Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

Most Recent FO Features


» 2018 Free Agency Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is Kirk Cousins the best free-agent quarterback in recent memory? Should Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler have gotten the larger contract? And what makes a free-agent contract good or bad, anyway?

18 May 2009

Four Downs: AFC West

by Vince Verhei

Denver Broncos

Pat Bowlen's offseason to-do list must have read something like this:

  • Fire the head coach -- the guy who won nearly 60 percent of his games, plus two Super Bowls, who would have been the winningest active coach if he still had a job -- who was also the general manager.
  • Hire a first-time head coach younger than many NFL players.
  • Have your new coach alienate your franchise quarterback by pursuing another franchise quarterback. End up with neither franchise quarterback on your roster. Instead, you have Neckbeard.
  • Acquire three mediocre running backs to replace the mediocre running backs already on your roster.
  • Draft another running back in the first round, perhaps in hopes that NFL will allow you to use three balls at once.
  • Trade next year's first-round pick for a short cornerback who everyone else in the league, including yourself, has already passed on at least once. In fact, you passed on him twice.

The funny thing is, they probably could have limited this list to one three-word item -- "Fix lousy defense" -- and contended for the playoffs again in 2009. They had the second-worst defensive DVOA in the league last season, behind only the historically bad Detroit Lions. But by weighted DVOA, which places added emphasis on the later part of the year, the Broncos were dead last. So they started out Lion-like, and then they got worse.

Actually, it got lost in all the Jay Cutler drama, but Denver did try to fix their defense. They announced a switch to a 3-4 formation, and could have a half-dozen new starters on that side of the ball. Most of the turnover came in the secondary, where only Champ Bailey remains. The Broncos brought in Philadelphia's Brian Dawkins and Miami's Renaldo Hill to play safety, while Andre' Goodman, also formerly of the Dolphins, will man the other corner. What do these four have in common? Mileage; they've played a combined 38 seasons. The mane on their helmets may turn from orange to grey soon.

And then came the draft. With a bevy of defensive players available, the Broncos reached with their first pick, taking Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, who may not have even been the best back available, and could get lost in the shuffle of Broncos runners this year. Then they finally turned to defense, taking Tennessee linebacker Robert Ayers, who could start on Opening Day. And then things got truly nutty, as they traded a first-round pick in 2010 to Seattle to select Alphonso Smith, a 5-foot-9 corner with great ball skills who may get eaten alive by bigger receivers.

If Josh McDaniels' offense won't work without Randy Moss, if Kyle Orton can't match his own 2009 performance -- let alone that of Jay Cutler -- or if the new defense shows its age, then 2010's to-do list may begin "Watch Seattle spend the first pick in the draft. Which they got from us."

Undrafted Free Agents

The Broncos apparently woke up on Monday, April 27, and said "Hmm. Our roster still kinda sucks." They missed out on the quality, so they went with the quantity, signing seventeen undrafted free agents, including eight defenders. Defensive end Rulon Davis out of California is far and away the sentimental favorite. After high school, he postponed college for a stint in the Marine Corps, including deployment to Iraq, where he serviced helicopters. If that's not enough, he's named after former Broncos great Rulon Jones. Jeff Schweiger split time between end and linebacker in college. The Broncos list him at linebacker. At 6-foot-5, 276 pounds, he's awfully big for a linebacker, but still too small to play a 3-4 end. He started his college career at USC, then transferred to San Jose State for his senior season, likely so he would have a chance to start. And speaking of big defenders, there's also Everette Pedescleaux, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound defensive end out of Northern Iowa, and Chris Baker, a 6-foot-2, 326-pound defensive tackle from Hampton. In the backfield, Jackson State cornerback D.J. Johnson was a second-team All-American last season. Cornerback Tony Carter, though only 5-foot-9, started 50 games at Florida State and returned three interceptions, one fumble, one blocked field goal, and one blocked extra point for scores in his time there.

The Broncos also signed a pair of special teams specialists. Britton Colquitt followed his brother Dustin, cousin Jimmy, and father Craig (who won two Super Bowls with the Steelers) as a Tennessee punter. He can also kick off. Denver's punt unit was bad last season, but according to our data, that had more to do with shoddy coverage than it did with incumbent Brett Kern, so Colquitt could be a longshot. Temple wide receiver Travis Shelton led the nation last season with a 31.3-yard average on kickoff returns.

The most notable offensive signee is wide receiver Nate Swift, who is first in receptions and second in yards and touchdowns in the Nebraska record books.

Kansas City Chiefs

There's also a new regime in Arrowhead. That's what happens when you go 2-14. Scott Pioli, who won three Super Bowls with New England and lost a fourth, has taken over the Chiefs. One of his first moves was to hire a new coach, Todd Haley, last seen guiding the Arizona Cardinals' offense to the Super Bowl. Haley's offense requires smart decisions and quick, accurate throws from its quarterback, so Tyler Thigpen wasn't going to cut it. Pioli turned back to New England and grabbed Matt Cassel, who stepped in for an injured Tom Brady last season and played well enough to guarantee a starting job somewhere in 2009. It remains to be seen how he'll perform when he's throwing to Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley as opposed to Randy Moss and Wes Welker.

Another player Cassel won't be throwing to is Tony Gonzalez. The future Hall of Fame tight end, one of the greatest Chiefs of all time, will finish his career in Atlanta after being traded for a 2010 draft pick.

On defense, Kansas City has gotten very, very young. While there are some obvious exceptions (most notably new linebackers Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas), the Chiefs may have eight defensive starters under the age of 25. And that's not even counting the draft picks. Third overall pick Tyson Jackson is a natural 3-4 end, and third-round pick Alex McGee could rotate between end and tackle for Kansas City.

This will be a better team in 2009, but a return to the playoffs is probably too much to ask. Remember this story, though, when they're giving up 10 points a game in 2011.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Chiefs had enough young, untested players on their team last year; they don't need to bring in any more off the street. The only undrafted free agent on the roster is Tanner Purdum, a long snapper from Baker University, whose page on the Chiefs' Web site includes a horrible Photoshop. Baker University is a liberal arts school in Baldwin City, Kan., founded by United Methodist ministers. Their football team, the Baker Wildcats, plays in the NAIA's Heart of America Athletic Conference. Purdum last played there in 2007, spending 2008 as a graduate assistant, working with wide receivers like Tyrell Spain and Austin DeGraeve. Here ends the only mention of Baker University you will ever see on this site.

Oakland Raiders

Everything seemed set going into the Draft. The Raiders had rebuilt their offensive line, bringing in Khalif Barnes from Jacksonville and Samson Satele from Miami. The defense, which was not half-bad overall in 2008, was returning virtually intact. With JaMarcus Russell showing flashes of brilliance last season (10-of-11 for 156 yards against Denver, 18-of-25 for 236 yards against Houston) and Darren McFadden always a threat to score on the ground, the Raiders needed only to upgrade their receiving corps. Oakland's top three wideouts -- Chaz Schilens, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Javon Walker's mummified remains -- combined for just 52 catches last season.

