After bashing the then poor Broncos at least twice this past year in this column, I have to say, as Denver goes into Monday night’s season opener against da Raiders, that I am excited and my perception of the team has improved. I don’t know if it is just the love of the Broncos in me, the ghost of John Elway swirling in my head, pure sports genius, or pure ignorance, but I think they are playoff contenders.
To start off, even though Denver went 2-2 in some real lack-luster preseason action, I thought they looked pretty good. When they had their starting squad on the field, they had a certain efficiency about them that I really see as promising. The running game wasn’t bad. Third-down conversions weren’t too bad. The defensive line got some pressure on the QBs (thanks to excellent coverage by the secondary).
No, the Broncos didn’t look too bad from what I could gather from the preseason. And what about our lead man Jay Cutler? He had an impressive preseason as well, completing close to 70 percent of his passes and coming up with no interceptions and no sacks.
It’s great that he is physically in better shape now that he has his diabetes under control. I think he’s gained something like 30 pounds since last year. He also has snap back in his throw. I remember his first year he could really gun the ball, but then it tapered off a bit. His velocity is back and that is something that is beginning to be lost in a lot of NFL quarterbacks these days. Has anyone noticed?
Cutler may be back physically, but is he mentally ready to lead this team, which is sorely in need of a Lombardi Trophy, into the postseason? Cutler seems to think so. He is taking a more proactive leadership role than he has in the past. Finally.
“Physically I was fine, but mentally I was not there yet,” Cutler told The Denver Post. “I was still learning the offense and still learning the defense and I was trying to put it all together. This year, I am a little more comfortable. We obviously have a lot of new guys that we have to get used to, but I feel good.”
Well, you better. Suddenly I have all the confidence in the world with Cutler. I think he is a class-act guy who will make something positive of himself with the Broncos – as long as he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of boneheads Jake Plummer or Brian Griese.
The weakest part of the Broncos team right now is their receiving squad and, for once, my naysayer roommate would agree with me. Just who will be able to handle the third-and-seven fireball from Cutler when the game is on the line late into the fourth quarter? Who can do it? Let us not forget that we are without easy-Ed McCaffrey forever.
Most say, as does head coach Mike Shanahan, Brandon Marshall is their go-to guy. And why not, he is a specimen of great proportions on the field. They boy really can play when he wants to. It’s off the field where he tends to screw things up. And yes, a thank you goes out to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for finding a way to reduce Marshall’s suspension from three games down to one for violating the league’s DUI policy. One game – the first game – would be bad enough without him but three could be season ending for the Broncos.
Marshall, alongside wide receiver Brandon Stokley (if he can stay healthy) and tight end Tony Scheffler, could be an effective receiving crew. I really like Scheffler. He seems to be a guy that can take a licking over the middle and still catch the ball for that tough first down or, hell, even a few touchdowns.
On the defense, I am all too happy that Shanahan decided to pull the plug on cornerback Domonique Foxworth who had to fill in when Champ Bailey or Dre Bly wasn’t on the field. Unfortunately for Foxworth, he just couldn’t contain. How many times had we seen the back lettering of his jersey while he was chasing down a receiver that had caught a long pass that he had blown coverage on? Way too many times. Happy trails in Atlanta.
The defense behind linebacker D.J. Williams and Bailey seems to have the speed to keep things contained on the outside. My only fear is that Denver’s defense could get picked apart similar to last season if the D-line doesn’t find a way to get the rush. That I don’t know but will soon see on Monday night. We need a rush. It killed Denver last year.
Indeed, Monday night will be a good test for the Broncos at their rival Oakland. The Raiders, under Satan-like Al Davis, should be another sub-par team this year. As will be the K.C. Chiefs who used to be good but all of a sudden suck real bad. The top opponent for the Broncs this year will be the bolts of San Diego.
San Diego looks to be one of the sharpest teams in the AFC and will more than likely be gatekeeper into the playoffs. If Denver can split its two games against San Diego, I see Denver going a whopping 10-6 this season and scraping by to get into the playoffs.
So now I have written two anti-Bronco columns and one pro-Bronco column. Yes, I am a true waffler to put it into political terms. One thing is for sure, I will definitely be right in some way by the end of the season. Or, for that matter, I will always be wrong. Happy week one.