AFC West: Andra Davis
No. 5 Kansas City: S Eric Berry, Tennessee. It looks like St. Louis will take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford at No.1. This should slide Berry to No. 5. I think the Chiefs will have a choice between Berry and Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung. Because Berry could help transform the defense and because the tackle group is deep, I think Berry will be the call.
Last mock: Okung.
No. 8 Oakland: OT Bruce Campbell, Maryland. It has been reported that Oakland has considered trading for Donovan McNabb or Sage Rosenfels, so it’s clear Oakland is looking at quarterbacks. If Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen slips past Washington at No. 4, he should be available when Oakland picks. Still, I think the Raiders go with Campbell, a combine star, who will fill a big need
Last mock: Campbell.
No. 11 Denver: LB Rolando McClain, Alabama. The middle linebacker would change Denver’s defense. There is an opening in the starting lineup now that Andra Davis has been cut.
Last mock: McClain.
No. 28 San Diego: DT Terrence Cody, Alabama. Cody continues to make strides this offseason, and he is making a pre-draft visit to San Diego. San Diego needs a running back as much as it needs a nose tackle, but the running back class is deep. I could see San Diego taking Cody in the first round and a running back in the second round.
Last mock: Cody.
Daylon from Wyoming wants to know Andra Davis’ recent release in Denver means Denver could pursue Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain in the draft.
Bill Williamson: I don’t think Davis, who signed with Buffalo this week, was cut because Denver is targeting McClain. That would be too risky. But I think McClain was on Denver’s radar at No. 11 before Davis was cut and I think McClain is still very much in Denver’s plans. He would be an instant starter and he would help the defense greatly. Denver could also look at Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant. But there a lot of off-field questions about Bryant. And if Brandon Marshall is kept, Denver likely wouldn’t take Bryant. At this point, I think McClain has a good chance of ending up in Denver.
Stefan from Manhattan, Ks wants to know if there is chance Kansas City could trade defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey to St. Louis for Adam Carriker and a second-round draft pick.
BW: Stefan, this proposed trade first surfaced in Mike Sando’s NFC West mailbag. This is a question from a fan and not one actually being talked about by the teams. Sure, it could eventually be talked about, but there are no legs to it now. There are reasons to think this deal would make sense. Carriker could fit better in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense than the Rams’ 4-3 and vice versa for Dorsey. Still, I think the Rams would ultimately pass on this deal because of the cost.
Mike from Virginia Beach, Va. wants to know if Denver quarterback Tom Brandstater has a future now that the team has traded for Brady Quinn.
BW: I know Brandstater, a sixth-round pick from Fresno State last year, is held in high regard in Denver. But Quinn will get his chance before Brandstater. If Quinn can develop into a starting-quality player, Brandstater will have to wait. However, if Quinn doesn’t develop, Brandstater can get a shot in a couple of years. Brandstater has to stay on course and continue to make steady strides. He can’t let Quinn’s presence affect him. Ultimately, Brandstater was a project before the Quinn deal and he remains a project.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.
Denver: The Broncos have added three potential starting defensive linemen and a backup quarterback (at least for the time being) in Brady Quinn. Those two positions are probably out of the question for Denver in the early rounds. The Broncos do have plenty of needs, though. The Broncos will be looking for an inside linebacker after the release of starter Andra Davis. Alabama’s Rolando McClain has to be considered a possibility at No. 11. Denver is also looking for help on the offensive line at guard and at center. The Broncos will surely take a young interior offensive linemen early. With Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall’s future in flux, Denver has to be on the hunt for a receiver. This is a position the Broncos could address early.
Kansas City: The Chiefs have been aggressive in free agency. But because the Chiefs have to improve in many areas, there is plenty to target in the draft. Kansas City has been targeting several veteran offensive linemen, but I think it will try to draft an offensive lineman in the first round or with one of its two second-round picks. The Chiefs still have a big need at safety. If he is available, Tennessee’s Eric Berry has to be a real possibility with the No. 5 pick. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kansas City looked at a linebacker in the first three rounds, either. Even though veteran receiver Chris Chambers has re-signed, look for the Chiefs to try to get younger at the position, perhaps in the second round. The team’s need for a running back was filled with veteran Thomas Jones in free agency.
Oakland: The Raiders have been shedding veterans much more than they have been bringing in players so far in free agency. The need wish list still starts at tackle. The Raiders have long had a dearth there. There probably will be several solid choices at tackle with the No. 8 overall pick. Oakland has to consider this a priority position. The Raiders could also use a young quarterback in the early-to-middle rounds. With running back Justin Fargas cut, the Raiders also could use another running back, but it won’t be a high-round priority. With veteran Gerard Warren cut, Oakland will need a defensive tackle, probably in the early rounds. Linebacker is also an area Oakland may try to address early.
