What happened? Anyone with an eye for the gridiron knows that the Broncos could just as easily be sitting at 0-5, instead of 2-3. Back when Denver pulled off both wins, things were great. They seemed to be a team that won the hard way, the team that found a way to win, the team that played with intensity. As the season wears on, it seems they were just lucky.
Again, what happened?
Injuries. Left guard Ben Hamilton and center and senior-badass Tom Nalen are out for the season, leaving a weakened offensive line. Travis Henry’s future of running behind that line is uncertain as he has taken a page out of Ricky Williams’s book on blazin’ bowls after practice. Henry allegedly tested positive for marijuana last month, his third strike, which could eventually result in a 16-game suspension by NFL officials.
Champ Bailey is also out with an injury for an unknown amount of time.
But are injuries a legitimate excuse for the poor play? I think not.
Special teams. Don’t get me started with the Broncos’ special teams. Besides Jason Elam, who has saved the Broncos’ season so far, the special teams play on the field is simply bush league. I have seen 10-year-olds in a backyard matchup cover kick offs more efficiently than the Broncos. And kick returns…we have never, in Broncos history, had a kick return team worth a darn, and we certainly don’t today.
Defense. Simply put – Denver can’t stop the run. When you can’t stop the run, all other options for even mediocre offenses are wide open. This, I think, is the most frustrating element of the current state of Broncos football. If Denver can’t stop the simple dive right, dive left, how in the hell do they expect to stop the high-powered offenses of Indianapolis or New England? They have offensive tricks in the bag, but won’t need them because simple x’s and o’s offense against the Broncos will do the punishing job.
When the season began, the team’s big question was, “Can we make it to the Super Bowl with a second-year quarterback, who is basically a rookie?” The team rallied around the young buck Jay Cutler to give him all the support he would need to succeed. Now Jay is the one rallying for his team.
But Cutler isn’t the problem either. Besides a few interceptions, that seem to be on pace when compared to Payton Manning and Brett Favre, Cutler has played well. More often than not, he threads a perfect needle over the middle and hits the receivers in the hands. And, more often than not, the receivers drop the ball. I think Cutler has shown great composure for his age while playing with a crumbling team.
Mike Shanahan. Is this his last year? Should this be his last year? At one time, Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen told reporters, “As long as Mike wants a job here in Denver, Mike has a job here in Denver.” But those were days of promise. What are his feelings now?
My biggest gripe against Shanahan has been the low level of intensity Denver has been playing with recently. Besides their usual successful first drive, they play without emotion and enthusiasm. This may be the most difficult element to grasp. How do you effectively get your team to play with emotion? The fact that they are in the NFL should be enough, but it isn’t. Shanahan needs to bring a new team approach and modus operandi to the locker room. They are not the AFC West powerhouse of the past, they are a new and unpredictable team.
Shanahan needs to take risks; conservatism has not yet worked this season. He has a group of fireballs under his wing and he needs to unleash them. Fake punts. Flea-flickers. Double secret reverse halfback tosses. Whatever it takes, man, just take the risk. It can’t get any worse. The team is in the cellar of the AFC West, it’s time to change the game plan. If that fails, oh well…at least we know that football craziness doesn’t usually work. Only then can Denver rest on the injury excuse.