Fortunately for the Raiders, there was a savior on the horizon: Michael Crabtree, the receiver out of Texas Tech, the consensus top wideout in the draft, and considered by some as the best player in the draft. Loaded with superstar long-term potential and NFL-ready, he seemed like the answer to the Raiders' prayers. Instead, the Raiders picked Darius Heyward-Bey, surprising everyone except Mike Mayock. Why Heyward-Bey? He may be raw, he may have suspect hands, but darnit, he can run fast -- his 4.3 40-yard dash was the fastest by a receiver at the Combine. Not content with that, in the second round they chose a complete unknown, safety Michael Mitchell out of Ohio. The pick caused quite a to-do around the FO offices.

While neither of these picks is likely to make an impact this season, the fact remains that with their weak division, even a slight improvement on offense could lead to a playoff run, the first in Oakland in years.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Raiders signed eight rookies after the draft. The most promising youngster might be Jonathan Compas, formerly a very big fish in a very small pond. The 300-pound guard started 40 games at UC-Davis, and was a three-time first-team all-Great West Football Conference selection. There's also linebacker Frantz Joseph, Florida Atlantic's all-time leading tackler, who was named to the watch lists for the Lombardi and Butkus awards. The signing of Nick Miller, who set game, season, and career records at Southern Utah for kickoff return yardage, confirms that Al Davis likes fast guys.

San Diego Chargers

When you're the best team in your division, even though your best defensive player is out for most of the season, you don't need to make a lot of changes. While there were rumblings that former MVP LaDainian Tomlinson would be moving on, when all was said and done, all the big names -- Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson -- are back. In fact, all the names are back, period. The Chargers will have only three new starters next season: linebacker Shawne Merriman, returning from injury; defensive end Jacques Cesaire, stepping into Igor Olshansky's old spot; and Kynan Forney, filling in for a departed Mike Goff. The biggest question mark here is Forney, who was on the Chargers' roster last year but did not appear in a game. He was a starter for several years in Atlanta when they were the league's top rushing team, so if he can play near that level, the Chargers will be fine.

With no obvious needs to fill, the Chargers were content to go best player available in the draft, and they loaded up with linemen. Top pick Larry English is 274 pounds, which may be small for a 3-4 end, but he'll offer depth as a pass-rushing linebacker and step in when Merriman or Shaun Phillips depart. A pair of monsters came in the third and fourth rounds: 333-pound guard Louis Vasquez out of Texas Tech, and 331-pound defensive tackle Vaughn Martin out of Western Ontario (Canada). Later in the fourth, they took Tyronne Green, a 309-pound guard out of Auburn. That's nearly half of a ton of beef they added, just in case of emergency.

Undrafted Free Agents

Last year, San Diego relied on tiebreakers to beat Denver for the division crown. No tiebreakers were needed in the I-Can-Sign-More-Undrafted-Guys-Than-You-Can-Department -- the Chargers are currently carrying 19 such players on the roster. While a handful of Denver's guys are likely to make the team, San Diego's candidates face much tougher competition. Take North Dakota State's Jerimiah Wurzbacher and Colorado's Kory Sperry. Those guys play tight end, a job the Chargers have pretty much covered, thank you very much (albeit by a player who arrived as an undrafted free agent). Still, there may be some diamonds in the rough. Linebacker Darry Beckwith started 34 games for LSU and was two-time second-team all-SEC. Wide receiver Greg Carr caught 29 touchdowns at Florida State, tied for second-most in the school's history. California linebacker Anthony Felder was one of the strongest linebackers at the Combine, but has struggled to stay healthy. Similarly, Marshall safety C.J. Spillman may have gone as high as the third round if he hadn't suffered a broken hand. Finally, there's Syracuse running back Curtis "Boonah" Brinkley, whose 399-yard game for West Catholic High School in Philadelphia will never be forgotten.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 18 May 2009

75 comments, Last at 28 May 2009, 5:37pm by Vince Verhei


by Bronco Jeff :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 2:03pm

Kory Sperry went to Colorado State, not Colorado. As a CSU guy, seeing Sperry listed as being from CU irrationally angers me. Also, Gartrell Johnson from CSU got drafted by thee Chargers in the 4th.

As for the Broncos, they seem to be using the shotgun approach for UFAs, and with all the holes on their team I don't blame them. Hell, Baker might even start this year at NT.

Eschew Obfuscation!

by MJK :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 2:22pm

Also, keep in mind, there is a roster limit for the pre-season, and it behooves teams to be at that limit--to be able to see a wide variety of players, and to spare established starters meaningless reps. I'd be shocked if every team didn't automatically fill its roster up to the limit (94 players, I think) with undrafted rookie free agents the day after the draft. After all, you don't have to pay them much in the way of signing bonuses, and if a FA you really want comes along, you can always cut one of the long shots.

All the Broncos signing 17 RooFA's means is that they happened to be 17 players under the roster limit the day after the draft, I would think. Now, WHY they were 17 players under the limit the day after the draft maybe is a question that can be asked, but it's not like there was a concerted strategy to draft a bunch of rookie free agents that was different from every other team in the league.

by The Guy You Don't Want to Hear (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:43am

As a CU guy, I understand your outrage (and would understand Sperry's).

We're still ahead in Supreme Court justices, though. :)

by rk (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 2:25pm

I think the Chiefs actually signed another 13 undrafted free agents. The list I have looks like this (I don't know anything about any of these players): L Fryar, B Abare, J Belcher, R Price, J Bates, T Crabtree, D Gales, C Goldberg, R Greenwood, D Harris, Taurus Johnson, Corey Smith, P Walters.

by Red Hedgehog :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 3:07pm

I was pretty surprised that San Diego brought in Utah kicker/punter Louis Sakoda. Then I checked San Diego's fg/xp and kicking dvoa and saw that it was negative, so I guess they might be looking to upgrade Kaeding. Still, I was surprised that one of the teams that *definitely* wants an upgrade at kicker (or punter) didn't sign him.

by Steve (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 9:23pm

Its unlikely Kaeding is going anywhere, barring injury. Sakoda himself was interviewed and said that he knows he won't be a Charger, that he's really auditioning for other teams.

by c_f (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 3:12pm

1) I find it hard to believe that there can be enough starting-caliber nose tackles to go around for all the 3-4 teams given the recent switches by DEN, KC and GB. There are now: ne, mia, nyj, cle, pit, bal (sort of), den, sd, kc, dal, gb, sf, ari (sort of) = 13 3-4 teams.

2) Crabtree was the consensus top wideout, but let's not oversell him: Texas Tech runs the Airraid, so Crabtree has some learning to do.

by AnonymousA (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 3:37pm

Did you just insinuate that the Chargers draft strategy is "maximum cannibalizable meat in case of apocalypse"?