San Diego: The Chargers have as many draft needs as they’ve had in several years. The Chargers have seen several veterans leave through free agency, trade or release. The team has a lot of depth, but reinforcements are needed at several areas. The two main areas of need remain running back and nose tackle. San Diego will address these areas early. It just depends how early. The Chargers could potentially take two running backs early. It is a deep running back class, so San Diego will have options. San Diego really needs a nose tackle now that veteran Jamal Williams has been released and signed by Denver. Because nose tackles are more difficult to find than running backs, the Chargers may address this area first. San Diego could use help at tight end in the middle rounds and perhaps even a third-string quarterback. Linebacker and cornerback could also be addressed in the late rounds.
The Jets won’t talk about the possibility of pursuing Brandon Marshall. That doesn’t mean they are or they aren’t interested. They just aren’t talking. ESPN’s John Clayton suggested receiver Braylon Edwards would be part of a potential Jets package if they pursue Marshall.
Former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil has high hopes for former Kansas City running back Larry Johnson in Washington.
The Broncos are looking closely at some of the best interior offensive linemen available in the draft.
It didn’t take Andra Davis long to bounce back from his surprise release from Denver. He signed with Buffalo on Tuesday. I still say he would have fit in with the Chiefs,
Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer ran better at his pro day than he did at the combine. Dwyer has met with the Chargers and he could be a target of the team in the first or second round.
Tampa Bay signed free agent safety Sean Jones. Perhaps that will lessen the chances of it taking Tennessee safety Eric Berry at No. 3 and allow him to slip to Kansas City at No. 5.
- It is being reported that linebacker Andra Davis, who was cut by Denver last week, will visit Buffalo.
- Offensive linemen Hank Fraley signed with the Rams. He was possibly going to visit Kansas City. His agent previously said.
Signed last year as Denver transitioned to the 3-4 defense, Davis was effective as a starting inside linebacker. He had 90 tackles and he was a force against the run. Davis was also a strong, positive influence in the locker room.
With Davis out, perhaps Denver will look at youngsters Wesley Woodyard or Spencer Larsen for a starting spot. Denver could also look at Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain if he’s available with the No. 11 pick in next month’s draft.
I could see Davis fitting in with the Chiefs. The Chiefs run a 3-4 defense and they could use another solid linebacker.
More importantly, Davis played for new Kansas City defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. The new Chiefs regime is big on past connections. The more I think of this pairing, the more I like it.
If Davis does end up in Kansas City, the decision to cut him could come back to haunt Denver.
The group is an improvement from last season. Still, the new players are making Denver a very old defense.
A lot will happen in free agency and in the draft, but there is a chance Denver will have nine defensive starters over the age of 30. Six of Denver’s starters last season __ Champ Bailey (31), Brian Dawkins (36), Andra Davis (31), Andre Goodman (31), Mario Haggan (30) and Renaldo Hill (31) – will be 30 or older by the start of the 2010 season. Bannan will be 31 next month, Williams will be 34 next month and Green is 31.
The only current key Denver defenders are linebackers Elvis Dumervil (26) and D.J. Williams (27). Apparently, Denver believes this unit is built to win now. It better be because this group won’t be around together for long.
They came back with a plan to solve their pass-rush issues: Go small.
Mike Shanahan's staff was given a Hawaiian consolation prize for losing the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers to end their 2005 season. The staff made the best out of the situation. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer and Shanahan were smitten by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. The pair was amazed at how Freeney was such a dominant force as a pass-rusher despite being a smaller player. Freeney is listed as 6-foot-1, 268 pounds. He's probably smaller, though.
With Freeney serving an inspiration, the Broncos' staff became more open-minded about finding a pass-rusher. Then, studying prospects for the upcoming draft, the Broncos became smitten again.
Elvis entered the building.
The Broncos drafted Elvis Dumervil out of Louisville in the fourth round. A prolific sack master in high school and college, Dumervil was shunned by most teams because of his small stature. Dumervil is listed as 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds. However, that 5-11 claim should be investigated. He doesn't appear to be a shade over 5-10.
Still, the Broncos were not deterred.
“We think he could be another Freeney,” Coyer said then. Ironically, Coyer is now Freeney's defensive coordinator in Indianapolis.
So, if Coyer's quarterback, Peyton Manning, becomes another name on Dumervil's long list of sack victims Sunday when the 8-4 Broncos visit the 12-0 Colts, it will be partly Coyer's fault.
Dumervil, drafted in the same round as Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall, has been a major reason for the Broncos' success in the first year of the coach Josh McDaniels era.
Dumervil leads the NFL with 15 sacks. He needs one more sack to tie Simon Fletcher for the Denver season record of 16 sacks, which Fletcher set in 1992. Dumervil is on pace for 20 sacks. Only seven players have registered at least 20 sacks in a season since the NFL began to recognize the sack as an official statistic in 1982. Dumervil is eight sacks from breaking Michael Strahan's season sack record of 22.5 set in the 2001 season.
