This week’s Mailbag question comes via the Yahoo forums, from a Peyton Manning fan who calls himself “Droog.” Obviously, a Clockwork Orange fan too.
“I’d be interested in your evaluation of this team. Strengths. Weaknesses. Possible things to look for… I’m a Peyton fan so I was quite familiar with Indianapolis but know little about Denver.”
- Droog (Whereabouts Unknown)
BRONCOS REPORT: Thank you for your question. We think this team is improved in every category over the one from a year ago, which won the AFC West division and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs before falling to the New England Patriots. The 2012 Broncos’ most obvious strength is Peyton Manning himself. He will have a positive effect on every aspect of the team, from offense to defense to special teams. But we’re not going to anoint ourselves World Champions quite yet. There are some weaknesses:
The depth on defense is a concern. Our 2nd and 3rd teamers were pretty ineffective in the 3 preseason games. We are thin at linebacker and could be thin at defensive tackle if the injury bug hits (which it always seems to do). And we need two of our safeties to step up and be “the guy.” Same goes for a punt returner (we’d say kick returner too, but all we ever see are touchbacks these days so maybe that’s not a big deal anymore). The key on defense will be how well they can stop the run, which has been an issue in the past.
Our strength on defense is our pass rush, which is what this defense was built for. If we can get teams into 3-and-long or obvious passing plays (and Manning should help with that by scoring more points on offense), players like Dumervil, Miller and rookie Derek Wolfe will be amazing to watch. Make no mistake: this defense was built to go after opposing quarterbacks. And don’t forget, the NFL has become primarily a passing league. The defensive line should have ample opportunity to accumulate sacks or create turnovers and we think we’ll have a few D-line players going to the Pro Bowl. That’s assuming the secondary plays well, which it should with Champ Bailey and improvements to the other cornerback positions. Jack Del Rio is a great defensive coach and should improve our scheme from last year. We need to enjoy him while we can though. If he turn the defense into a top-10 unit like he did in Carolina (also with Head Coach John Fox), he will likely move on to his second stint as a head coach somewhere soon.
As for the offense (and really the rest of the team too), they’ll go as far as Manning takes them. If he goes down to injury, so goes the season. But if he can play even close to the level he showed versus the 49ers, the offense will score a lot of points. The tight ends are the best we’ve had since Shannon Sharpe. Our top receivers, Decker and Thomas, are entering their 3rd seasons and should break out. The O-line is very good, actually. And while the rushing game might not lead the league again this season (as they did last year), it will keep defenses busy enough. Look for a lot of receptions by the running backs, which is typical of Manning. If and when drives stall, we have an excellent punter and an extremely accurate kicker, especially from long range. Coach Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have proven to be very creative and adaptable.
The keys to the season are: 1) staying healthy, 2) stopping the run on 1st & 2nd down, and 3) Peyton Manning, of course (shaking off any rust he might have from his time off and perfecting the timing with his receivers). But if anyone can do it, we’d put our money on him. Go Broncos!