Sometimes, something is awesomer than it is true, and that's fine.

by Independent George :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 4:33pm

Wow, that Denver section was brutal. Deservedly so, but still...

by Jack (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:35pm

Wow, Denver signed the leading receiver in Nebraska history? I know they discovered the pass in recent years, but what did it take - a couple of games to set that record?

by Miguel (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 4:55pm

Bowlen has taken Denver to 5, count 'em, 5 Super Bowls in the last 25 years and, save a disastrous stint with Wade Phillips, he's had 2 coaching regimes over that stretch. Shanahan was an entrenched manager who was milking the cow. 10 years of mediocre, 9-win seasons (and two playoff wins) is fabulous if you are Detroit but Denver expects more than that. Talk all the trash you want, Bowlen's got the gonads to stir things up and make some positive changes. Denver may struggle through this coaching transition, but he fired Reeves and it worked (and took a chance on a young, 2nd-year NFL head coach who grew up in the Walsh dynasty--see a parallel there?), and you've got to commend the guy for being bold and refusing to be a perennial loser.

But its a lot more interesting to sit in front of a computer and parrot the same crap the rest of the analysts are saying. Name an owner you'd rather have running your franchise?

by jonnyblazin :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 5:07pm

Dan Snyder.

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 5:36pm


by Phildo (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 10:55pm

instead of parroting what all the others analysts are saying, i'd prefer it if you parroted my delusional homer thoughts

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 11:59am

Talk all the trash you want, Bowlen's got the gonads to stir things up and make some positive changes

Agreed. And here's hoping he makes some soon. Because if you think his post-season changes have been largely positive, that's some mighty powerful kool-aid you're drinking.

and took a chance on a young, 2nd-year NFL head coach who grew up in the Walsh dynasty--see a parallel there?

Well, no, I don't. First, Shanahan didn't grow up in the Walsh dynasty. He actually had more years as a Denver assistant then he had in San Francisco. He was an NFL head coach before he ever worked for Walsh.

When Shanahan was hired as head coach in Denver, he was 43 years old with 11 years of NFL coaching experience (and another 9 years of college experience). I don't see the parallel.

The one thing about which you are rightly proud is that the Broncos have not been the perennial loser that you oddly imply they are (or perhaps were on the verge of being?). For most of Bowlen's tenure, the Broncos have been a successful, widely admired franchise. And in the span of a few short weeks, they've become the Cincinnati Bengals.

by Scott P. (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 2:13pm

Bowlen hasn't 'taken' the Broncos to any Superbowls. He's the owner. He doesn't get credit for not stepping in and messing things up.

by Cyguy84 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/27/2009 - 1:13pm

I also was a little surprised to see the Denver page. I expect fresh thinking from this website, and that was just rehashed BS.

Popular consensus way of looking at it:
People say "They just needed defense!" and complain about trading Cutler, drafting a RB and trading a first rounder next year for a short CB.

My way of looking at it:
They were 2nd in the league in yards, not points. They were exactly average in points. I find three things wrong with that:
1- It means they were often playing from behind or trying to gain 90 yards, which means yards are easier to come by. (Disagree if you must, but I watched the Patriots defense in 2007 give up tons of yards and still go 16-0)
2- It means that Cutler (and the rest) turned the ball over a lot in the red zone. 18 interceptions isn't that bad next to 25 TD's, but it isn't that great either.
3- Time of Possession was not in their favor.

The biggest piece to me was the ToP battle. Cutler was able to get a ton of yards and really throw the ball, but they couldn't control the clock. This led to the defense being exposed and looking worse than it was. In defense, they had a huge rash of injuries at RB, so it would be hard to run the ball consistently.

But that is why trading Cutler for a QB who is content to listen to McDaniels and control the time of possession better (Cassel was the target, Orton the end result) AND get two 1st rounders was a good idea. And why using the #12 on a RB who should be a stud this year and really help control the clock.

And as someone else pointed out, getting a CB who can step in a year early and help with a horrible pass defense, whose only knock is that he is too short.

I can see that they lost in the Cutler trade in the sense that you can never replace the value of a franchise QB, but Cutler cried his way out of town. I can see those that think they should have traded the Bears 1st rounder, but isn't that admitting defeat?

I see them as picking #12 or later, just like this year.

by Cyguy84 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/27/2009 - 1:14pm

I also was a little surprised to see the Denver page. I expect fresh thinking from this website, and that was just rehashed BS.

Popular consensus way of looking at it:
People say "They just needed defense!" and complain about trading Cutler, drafting a RB and trading a first rounder next year for a short CB.

My way of looking at it:
They were 2nd in the league in yards, not points. They were exactly average in points. I find three things wrong with that:
1- It means they were often playing from behind or trying to gain 90 yards, which means yards are easier to come by. (Disagree if you must, but I watched the Patriots defense in 2007 give up tons of yards and still go 16-0)
2- It means that Cutler (and the rest) turned the ball over a lot in the red zone. 18 interceptions isn't that bad next to 25 TD's, but it isn't that great either.
3- Time of Possession was not in their favor.

The biggest piece to me was the ToP battle. Cutler was able to get a ton of yards and really throw the ball, but they couldn't control the clock. This led to the defense being exposed and looking worse than it was. In defense, they had a huge rash of injuries at RB, so it would be hard to run the ball consistently.

But that is why trading Cutler for a QB who is content to listen to McDaniels and control the time of possession better (Cassel was the target, Orton the end result) AND get two 1st rounders was a good idea. And why using the #12 on a RB who should be a stud this year and really help control the clock.

And as someone else pointed out, getting a CB who can step in a year early and help with a horrible pass defense, whose only knock is that he is too short.

I can see that they lost in the Cutler trade in the sense that you can never replace the value of a franchise QB, but Cutler cried his way out of town. I can see those that think they should have traded the Bears 1st rounder, but isn't that admitting defeat?

I see them as picking #12 or later, just like this year.

by Cyguy84 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/27/2009 - 1:15pm

Apologize for the double post, it told me that the Captcha was not valid. I am guessing it lied to me.

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 5:14am

"I also was a little surprised to see the Denver page. I expect fresh thinking from this website, and that was just rehashed BS."

You're right, I'm not the first person to predict a poor season for Denver. I won't be the last. There are many of us. There's probably a reason for that.

I'd rather be redundant and correct than "fresh" and wrong.

"My way of looking at it:
They were 2nd in the league in yards, not points. They were exactly average in points. I find three things wrong with that:
1- It means they were often playing from behind or trying to gain 90 yards, which means yards are easier to come by. (Disagree if you must, but I watched the Patriots defense in 2007 give up tons of yards and still go 16-0)
2- It means that Cutler (and the rest) turned the ball over a lot in the red zone. 18 interceptions isn't that bad next to 25 TD's, but it isn't that great either.
3- Time of Possession was not in their favor."

