When NFL Training camps opened back in late July, very few people, if any thought the Broncos would have a 2009 season to savor. With a new regime taking over and many changes taking place this team had more of the look of rebuilding, than contending.
Following what could only have been described as a disastrous and tumultuous beginning with the trading of former franchise quarterback Jay Cutler, the Broncos new Head Coach Josh McDaniels appears to have made a complete one-eighty. After all McDaniels was replacing what some may have considered to be one of the leagues best head coaches and offensive masterminds (Mike Shanahan). Shanahan had led the Broncos to back to back Super Bowl victories with the last coming in 1999, but after a decade of struggling it seemed change was overdue.
When Pat Bowlen made the decision to go in a new direction this past offseason, even with his credentials McDaniels hardly seemed to be the right fit. The young up and coming offensive coordinator was busy making a name for himself in New England as an offensive guru himself.
For the past several seasons one of the Broncos major deficiencies and their biggest Achilles heel last year was the defense. A season ending meltdown (three game losing streak), culminated by a 52-21 loss that ended any postseason hope told Bowlen all he needed to know; new blood was in order.
Enter the young Mr. McDaniels, whose youthful exuberance and charismatic spirit has breathed new life into the franchise and the city. With his arrival came difficult, but needed changes. One of his first and perhaps least publicized (at least didn’t cause much of a stir), yet key decisions that has this team riding a wave of orange was the hiring of Mike Nolan.
A New Improved D…
Nolan brings with him the pedigree of winner as a defensive coordinator. His defenses of the past have built a reputation for being aggressive, bringing pressure, and most critical causing turnovers; all areas that the 2008 Broncos lacked. This season playing a new 3-4 scheme under Nolan the defense has racked up 16 sacks, held their opponents to 43 total points this season, and recorded 11 takeaways.
Of course Nolan is only as good as the talent he coaches and another credit to McDaniels, the key free agent signings made in the offseason. Like a glove Andra Davis (former Brown), Renaldo Hill (former Dolphin), and Darrell Reid (former Colt) have all stepped in to play a big part in the defenses turnaround. Without question the biggest signing was the acquisition of former Eagle’s safety Brian Dawkins. His leadership and infectious sell out attitude has this defense playing at a level like the city hasn’t seen in some time.
Offense is coming around….
Just as the firing of Shanahan was blasted in some circles, McDaniel’s hiring came with its’ own criticism. A franchise that needed a defensive injection instead brought in the next Mike Shanahan. The comparisons were obvious; McDaniels had accomplished great things as the offensive coordinator in New England with Tom Brady and helped a seeming mid-level talent like Cassel blossom. It was McDaniel’s offense that Brady ran in 2007 when he rewrote the record books with 50 touchdown passes.
With the defense suddenly playing inspired ball this season, it has taken McDaniel’s “Patriot’s West” offense a little more time to get simmering. Only last Sunday against the Patriots did the Bronco’s offense start to resemble something of what many that they would see in 2009. In their win over New England the Broncos had 27 first downs, ran up 424 yards of offense, and held the ball for over 36 minutes; characteristic of a McDaniels offense. The next step in their evolution will obviously be more points.
With players like Marshall and Royal beginning to hit their stride in the passing game and the rookie Knowshon Moreno anchoring the ground game (when he holds onto the ball), the Bronco’s have what appears to be a potent-ed offense. And with a supporting cast of Gaffney, Scheffler, Buckhalter, and Hillis; these guys are only going to make for long days for opposing defensive coordinators. If last Sunday against the Patiriots is any indication of the potential of this unit, their ceiling appears to be a mile high.
A Big Test Lies Ahead……
With everything starting to click in Denver and McDaniel’s team 5-0, there is still much to prove for this highly scrutinized over-achieving ball club. In the first couple of weeks, it was “they haven’t played anyone” and then last week, well they’re always better at home. This may very well be a recurring theme all season long, but one fact that is hard to escape, this coming Monday night is going to be a tough road test no matter how you look at it. In recent history, the Chargers have owned the Broncos and with their team sputtering, this divisional matchup will be critical.
So far the Broncos have yet to be perfect this season, but with a little luck they stand 5-0 and atop the AFC West with a two and a half game lead over the Chargers. Monday night is another test for McDaniels and his boys, but one if passed should not only satisfy the critics, but legitimize this team as the real deal.
That’s my take.