Has there ever been a team that had two totally different quarterbacks to fawn over in NFL history in back to back seasons?? Last year Tebow hysteria reigned supreme as the Broncos had 5 last second come from behind victories. His quarterback legitimacy was debated from coast to coast making Tim a national figure. Now all of a sudden, they have one of the NFL’s most iconic figures in Peyton Manning going under center for them. The Broncos have to be near the top in merchandising right now.
Going into 2012, the questions that arise are: Does Manning have the receivers that will allow him to flourish in the Mile High City?? Is he going to have the same zip on the ball as the season wears on?? Can his teammates rise to the occasion and help Manning become only the second quarterback in league history to win championships with two different teams?? Most of these answers will be of the wait and see variety but Manning didn’t come to Denver just to continue his career. He wants to win another ring and solidify his legacy as one of the all time great quarterbacks. A quarterback winning two championships with two different teams has only happened once before in NFL history (Norm van Brocklin) and hasn’t been achieved in 52 years. Peyton…your mission should you choose to accept it…
Quarterback: Speaking of which, is it me or does this feel a lot like 1993 when Joe Montana joined the Kansas City Chiefs after a year away due to injury?? Of course the skeptics are wondering if Manning has totally healed while others marvel at the thought of him playing like the quarterback of old in a new city. Well from all accounts the zip on his passes in mini-camps has been there. The real question is will those same passes have the zip on them as we head toward the end of the season??
Not out of the question when you remember he sat out an entire season and this will be his 15th. Bouncing back from a neck injury had to retard the throwing of the football to a degree and it may show up as fatigue late in the season. The psychological fallout for an athlete recovering from injury is a delicate thing. What is uncertain is how Manning will take hits this season. Will he be guilty of looking down at the rush once he starts getting hit?? This is one of the tell-tale signs of an aging signal caller also. As we alluded to earlier, the Broncos were 23rd in sacks allowed with 42. http://taylorblitztimes.com/2012/03/19/peyton-manning-sweepstakes-ends-in-denver/ Yet his best asset is his ability to audible out of situations when he knows the blitz is coming. He will also have a running game to aid him when that does happen. In Indianapolis he didn’t have that luxury the last five years. We’ll have to wait and see how he responds.
One of the intriguing early battle lines is the teams that have best defensed Manning will see him this year. The Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, & New England Patriots have shown the penchant to mask their blitzing intentions until the play clock was under :10 seconds, then come after him. Put him in position where he doesn’t have time to audible and then come. It’s proven to disrupt Manning and cause a few misreads. He faces the Steelers in week 1 at home but weeks 5, 9, and 15 he goes on the road to play those Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens. On paper he’s still a Super Bowl quarterback and this will be an interesting season.
Offensive Backfield: By all accounts this was a really sound rushing attack last season. Willis McGahee resurrected a career rushing for his 4th 1,000 yard season for his 3rd team. In 2011, McGahee ran for 1,199 yards on 249 carries and averaged a gaudy 4.8 yard average. However he’ll be 31 years old in October and his years are few as a featured back. In fact his play came about with the inability of Knowshon Moreno to remain healthy and has become a point of diminishing returns for the Denver Broncos.
To that avail the Broncos will go with McGahee’s more physical style and turn to 3rd round draft pick Ronnie Hillman from San Diego State barring any injury. At 5’9, 200 lbs, Hillman is a straight ahead runner with little side to side shiftiness. Reminds The Chancellor of Olandis Gary from a few years back. One cut and go… If Hillman has a good camp Moreno should be cut this preseason. Running back should be of playoff quality in Denver.
Receivers: So here it is, you’re a receiver for the Denver Broncos in the off-season. After your morning yawn and stretch you click on your computer or turn on the television and see your team just signed Peyton Manning to be your quarterback. Would that be the equivalent of Christmas in July?? For Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, this off-season must have flown by now that they have one of the league’s best passers in-house. The wideout who stands to be the go to guy will be Decker. He will look to improve on last year’s 44 reception 612 yard season that saw him score 8 times. He grew up in a major way last year amid pedestrian quarterbacking and is the shiftier route runner of the two. Thomas is a big receiver at 6’3, 230 pounds and doesn’t really fit the mold of the receivers Manning has had during his career. We look to a new receiver across from Decker by the time the season begins. Whether it’s another free agent brought in or if Andre Caldwell or Jason Hill can quickly pick up the offense will decide on if this team can take to the air or not.
One receiver that will figure prominently will be TE Jacob Tamme. Where he was a second tight end and third option early in his career, he will become the safety outlet Manning needs. Two years ago in Indy he proved to be valuable with a 67 catch season and should finish with 80 or more in 2012. Until a solid receiver unseats Thomas this position is slightly below average and could force the Broncos to be a running team once again.
Offensive Line: Well the ink is just drying on the contract extension that locks up LT Ryan Clady that should allow Manning to remain upright. This Boise St product has proven to be the best young tackle in the game today. Its paramount the line protects better than last year’s performance with 42 sacks allowed. However it was a three-fold issue. Clady didn’t have as a good a year as he had wanted giving up 9 sacks. Once you couple that with Tim Tebow scrambling around and inexperienced receivers not being able to get open and you see why the sacks totals were so high.
