The hoods in Vegas picked the Broncos to win no more than eight games this season. With one of the toughest schedules in the National Football League, every sports talking head across the nation picked the Broncos to win no more than six games this year. Yes, it was going to be a terrible and depressing season for Bronco fans.
After franchise quarterback Jay Cutler packed his bags for Chicago and wide receiver Brandon Marshall wanted a trade, things looked very dark for Denver’s incoming head coach Josh McDaniels. All of that is in the past now. The Broncos are 6-0 after beating up AFC West Division rival San Diego on Monday night, 34-23, and they’ve proven themselves to be a football team that Denver has not seen in a long, long time.
First, let’s talk defense. With the worst defense in the NFL in 2008, McDaniels brought in NFL mainstay Mike Nolan to completely overhaul the way Denver plays defense. This may be McDaniels most successful move as a head coach so far.
Fast and aggressive, the Broncos defense has not been this good since its Orange Crush days back in the 70s. Simply put, the new Broncos defense is one that wears offenses down. During the first San Diego offensive drive Monday night, the Broncos blitzed 90 percent of the time. Although San Diego was able to move the ball on the Broncos while they were fresh and had strong legs underneath them, they weren’t able to sustain their strength. The Broncos continued to blitz, even though it seemed it wasn’t working. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was able to get rid of the ball quickly in those early drives, making it look like the Chargers’ offense was going to have its way with Denver. But Nolan stuck to his game plan and continued with aggressive blitzes and Bronco defenders, including Elvis Dumervil – who already has 10 sacks this year. They were eventually able to get to Rivers and disrupt both San Diego’s ground and air attacks.
Monday’s performance was a great example of Denver’s defensive M.O. – they will go at an offense hard and aggressive until it breaks down. And once the offense breaks down, it’s all over. As an example of this play, nine of Dumervil’s 10 sacks this year have come during the second half of the game.
Now to the other side of the ball. For Denver’s offense, it’s all about playing mistake free and making adjustments. Behind the never-flashy Kyle Orton, Denver’s offense is usually boring until the second half. It seems McDaniels uses the first half to set up the second half. In the past two weeks, Denver’s offense has not done much of anything during the first half, especially against the Patriots. Once McDaniels sees how the opposing defense is going to defend certain formations and looks, he will take that information, break it down at half time, and then put forth an effective offensive scheme that opposing teams simply can’t stop. Fans have to be patient with Denver’s offense because it will eventually cash in on needed second half points.
Let us not take any credit away from Orton. With just one interception under his belt this season (and that interception was a hail Mary to end the first half against the Patriots), he is proving to be the right quarterback for McDaniels and his style of offense. No, Orton doesn’t have a cannon of an arm and his scrambling ability isn’t anything to write home about, but he does have the ability to make plays when it’s down to the wire. And he may look like a scrub, but the man is a winner.
Overall, what you see in Denver is everything opposite of a Mike Shanahan-coached team. The Broncos are now very disciplined in their play. The team is centered around its defense (And you know what wins championships, right?). Rather than the Shanahan-esk perfect and scripted first offensive drive of the game, McDaniels saves his best offense for the second half when the game is on the line. There are no second half let downs.
Let me repeat that. The Broncos are no longer losing leads in the second half. Let downs in the second half have been the biggest personality flaw for the Broncos in the past 25 years.
With all due respect to Shanahan and everything he has done for the NFL and Denver, I can now easily say that McDaniels was the needed change for Denver football. The Broncos organization has done a complete 360 since Shanahan was canned and they are better because of it. The Broncos are good. Believe it.