1. Winners Own the Fourth Quarter:
Recent history proves that Super Bowls in today’s NFL are tight games that are often decided in the final minute. Pats-Giants. Packers-Steelers. Saints-Colts. Cardinals-Steelers. Gone are the days of the big game blowout. To win the Super Bowl, you need a team that instinctively makes more plays with the outcome on the line.
How the Broncos Measure Up: Interestingly, Tim Tebow trailed only Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning in fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in 2011. The Broncos appear to have a team built for winning tight games. Tebow and the Broncos offense will need to be more consistent early, however, in order to defend the 2011 division title.
2. Weapons Matter:
Victor Cruz was a godsend for the Giants this season, and Mario Manningham‘s sideline catch had Broncos fans reminiscing about Brandon Lloyd. As good as Manning was this season, his receiving corps has also been elite.
How the Broncos Measure Up: Here again, the Broncos have some pieces in place. DeMaryius Thomas, Eddie Royal (if he re-signs, which he has said he wants to), and Eric Decker all shined at times. Drops were too prevalent, however, and Tim Tebow desperately needs a big, tall, playmaking tight end. 2011 draft pick Julius Thomas, a former basketball player plagued by injury last season, has looked good in workouts. The Broncos could also benefit from a young back to complement Willis McGahee, much like the Giants have with Ahmad Bradshaw relieving Brandon Jacobs. With his playing, injury, and now legal issues, former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno doesn’t exactly look like the second coming of Terrell Davis.
3. D-Line Stands for Depth:
The Giants’ talent along the defensive front is unfair. This team consistently drafts defensive tackles and ends in the higher rounds, and it has paid off handsomely. Rotating and substituting pass rushers creates matchup problems–not the kind that we always hear about with linebackers covering tight ends, but the kind that leads to quarterbacks hitting the floor.
How the Broncos Measure Up: Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller comprise one of the league’s best edge rushing tandems. However, the two prefer to beat blockers around the outside, which allows opposing quarterbacks to step up in the pocket in the absence of inside pressure. They were also largely ineffective against Brady in the divisional round, whereas the Giants and Baltimore Ravensturned the heat up on New England’s offense with pressure from all over the defensive line.Broncos defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas (both free agents) played admirably in 2011, but it is nonetheless critical that Denver invests draft picks on interior linemen. If quarterbacks get their guards and centers pushed back into them, with Miller and Dumervil teeing off from both edges, then this defense will improve even further in 2012.
For Broncos fans, Super Bowl XLVI was an effective measuring stick. The Patriots, who dismantled the Broncos in Foxborough, were themselves beaten by a fellow elite team in a game that was, in hindsight, decided by a play or two. The Broncos will need to emulate the Giants in improving first-quarter play, offensive weapons, and defensive line depth if John Fox and the Broncos hope to eventually beat teams like New York and New England in ultimately bringing the title back to Denver.