The Broncos against the World!
Do you believe in the Broncos yet? How many more wins will it take before you convert to the faithful? Do they have to beat your team? Do they have to beat your team on the road? Do they have to beat your team in perfect health? Do they have to beat your team or some other “proven favorite” by 25 points? Or can they just win, baby?
For the record, I am not a believer. The Broncos will get their chance to make me a believer on Monday, November 9, 2009. On that night, they’ll face off in Invesco Field at Mile High against my Pittsburgh Steelers. I don’t care that the game is on the road. The Steelers have won big and small games in Denver. The Steelers will be coming off a bye and will have no excuses – regardless of what happens this week vs. the Vikings. They have established Rashard Mendenhall (albeit against the Lions, Chargers and Browns). They have the league’s number 1 passing game and Troy Polamalu is on the field. If they don’t want to play, they can let the league know they won’t be showing up (like the Titans and Eagles in Week 6).
Even though I am not yet convinced, I must admit that the Denver Broncos do several things well. Here is some of what we’ve seen since the beginning of the season:
- Defensive Opportunism. The Broncos are +7 in takeaway/giveaway. That’s good enough for 3rd in the NFL. Teams with high +/- numbers win games.
- Best Player, Best Health. Champ Bailey is healthy. Last season, the Broncos started the season 4-1. They were as lucky in beating the Chargers in Week 1 of 2008 (Remember Ed Hochuli’s blown call?) as they were in beating the Bengals this season (Don’t forget Brandon Stokely’s tipped touchdown catch.). Bailey was injured in Week 7 at New England. The Broncos finished 30th in defense.
- Fighting Mad. The Broncos play like they have something to prove. Perhaps it was because this defense was riddled with so many former Cleveland Browns. Perhaps it was because Shanahan’s genius was on the offensive side of the ball. Whatever the cause, in previous years the Broncos did not play with the fierceness of this group. The addition of Brian Dawkins provides the type of signature leadership that every team needs. Dawkins provides a defensive legitimacy that was missing — even with Champ Bailey on the field. Brian Dawkins has something to prove and he’s not alone.
- Kyle Orton was never considered “good enough” to lead the Chicago Bears. He endured years of “Rex is our quarterback,” even when Grossman was feeding the families of opposing defensive backs. Orton has a shot at redemption because Jay Cutler is now in Chicago.
- Elvis Dumervil (Louisville) was drafted by the Broncos in the 4th round. He was the 11th defensive end taken. Dumervil was taken after Tamba Hali and Kamerion Wimbley and Frostee Rucker and Darryl Tapp and Jason Hatcher and Victor Adeyanju. Adeyan-who? Dumervil plays every down like its his last. Every snap is a piece of redemption for this “little man.” Dumervil leads all defensive players from the 2006 draft with 36.5 sacks (including 10 this season). At 6’0″ and 260 lbs., he’s rewriting the book on what a prototype should look like.
- Brandon Marshall is just mad. I know he has his reasons. We all do, but he needs to get that under wraps with a quickness.
- Andre Goodman signed a lucrative deal to join the Broncos in March. This is Goodman’s third team – and he’s played for some stinkers. As a rookie, he played for a 3-13 Lions team. At the ripe old age of 29, he labored for a 1-15 Miami Dolphin team. Goodman and the Dolphins enjoyed a resurrection en route to 11 wins last season. Goodman finished 6th in the NFL with 5 interceptions. He is looking to justify his contract and be part of a winning tradition.
- Renaldo Hill also played for the Dolphins. He’s been a solid pro for years. He was drafted out of Michigan State as a cornerback by the Arizona Cardinals. Today, he’s playing strong safety opposite Brian Dawkins. His cover skills have greatly increased the capacity of the Bronco secondary to cover areas of the field not patrolled by Bailey.
- Correll Buckhalter never really had a chance in Philadelphia. He was valued by fans, but was often injured. He is out to prove that he can stay healthy and that he deserves to get carries — even with a top RB like Knowshon Moreno in the fold. Buckhalter might have been a star if he were drafted by another franchise with the capacity to maximize his tools. While that time has passed, he still has time to win it all, and with Brian Dawkins at his side.
- Ryan McBean is the starting left defensive end. He was drafted in the 4th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
McBean has good size and holds up well against the run. It is his development that has been critical to allowing the Broncos to unleash Elvis Dumervil as a linebacker in their new 3-4 scheme.
If the Broncos’ defense is going to improve as a whole, they must use last season as motivation. Maybe even play with a “chip on their shoulder.””Yeah you can tell with our guys that they want to win. They heard about the stats from last year, and we want to change that a whole lot…The guys are willing to play hard.”
McBean knows that this team can achieve great things. They’ve already exceeded expectations and are poised for post-season play in 2009 after only 6 weeks. As much as the Broncos have to prove, they’ve played with composure. They are among the least penalized teams in the league, on both sides of the ball.
Perhaps with so many veterans, with so much to prove I should be a believer. I can’t help feeling that the true Broncos will not emerge until they’ve faced the roughest part of their schedule. Denver travels to Baltimore next week; then home for the Steelers. They still have a date with the Giants, at the Colts and at the Eagles. That’s going to be special.
Right now, I believe the Broncos are a team that needs to win the turnover battle to win games. There is no shame in that. It is a tried and true path to victory. I just don’t believe their best game can beat the best game of other high-performing teams. At this point, I believe that teams like the Colts, Saints, Steelers, and Giants can beat every team in the league if they’re even or -1 in turnovers. At -2, winning is a steep challenge for any team.
I may very well be wrong. The Steelers have yet to play a complete game. The Colts run defense will remain a question mark until Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders are healthy. The Giants were just skewered, though I don’t believe Denver could do what the Saints did. In Denver’s defense, they beat the Patriots at -1, but if you’ve been reading this blog, you know exactly how I feel about the Patriots at this stage of the season.
Besides, Denver is ranked 29th in Net Yards. Only Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City are worse. Not even Tampa, Tennessee, St. Louis and Detroit are ranked as low. Does this mean that Denver’s +7 turnover differential is Mediocrity Mascara? Is it all smoke and mirrors? Isn’t the age of the Bronco secondary about to catch up with them?
I think I’ll wait until at least November 9th.