“ 'Doom' " is amazing,” said Denver linebacker Andra Davis, calling his teammate by his nickname. “God has blessed him with an incredible ability to sack the quarterback.”
While breaking the record this season might be a long shot, Dumervil has thrived against long odds.
“He's a guy you root for but then you ask yourself how he'd fit in the defense,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “But he is just a natural pass-rusher. He may be small, but he engages. He knows how to use his pads and get leverage. He plays much bigger than he actually is.”
Dumervil showed sparks of becoming a high quality NFL pass-rusher in his first three NFL seasons. He had 26 sacks in three seasons entering this one, including 12.5 in 2007. However, Dumervil is having his best season, Horton believes, because he is playing the position that best suits him.
When McDaniels took over the Broncos in January, he hired former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan to be the defensive coordinator and to run a 3-4 defense. Dumervil was a situational defensive end in the 4-3 for the past three seasons in Denver.
Now, though, he is an outside linebacker in the 3-4. Dumervil is an every-down player. When he isn't rushing, he darts back into coverage.
“He's a rugged player,” Horton said. “He can play every down.”
Dumervil, 25, said he feels at home in the new scheme. Despite his size, Dumervil said he knows he belongs on the field at all times. Speaking as if he were well aware of the pun, Dumervil said he prides himself on being on the field for “big-boy downs.”
“I'm still learning this defense and I think I have a long way to go,” Dumervil said. “But it fits me. I'm comfortable with this defense.”
While he is on the cusp of becoming an NFL household name because of his huge sack numbers this season, Dumervil said he is not overly enamored with collecting sacks. He enjoys getting sacks, but he enjoys the process better.
Dumervil had 78 sacks in high school. He set the NCAA single-game sack record with six and broke former Syracuse star Freeney's Big East single-season sack total as a senior. Now that's he is on pace to become part of the elite 20-sack club, Dumervil isn't going to stray from the process.
“I just enjoy playing well and the fact that I'm getting the opportunity to get to the quarterback,” Dumervil said. “Our defense is doing well (Denver's defense is ranked third in the NFL overall and second against the pass). That's what is satisfying. If I had all these sacks and we were ranked 30th, it wouldn't mean much. But I'm excited that my sacks are helping this team win. That's why I'm here.”
It all began with a trip to the beach.
That question has been posed all week in the Rocky Mountains as the team is on the cusp of blowing a monumental lead in the AFC West.
The reeling Broncos somehow have to find the answer Sunday as they play host to San Diego in a matchup for sole possession of first place in the division. Both Denver and San Diego are 6-3. That tie seemed highly unlikely on the night of Oct. 19, when the Broncos beat the Chargers to improve to 6-0 and drop San Diego to 2-3.
However, Denver has lost three straight games, most recently at lowly Washington, since its bye. While Denver has come crashing back to earth, San Diego has won four straight games.
The Broncos have had a number of problems the past three weeks. They have looked more like the team many league observers expected them to be, with issues on both sides of the ball.
Here is a look at Denver’s problems and what it must fix to get back on the winning track:
No pressure from the defensive front: This area was considered one of Denver’s biggest question marks going into the season. Starters Kenny Peterson, Ryan McBean and Ronald Fields had two combined NFL starts prior to the season.
The group played well in the first six games but has been pushed around lately. Pittsburgh and Washington ran all over the Broncos. After the 6-0 start, the Broncos were third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, yielding 79.7 yards per game. Now, they're 12th in the league, allowing 105.6 yards per game. According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Denver has allowed 157.3 yards rushing, 26th in the league, over the past three games.
The problem clearly starts up front.
“It seems like it’s the group we expected it to be prior to the season,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “That unit does not control the line of scrimmage anymore.”
It will be interesting to see how Denver’s defense plays the run against San Diego. The Chargers had the worst rushing offense in the NFL most of the season. But LaDainian Tomlinson got going a bit Sunday against Philadelphia, rushing for 96 yards and taking the pressure off San Diego’s outstanding passing game. Denver must stop the run to keep San Diego's offense one-dimensional.
The entire defense is wearing down: The Denver defense sparked its hot start. The unit didn’t allow more than 17 points in the first six games. It was timely and punishing.
Yet, over the past three games, the defense has looked tired, and it has fallen apart late. Denver has allowed 85 points in the past three games after allowing only 66 points in the first six games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver allowed 262.5 yards per game in the first six games. In the past three games, it allowed 351.7.
The change is startling.