The line is relatively young with its most senior member G Chris Kuper entering his 7th season. They will rely on Manning getting rid of the ball quicker to lower the quarterback hits from 68 a year ago also. It was this group that led the Broncos to the #1 ranking when it comes to rushing the football. Every RB posted an average attempt better than 4.2 yards while McGahee and Moreno each averaged a gaudy 4.8. The league average is roughly 4.0 so you can see how effective this group was. This is a Super Bowl quality offensive line yet needs some help at receiver and looks to Manning’s quick decisions to improve their protection stats.
Defensive Line: Last year’s defense was extremely opportunistic while keeping games close. Overall their ranking was 20th yet tied for 10th in sacks with 41, 9.5 of them from Pro Bowl End Elvis Dumervil. They played well enough at the end of games however the first 3 quarters they gave a lot of ground. The Broncos used a hodge podge defensive front of Dumervil (33 tackles/ 9.5 sacks), Robert Ayers (41 tackles /3 sacks) on the ends, and Broderick Bunkley (48 tackles) and Marcus Thomas (46 tackles) who manned the middle. This group gave up a lot of ground at 22nd against the run. To that avail 1st round draft pick Derek Wolfe out of Cincinnati will have a chance to start. Another was used on Malik Jackson from Tennessee in the 5th round. He should see some time opposite Dumervil on pass rushing situations. Right now he may be too green to play immediately as an every down lineman. It should shape up to be a good camp and right now the grade for this group is slightly below average. Let’s see how they come out of the summer.
Linebackers: The real strength of this defense lies right here. Von Miller made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and had the most impact at his position this division has seen since Derrick Thomas. After a 65 tackle, 11.5 sack, 3 forced fumble season it will be interesting to see what he does for an encore. With Dumervil 100% and a young pass rusher in Malik Jackson this team could form the fiercest rush in the AFC. Only a monster of a rookie season would have us list Miller over the team’s leading tackler. All DJ Williams (The [[_]]) did was make 97 total tackles, 5 sacks while forcing 2 fumbles. Despite missing 3 games. Fast, active and aggressive were fellow linebackers were Wesley Woodyard (90 tackles) and Joe Mays (83 tackles). That was good enough for the top 3 tackling spots and 4 of the top 5.
The only issue is they need to make a few plays while the ball is in the air. Not a single interception from the group and only 11 passes defended between the 4 of them. They’re young enough that they should see some improvement in 2012. This a playoff caliber group and if the play is more instinctive against the pass and there isn’t a sophomore slump from Miller, this group can be Super Bowl caliber.
Secondary: How abysmal can an NFL secondary be?? This team could get after the passer and all this group could muster was 9 interceptions?? In fact they are one of only two teams that had more than 40 sacks and single digit interception which tied them for second to last in the NFL. Terrible. The Chancellor has always felt Champ Bailey is overrated. Last year he did make the Pro Bowl with a 40 tackle, 2 interception season with 10 passes defended. Seriously?? The kid corners in New England had better seasons than that. It may also illustrate going into his 14th season, Bailey may no longer be an elite athlete. Keep your eye on his coverage later this season as his play might slip as the bumps and bruises pile up.
Broncos brass really felt the need to do something with their weak play on the corner. They released Andre Goodman in April and signed Drayton Florence. Yet it’s the ghost of Super Bowl XLIV past that will be the starter opposite Bailey in former Saint CB Tracy Porter. You remember him don’t you?? He was the one that sealed Peyton Manning’s fate in the Super Bowl with his 74 yard interception return for a touchdown. He’s only going into his fifth season, runs a 4.37 / 40 and should be the starter for several years to come. We say that because he signed a one year deal and he’s playing for his long-term future. Another intriguing player will be 4th round pick Omar Bolden who will make the team.
After a season where neither safety intercepted a pass it was time to move on with SS Brian Dawkins. A great leader who was tough against the run yet a liability against the pass. Right now they have 5 safeties on the roster and we could see two new safeties back there. Keep your eye on second year safety Rahim Moore #26. Has a lot of range and should have learned a ton from an old pro like Dawkins. As a secondary this group has made enough moves to be average this season.
Overall: Under normal circumstances, Peyton Manning should mean 4-5 more wins this year for the Denver Broncos. However there are too many holes in the receiving corps. Too bad they didn’t keep Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal around. These guys would have flourished with Manning. However the Broncos wouldn’t have landed DE Malik Jackson had they not dealt Lloyd. Nevertheless, the other side of the equation is everyone is expecting the Manning of old. If the Broncos try to throw it around like the 2005-2010 Colts, this team could have a losing record in 2012. They will have to play more like the 1999-2004 Colts team that ran the ball more with Egerrin James (The [[_]]) and they can with McGahee (The [[_]]). Use play action and let Manning ease into throwing more moderately than he did in his latter Colt years. This will rest a defense that was thrown into too many bad situations last year. When teams could move on them…they were blown away. The Broncos will struggle on offense early and will hit their stride by midseason. All told this team should be able to move to a record of 9-7 if Manning can hold up the full season. With a murderous start of Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Houston Texans before Manning gets baptized in the Broncos / Raiders rivalry. They will start 2-2 at best.
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Next up: Cincinnati Bengals