I just arrived home early this morning after being one of the lucky few to successfully fly out of New York amidst a heavy snow storm. After a day of processing the Denver Broncos lopsided loss to the Seattle Seahawks, I feel ready to look to the future.
Seahawks fans claimed it would go exactly this way. They claimed the Broncos had never seen a defense like this. True. They claimed the 12th man would be a factor even away from Seattle. True. They claimed their special teams were better and would make an impact. True. They claimed their defense would disrupt the Broncos precision offense in a way never done before. True. They claimed that same defense would create turnovers and score points. True and true. They claimed the real Super Bowl took place against the San Francisco 49ers. Hard to argue against that now, so I’ll go with true.
Broncos fans had our own list of arguments and claims before the game that we believed just as wholeheartedly. Seattle had never seen an offense like Denver’s. True. They had never faced such an imposing quartet of receiving threats before. True. They had not faced a quarterback as skilled and on top of his game as Peyton Manning. True. That the Broncos had run for as many yards as Seattle’s celebrated rushing attack, but with 11 more rushing TDs. True and true.
So in the end, was it just a case of Seattle’s “truths” mattering more than Denver’s? Did the advantages Seattle held so far outweigh Denver’s that the matchup was so one-sided? Or is it the hard truth that the current version of the Denver Broncos has peaked and run its course?
During the 2012-13 season the Broncos arguably did what they did best, running a precision high scoring offense fueled by adjustments at the line of scrimmage, better than anyone in the NFL. This helped lead them to a 13-3 record, #1 seed in the AFC, and ultimately a disappointing loss in the playoffs in which they struggled to do what they did best.
The talk after the loss to the Baltimore Ravens was that the Broncos needed to get tougher, both mentally and physically. They struggled to make key plays at key moments, lost the line of scrimmage battle, and could not get to the QB with any consistency. After looking at the 2013-14 season as a whole, it’s hard to argue that any of those concerns have gone away.
The Broncos this season improved doing what they already did best. They added Wes Welker and Julius Thomas as dangerous weapons to what was already the best offense in the league. Coupled with Knowshon Moreno establishing himself as a fantastic fit as the primary RB, the Broncos went from having a league leading offense to an all-time great offense. An offense that helped them to another 13-3 record and another #1 seed in the AFC. And perhaps it masked the fact that they really didn’t improve any of the areas of concern from the previous season.
Super Bowl XLVIII exposed that the Broncos still need to toughen up, still need to be better at the line of scrimmage on both sides, and still struggle to pressure the opposing QB in big games. The Ravens gave us a glimpse of these problems last January, but the Seahawks ripped back the curtain this past Sunday.
So where does the team go from here? Building the greatest scoring offense in history got them closer to a title than the team had been in 15 years. But when they got there, the Lombardi Trophy proved to be more elusive than ever.
If you assume the Broncos make it back to the Super Bowl in the next year or two, a glimpse at the NFC shows a great likelihood of a matchup against the Seahawks, the 49ers, or even the Carolina Panthers. Three teams that all share similar traits; young mobile QBs, quick and hard hitting defenses with elite talent, and the ability to run the ball in a variety of ways.
Without a shift in philosophy, it’s hard to imagine that a matchup of the Broncos against any of these teams would go much differently than this past Sunday. The same issues in the loss to Seattle would likely rear their heads against San Francisco or Carolina. If the true goal is to win a title, the front office should be looking long and hard at the current roster and team philosophy.
John Elway said there was no “Plan B” when he signed Peyton Manning. But what has become clear is that the team struggles against quality opponents when Manning and the offense aren’t at their best. It’s still a “Plan A” that’s better than most of the league can claim, but it’s not beyond scrutiny or revision.
Peyton won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis with a team that could be win in a variety of ways. In fact, you could argue the Colts defense and running attack carried them throughout the playoffs. Peyton threw 3 total TDs in 4 games against 7 INTs and never had a QB rating above 66.8. His defense had 7 INts, 6 fumble recoveries, 2 TDs, and 8 sacks. The running attack averaged 151 yards per game with 4 total TDs.
Peyton is in my opinion the greatest QB of all-time. And he just had arguably the best season of all-time. But that doesn’t mean the Broncos shouldn’t be looking to build a team that can win games when Peyton and the offense aren’t playing at super-human levels. If they want to get him a second Super Bowl ring that is precisely what they need to do.