“[We are playing] not very good team defense,” Denver coach Josh McDaniels said. ”We know that we can be successful when we play good team defense. We’ve shown that ability. We’ve done it in the past against good teams. For a number of reasons, we’ve kind of forgotten what got us to that point. We’ve got to go back to work, and we’ve got to all understand that we’re not 11 individuals out there. We’re one group that has to play our responsibility the way that it needs to be played and do our job the way that it needs to be done, and that is many times done without glory individually, but what happens is the ball ends up going back to the guy that it’s supposed to go back to and he’s there to make the tackle. If he does, then you usually play decent run defense. Once you start jumping around blocks and [are] trying to make a play here and there, it kind of spreads throughout the defense and becomes a problem.”
The longer the drives go, the worse Denver gets. According to ESPN Stats & Information, offenses were converting third downs only 26.9 percent of the time against Denver. In the past three games, offenses are converting on third down 56.5 percent of the time.
Williamson isn’t sure Denver is going to improve defensively with older players such as safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Andre' Goodman and linebacker Andra Davis.
“It worked for a while, but the defense looks worn down and tired,” Williamson said. “Can it get better? I’m not sure because it’s not going to get any younger.”
Deep ball: The offense was, for the most part, along for the ride during Denver’s hot start. The defense was leading the way.
But the offense made it count when it needed to. Led by quarterback Kyle Orton, Denver made the right plays when it had to on offense against Dallas, New England and San Diego.
But Denver’s offense derailed in its seventh game, a 30-7 loss at Baltimore. The Ravens forced the Broncos to throw deep, which is not Orton’s strength. The Ravens played one safety and stacked the box to take away the running game and the short passing game. The Ravens kept Denver’s receivers in front of them and took away the big play. The Steelers mimicked that plan.
In the first half against Washington, Orton had success throwing deep before he hurt his ankle.
For Denver to get more success on offense, it will have to run the ball better. Rookie Knowshon Moreno broke out of a slump with 97 yards against the Redskins. His improved play has to continue. If the Broncos aren’t going to be able to throw deep, they will at least have to complement the short passing game with a legitimate running game.
Special teams: One of the nagging problems of the Mike Shanahan era in Denver was poor special-teams play. Under McDaniels, special-teams play improved early in the season.
However, it has been an issue recently.
Against San Diego and Baltimore, Denver allowed a punt and kickoff return for a score. Against Washington, the Redskins got back into the game with a touchdown on a fake field goal.
These are the types of problems that can kill a team. With problems finding their identity on offense and defense, Denver can’t afford to deal with major failures on special teams. This should be a fairly easy problem to remedy. And it has to be solved. Giving away points on special teams is a sure way to lose games.
All of these issues need to clear up immediately. McDaniels knows his team can execute. Still, the past three weeks are clearly poking holes into Denver’s legitimacy.
“I am not sure where the psyche of our team is,” McDaniels said. ”I know where I’m at. We need to get better. We need to play better. We can coach better. We’re 6-3. We’re playing San Diego, who is also 6-3. It’s a huge division game at home. I don’t know why we wouldn’t like to be in this situation.
"I wish we had won the last three games. I think everybody in this building does, but we didn’t, and there are reasons why we didn’t. We’ve got to go fix the problems and play good football from here on out, starting with this week against a great team coming from San Diego in our division.”
Asked if he thinks Denver can regain its early-season form, Williamson was noncommittal.
“I really don’t know about this team,” Williamson said. “I didn’t expect them to start 6-0 and when they did I was impressed. But they have not looked like they can be a winning team in the past three weeks. They’re a very hard team to read. But they better get it together soon, or they are going to be in trouble. It has to start now against San Diego.”
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Quarterback Kyle Orton looked uncomfortable and made uncharacteristic mistakes Monday night against the Steelers, throwing three interceptions.|
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos are suddenly no longer the charming story of the NFL and by no means have firm control of the AFC West.
Since coming out of their bye week at 6-0, the Broncos have transformed into the lackluster team they were expected to be prior to the season. Although the entire Denver team is reeling, the problems start with the offense and quarterback Kyle Orton.
Orton, acquired in the Jay Cutler trade with Chicago, is suddenly not the cool customer he was when he led Denver to a 6-0 start.
Orton followed up a poor outing against Baltimore with his sloppiest game of the season as Denver lost to Pittsburgh 28-10 on Monday night. Orton couldn't get Denver into a rhythm and was forced into mistakes he wasn’t making during the early part of the season.
Orton looked uncomfortable and was unable to lead his team for the second straight week. Denver was beaten 30-7 at Baltimore in Week 8.
For his part, Orton kept his poise after the game.
“We lost to two good football teams,” Orton said. “We will try to come back and play better at Washington [on Sunday] … It’s a team game and the offense didn’t play very well.”
Although he deserves points for not panicking, Orton would probably be wise to feel some urgency.
