Thus far, the preseason headlines at Dove Valley have been dominated by one topic: will veteran, Kyle “Known (and relatively boring) Quantity” Orton start at quarterback or will second-year pro Tim “Runs like Hell with the Help of Heaven” Tebow be the man under center?
It’s a valid question—but one of many. If the Broncos are to noticeably improve on their 4-12 finish in 2010, there are a number of factors more critical to the team’s success than who takes the snaps in 2011.
Over the next several days, I’ll review five areas of more significance to the Broncos upcoming season than the quarterback battle:
Factor 1: Stopping the Run
The Broncos scoring defense was the worst in the NFL in 2010. They were two points shy of setting a franchise record for points allowed in a season. At the heart of Denver’s defensive issues was a complete inability to slow down any opponent’s running attack. In week four, they did a nice job of keeping Titans star tailback Chris Johnson in check. Otherwise…train wreck. They gave up nearly 155 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry—both good (or bad) for next-to-last in the league (thank you Buffalo).
To make matters more challenging, two of the league’s young up-and-comers are in the AFC West. The Chiefs feature Jamaal Charles and the Raiders have Darren McFadden —two runners the Broncos are going to have to stop to work their way back to respectability within the division.
Well, there was the annual postseason D-coordinator Pink Slip Gala at Dove Valley following 2010. Otherwise, it’s a combination of free agents, trade acquisitions, and holdovers. To the chagrin of many fans, the Elway-Fox-Xanders player personnel triumvirate failed to select a single defensive tackle in a draft that projected as many as fifteen DT’s to go in the first round.
Other than former Patriot Ty Warren, no one comes with any form of name recognition. Because even the best interior D-Linemen live in obscurity, that alone shouldn’t necessarily be cause for concern. Broderick Bunkley is a former starter in Philadelphia, and Marcus Thomas is still an athletic freak who is likely to benefit from having a defensive-minded head coach.
Even so, both Warren and Thomas are already injured through at least the preseason and if Denver has to rely on the likes of Kevin Vickerson and/or Ryan McBean, the season could get long in a hurry.
Elvis Dumervil returns, but he isn’t much of a run stuffer. Having been drafted with the number two overall pick, rookie Von Miller should, in theory, help the run D. However, he was drafted to rush the passer and there has yet to be much of a determination regarding his effectiveness in slowing tailbacks.
Given their new defensive-minded coach, key personnel additions and returns, and the fact that it can’t get much worse, the Broncos should see an improvement in run defense in 2011.