Look at our drive stats. Denver had fewer possessions than everyone except San Diego and Indianapolis. That's partly why they were average in total points, because opponents would get the ball and keep it forever, then Denver would get it and keep it forever. (Denver's defense was on the field for fewer drives than anyone except the Colts.) So it's not so much that time of possession was not in their favor, as there was less "time" (as measured in number of possessions) to go around.

Denver's offense was dead last in starting field position, so you're exactly right there.

[NOTE: The original paragraph here contained a grievous error, saying Denver was near the top in avoiding turnovers and interceptions. That was a complete misread of the rankings. Denver had A TON of picks and turnovers last year. So you were right about that too.]

"The biggest piece to me was the ToP battle. Cutler was able to get a ton of yards and really throw the ball, but they couldn't control the clock. This led to the defense being exposed and looking worse than it was. In defense, they had a huge rash of injuries at RB, so it would be hard to run the ball consistently."

Denver's offense ran 6.2 plays per drive last year, more than everyone except Indy and New England. Yes, they passed a lot, which means incompletions, which means the GAME clock stopped. In real time, they gave their defense plenty of time to rest.

by Fan in Exile :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 3:53pm

"I'd rather be redundant and correct than "fresh" and wrong."

That's what we love to see accept conventional wisdom because you're afraid of being wrong. If you think the Broncos are going to be bad then go ahead and say but at least get your own talking points and not the stupid insider ones like smith is only 5'9"

"However, they were 31st in turnovers per drive, and 29th in interceptions per drive. Cutler wasn't throwing picks in the red zone or anywhere else."

You may want to check over your own drive stats again. When the Broncos are ranked 31st and 29th, that's a bad thing. That means he was throwing INT's and they were putting the ball on the ground.

"Denver's offense ran 6.2 plays per drive last year, more than everyone except Indy and New England. Yes, they passed a lot, which means incompletions, which means the GAME clock stopped. In real time, they gave their defense plenty of time to rest."

You used plays per drive? Really? Is that because nothing ever skews an average and it always accurately conveys information? Sure with passing plays there are incompletions but with running plays you can go out of bounds. It may be true that plays per drive is better at telling us how much time the D has to rest but you're going to have to do significantly more to actually show that than what you've written here.

by Eddo :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 5:14pm

OK, how about this:

On offense, the Broncos ranked 5th in overall DVOA, 8th in passing, and 4th in rushing. Now, DVOA isn't perfect, but it normalizes for field position and takes turnovers into account.

To echo what Vince said, too, the Broncos still ranked 9th in points per drive despite averaging the absolute worst starting field position in the league. And I'm not sure what your point is about using plays per drive. Of course, real time take up per drive would be better, but as far as I can tell, no one has that information. I'd also be willing to guess that it correlates pretty well with plays per drive, so if the offense was third in the league in plays per drive, I don't think it's a stretch to say that they were comfortably above average in time per drive.

I'm sorry, trying to blame Denver's historically bad defense on their top-five offense is just ridiculous. While I think the Broncos will not be a disaster this year (their offensive line is just too good), I also can't see much improvement anywhere on the team.

In some cases, conventional wisdom is correct. Everyone says Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of all time. Basketball researchers come up with advanced metrics, and lo and behold, Jordan comes out as the best of all time. You can agree with conventional wisdom because you agree with it, not just because you're "afraid of being wrong".

by Vincent Verhei :: Thu, 05/28/2009 - 5:37pm

Agh. I wrote that very late at night and read the turnover stats backwards, thinking that a low ranking meant low turnovers. Scratch that one. In fact, I'm going to go back and edit the original comment in a second to acknowledge my goof.

As for plays per drive... Do you have a better metric? I guess it's possible they were mixing in a bunch of three-and-outs with the occasional 15-play marathon.

Turns out, we have that information. Denver was third in lowest percentage of three-and-outs per drive; only Indy and Houston (really!) were less likely to go 1-2-3 kick.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 5:27pm

"if Kyle Orton can't match his own 2009 performance -- let alone that of Jay Cutler -- or if the new defense shows its age, then 2010's to-do list may begin "Watch Seattle spend the first pick in the draft. Which they got from us."

If Kyle Orton can't match his own 2009 performance, Josh McDaniels will use his magical powers to turn all Broncos opponents into tadpoles with spinabifida. A conditional whose antecedent is necessarily false is necessarily true. Sorry, couldn't help myself.

"With JaMarcus Russell showing flashes of brilliance last season (10-of-11 for 156 yards against Denver, 18-of-25 for 236 yards against Houston)"

Yes, yes, but Denver's pass defense DVOA was 41.4% last season. That is beyond suck. That is the equal third worst unit of the DVOA era - level with the Lions, and behind only the 1999 Niners and the 1996 Ravens out of every team of the last 14 years. And from the sounds of it, by the time they faced the Raiders they were playing even worse. Next to this monumental ineptitude, Houston's 26th ranked, 21.1%DVOA, Mario-Williams-and-a-bunch-of-scrubs defense may look like the 2000 Ravens, but they, um, weren't. They were crap even when they weren't monstrously sloppy through overconfidence born of a franchise-record winning streek, which they were when they came to Oakland. I wouldn't take either of those performances as in any way indicative of Russell having learned how to play against NFL-calibre pass defenses, because neither Houston nor Denver had one.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 5:28pm

Al Davis still best owner in Afc west. Bowlen 2Nd, Hunt son 3 and Chargers guy 4th.

Schillens and Heyward Bey going to be gerat tandem, F Joseph good chance to make roster as special teams guy and leanr how to be Lb in nfl.

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:04pm

And if it doesn't work out for Frantz Joseph, he can always go back to ruling Austria.

by JW (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 6:50pm

While its easy to spin the Alphonso Smith pick negatively without much thought behind it... I'll throw a positive spin on the selection:

Smith was the most productive CB in the draft:
21 INTs
4 INTs returned for TDs
7 Forced fumbles
5 Blocked Kicks
9 Sacks

He easily would have been a top 20 selection if he were 2 inches taller... but at 5'9 he profiles similarly to Antoine Winfeild, Asante Samuel, Ronde Barber, and Cortland Finnegan.

They got him a year earlier than whoever they would have selected with next years 1st rounder, that's one more year of NFL experience and one more year to be groomed by Champ Bailey. They also filled an immediate need for a nickel CB which is basically a starting position in the NFL.

And even if the pick they gave up ends up in the top 10, wasn't having a top 10 pick this year considered a determinant? Name one team that wasn't attempting to trade down... but now the Broncos are getting blasted for trading what could be a top 10 pick next year.