The San Diego Chargers are roaring back into the AFC West race, which looked all but over three weeks ago. The Chargers have won three straight games and are now 5-3. They trail Denver by a game in the division. The two teams play in Denver on Nov. 22.
Orton needs to find his early-season rhythm by that game. Orton was intercepted three times Monday night after throwing just one interception in the first seven games. The first two interceptions (one was returned for a score) Monday led to Pittsburgh points and the final interception ended the game.
Orton had been so patient and instinctive early in the season. Last week and on Monday night, he was throwing into traffic, overthrowing targets and passing off of his back foot. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Orton had a passer rating of zero in the fourth quarter.
Essentially, he looked like the mediocre quarterback he was with the Bears, not the early-season MVP candidate he had been this season.
Denver never had a trip into the red zone against Pittsburgh. Its lone touchdown came on defense. In the past two games, Denver’s offense has scored 10 points. Against Baltimore, Denver entered Ravens territory just three times.
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Correll Buckhalter and Knowshown Moreno (not pictured) couldn't get on track against Pittsburgh, gaining just 27 rushing yards combined.|
“We didn’t execute at all,” Denver receiver Brandon Stokley said. “We didn’t make any plays.”
Denver coach Josh McDaniels came to town with a pedigree of offensive genius. Early in the season, he was working wonders with Orton & Co. McDaniels, the architect of New England’s record-breaking offense in 2007, has to find a way to reconstruct the Kyle Orton of the first six games of the season or this feel-good story could continue to turn for the worse.
Here are other key aspects of Denver’s loss:
• Here come the Chargers: Denver travels to Washington on Sunday and the Chargers host Philadelphia. Denver hosts San Diego in a huge division game Nov. 22. No team has ever had a 3.5 game division lead, like Denver did earlier this season, and not made the playoffs.
Denver handed San Diego the division last season, losing its final three games of the year while the Chargers won their final three, including the season finale over the Broncos. It was the first time in NFL history a team blew a three-game lead in the final three weeks of the season.
Two weeks ago, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said it was the team’s goal to play well and hopefully look up in a month and realize that it had caught the Broncos. It could happen.
Still, Denver, with 30 new players from last year’s team, is not ready to worry about a repeat performance.
“We’re 6-2 and we’re still leading the division,” linebacker Andra Davis. “We’re not going to panic.”
• What happened to the second-half magic? In the first six games, Denver outscored its opponents 76-10 in the second half. It had four late comebacks.
However, in the past two weeks, Denver, known early in the season for making great second-half adjustments, has been hammered in the final 30 minutes of games.
Pittsburgh outscored Denver 21-7 in the second half; Baltimore outscored Denver 24-7 in the second half last week. Suddenly, 76-10 has turned into 45-14 -- the wrong way.
Pittsburgh’s offense exploded in the second half as Orton imploded. The Steelers, who were held to 56 yards of offense in the first half, had 321 yards in the second half. Denver had 59 yards in the second half.
Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall had 130 yards rushing in the second half.
“It’s not hard to get back to playing better,” Denver cornerback Andre Goodman said. “Even when we were 6-0 we didn’t think we were playing great football. We have work to do, but we can get there.”
If the Broncos can't return to their early-season dominant form, we may see a second straight Rocky Mountain collapse.
|Kyle Terada/US Presswire|
|The Denver Broncos are buying what coach Josh McDaniels is selling.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
The Denver Broncos can’t wait to show up to work each Wednesday to see what’s in store. Under first-year coach Josh McDaniels, every work week in the Rocky Mountains is different.
“We show up for work on Wednesday and McDaniels has something new for us,” defensive tackle Ronald Fields said. “We focus on the opponents more than any other team I’ve been involved in. The details of the opponent are magnified. In the meeting room, we hit the tendencies hard and then on the practice field, we get right after game situations and every Sunday, we feel like we’re going to know what is going to happen. When Sundays show up, we feel like we’re in pretty good shape.”
The culmination of Denver’s work week this time around is "Monday Night Football." The 5-0 Broncos, the surprise of the NFL this season, visit San Diego. The Chargers, 2-2, are in danger of falling 3.5 games behind the Broncos in the AFC West.
The Chargers’ challenge will be to outfox Denver and its 33-year-old wonder boy, who is the early favorite for the NFL Coach of the Year award.
McDaniels has not only received praise from outside of the organization; his players are raving about the way he has taken charge. Future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey recently said he has never been so prepared by a coach as he has by McDaniels.
Added Fields: “McDaniels brings it to a new level.”
McDaniels’ plan usually focuses on his opponent’s weaknesses with their style changing to exploit the problems of the opponent. The work week is focused on what can beat that individual opponent.
Against New England, McDaniels revealed the Wildcat offense because the Patriots had trouble with it in the past. Against Dallas, Denver exploited holes in the Cowboys' offensive line with constant blitzing. Against Oakland, the Broncos concentrated on having a strong second half because the Raiders came back late in their first two games.
