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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Call Me a Skeptic: Top Reasons to Worry About the Broncos

The Broncos bullied the Seahawks today. They came up with big plays, had a gaudy third down conversion rate, and made the faithful forget that Brandon Marshall fellow. It was a good and well-earned win.

But I’m worried. They also showed some seriously negative tendencies that will get them beat by the likes of Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, and the truth is that the San Diego Chargers are still a good team and the Chiefs got a lot healthier in the offseason. If the Broncos want to make the playoffs this year, it won’t be an easy road.

Here are the top five things the Broncos need to fix:

  1. The Running Game. Knowshon Moreno’s best touches came when he caught the ball. Despite a few good running plays, Moreno averaged only 2.1 yards per carry and had far too many carries for negative yards. There is no consistency in his game and too little of the shifty explosiveness that might make up for the short runs. So far this year, Moreno is averaging fewer yards per game and fewer yards per carry. The 2009 draft is not looking like a great year for running backs (although Beanie Wells could make me eat those words).

    Buckhalter did even worse. Averaging only 1.7 yards per carry, he racked up a cool 19 yards on his 11 rushes. This just isn’t getting the job done.
  2. The Offensive Line. The o-line used to be the strength of this team. The zone blocking scheme helped the Broncos have a ridiculous string of 1,000 yard rushers, gave quarterbacks excellent protection, and truly helped win games. Josh McDaniel abandoned that zone blocking scheme, changed personnel, and the line is worse by far than it was a few seasons ago. Chalk some of this up to injuries and youth--which would be fair--but the old scheme simply seemed to work better.
  3. Punt Coverage Team. The punt coverage team is giving up huge yards. There were only three punt returns today for a total of about 82 yards. On return was for no yards, one was for 19 yards, and the other was for 63 yards. On both of the returns for yards, there were Broncos in position to make plays--indeed, Broncos who got hands on Tate (the Seahawks player)--and they failed to make the tackles. In a close game, those are the kinds of plays that can give the game away. The kick coverage team struggled last week, too, giving up a big return for 53 yards.
  4. Third Downs. No, not on the offensive side of the ball where the Broncos were amazing today, but on the other side where they saw the Seahawks go 7 for 11 on third down. Quite a number of those came on third-and-long plays where the defense had played well. If they hadn’t managed to come up with the three defensive takeaways, the score would have been quite different. The Hawks racked up 339 yards to the Broncos 369 which doesn’t usually indicate such a lopsided score.
  5. Tackling. The Broncos missed a lot of tackles today when players simply didn’t work hard enough to wrap up ball carriers. This wasn’t just the young players (although there were some moments of bad coverage and bad tackling that I’ll be willing to chalk up to youth), but even Dawkins forgot to wrap-up on one play where the carrier ended up with big yards after he first hit them for what should have been a modest game.

Don’t get me wrong: there were a lot of good things in the game, too.

Kyle Orton is playing well and the wide receivers played well. In fact, Demaryius Thomas showed everyone why McDaniels thought he was worth the draft pick, Eddie Royal played a really good game, and both Lloyed and Gaffney came up with big catches. While I’m missing a rough, strong back like Peyton Hillis right now, I’m not at all missing Brandon Marshall. That could change as the year goes on, of course, but the early look at this group of receivers is kind of exciting.

And as i said, Moreno’s best moment came when he caught the ball--which he did four times for 67 yards. The longest, a run of 45 yards, was a lot of fun to watch. He ran hard, he showed some speed, and reminded people that he has some talent. It’s just a shame that he can’t find that same elusiveness in the running game.

The Broncos have a lot of potential and this game extended their home opener win streak to the last 11 seasons. If they want to take that potential and make something of it, though, they need to be a good bit better in a few areas

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