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 7:48pm

I half-agree. I like Smith as a prospect. In fact, I think the Broncos' talent-evaluation this offseason has, as best I can judge, been pretty good. I even like Kyle Orton (within reason). Unfortunately, their trading and their strategic planning have both been horrible. First, let's please cast off this preposterous notion that top ten picks are a bad thing. Teams might prefer multiple lower picks than one high one, but no team would ever trade a pick straight up for a lower pick; the #1 selection is the most valuable selection in the draft, because it gives you the best chance of selecting a franchise player at a high impact position (QB, LT, WR or pass-rusher). Next year, the #1 pick will have more value than in any year since at least 2004 (when it was used on the wrong player - although the team using it knew who the right player was and got him) because next year Sam Bradford will be in the draft. If you're not as high on Bradford as I am, at least acknowledge that next year's class is almost universally expected to be stronger than this year's. The Broncos traded what is likely to be a high first-round pick in a strong draft for a second round pick in what most people think was a weak one. They made win-now moves after ripping the heart out of the unit that gave them a realistic prospect of winning now. Good talent evaluation can help compensate for strategic muddle-headedness, but I doubt it can overcome it completely.

by JW (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:14am

Good points, the offense is overrated though... only the 17th ranked scoring offense which puts them in the bottom half of the league... they were also very turnover prone.

by Mr Shush :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 4:11pm

DVOA, which takes into account scoring, turnovers and constantly being left in bad field position by the horrific defense, says they were 5th, with 21.0% - a mere 2.7% behind the #1 ranked Saints. And that despite the collection of scrubs they were forced to start at running back - an extremely easy position at which to find a plug-and-play upgrade in the off-season.

And to anyone suggesting the Broncos defense might get worse, please understand: this was thesecond worst unit of the DVOA era. There just isn't a lot of meaningful worse to get. To those who think they might be only slightly below average: they could improve by 10 points of DVOA and still be terrible. 16.2% would have ranked either 30th or 31st in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Last year was somewhat freakish for bad defense - 16.2% would have put you a lofty 27th.

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:15pm

On the positive side, Denver did finally hire someone to run college scouting.

After the draft.

by Phildo (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 10:59pm

next year's draft will be exactly the same as this year's draft with all the same guys going in the top ten? that should quite interesting

by Phildo (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 11:02pm

also i'm not quite sure that any of the teams that were attempting to trade down out of the top ten would have been willing to accept one second rounder for their pick. maybe i'm wrong, though

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 6:58pm

Alph Smith maybe could bve good but team going to live and die basedon coahcing of T Daniels and qb play of Kyle Orton and the other guy Simms. Barnstater not going to be good. with a name like that he should be farmer when get Nfl career over

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 11:11am

In that case, what should Michael Crabtree do after the NFL?

"Just look at that pumpkin."
-John Madden, looking at the moon.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 5:30pm

If play ten years and make a couple pro bowls so he get two or three good contracts in career Crabtree if handle money correclty he maybe not have to work after football carerer , but if bust with name like that he could become profesional crabber like Forrest Gump in movie or those guys who do the deep sea crabbing in aslaska.

by Insancipitory :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 6:37pm

I have now filed away the idea to nominate some small number of Crabtree's receptions as a Deadliest Catch. It's a service mark, and don't think I won't sue!

/Vernon Davis is obviously Bubba, but who will be Lt Dan....

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 8:41pm

Actually, his name is Brandstater, so you are mocking his surname based only on your own typographical error. Even for you, Joe, that's a little weird. But we agree: he probably won't be very good.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 05/20/2009 - 6:52am

okay sorry. for some reason thoiught name started with Barn. Brandstater it is so never mind about farming comment. probably not gooing to be good. broncos get him probably to be 3rd string guy . maybe better verison of van pelt guy they have a couple seaosns ago

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 7:35pm

On the Crabtree vs Heyward-Bey section: I will not argue that DHB is going to be better than Crabtree. However, let's not go overboard in the other direction. In terms of route-running, Crabtree is not "NFL-ready" and DHB is not "raw." If anything the opposite is true, as Crabtree famously played in a gimmicky spread offense which does not produce NFL QBs (or WRs as far as I am aware), while DHB played in a pro-style offense coached by a former NFL coordinator.

Edit- Oops, forgot Welker.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by Phildo (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 11:05pm

so no college player that has ever been in a pro style offense can have raw route running ability?

wtf are you talking about?

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 2:56pm

Obviously a WR from a pro-style offense can have raw route running. However, DHB was a 3 year starter, unlike many high-drafted WRs. I'm not claiming that his route running is great or that he has little need for improvement. I'm just saying that it's silly to suggest that Crabtree is better prepared for the NFL when he will be asked to run totally different routes from the ones he ran in college and DBH will be asked to run similar routes.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by phildo (not verified) :: Wed, 05/20/2009 - 4:19pm

the difference is that, according to scouts, crabtree ran the routes he was asked to run well and dhb ran them poorly. this is why people say that crabtree is a better route runner than dhb.

by Mainer Raider (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 7:29pm

I'm not upset that my Raiders didn't take Crabtree; his attitude sucks, and he has/had a broken foot. I think Wes Welker came from a spread offense, so that shouldn't be a huge problem for WRs (unlike QBs). But Hayward-Bey was clearly not the guy to take instead.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 7:36pm

Heyward_Bey maybe not goign to put up stats like Cravtree but going to be just as weapon as him. HB play in offnense suited to him to get like 36 catches for 900 yards but Crabtee more like 88 catches for 970 yards player. Now who do you think more effective for his team? HB going to make opponents move up saftey cuz have to respect speed of HB. Now you have one less player in box and Raiders goign to hit you in mouth with vaunted run game with D Mcfadden. J Fargas, L neal, M Bush, and some others during carere of HB. CRabtree going to be like A Boldin w ith Cardinals. Lets see Boldin put up all types fancyy stats but team never do anyhing food until K Warner Hoaall of Famer qb come to team and team also get good up and cominger Hc Ken Whisenut. Had to get both. Warner with D Green not great just good. but warner with Whusnut back to being gerat Qb like he with Rams in 1999 to 2001. Crabtree on Sf put up stats but quetsion is can win there? Myabe beauase team got new coach claled M Singletary and maybe going to be good but who is Qb? That is question. Cards prove team need qb and coach to win. just one is not good

by Alex (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:09am

This is actually pretty good analysis. 36 for 900 yards is like 27 yards per reception, which isn't realistic for DHB, and I don't know about the specifics of the Crabtree-Boldin comparison, but the basic idea makes sense.

by Bobman :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:57am

Scary, hunh?

by starzero :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 12:02pm

whenever i'm having a bad day, and this morning has just sucked, if i can come here and find a raiderjoe post i have a laugh and feel better. whusnut? yeah.

at the same time, i think his analysis of hb vs crabtree is probably accurate. i predict crabtree will do ok but without a quarterback his attitude will get the best of him and he'll start pointing fingers. can you say t.o.? as for hb, if jamarcus isn't working he'll have garcia, and with his speed maybe he can make something happen (if he doesn't try too hard). i'm not sure the raiders have the coach, though. this could be a situation where both players are doomed to mediocrity by their teams.

by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 8:01pm

I think this division will come out of the doldrums this year. I'm predicting that Denver and KC will combine for 14-18 wins, San Diego will get a bye, and Oakland will slowly improve, finally winning at least six games. It's possible that either Denver or KC could compete for a Wildcard, or even take the division if something strange happens to San Diego. Orton is seriously underrated, and so are the Chiefs and Chargers (I think the media has a reasonable perception of the Raiders). I wouldn't rate either team as a playoff team, but I think that between the two they have a good chance of one being in WC contention in Week 17 (the other one might be locked in the WC).