As the situation goes, so goes McDaniels’ game plan.
“It’s different every week,” Denver linebacker Andra Davis said. “It changes as we go.”
On Monday night, watch for Denver to attack San Diego’s troubled pass defense and stack against the Chargers’ passing offense because their run offense is ranked last in the NFL.
Denver’s success cannot be argued. The Broncos have made the right calls and the big plays, both on offense and on defense, all season. Denver’s wins over Cincinnati, Dallas and New England all came in the final seconds of the game. Both sides of the ball are playing mistake-free football when it counts.
Denver hasn’t been perfect throughout games, but that is part of McDaniels’ preparation. Problems are corrected as the team goes.
“You have to fix your own problems in the game and Coach has made us all accountable for it,” Davis said. “Too many ‘my bads’ are going to cause you to end up [in] the ‘L’ column.”
In the past two games, Denver has fallen behind 10-0 in the first quarter. In both games, however, the Broncos completely controlled the game in the second half.
Denver is outscoring its opponents 59-7 in the second half. In the past four games, the Broncos have not allowed any points in the second half. In the past three games, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Denver did not allow a third-down conversion in the second half. Denver’s opponents are 2-of-31 on third down in the second half.
This team doesn’t look like a fluke, thanks to its timely play, excellent second-half adjustments and balanced performance on both sides of the ball. It gave the powerhouse Patriots everything they could handle before making one more key play than New England when it counted.
The Broncos aren’t going anywhere. But they aren’t celebrating yet. They are just showing up on Wednesdays, ready to execute McDaniels’ unique plan.
“This team, we are not taking things for granted,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “We are 5-0 and that is great, but the most important game for us is this next one. That is what we need to [do]: Approach every game the same way and put the same amount of detail into every game. If we continue to do that, continue to detail our work, continue to believe in what the coaches are telling us when we are in this position, then we have the potential to do what we need to do.”
|Ron Chenoy/US Presswire|
|Denver cornerback Champ Bailey is leading a much improved Broncos defense.|
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
DENVER -- Champ Bailey was asked Sunday evening if he ever thought the new-look Denver Broncos' defense could possibly be this good when he headed to training camp in July.
Bailey carefully considered the question. Then, he smiled and slyly attempted to avoid it.
Yeah, Champ, we didn’t think it would be this good, either. But after the first quarter of the NFL season, his crew is one of the top stories in the league.
Facing the first test in a tough 10-game stretch, Denver’s defense belted the Dallas Cowboys around for the final three quarters and survived a broken play in the final moments to secure a 17-10 win. Denver is one of a quartet of 4-0 teams in the NFL. Minnesota is 3-0 and it plays Green Bay on Monday night.
Under offensive-minded coach Josh McDaniels, the Broncos are winning on the strength of a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. His Broncos are physical and unrelenting. (In fact, the former San Francisco head coach could be working his way back into head-coaching consideration with this masterful job.) The Broncos have allowed an NFL-low 26 points this season. In the final three games of the 14-year Mike Shanahan head coaching era, Denver allowed 112 points.
Denver’s defense was so bad the past two seasons, it was often referred to as the "Enver Broncos" because there was no “D” in the city. Denver is back and that’s no joke.
The Broncos are stopping the run. That was a huge problem in recent years. Dallas had 74 yards rushing. Denver is rushing the passer with vengeance. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who converted from end this year, has eight sacks in four games. The Broncos have claimed 10 turnovers.
“I think [the change] is that we are so prepared and so confident,” Bailey said. “We’re ready for anything.”
That was evident in the final minute of the game.
After Dallas jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, Denver’s defense shut down the Cowboys. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was pressured in the final three quarters and harassed into making one errant throw after another. Dallas couldn’t establish any ground-game rhythm.
Then there was the broken play. On fourth down and three from its own 27 with 1:16 to go and Denver leading 17-10, Romo shot out of pressure and hit Sam Hurd about 20 yards down field. Hurd bolted 53 yards down to the Denver 20.
Did the old, porous Denver defense resurface at the worst possible time?
“It was just one play,” Dumervil said. “We had to strap it back on and get after it. There was still 20 yards to go.”
Dallas couldn’t complete the journey.
In the final nine seconds of the game, from the Denver 2, Romo went after Bailey. Yes, Bailey. The Broncos cornerback beautifully defended two straight passes intended for Hurd in the end zone to win the game.
Bailey is rarely challenged. But Dallas went after him all game. Bailey made a difficult interception at the Denver 3 in the third quarter.
“That’s Champ Bailey, one of the best cornerbacks of all time,” Denver linebacker D.J. Williams said. “I don’t know why they would throw at him.”
Asked if he was shocked that the ball came his way on the final two plays, all Bailey said was, “I’m glad they did.”
