen on the team. He’s grown into a complete NFL linebacker who is “great” at many things, not just good.

I really like this year what we’re seeing from Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray (in that order...Shaquil is the better of the two IMO). The only constant issue I’ve seen here is Ray not containing his edge in the run game as well as he could. Other than that, they are ready for starting action.

Our run defense up front is the biggest issue for our defense and a definite weakness. Starters Jared Crick and Sylvester Williams are the bigger liabilities up front from what I’ve been seeing. Our linebackers Todd Davis and Corey Nelson have had some issues as well (it is worth mentioning that Zaire Anderson looked pretty impressive in the action he saw last game...I’d like to see more of him) with winning in run defense.

Crick actually shows some decent upside in the pass rush department and I’d be a bigger fan of his if he was able to rotate in (which was the plan with Vance Walker starting this year) instead of having to be a core starter on the line.

There’s a reason the Broncos didn’t use the 5th year option for Williams. As far as defenders go, he’s pretty much JAG for starting NFL linemen. He flashes some good plays every once in awhile, gets moved out of position every once in awhile, and looks fairly “meh” most of the time.

I do want to take the time to mention DeMarcus Ware here. I love that we are able to rotate him in sparsely and keep him fresh. He’s one of the NFL’s finest and as a fan, I’m so proud to see him still playing on our team. He’s still not a liability to my eyes when he’s on the field. His health is the only question with him and his future. His pass rush is still money and he’s still strong against the run.

Secondary

Denver’s secondary is the envy of the NFL. We may not even make the playoffs this year (which would be a true shame) and if that happens, every quarterback in the AFC side of the bracket will be letting out a sigh of relief.

As far as corners go, there is no tandem in the NFL that can carry the jocks of Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. They are flat out the best two corners in the NFL.

Sadly, there’s a pretty large gap between them and Bradley Roby. He’s a decent cornerback from what I’ve seen this year. The words “great” or even “good” aren’t adjectives that I’d use for his game at this point. He’s way too inconsistent and his effort straight up lacks at times (check him out on that Blake Bortles TD for an example or the 4th quarter 1st down conversion by KC late in the game inside the 10).

I’m also of the mind that our safeties are the best we’ve seen in Denver since Steve Atwater and Dennis Smith roamed the field back in the day. Darian Stewart is one of the best 3-5 free safeties in the NFL. T.J. Ward is an absolute beast on the field as a strong safety and his coverage this year has looked better even than what it was last year.

One thing that some may not notice is how much action Justin Simmons and Will Park have been seeing and how solid they look on the field. Both haven’t been perfect, but neither one have been any kind of liability at all. They both look like NFL players and on a team with a weaker secondary they’d be starting already.

Offense

Here’s where it gets real for the 2016 Denver Broncos. If there is one reason that this Denver Bronco team misses the playoffs, it will be due to the coaching of the offense starting with Gary Kubiak (head coach), pinging off of Rick Dennison (“offensive coordinator” and I use that term loosely), and rolling down to Clancy Barone (offensive line coach).

This year we were supposed to see the Kubiak offense dig roots here in Denver and start lifting our offense up to be something close to what we would call respectable (because let me remind you, last year’s offense was just as bad if not worse in some ways).

That has not happened. Our offensive line play looks the worst it has since the Tebow years where they looked bad because they had a QB holding the ball for 10 literal seconds on passing plays.

Our running backs look lackluster all around. Part of this has to do with the scheme and lack of blocking, but does any of them (even C.J. Anderson) look like something you would call a “threat” out of the backfield? I wouldn’t.

We are finally seeing the receivers come alive at some level including more throws to tight ends. It only took about 12 games to get there and sadly these big passing numbers aren’t translating to points on the board.

And that’s the biggest problem I have with the Broncos’ offense in 2016: we don’t know how to score. Our run game is inept and can’t punch it in much from short, medium, or long distance. Our passing game isn’t nuanced enough to be able to make those consistent accurate TD throws we see in the red zone from the NFL’s good QBs.

I’m sure we’ll have more to say on this as the season wraps up whether in 3 weeks or 2 months. But here you have the foundation of my thoughts on our offense’s woes. We’ve heard tons about our quarterbacks all year long. That’s not the problem. I don’t care who starts for Denver, the offense is going to look bad and it starts with our coaches and the ultimate criticism of it rests at their feet.

Quarterbacks

I’m not going to beat a dead horse here and will instead opt to keep it simple. Denver is in a very good place for the future with their quarterback situation.

We have in Trevor Siemian a young 7th round guy in his 2nd year doing some very good learning and actual improvement in his game. He’s not terribly accurate, strong-armed, or fiery, but he gets the job done. The NFL has known lots of fairly successful QBs like him (Trent Green, Kyle Orton, etc).

We also have a young gun with a big arm who has a lot of work to do to get it together and be a NFL starter in Paxton Lynch. He’s shown some good growth as well, but it is fairly obvious we should expect better things from him next year. He’s got big time footwork issues to iron out which will help his accuracy in a big way (which is very needed).