San Diego's defense is going to be a freakshow this year. Merriman will come out with a chip on his shoulder, Williams has one more year, English and Martin will solve their problems at SS and ILB by other means, and the sacks and ints will flow freely. Their offense might regress to the mean a bit, but I don't have any basis for believing that other than SOS. If LT is done, their running game will still be better than last year. If LT is back and plays healthy they should be serious SB contenders.

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 05/18/2009 - 10:54pm

The AFC West plays the NFC East and AFC North. The Broncos specifically have SoS matchups of Colts and Patriots. The Chargers alone, if they bounce back, are on part with the best of those divisions.

Orton can be efficient surrounded with a strong supporting cast. Denver's defense.... They almost have to be better given how horrid they were. But they've gone to a scheme they seem even LESS suited to execute. Depending on a stellar Orton to drag the smoking corpse of their defense, or their first pick to be the second coming of Terrell Davis doesn't seem like a reasonable plan for success.

Optimism reguarding the Bronco's coming season seems to stretch the credibility of popular wisdom's "Any given Sunday." The only mercy the football Gods have seen fit to grace the Bronco's with this year (AFAIK) is their "easy" games are early.

But I'm not a GM, obviously....

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 2:17am

They almost have to be better given how horrid they were

You might think that. But history has shown several times that regardless of how bad something was, it can get worse. And if the Broncos don't think it can get worse, just think how bad the defense would have been without Champ Bailey.

by rk (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:40pm

Bailey missed 7 games, so I suppose they have some idea.

by BrixtonBear (not verified) :: Sat, 05/23/2009 - 8:02am

Having watched Neckbeard first at Purdue and later in Chicago, I think you're seriously deluded. He's a very good backup but a very mediocre starter — his stats with the Bears are almost identical to Rex's, ferchrissakes. Denver's OL and WRs will help, and McDaniels's system better suits his strengths than does Ron Turner's. But he's just not very accurate and still tends to lock on to receivers.

As for San Diego, wake me up when they replace Norv. He's a hackuvan OC, and as a head coach he's a heckuvan OC.

by iapetus (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 6:01am

Rebuilding your offensive line with Khalif Barnes is a little like rebuilding your stadium with processed cheese.

by Alcibades (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 11:21am

How can you not think the Broncos will be better this year? They improved at every position but QB. Below I assigned every position a rank on the scale of Horrible, Bad, Solid, Good, and Very Good

Cutler-Orton (Very Good-Solid)
Broken RBs- Moreno+Hillis (Remember Hillis only played for a few games and if he had played for more the Broncos probably would have won the division, so Horrible-Very Good)
Just added some depth to the OG and C positions, but the Broncos OL was one of the best and except for Wiegman one of the youngest in the N.F.L. (Very Good-Very Good)
Just added more depth, I am assuming since the commissioner has not spoken on Marshall yet that Marshall is in the clear. I also believe Royal will thrive in a Welker role. (Very Good-Very Good)
Again just added depth. In a system like Mcdaniels it makes sense to have a third reliable tight end, particularly when Grahams contract and Shefflers injuries are taken into consideration. (Good-Good)
I am assuming Ayers, Fields, and Thomas will be the starting DL and as bad is that is it is better than last year. As has been mentioned a lot depends on how Thomas and Ayers transition. (Horrible-Bad/Solid)
The denver LBs were actually decent last year, when the rookies were playing. I believe the Lbs will be ordered like so: Crowder (Dumerville on passing downs), Williams, Larsen, Bailey (then Woodyard when Bailey gets hurt). (Bad-Solid)
The safeties of the Denver Broncos had the worst safety play I have ever seen, ever. The secondary is now probably Cbs: Bailey, Goodman, Smith Safeties: Dawkins, Hill. This is now actually a pretty good secondary (Horrible-Good)

So, overall I think the Broncos defense will move towards the middle of the pack (a ranking in the late teens) while the Broncos offense will produce less yards, but more TDs and less TOs. While this may only mean one more win or so on the schedule(it is a pretty tough schedule)I do think they will be in contention for the division. Remember they lead the division for 15 games with that putrid defense.

by tuluse :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 2:42pm

I think you might be overrated how improved the Broncos will be. Also, I really doubt Orton leads an offense that puts up more TDs than a Cutler lead offense did.

by Fargo (not verified) :: Wed, 05/20/2009 - 10:11pm

It doesn't matter how good your LBs are or aren't, if your linemen aren't up to scratch in a 3-4 D, you're getting killed. See the 49ers first few years of 3-4 experimentation. Sadly for the Broncos, this has double relevance, as they have signed Ronald Fields and inserted him as a starting nose tackle. This is an unequivocally awful idea. Yes, he's fat, but no, he does not stop the run. Marcus Thomas was absolutely woeful last year, but I suppose maybe the move to DE might bring out something more in him. And Ayers at the other DE spot? Ignoring that he's a rookie and therefore totally unknown, he's like, 270lbs, no? I had assumed they were hoping to make a 3-4 OLB out of him.

In any case, I see extreme ugliness in the immediate future of this offense. It's possibly the most ill-advised move to a 3-4 front since the 49ers, and to hammer home this point they've even brought in Mike Nolan to oversee the whole train wreck. But best of luck anyway.

by MJK :: Thu, 05/21/2009 - 12:10pm

And conversely, it doesn't matter how good your linemen are, if your LB's aren't up to scratch, you're getting killed. See the 2008 Patriots defense.

Especially on defense, a weak player or group of players at any one position kills you, because to stop an offense, every player on the defense needs to succeed at a play three times in a row, and the offense can scheme to attack whichever player is weakest.

by cjfarls :: Thu, 05/21/2009 - 1:01pm

Except that Thomas, et. al. actually wasn't woeful last year (did you actually watch Denver play?), and Nolan actually is a pretty good D-coordinator... thats why he got hired as a HC (where he sucked).

While D-line was anything but a strength last year, the biggest weaknesses were safety, CB depth (once Bailey got hurt), and SLB depth and the worst MLB play I've ever seen (gawd I hate Nate Webster). When the rookies played LB, the defense was much better (only below average, not bottomless pit of suck)... in fact, I think the re-insertion of Webster into the starting line-up after his injury is all the justiication necessary for firing Shanny/Slowik.

The new LBs that are holdovers, the new safetys, and the CB depth are vast improvements over last year's squad.

Also, I don't think Denver will be playing a straight-up 3-4 Defense ala the Pats... it will be a hybrid, and what we'll likely see is more the 5-2 hybrid Baltimore runs... stick 3 290-300lb guys in the middle with DE/OLB hybrid types like Doom/Ayers/Moss/Crowder etc. on the edge.