So are the Denver faithful.
But Denver’s defense is more that just 10 scrubs and a Hall of Fame cornerback.
This is a cohesive group that is playing well on all three layers of the unit. The defensive front three, one of the most inexperienced groups in the league, is setting the tone in the run game. Linebackers Andra Davis, Williams, Mario Haggan and Dumervil are creating chaos. The secondary has been spectacular. New safety Brian Dawkins plays like he is 30, not nine days away from celebrating his 36th birthday.
“Everyone here holds each other accountable,” said right cornerback André Goodman."On that last drive, no one gave up. We just got stronger. That’s been the way we’ve done it all season.”
Offensively, Denver has been very timely. Case in point: Brandon Marshall ’s jaw-dropping 51-yard catch and run from Kyle Orton to give Denver the lead with 1:46 remaining. Orton has not thrown an interception all season and the Broncos’ offense is doing just enough to help its defensive mates.
In the past, it was the Denver defense that couldn’t help out the offense. But a lot has changed in Denver.
The “D” has come back to the city.
|Ron Chenoy/US Presswire|
|Josh McDaniels plans on doing things his way as head coach of the Broncos.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's no doubt: Josh McDaniels means business in Denver. At 33, the former New England golden child is the man in charge.
"It's his team," said receiver Eddie Royal.
We found that out very early in McDaniels' regime, after the former New England offensive coordinator was hired to replace Mike Shanahan following a 14-year run in Denver. Even though both are regarded as offensive masters, Shanahan and McDaniels see the football world differently.
McDaniels shook up the roster, including the offense, which was ranked second in the NFL last year. Of course, the biggest shake-up of the entire NFL offseason was McDaniels' public feud with Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, one that resulted in the Broncos trading Cutler to Chicago.
The Cutler trade and several other offseason moves showed McDaniels is bent on doing things his way. It has continued on the practice field in training camp.
McDaniels is a man with his own plan and he believes in his way. Players are amazed by the swift and precise manner in which practices are held. Under Shanahan, camp practices were fairly relaxed. Shanahan believed in making sure his troops were ready for Sundays.
Every day is Sunday for McDaniels, who often keeps his team on the field for 30 minutes more than the practice is scheduled for.
"He really spends a lot of time in game situations," Royal said. "We are practicing real game stuff all the time. He doesn't want us to panic when we get to a situation. It's all very well prepared."
McDaniels can't wait to see how his practice ploys play out in the Broncos' preseason opener Friday in San Francisco.
"I hope there are six or eight of these [situations] that come up in the game on Friday night," McDaniels said. "Because then, we will get to actually go out there and see what we learned from all of these practices."
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|The Broncos are counting on quarterback Kyle Orton to lead the offense this season.|
Some veterans this week said that Shanahan's way got stale. They are willing to give the McDaniels way a whirl. They have no choice, however. He's going to do it anyway -- whether they like it or not.
1. Is Kyle Orton the answer at quarterback?
Orton was given the starting job over Chris Simms in June. It gave him extra time to learn McDaniels' intricate system. Still, Orton is having his ups and downs. He was booed by fans at a scrimmage last week but has since bounced back. Orton is never going to wow anyone, but if he can get a handle on McDaniels' system, he may be a decent game manager. But don't expect anything spectacular.
2. Can the defense turn it around?
The Broncos' fortune may depend on whether the defense can rebound. The team has compiled a sold back eight, if everyone stays healthy. But the key in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's 3-4 defense is the front three, and the unit is inexperienced. The current starters -- Kenny Peterson and Ryan McBean at end and Ronald Fields at nose tackle -- have two combined starts in the past two NFL seasons. The three starters are big and stout, but none is a proven starter yet.
3. Will Brandon Marshall be ready to contribute?
|AP Photo/David Zalubowski|
|Denver needs Brandon Marshall to be healthy and focused.|
Ultimately, I believe he will. Marshall has been a big story this offseason. First, he had hip surgery in March, and then in June he asked to be traded. Still, he reported to training camp. Yet, he hasn't practiced in 10 days because of an apparent hamstring injury. Marshall is expected to be fully ready to go by the season opener in Cincinnati on Sept. 13. If Marshall is mentally and physically prepared, he is one of Denver's best players.
Orton may be a question mark and there are unknowns about Marshall as well. But we know this: The Denver receiving crew is going to be good.
Orton will have plenty of weapons to work with. The offense will be even more stacked if Marshall is physically and mentally into the game.
Let's face it: Marshall is the jewel of this group and Denver needs him. But the Broncos are very excited about their other receivers.
It starts with Royal, who may play several roles in McDaniels' offense. Royal caught 91 passes as a rookie and he could have a Wes Welker-type role in McDaniels' offense.
