31 Days, 31 Teams: Denver Broncos
After a surprising 6-0 start the Denver Broncos were poised to overtake San Diego in the AFC West. But late season collapses doomed previous seasons and 2009 would be no different as a 2-8 finish kept Denver out of the playoffs. The question is are the Broncos more like the 6-0 start or the 2-8 finish?
After trading quarterbacks with Chicago, Kyle Orton took over as the starter and the Broncos were rewarded with Orton's finest season. It certainly helps when you have Brandon Marshall to throw to but Marshall is now in Miami, leaving Denver with big shoes to fill. Eddie Royal was nearly a 1,000 yard receiver in 2008 but he was limited in 2009. First round pick Demaryius Thomas should be a factor as well but he is off to a slow start due to a foot injury. Even though Orton threw for 3,800 yards the Broncos went out and acquired Brady Quinn and then drafted Tim Tebow. A slow start this year could cloud Orton's future. Second year running back Knowshon Moreno will be the feature back and a big year is expected out of him. However, injuries have been a theme for the Broncos and the offensive line took a hit when tackle Ryan Clady injured his knee in the offseason. Clady is back but the Broncos are relying on youth to prop up the line.
Denver switched to the 3-4 defense in 2009 and immediately reaped the rewards with a defense that finished 12th in scoring and 7th in yardage. But down the stretch the Broncos gave up too much ground and now heading into 2010 two key pieces are missing. First is coordinator Mike Nolan who brought the 3-4 to Denver. Nolan is now in Miami. The Broncos suffered a major setback early in training camp when last year's NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil was lost with a chest injury that could wipe out his entire season. With Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins in the secondary the Broncos were ferocious against the pass, ranking third in the NFL in pass defense. But against the run Denver seemed helpless in the second half of the season. This was never more evident than a shocking Week 17 loss to Kansas City in which Jamaal Charles rushed for 259 yards and eliminated Denver from the postseason.
It feels like the year is already off track for the Broncos with the injuries to Dumervil and Clady among others. Denver is banking on Moreno to have a big year while Orton develops chemistry with Denver's receivers. Although the Broncos were a surprise on defense the absence of Dumervil looms large and without the heat teams will find it easier to throw on Denver in 2010. This is looking like another non-playoff year for the Broncos.