Do I think Denver's D will any good this year? No. Do I think they'll be better than the 2nd worst in the DVOA era?.... absolutely.

I also have some concerns about the seemingly unnecessary overhaul on offense... the transition will be tough, and no one wanted to lose Cutler... but I also think that Orton showed real promise (even while running for his life with no one to throw to) before his injury last year, and the tools surrounding him this year will be excellent compared to what he had in Chi-town. Its also fair to say Cutler's gunslinger mentality also lost us a game or two, in addition to the 3-4 he won us with his skill.

I expect 6-8 wins this year for Denver... I understand why some folks think this team took a step back (I tend to agree), but I also think it would take a pretty big implosion for Seattle to get the top pick...

I really appreciate FO's analysis, but it is just REALLY obvious that no one on the FO staff actually know much or think much about the AFC west, and Denver in particular... the analysis is very much regurgitation of mainstream media storylines, with generally little critical thinking or analysis of what those of us who watch the team(s) see.

by Fargo (not verified) :: Thu, 05/21/2009 - 1:54pm

Off the top of my head, I think I watched about 8 Denver games last year. Maybe I picked the wrong ones, but I couldn't help noticing how bad a DT partnership Thomas and Robertson were. I seriously could not imagine anyone watching the same games as me and saying, "hey, those guys did not just get totally owned by the interior OL". Robertson is rightly gone (I don't think he was ever really healthy, he was never THAT bad for the Jets), but Thomas is still there. If he makes a good 3-4 end, fair play to him, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

Who else do you mean by Thomas et al? If it's Ronald Fields, I really feel a lot more strongly about it when I say that he's an awful choice as a starting NT. Being a 49ers fan, I've watched his entire career to date, and after some early promise, he's been nothing but rubbish. Physical talent is not a problem for him, but he just hasn't a clue what to do with it. And that's when he isn't taking plays off.

As for Nolan being a good DC, I'm not entirely convinced by that one either. He did a fine job with that Ravens D....as did Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan. Let's be honest here, they've drafted a fairly exceptional level of defensive talent over the last 10 years. Before that he was no-one's idea of an HC candidate, particularly following his spell in Washington, where they don't really have good memories of him. In SF, he pretty much ran the defense, even after the appointment of Manusky, and I don't think it's a coincidence that things started to improve last year after he was fired and Manusky was left to his own devices.

by cjfarls :: Fri, 05/22/2009 - 2:33pm

Fair enough. I think it is sometimes hard to distinguish between poor interior D-line play and poor MLB play.

What saw wasn't really the D-line getting totally blown off the ball... what i saw was gaps opening up in the middle, and the MLB which you'd think would be covering the hole (Webster) over pursuing trying jump the play, or completely whiffing on the tackle as the RB cut back through the gap and up into the heart of the Defense. Whether that was the D-line allwoing too big of holes (your interpretation?) or Webster being Webster (my interpretation) I guess is debateable. My only evidence to why I think it was the former was the vast improvement when Webster was hurt and Larsen and the other rookies were in there.

The other area of D-line weakness I saw was the D-ends WERE often completely blown off the ball on outside runs, leaving Winborn/DJ Williams to eat blockers and Webster once again totally overpursuing and flying off while the RB cut it back for big gains. This is somewhat understandable given Doom/Moss are kinda undersized and more pass-rish specialists... moving them outside to OLB/rush-ends should hopefully help (and I think was the idea of the experimentation Shanny & Slowik did with a 3-4 last year). The better run defnese D-ends Denver had (Engleberger, Ekuban) were basically worthless as passrushers, so it was kind of a pick your poison problem given the secondary weaknesses.

On top of the bad D-line play, you had the horrible saftey play, which meant the 5-yard runs given up by the D-line/LBs too often ballooned into 25-yard runs. This is on top of their complete inability to provide over the top coverage to the CBs, which meant the CBs often had to play soft which made all the little slants, curls, quick outs, etc. basically impossible to cover.

Basically, there is plenty of blame to go around, and I think its a matter of interpretation as to where the biggest weakness was... I think from the draft and free-agency aquisitions, McD at least partially agrees with my view.

This is also not in anyway saying that I wouldn't have been overjoyed if Raji or Tyson had fallen to Denver in the draft. But this team had plenty of problems to fix, so harping on the ones they didn't ignores the holes they DID fill.

I'm not totally drunk on the McD/X cool-aid, and actually disagree with the Shanny firing in general (though I at least acknowledge it was understandable). As I said, I see 6 to 8 wins this year... but that is far from "Seattle having the #1 pick in the draft" as asserted in this article.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Fri, 05/22/2009 - 1:58am

I hate this kind of logic. "Denver went 8-8 last season, Denver improved, Denver will go better than 8-8 this season!"

Denver was an incredibly fluky 8-8 last season, and I'm not even talking about Week 2 against the Chargers. Denver allowed 78 more points than it scored, which is generally the hallmark of a 5-11 or 6-10 team. Denver was 4-0 in games decided by less than a TD, which is more random chance than repeatable skill. If last season was played all over again a thousand times, Denver would probably average double-digit losses. Given the random variation in a team's performance, Denver's team could improve this offseason and STILL finish 5-11.

Speaking of improving, I'm also not buying into the fact that this year's Denver team is better than last. So far, the only possible reason I've seen *ANYONE* give for Denver's defense to improve is "regression to the mean". I mean, Denver took a defense devoid of any talent and replaced it with an even older defense just as devoid of talent playing in a scheme for which it is COMICALLY ill-suited. They're switching to the 3-4 despite the absence of a single defensive lineman or linebacker on the entire team that is suited for the 3-4. The defense now usually becomes "well, at least Jarvis Moss can see the field at LB". Great, that's just what I want- my team figuring out ways to get its worst players on the field. Any hope I have of Denver's defense improving is founded on nothing more than statistical likelihoods and dumb luck.

And even if the defense improves, will it be enough to overcome the inevitable fall that the offense is going to take? You're looking at a major downgrade at QB. I mean... Kyle Orton is a very good QB? Based on what? Based on a 6-game sample size from the beginning of last season? Well then Rex Grossman is a HoFer after his performance in the first 5 games of 2006. Orton finished last season ranked 25th in DVOA. In fact, he has yet to post a positive DVOA in his career. Sure, he shoulda woulda coulda done better if not for, but I'm not going to call the downgrade from Cutler to Orton a small one based on "if not fors". And even if Cutler-to-Orton *IS* a small downgrade, that same regression to the mean principle that serves as the only hope for the defense also looms large over the offense. Especially given Denver's imminent scheme change on offense. No way this offense is capable of carrying the team anywhere near as well as last year's was.

Oh, one other place where the Denver Broncos are looking at a pretty significant downgrade: try head coach. That's a pretty important position to be taking a pretty significant downgrade at.

