Last week, I spent my days at Bolt Beat, Fansided.com’s site for San Diego Chargers’ fans. This week, I continue my perilous journey through the AFC West, toiling in the Colorado stables of Predominantly Orange for a week (as you may have surmised, I’m saving the worst for last. Yes, Raider Fan, I am looking directly at you, and I will see you next week).
My first observation from my week spent ankles deep in the manure of Bronco-land is that Broncos fans are confident. Very, very confident. And why shouldn’t they be? They are coming off of a 13-3 season, and were one play away from the AFC Conference championship game. They have few weaknesses, and upgraded some key positions during free agency and the Draft this year. A couple quotes from Predominantly Orange sum up the confidence of Denver fans:
"It’ll be Denver against San Francisco in the Super Bowl and Denver will win it, 33-24."
"Denver will romp through the AFC West despite a big improvement from Kansas City. The Chiefs have a new coach in Andy Reid, a new QB in Alex Smith and a running game second to none. They will hop over the Chargers and Raiders, but the Broncos will still win the West by at least two games."
Let’s take a look under the hood of the Denver Broncos and see if their whinny is worse than their bite.
Elvis has left the building: While not discussed much of late, I can tell that FaxGate, in which the Broncos lost the services of Elvis Dumervil, still stings. Von Miller may be the best pass rushing outside linebacker in the League. To have Dumervil rushing from the other side gave the Broncos one of the best tandems in all of football. Because of a ridiculously stupid error by Dumervil’s agent, the Broncos now have to rely upon either defensive end Robert Ayers or second year defensive end Derek Wolfe to fill Dumervil’s shoes. Ayers is decent and Wolfe has shown promise, but neither would ever be mistaken for Elvis. To shore up their front line, the Broncs drafted defensive tackle Sylvester Williams from North Carolina with the 28th overall pick this year, and have also signed aging veteran outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, as an insurance policy.
Peyton the Scientist: You may have read several light-hearted stories about the culture of pranking that Peyton Manning has brought to Denver. Predominantly Orange said:
"There are two parts this story which are encouraging as a Broncos fan. First of all the camaraderie of the team, including the newly acquired [Wes] Welker. The fun, close-knit environment that I picked up on while watching this prank play out appeared to be similar to the vibe that we felt around that team in the late 1990′s when the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy twice. Secondly, the precision in which Manning directed the prank clearly showed that this is in fact his team. In addition, there is the vigilance which he approaches aspects outside of football. We knew this already about Manning, but he seems as determined to create the harmony within the team off the field as the game plan on it. I am guarded about crowning the Broncos anything before the first weekend in February but I am getting THAT feeling again."
Addicts, this little vignette is cause to worry. Manning has his team feeling like a team, which makes the whole greater than the sum of their considerable parts. I only hope the Chiefs are also developing this level of chemistry, like Peyton is.
The return of Alex Gibbs: Who? That’s what I said. But Bronco fans are pretty hyped up to have Gibbs back as a consultant. Gibbs was the Offensive Line Coach from 1995-2003, and is somewhat of a guru of the zone blocking schemes that elevated running backs like Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and Clinton Portis into the 1,000 yard club. With second round pick Montee Ball coming in, Broncos fans are excited to see the running game of old come back.
The secondary is our first target: Of the Broncos’ few holes, perhaps the biggest was their defensive secondary. Last year, second-year player Chris Harris played cornerback, opposite perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey. Harris played well, although his natural position is closer to safety rather than cornerback. The truest sign however, that the Broncos understand that cornerback is the weak link on the team, is what they did in free agency. On just the second day of the free agency period, Denver added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They then drafted cornerback Kayvon Webster from South Florida with their third round pick, which some experts deemed a “reach.” As recently as last week, the Broncos were also pursuing free agent Charles Woodson from Green Bay. Neither Rodgers-Cromartie, Webster or Woodson fill this gap. Cornerback remains a big hole for the Broncos.
Barring injuries, the Broncos are going to be a great team once again. But the weak link in the chain remains their secondary. Rodgers-Cromartie was part of the trade that gave the Philadelphia Eagles the “Dream Team” misnomer two years ago. He has struggled with inconsistency. When the Chiefs play the Broncos, Champ Bailey will be on Dwayne Bowe. Can Rodgers-Cromartie keep up with either Donnie Avery or Jon Baldwin?
If the Chiefs are to beat the Broncos, this matchup may be the decisive factor in winning one against Denver this year. Addicts, what do you think?! Can the Chiefs split the series with the Broncos this year?!