The only real question here is have we been spending the season developing the right quarterback? I see both sides honestly as far as the future goes. But the big thing I come back to is the words of John Elway. He is building this team to win from “now on.” If that is your team’s core then Trevor Siemian has been the correct starter for the 2016 season. It is as simple as that.

Line

Let’s start out here by saying Matt Paradis is a friggin gem on this line. He’s so sound technique-wise and plays with really good power for a center. He’s honestly one of the best C’s in the NFL and it is a crying shame he’s surrounded by so many lackluster players on the line.

I also think Russel Okung is a decent left tackle. He’s not an all-pro by any stretch, but he’s absolutely a guy you can keep around for a couple of years in my opinion. We have far bigger fish to fry on the line and I like keeping guys that play with heart. He also is one of the few linemen who brings it in the run game.

The third guy I’m fairly okay with is Michael Schofield. Much like Okung, he’s a guy that you can probably do better than, but his work at guard has been more up than down. He’s looked much better at guard than he did at tackle last year.

Sadly the other two guys in Max Garcia and Donald Stephenson have been huge liabilities in the run game. I’m honestly not sure how Garcia is still starting for us at this point in the season. He’s absolutely more of 2016’s Lance Ball than even Jordan Norwood. He’s not starting quality in his play and I have a hard time thinking he’s even back-up quality.

As far as Stephenson goes, his play has been more up and down with inconsistency than any other player on the line. It trends down though and too many times we run the right side where he’s getting pushed back into the lane which makes the play break down.

I do think the line has improved fairly well at pass blocking the past few weeks. That’s a positive sign all around. The problem is that this offense NEEDS a run game and that side of the equation is getting worse as the season goes on instead of better (mostly because we have to abandon the run just to get any kind of production).

Running Backs

I’m not going to waste a bunch of time here. This is a big weakness for the team. In one game, Justin Forsett has teased us with some pretty darn respectable running. Honestly, most of my playoff hopes for this team rest on his shoulders. If he can get us something like 3.5 yards per carry and 20 touches per game to finish the season, I honestly think we have a shot.

Devontae Booker needs work. That’s not a good thing to say about a running back even a rookie. RBs don’t need tons of time to get production in the NFL. You either have it or you don’t and I’m honestly not sold on Booker having anything other than an average 3 - 4 year NFL career based off of his work through this season. His biggest problems are breaking tackles and picking up blitzes properly...both of those are killers at the NFL level.

Receivers

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are absolutely busting their tails the past few weeks to get this offense headed in the right direction. I applaud their efforts on the field and off honestly. They are getting after it and grinding hard. I just wish they could throw to themselves somehow.

I also see a resurgence in the passing game going to our tight ends thanks to A.J. Derby. Bringing him to Denver is likely going to be looked back on as the best move of 2016 by John Elway. He’s getting better every week and starting to see a good amount of targets with really positive production coming from it.

One big weakness we’re seeing on this team is the 3rd WR position. We have guys in Jordan Taylor and Bennie Fowler that I really like, but sadly neither of them is showing the consistency needed to be that “3rd guy” on the offense. Taylor especially has the look of a big time catching weapon who you could put across from DT, but I can see why our coaches don’t do that given some of the plays he’s missed.

Special Teams

Overall you have to be pleased with where our special teams units are. We’ve upgraded our punting game this year (and he makes a darn good passer too...that back shoulder throw for 16 yards last week by Riley Dixon was cash money homie!).

I also think Brandon McManus is a darn good kicker. He’s got a huge leg and has shown decent consistency for the 2nd year in a row with us.

It took Denver a long time, but we also seemed to have upgraded our returner position by benching Jordan Norwood for Khalif Raymond which is a move I’m a big fan of.

Final Thoughts

Really I’d like to bring home for you all that this last week’s game against the Titans was the story of 2016:

Our defense is superb and holds a team to low points with excellent play for the majority of the game all around.

Our offense can’t run the ball.

Our offense’s passing game is wildly inconsistent.

Once we get inside the 20, the offense can’t score points worth a darn.

Unless the team generates bonus points in the way of big turnovers or crazy special teams plays, we mostly can’t expect to score more than 20 points.

You really can’t say enough just how bad this offense is. The scheme we use absolutely relies on the running game. The running game absolutely relies on above-average run blocking from the offensive line. The offensive line barely is able to run block at an average rate.

So we are left with take your pick from two really young QBs who you are asking to throw the ball 35-50 times a game in order to try to win. This is every defensive coordinator’s wet dream. The smart ones just run basic zone concepts with cover-2 and cover-3 looks.

It is because of our amazing defense that we aren’t crying in our beers at this point in the season to be completely honest. They deserve more from the offense honestly.

Win, lose, or draw, these last 3 weeks for the Denver Broncos are going to be wild and very telling for the future of the team and the offensive coaches I mentioned above.

John Elway has his hand on the rudder for the Denver Broncos and he didn’t even blink one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance from making a coaching change when the 2014 Broncos underachieved. I think anything short of a playoff berth is going to bring some changes of some scope to our coaching staff.

We’ve got the three biggest games of the year coming up against the three best opponents we’ll likely see in 2016. I’m looking forward to it one way or another.