My only optimism as a Denver fan centers on 2-3 years down the road. That's how long it's going to take to acquire the necessary defensive talent, as well as to show the benefits (if there will be any) of the offensive scheme change. Of course, by that time, the league might have figured McDaniels' offensive system out. I trust that, over a long enough time line, the Broncos are going to have a winning record because success starts at the top and Denver's ownership is among the best in the league... but I also trust that over a short timeline, Denver's in serious trouble. With Shanahan in charge, Denver demonstrated an ability to rebuild, retool, and reload while remaining competitive, but that's a very rare ability and it was greatly aided by the consistency of the offense (especially of the offensive scheme) through all of the personnel transitions. Now that that safety net is no longer in place, it's time for Denver fans to get better acquainted with how the rest of the league rebuilds.

by sundown (not verified) :: Fri, 05/22/2009 - 1:48pm

Brutal, but also pretty honest, imo. One thing I'd add to the "dumb luck" category is the notion that McDaniels is going to have a great year after getting off to such a rough start. He bungled the whole Cutler thing, but maybe he'll luck out and Orton will save the day. Maybe. And maybe he's the best judge of talent in the whole league, which he'd almost have to be to explain how they only had 100 guys on their draft board but NEVER had to look off the board for the entire draft. Nobody they thought would be gone slipped to them? (And, conversely, apparently not many guys they really wanted were taken by other teams.) That's either super-human skill at predicting how the rest of the league would draft or there were lots of guys McDaniels liked who nobody else thought much of. Maybe he saw stuff everybody else missed. Maybe.

by Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 11:23am

The AFC West had a horrible draft, IMO. They all reached and made what I think are mistakess. Denver could have improved their DL more and RB are somewhat fungible.

I think it is an excellent time to take a chance on Orton. The defense is rebuilding (and was lousy last year), so winning it all this year is unlikely. However, this year can determine if Orton could be a solid QB. He will be given more tools, offensively, than he had in Chicago. I suspect that his weaker than average arm may limit him some, but he may have more potential than many admit.

Should Orton not do well (or just prove to be a good backup QB) then the upcoming draft should be above average for drafting QB's. The 3rd or 4th QB* may be a better selection than the best QB in this year's draft.

* NOTE: I suspect Tebow will be a solid Wildcat QB (late 1st round or 2nd round), especially if he can figure how to accurately throw the long pass (he consistently overthrew them by a step or two, especially at the beginning of the season). While Kiper thinks that he would be a great H-back, I wonder if Tebow is fast enough or a good enough route-runner to take this role rather than just a Fullback/Blocking TE. His leadership, charisma and community outreach could be an asset or it could clash with some in the locker room.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 1:42pm

#33- The problem with your analysis " The Broncos improved at every position"... is that they haven't played a down yet. Did they become more TALENTED... possibly, but the NFL isn't just about talent and QB is BY FAR the most important position.

The Broncos lost their Pro Bowl Quarterback and they lost their potential HOF coach. I don't care if this lineman is a little better than last year's lineman, or if Peyton Hillis will get more carries over a guy who worked at the video store.... Losing your coaching staff and QB is huge and it effects everybody.

The Broncos are going to have a new playbook next year on offense. That INCREASES the probability of some WR running the wrong route, or some lineman blocking the wrong guy, or the NEW QB running the NEW Scheme missing a pass protection or thinking a WR is running a different route. It makes everybodies job harder.

If you have the same exact players, with a new ( equally skilled coach), your team should on average, cetris paribus do WORSE. Now, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Mcdaniels won't be nearly as good as Shannihan.

For the pro DHB crowd I've got a phrase for you...
" All ACC Honorable mention... 36 catches!!!" - Cris Carter

People really don't understand that playing WR is a craft and that it's not just a track meet. Guy's with 4.6's like Jerry Rice, Quan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald can be much better than faster guys like James Jett, Rockey Ismail and Tim Carter.

Do you really think some team is going to draft Tim Tebow to run the wild cat offense? I don't. Maybe they will try and MAKE him into a pocket QB, but at this point, I really really don't see that working out.

Jemarcus Russell throwing 10 passes against the 3rd worse defense in DVOA history is nothing to get excited about. QB's don't always fail because they "can't do anything right", it's the inconsistancy. If you throw 23 passes, make 17 great ones, and have 6 balls picked off on the other throws... you stink.

by Tim Wilson :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:10pm

On your Raiders overview: What do you define as a "not half bad defense"? They were ranked #27 in YPG last year. Does their DVOA have them significantly better than that?

by Vincent Verhei :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:20pm

18th overall, 13th against the pass, 26th against the run. You can check all this under "Statistics" at the top of this page.

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 9:50pm

Vince: it was a well-reasoned, nicely done contribution. With regard to "not half bad", 18th rank is, unarguably, in the "bad half". But in the context of "not half bad", i.e. "not as bad as you think", the statement is valid. Then again . . .

26th against the run is, at least, a suggestion of trouble. Granted, 26 of 32 is only a relative measure, but absolute measures also suggest the Raider sucked vs. the run. And if you suck against the run, it does not matter that you achieved mediocrity vs. the pass (thank you, Namde).

Vince's point not withstanding, the Raiders need to significantly improve their run-D to compete.

by c_f (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:26pm


Actually, yes. FO thinks the Raiders had the 18th best defense last year. In 07 they were ranked 11th and in 06 they were ranked 8th.

Your defense tends to look worse when you have guys like Kwame Harris and Barry Sims providing blindside "protection" for your carousel of QBs.

by DGL :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:13pm

Well, I think that Nate Swift is a cool name for a wide receiver.

by Insancipitory :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:47pm

Tripp Slow would probably be the worst name for a WR.

by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 3:33pm

Vince, I think it was a good write up and I think your analysis of Denver was spot on. Congrats.

by MainerRaider (not verified) :: Tue, 05/19/2009 - 4:05pm

Oakland has had a top-7 pick in every draft since '06. I may not be a GM or FO expert, but if Al Davis had picked the guys I initially wanted each year for those 4 drafts and the team still had the same draft positions...we'd have Joe Thomas and Eugene Monroe guarding Leinart and Glenn Dorsey anchoring the D. Then again, if the Raiders drafted well, they wouldn't end up with so many high draft picks because they'd be winning some damn games.

by Fan in Exile :: Wed, 05/20/2009 - 12:54am

The worst part of the write up on the Broncos is that it's regurgitated superficial pieces like this that have given the Outsiders a bad name on Broncos' message boards so it's hard to have a serious conversation about stats.

You seriously included a whole paragraph pointing out that they could be the worst team in the league if everything goes wrong.

by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 05/20/2009 - 8:46am

Don't feel so bad Broncos fan, when Tiki Barber retired, Luke Petitout went to Tampa and Eli Manning kept starting, they picked the Giants to finish in dead last place...

Maybe Neckbeard won't do so bad after all.