Denver Broncos: Early Assessment


The Denver Broncos are just shy of a quarter of the way through the season, but they are on an early bye week so it’s a opportune time for an early assessment of how things have gone thus far, what has worked well and what hasn’t.

Coming into the season, some of the question marks and expectations for the Broncos were:

  1. Even though the defense was greatly improved on paper, would they perform as well as expected on the field.
  2. How would the inexperienced linebacking corps hold up, especially with the injury to Danny Trevathan.
  3. How would the integration go of 1st round pick CB Bradley Roby into the NFL.
  4. How would the retooled offensive line work out, with several players changing positions.
  5. Could the offense retain its scoring prowess.
  6. Would the running game be improved with Montee Ball taking over
  7. Could the offense be more balanced.
  8. Could the team improve in the turnover margin, as the coaching staff stressed ball security.
  9. Most importantly though, would this team be more poised for a run at the Super Bowl.

Before we work our way through the list, I really want to stress that the season is only 3 games old and much can (and will) change from here on out. With that said, let’s work down the list.

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The Broncos defense by the numbers doesn’t seem much improved, but as a practical matter they have been very effective. This year’s defense ranks 31st in pass yards per game, 13th in rush yards per game and 15th in PPG allowed at 22.3 points. Compared to last year’s defense which ranked 27th in pass yards per game, 7th in rush yards per game and 22nd in PPG allowed at 24.9 points, there doesn’t seem to be much improvement.

However, through three games the Broncos have faced three teams who all won 10 or more games last year and went to the playoffs. The defense came up with two huge defensive stops to secure victories against the Colts and Chiefs and played a very good game up until overtime against the Seahawks.

The game versus the Seahawks was a great test for the new defense. It was a road game in the most difficult stadium to play in against the Super Bowl champs coming off of the Super Bowl blowout. After the first half of the game last Sunday, it had an eerily similar feel to the Super Bowl where the offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense broke in the 2nd half to get blown out.

However, the defense stood up in a big, big way and showed to the NFL that this year’s team is a different animal. It seemed as if the defensive unit stood resolute after half and was determined to let everybody know that they would not break this time around.

Sep 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) dives for extra yards during the second half against the Denver Broncos at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Denver 26-20. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive struggles continued well into the 2nd half but the gritty and determined defense kept coming up with stop after stop after stop to keep the team in the game. Were it not for the superior play of the defense that game could have turned out very similar to the Super Bowl.

Through 3 games the defense has been solid but not spectacular. They have allowed yardage and they have bent, but they have made stops when they needed to (save for a gassed unit in overtime last week unable to come up with a stop). However, an inordinate amount of responsibility has been placed on the defense with the offenses lack of consistency. Taking that into consideration, I think the defensive has been as good as expected and should only improve with the return of Danny Trevathan and with Von Miller continuing to get back to full speed.

The linebacking corps will receive a boost with Trevathan’s return, but they have done an admirable job in his absence. Nate Irving in particular has played very well for the most part and looks as if he’s finally seizing the opportunity to be the everyday MLB that he was drafted to be.

There have been some ups and downs for the unit overall with some lapses in coverage and missed assignments, but considering the perceived lack of depth and experience coming into the season, the team has to be pleased with how well they’ve played thus far.

As expected for a rookie, Bradley Roby had an up and down preseason, but has found himself on the field during the regular season quite a lot so far and he has performed well. Starting with his great week 1 game against Andrew Luck and the Colts where he had 7 tackles and 3 passes deflected, including the game-sealing deflection on 4th down, he has held his own and looks to be just scratching the surface of how good he can be. He should do nothing but improve as the season progresses.

While the defense overall and individually has performed at least as well as expected, the offensive line has been perhaps the most disappointing unit so far this season. Orlando Franklin moved from tackle to guard, Chris Clark moved from left tackle to right tackle and the Broncos got Ryan Clady back from injury.

The unit has held up fairly well in pass protection as Manning has only been sacked 3 times so far; however, the run blocking has been nearly deplorable. The running game has only managed 226 yards on 71 carries for a paltry 3.2 yards per carry. The Broncos RB’s have seen almost no running room, no running lanes and are consistently met in the backfield as soon as they take the carry. To say it’s a work in progress is a major understatement.

Sep 21, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cassius Marsh (91) tackles Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball (28) during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos will likely use the bye to asses if changes need to be made. It is not desirable to change centers if you don’t have to but Manny Ramirez has been particularly poor in run blocking and has even struggled to lay a hand on a player, much less block him, on several running plays.

As a result of the poor play of the offensive line, the offense as a whole has struggled to a certain degree and they have been far from balanced. They are averaging 25 PPG, almost 13 points less than last year. During the bye week the Broncos will certainly concentrate on the running game, run blocking and finding a way to be more balanced.

The Broncos sit at a plus 1 in the turnover margin, which puts them right near the middle of the league. Montee ball and Peyton manning each had a big turnover in the Seahawks game that quite possibly cost the Broncos the game. The Broncos are good enough to win without needing to dominate the turnover margin, so sitting at a plus 1 isn’t the worst thing in the world.

However, they would like to be better and would be looking a lot better if Quanterus Smith’s off sides hadn’t nullified Aqib Talib’s pick-6 towards the end of the Chiefs game and the referees hadn’t deemed Alex Smith’s “pass” incomplete after Demarcus Ware’s strip sack in the same game.

This year’s defense seems much more capable of forcing turnovers than last year’s unit and I think the turnovers will start to come sooner than later.

Lastly, through 3 games the Broncos certainly have things to work on, but they’ve done nothing to suggest that they won’t once again be contending for the Super Bowl title. The Seahawks game alone went a long way to show that they can stand toe to toe with anybody in any environment.

I wrote last week that a win can be more than a win and a loss can be more than a loss. The Chiefs win was a little concerning, but he Seahawks loss was very encouraging. The narrow overtime loss in Seattle showed that the Broncos are a much-improved team a lot more than the narrow home win over the Chiefs did.

The Seahawks were the best team in the NFL last year and they are even better at home, yet the Broncos nearly took them down. If it turns out that the Broncos and Seahawks meet again on a neutral site in Glendale, Arizona in about 5 months then the Broncos will look back to the regular season meeting and be very confident they have what it takes to come out the victor.

How do you feel about the start of the season thus far? Better or worse than you had expected or hoped for?