32 teams in 32 days: Denver
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 17, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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2007 record: 7-9 (320-409)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-5
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 5.7-10.3
All-time franchise record: 378-336-10 (.529)
Playoff record: 17-15 (.531)
Last five seasons: 49-31 (.613)
Best game of 2007: 34-20 at home vs. Titans (Week 11). Victories were hard to come by for the Broncos last year. The first three wins all came on last-second field goals by Jason Elam and four of their seven W's came against AFC West doormats Oakland and Kansas City. The two-touchdown win over the playoff-bound Titans was the closest thing to a legitimate Quality Win Denver produced all season. The Broncos forced three turnovers and exploded for four TDs of 40 yards or more – a rare outburst for a team that produced a middling 44 Big Plays all season. It was something of a high point for the 2007 Broncos: they were 5-5 after the victory and tied for first with the Chargers in the AFC West ... then won just two of their final six games.
Strength: The running attack. Mike Shanahan is the Don Coryell of the ground game. Year after year, he can be counted on to field one of the better land assaults in the league. Even in a down year like 2007, the Broncos ranked 10th in our Offensive Hog Index, 9th in rushing yards (122.3 YPG) and 5th in rushing yards per attempt (4.56). But sooner or later Shanahan must accept the fact that games in the modern NFL are won via the pass and shed his Paleolithic Era pigskin philosophy. It's no coincidence that the Broncos and their perennially powerful ground game haven't won a Super Bowl – and boast just a single postseason victory – since they had a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm of the offense. The champion 1998 Broncos, for the record, finished fifth in the NFL with an average of 7.8 passing yards per attempt – a rate that would have put them third in the league in 2007.
Weakness: Overall efficiency. The Broncos were the least efficient team in football last year, at least as measured by the combination of our offensive Scoreability Index and defensive Bendability Index. On offense, they cranked out an enviable number of yards, 5,541 yards to be exact, 11th best in the NFL last year. Yet they scored just 320 points, a rate that stood as 21st in the NFL. To put that into perspective, divisional rival San Diego produced just 5,044 yards of offense last year – nearly 500 fewer than Denver. Yet the Chargers turned those 5,044 yards into 412 points – nearly 100 more than the Broncos. Hence, the Broncos finished 25th in our Scoreability Index, needing a hefty 17.32 Yards Per Point Scored.
The outcome on defense was even worse, where the Broncos finished 29th on our Bendability Index. Denver opponents needed a meager 13.14 Yards Per Point Scored last year.
All those numbers spell inefficient, loser football and is often the sign of a team with plenty of talent but little discipline or ability to do all the little things needed to win in the NFL. Another strike against Shanahan, a coach the Cold, Hard Football Facts even very recently considered one of the best in the league.
Most underrated player: QB Jay Cutler. Lost amid the misery last year was the fact that this guy does have the tools to get it done in the NFL. In his first full year as a starter – and his second in the NFL – he did not blow anybody's mind but was fairly efficient:
- 297 for 467 (63.6%), 3,497 yards, 7.5 YPA, 20 TD, 14 INT, 88.1 passer rating
Compare those numbers to another guy who played his first full season during his second year in the NFL, a guy named Tom Brady:
- 264 for 413 (63.9%), 2,843 yards, 6.9 YPA, 18 TD, 12 INT, 86.5 passer rating
Of course, Brady took over a lousy team, had little support in the run game and went on to win a Super Bowl that year. But you get the picture: Cutler has put up some fairly impressive and efficient numbers for a young quarterback.
Now he has to prove he's a winner ... like Jake Plummer.
Unit on the rise: Wide receivers. Brandon Marshall had a wholly unexpected season for the Broncos last year. He was a second-year player and middle draft pick (fourth round) out of a small school (Central Florida) who had shown little in his first season (20 catches, 309 yards, 2 TD). But he was spectacular last year, with an amazing 102 catches for 1,325 yards and 7 TD. It was one of the most productive seasons ever by a second-year receiver, a position that normally takes several years to make a big impact.
The Broncos felt so good about Marshall that they recently released Javon Walker and have essentially waved bye-bye to the great Rod Smith. They also recently signed Keary Colbert from Carolina – another in a long, long line of big (6-1, 200) talented, high-draft-pick (2nd round) wide receivers who have spit the bit in the NFL. If Colbert can live up to the potential, if Marshall can prove he's more than a one-hit wonder, and if former franchise pick Cutler can continue to develop, the Broncos passing attack may prove worthy of the modern NFL.
Silly-season activity: There have been a lot of changes already this off-season – as you might expect when a marquee franchise has a bad year. The player rotation is notable: WR Walker and LB Ian Gold are oout, WR Colbert and LB Boss Bailey are in the fold.
But the big news in Denver has been the dismissal last week of GM Ted Sundquist. He spent 16 years with the Broncos but his period as general manager, which began in 2002, brought little improvement for an organization that enjoyed its glory years in the mid to late 1990s. He made big moves – nabbing free agents such as John Lynch, Dre' Bly, Champ Bailey and Travis Henry, while trading up to get Cutler in the 2006 draft – but the moves brought no tangible results. It was time to make his change. He will not be formally replaced. Instead, his duties will be handled by former underlings.
Youth/experience: Just five Broncos will have 10 or more years under their belts this season, and all are "name" players in one form or another: Bailey, Bly, Lynch, Tom Nalen and Brandon Stokley. The rest of the team is fairly young, though with few studs who appear poised to turn into breakout players.
2007 Draft grade: D+. The Broncos selected just four players in the 2007 draft, three of them defensive linemen, and got virtually zero production from every single one of them. In fact, their greatest contributions came from their final draft pick, defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who was taken in the fourth round out of Florida. He made five starts and chalked up 19 total tackles and an INT.
2008 Draft power: 1st (12), 2nd (42), 4th (104), 4th (115), 5th (131), 5th (142), 7th (204), 7th (211)
General Draft strategies: Another reason for the dismissal of Sundquist? Denver's drafts during his tenure have been less than stellar. There have been some gems: Clinton Portis in the second round of the 2002 draft, for example, and Brandon Marshall in 2006 in the fourth round. But there have been plenty of guys who simply did not pan out, while the entire 2007 draft class could be a complete bust, though the jury is certainly out after just one year. The Broncos went heavy defense in 2005, heavy offense in 2006 and heavy defense again in 2007. The trend says offense, but the needs say defense.
Coaching: Most of our comments on head coach Mike Shanahan are noted above. He and his coaching staff need to de-emphasize the punishing ground game – which sounds good but never really delivers – and field a much more efficient team in 2008. Put most simply, the Broncos did not look like a well-coached team in 2007.
Overview: It's hard to figure out what went wrong with the Broncos in 2007. Former quarterback Jake Plummer, who led the team from 2003 to 2006, never won over Denver fans. But he also never led a losing team. Second-year man Cutler took over last year, and the team suddenly went in the tank. But Denver's problems were far deeper and more systemic than just a new, young quarterback. In fact, Cutler played quite well and appears to have the tools to be a franchise quarterback – as you might expect from a high first-round pick. The problem for the Broncos is that they need to find ways to play smarter football. They certainly looked like world-beaters in between the 20s last year. But an inability to put the ball in the end zone – naturally – caused a world of hurt. And Broncos fans grown accustomed to winning over the past decade probably won't have much patience for the Shanahan reign if his club pulls another woefully under-performing 7-9 season.
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