The Denver Broncos have a pretty long tradition of being at least competitive, and last year’s 4-12 record was the lowest win total in a 16 game season for the franchise. We might then expect a turnaround. The issue, though, is how quickly new team president John Elway and head coach John Fox can turn around the defense.
While Kyle Orton was blamed for the problems last year and the fans clamored for Tim Tebow, the real obvious issue with this team was that the defense fell apart. The season started normally enough. The Broncos were competitive in the first 6 games, going 2-4, but outgaining 5 of the first 6 opponents. The team lost close games, and the offense had some red zone failures, most notably in the game against the Colts, that seemed to suggest that they were a bounce back candidate as the season progressed, as they had only been outscored by 16 points.
It didn’t turn out that way. Instead, they were completely destroyed by the Oakland Raiders at home in the seventh game 59-14, as the Raiders rolled up over 500 yards of total offense. The Broncos allowed 400 or more yards of offense to the opponent in 6 of the last 8 games. Denver allowed 6,253 yards in 2010, the seventh highest total since 1990.
The main culprit was an aging defensive core (seven different starters on defense were 30 or older) including McDaniels’ adding to an already older group by signing Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan to play on the line. Young players floundered in the 3-4 system preferred by Josh McDaniels coming from New England, and the loss of Elvis Dumervil, the one dynamic pass rusher, for the entire season, was the final push that knocked the house of cards down on defense.
Fast forward to 2011, and the Josh McDaniels experiment is over. New coach John Fox, conservative to a fault with his decision making at times, will still bring a toughness that the team lacked on defense. The seeds for a turnaround are there, though if you look at the other teams that allowed over 6,000 yards in a season since 1990, there are a lot of teams that continued to struggle for another year (8 of 21 finished in the bottom 5 in total yards again the following season, average finish in yards and points, 23rd). Denver can look to the Detroit Lions, who jumped up after finishing last in 2009 with the addition of early draft pick Ndamukong Suh. Of course, Detroit was also last in defense in 2007 and 2008, so the turnaround didn’t come before multiple struggles.
Denver appears to get two dynamic play makers to join Champ Bailey, with the addition of top pick Von Miller, and the return of Dumervil. Kyle Orton will be the starting quarterback again, and I look for the offense to be decent, and it should bounce back with better red zone performance than last year, but the key to whether Denver will bounce back from its worst season in thirty years again will depend on the other side of the ball. If the defense takes a big leap, this team can surprise in quick fashion. If new players in a new system cannot quickly replace the aging starters from the last few years, though, it may be another year before the Mile High City returns to its former glory.
I already picked Cleveland as my sleeper team, but if I were to point to another team with a chance to make a run, it would be Denver if Von Miller is an impact rookie, Dumervil comes back full speed, and the defense turns around quickly. For now, I’ll say they bounce back, but I don’t think it’s all the way to the playoffs. They’ll be more competitive and likely involved in some shootouts, and could be a fairly entertaining team to watch in the late afternoon games. I’ll say 7-8 wins and in a race with Kansas City and Oakland for second place in the West.
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[photo via Getty]