The Difficult 2nd Act: Denver Broncos 2016 Preview

You see the whole premise seemed ludicrous. The offense was so flawed and inconsistent, at times it was a turnover machine, especially with Peyton under center.
The team seemed to be flip-flopping between offensive systems all year and barely beating average teams by crushing them with defence. The Osweiler era, whilst less fraught and tense was not exactly exhilarating either and his success was as much to do with CJ Andersons massively improved form in November and December and Emmanuel Sanders mercurial weekly performances as anything else.
But it wasn’t just Quarterback that was the problem on offense, Demaryius Thomas seemed to be in something of a decline in the final 9 weeks of the regular season and playoffs. He was struggling to get separation and dropping an alarming amount of catchable balls at crucial moments, particularly against the Patriots and Steelers in the playoffs and in the Superbowl vs the Panthers. It could be argued that he was as much a passenger as Peyton was in the Post season. By contrast there were occasions where Emmanuel Sanders really showed him up in games making big plays in double coverage and on barely catchable balls. Certainly in the postseason he was easily their offensive MVP.
The offensive line was also patchy and inconsistent in pass protection all year. Not exactly a recipe for a championship run really but then it was enough.
Anyway, it’s my personal Opinion that Wade Philips should have won Coordinator of the year. In just one year he came in and changed a team’s entire defensive scheme from 4-3 to 3-4 and managed to take a reconstructed squad of players and turn a decent unit into one of the most brutal and suffocating units in recent memory. A unit that twice humbled Tom Brady, and dismantled a truly transcendent, dominant, explosive offense in real style on Superbowl Sunday. A defence that conceded 5 fewer passing touchdowns (16) in a season than the 2013 legion of boom. All this in less than a year using complex blitz and coverage packages executed to such a high standard that left even Elite QB’s stumped, frustrated and battered.
That unit deserved a Lombardi Trophy and essentially they won it for the team. The pass rush, the Run defence the secondary all operated at such a high level that by Superbowl Sunday they appeared to have this aura of absolute invincibility about them an aura that seemed to intimidate New England and Carolina from the second those games started. They were so good when the rest of the team were so up and down.
They were easily one of the most flawed Superbowl champions in recent memory but that Defence dominated most emphatically at the most crucial times.
The satisfaction as a fan at watching Peyton finally catch a break and get some payback for the 15 seasons he carried teams kicking and screaming to success was very very real, and I fully expect Wade to be on Peyton’s Christmas card list for eternity.
After the party……
I can’t remember a Denver off-season that started in such a precarious fashion.
Elway had 2 big, immediate priorities.
1) Lock up Von Miller for the foreseeable future
2) Re-sign Brock Osweiler and lock up the starting QB for the next season.
Number one, is pretty much sorted meaning that Denver’s pass rush remains a real force, However Elway seemed to have no problem in letting Brock Osweiler walk out of the door and into a huge 5 year £75 million dollar deal with the Texans. A decision that I completely backed Elway on. After all that’s lots of money for a guy who has only 7 and 3/4 games under his belt.
Elway however, also let DT Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan walk away, two moves that, with the only Trevor Siemian at QB made me panic a bit. I was beginning to wonder if the balance of power in the West was shifting right there and then.
Almost letting go of both starting RB’s CJ Anderson (snatched back at the last moment) and Ronnie Hillman (not snatched back). Added to my cold sweats and palpitations.
As did Elway signing Mark Sanchez as a potential back-up. It looked, initially, to me at least, as though Elway was Drunk at work or doing it for some kind of perverse enjoyment.
At the moment that it became obvious that they were also pursuing Colin Kaepernick as a legitimate QB option I began to wonder if I was hallucinating all of this, and whether I would be watching Denver’s 2016 season cowering behind the sofa.
As the Kaepernick trade went “dormant” I breathed a sigh of relief and awaited the draft.
Phoenix from the flames….
Denver’s draft, by contrast, calmed me down a little. Trading up and Drafting QB Paxton Lynch made Sanchez as a starting QB more palatable, also it gave me the sense that they were truly investing in the future at that position with a player with the physical tools and potential to excel in the system.
Nabbing Mark Gotsis at DT in Round 2 is a really good system fit and gives a partial answer to the “no Malik Jackson thing”. In addition Stealing RB Devontae Booker in round 4 gives that running back room a real shot in the arm in terms of natural talent and gives CJ Anderson some real competition in camp. On the whole the draft was excellent and certainly seems to be a sign that Elway isn’t insane at all. In fact
maybe he is a genius after all.
So, what now??
Repeating a Superbowl win is nigh on impossible, even with the best of circumstances and, in all truth, Denver’s QB that gave them the best chance of a repeat walked out of the door for a king’s ransom in February. Also do not underestimate the impact that the loss of Jackson and Trevathan will have on that Defence. The defence will still be elite, it will still dominate and if I am honest, the team may be no worse offensively either. In fact the rushing attack looks much improved, and another year of Kubiaks system could be just what that offensive line ordered in terms of development. However, Mark Sanchez isn’t going to win your team a playoff game, so don’t expect him to. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw Paxton Lynch starting come week 10. I would hope not, because while he is a great talent, he needs to develop as a drop back passer.

Realistically the Chiefs aren’t any worse than last year, and the Raiders, are significantly better (just to remind you again that last year the Raiders actually beat Denver by the way!) this means that there is even less margin for error in that division, it’s a dangerous time for Denver and they can’t keep relying on Wade Philips defence and the Emmanuel Sanders show for another year. The offense IS crucial for a repeat, because things are going to be tougher in the west and offense may be the tie-breaker in some close games. The scope for Denver realistically is that if they blow a couple of division games they might shock everyone and miss the playoffs all together. I truly believe that if they are only as good as last year, then they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. But I have a feeling my dark foreboding is unnecessary in that regard. Even so, a repeat is not as likely as we first thought.

Prediction.

Anything from “10-6 and miss the playoffs”. to
“15-1 and Sanchez blows it in the AFC championship game”.

But no repeat.