A Look at the Opponent - Denver
Saturday, September 9, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
Not many people saw the Denver Broncos coming last season. Heading into the 2005 year, the San Diego Chargers were the chic pick to win the NFC West Division and perhaps make a Super Bowl run.
For those not favoring the Chargers, the Kansas City Chiefs were the sleeper team capable of doing big things. When all was said and done, the Broncos had surged to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Nobody is going to make the same mistake again this season. The Broncos are widely considered one of the favorites in the AFC West and perhaps to go even further this year.
After an eventful offseason a year ago saw the Broncos revamp their defensive line, this offseason brought the addition of a major offensive weapon and a quarterback for the future. The rest of the pieces are already in place.
Quarterback Jake Plummer took a big step forward last season, going from erratic to consistent. Plummer put up career bests in almost every major passing category, finishing with 3,366 yards and 18 touchdowns with just seven interceptions for a rating of 90.2.
Plummer’s emergence had been years in the making, but was the main reason for the Broncos’ return to the playoffs. Should Plummer falter, the Broncos made a big move in the NFL Draft in adding Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler has proved to be wise beyond his years and extremely talented in the preseason and could be ready to step in should Plummer get hurt or struggle.
In addition to Plummer’s passing exploits, the Broncos continued their tradition of posting big numbers in the rushing attack. No matter whom the team plugs into the starting running back job, he always seems to post big numbers. That’s why the Broncos felt comfortable parting with last year’s leading rusher, Mike Anderson, in the offseason.
The competition for the starting job has been heated in training camp. Undrafted rookie Mike Bell is the leader for the job, but speedy Tatum Bell figures in the mix. Despite Plummer’s advancements in the passing game a season ago, the Broncos lacked a big-play receiver to complement the guile and grit of veteran leader Rod Smith. Smith returns after another in a long line of good seasons, but in an effort to boost the passing game, Denver traded for Green Bay receiver Javon Walker.
Walker was the team’s big offseason addition after the Broncos flirted with the idea of signing Terrell Owens. Walker is coming off a serious knee injury, but when healthy is one of the league’s most explosive receivers. Darius Watts, David Terrell and Charlie Adams also figure into the receiving mix.
At tight end, the Broncos went for youth by adding Tony Scheffler in the draft. Scheffler is an excellent pass catcher and could prove to be a good red zone target.
For all of the Broncos’ success in recent years, perhaps no unit has been more integral than the offensive line. The zone blocking schemes employed by the Broncos have set the tone for the power running game and this year should be no different.
Center Tom Nalen remains the anchor in the middle with help from guards Ben Hamilton and Cooper Carlisle and tackles Matt Lepsis and George Foster.
On defense, the Broncos boast one of the finest linebacking corps in the league. Middle linebacker Al Wilson is the heart and soul of the group and is one of the most tenacious defenders in the league. Ian Gold and D.J. Williams provide athleticism, speed and ferocity next to him with the ability to get after the passer and cover tight ends, running backs and the occasional receiver.
In the secondary, the Broncos are led by cornerback and perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey. Bailey has been a mainstay of the defense after coming in a trade from Washington last offseason.
Helping Bailey is a pair of young cornerbacks added in the 2005 NFL Draft. Darrent Williams was one of the league’s best young defenders last season and solidified his spot as a cover corner and returner. Dominique Foxworth has also made strides and gives the Broncos three good cover corners.
Elsewhere in the secondary, the Broncos use hard hitting John Lynch at strong safety. Lynch can still get it done in run support and in coverage. Nick Ferguson and Sam Brandon have competed for the free safety spot next to Lynch.
Up front, the Broncos made huge strides last year by getting the most out of a group of players that failed elsewhere, namely Cleveland. Defensive end Courtney Brown, a former No. 1 overall pick, and defensive tackle Gerard Warren, a former No. 3 overall pick, both played better than at any time in their stints with the Browns, solidifying Denver’s line.
The Broncos parted ways with Trevor Pryce in the offseason, but they still have a solid rotation that includes Michael Myers, Ebenezer Ekuban, John Engelberger and Kenard Lang.
Denver remains strong on special teams with one of the league’s best kicker-punter combinations. Kicker Jason Elam is one of the most consistent legs in the leg and punter Todd Sauerbrun is annually among the best at his position.
In what should be a difficult AFC West Division, the Broncos enter the year as the favorite. Until someone takes the crown away from them, it will probably stay that way.
Re: A Look at the Opponent - Denver
This article is based on last season. I don't see that they have improved during the off-season. Mike Anderson is gone, He was their grinder. They added Javon Walker to replace Ashley Lelie, Not a huge improvement, Lelie is a good wr. If the Broncos can't put pressure on Bulger with the front 4 they're in for a long game. It's going to be an interesting game. I think the Rams are going to be a tougher opponent for the Broncos than the experts are predicting.