Newcomer to watch
There are a ton of newcomers on this team and players like Orton and rookie tailback Knowshon Moreno will be watched closely, but here is a player to watch who could help determine if the defense is going to be improved or not: Andre' Goodman.
The right cornerback was signed as a free agent from Miami. The Broncos released the overpriced and underproductive Dre' Bly and believe they got a much better player in Goodman. After a wild free-agent signing spree, Goodman could be one of the best buys. Along with star left cornerback Champ Bailey, Goodman could complete a nice cornerback tandem in Denver.
Goodman has excelled in training camp. He is a ball magnet. Plus, he is a bright player and a leader who is not afraid to take chances. The only real question about Goodman in his career is if he can stay healthy. If Goodman has a big year, it will go a long way in this defense making strides.
The Broncos are sticking with kicker Matt Prater even though he struggled at the end of last season and he has been inconsistent in camp. Prater has a strong leg and he is good on kickoffs. Still, if he struggles in the preseason, Denver may be forced to look elsewhere. ... First-round pick Robert Ayers has shown good pass-rush burst thus far. ... Moreno has been returning kickoffs in camp. McDaniels said on draft weekend that Moreno could be used as a returner as well as a three-down back. It's clear Denver will get its money's worth from him. ... Linebacker Andra Davis has looked good in camp. The Broncos believe their linebacker crew will be much improved as a unit. ... Elvis Dumervil is coming along as a linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He has natural pass-rush skills and the Broncos think he can be a terror in their scheme. ... Rookie receiver Kenny McKinley, a fifth-round pick, has looked impressive. ... The Broncos are pleased with the caliber of people the team has brought in this offseason. The last few years of the Shanahan era were marred by several players having legal issues.
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
Despite allowing 28 points per game last season, the Denver Broncos used only four of their 10 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. Of those four selections, only the 18th overall pick, Robert Ayers, is a front-seven player. And, oh yeah, Denver is changing its defensive scheme to a 3-4.
The Broncos did draft three defensive backs and also added Renaldo Hill, Andre' Goodman and Brian Dawkins on the back end. The secondary has a chance to be vastly improved and is now fortified for the long term. But if a defense allows opposing quarterbacks to sit back in the pocket without much heat, NFL receivers are going to get open. Denver sacked opposing quarterbacks only 26 times last season, and only three defenses allowed more than the Broncos' 7.7 yards average in the passing game.
|Ron Chenoy/US Presswire|
|The Broncos are hoping rookie Robert Ayers can give their pass rush a boost.|
Of course, if a defense can't stop the run, pass defense becomes even less important. Only the winless Detroit Lions allowed a greater yards per rush average than Denver last year.
There are some pass-rushers in this front seven. Ayers has a world of upside and may end up being a force at outside linebacker. My worries with him are that he never eclipsed 3.5 sacks in any of his college seasons and will be learning a new position -- as will just about everyone on this front seven. It also is conceivable that Ayers plays defensive end in this scheme, which would be another adjustment. Denver's defensive coaching staff is excellent, but in learning new techniques, surely there will be growing pains.
Elvis Dumervil is an excellent pass-rusher. He doesn't get the publicity that he deserves as an edge rusher, but he is technically sound, has a variety of moves that he sets up very well, has great initial quickness and knows how to use his lack of height to his advantage to get under blockers' pads and bend the edge. But teams routinely run at him, and he struggled to hold the point from his 4-3 defensive end position last year. Moving a little farther away from the ball might help, but I also have doubts about his ability in coverage along with his run support.
Jarvis Moss, a former first-round pick, is a wild card here. He has done little to justify his high draft position, but the new scheme could potentially revitalize his career at outside linebacker. Still, he doesn't appear fluid or loose enough in the hips to be effective with coverage responsibilities.
D.J. Williams is going to be a starting linebacker and there are other able bodies here as well, including newly signed Andra Davis, Boss Bailey and Wesley Woodyard. Davis played in the 3-4 with the Browns, but is a declining player. Still, he is tough, a good leader and a solid enough inside linebacker. Woodyard is smaller, but he is a natural playmaker and will get time as a sub package contributor. All of these players are better off on the inside in the 3-4, yet none are ideal.
The defensive line is in worse shape than the linebackers. It wouldn't shock me if Marcus Thomas became a high-end starter for the Broncos in the near future. Tim Crowder does have some upside as well and could be better suited for the odd front. But there isn't much else to get excited about. Nose tackle is the No. 1 problem; 3-4 defenses without a presence in the middle crumble. There doesn't appear to be a presence in the middle.
Granted, the Broncos have a new coaching staff and will be running a different defensive scheme. And the personnel changes could help their cause. And surely running back after running back will not fall to injury. Everyone knows that having a strong running game is a defense's best friend. But their front seven is still a glaring weakness. I just don't see enough good players up front.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Huge news in the AFC West:
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