Alex's 32 Teams in 32 Days: Team 26—Denver Broncos

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2009

ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 03:  Head coach Josh McDaniels of the Denver Broncos oversees practice during minicamp at the Broncos training facility on May 3, 2009 in Englewood, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

2008 Record:   8-8

2008 Season Review

For the Broncos, 2008 was a dramatic, rollercoaster of a season.  They experienced ups and downs, twists and turns before it all came crashing down.

The season started off with three-straight electrifying offensive performances.  Sitting at 3-0, the Broncos were averaging 38.0 points-per-game.

But then came the first dip in their season.  Denver went 1-4 in their next five games, including an embarrassing 41-7 loss to New England on Monday Night Football.

With three games remaining the Broncos sat at 8-5, three games ahead of the 5-8 Chargers in the AFC West.  However, that would not last long.

After two-straight losses and with San Diego on a winning streak, the quest for the division title came down to the week 17 match-up between the two division rivals.  It was a matter of win and you're in, lose and you go home.

The game was a disaster for the Broncos.

San Diego got out to a 24-6 halftime lead and ended up winning 52-21.

One of the biggest reasons for their ugly collapse was the defense. Actually the defense struggled all year, but the offense could no longer keep up with the massive amount of points the opponents were scoring game after game.

In the last three games, the Broncos were outscored 112-54.

Overall, opponents averaged 28.0 points-per-game against Denver, a ranking of 30th in the NFL.

They gave up at least 30 points in half of their games, an incredible statistic.

Despite the defensive struggles, the offense was very explosive and led by quarterback Jay Cutler, was capable of putting up impressive numbers at any time.

They ranked second in yards gained, 395.8 yards-per-game, and third in passing yards, 279.4 yards-per-game.

Even though they ranked high in total yards and passing yards, it was a combination of a middle-of-the-road rushing attack and too many turnovers that resulted in a mediocre 23.1 (16th in NFL) points-per-game.

Denver turned the ball over 30 times, and had a turnover differential of -17 (worst in the NFL).

The backfield was torn up with injuries. Opening day starter Selvin Young went down early in the season with a hamstring injury and was eventually placed on injured reserve (IR). From there, the dominoes never stopped falling and the ground game suffered.

Michael Pittman, Ryan Torrain, P.J. Pope and Andre Hall were all placed on IR.

When fullback-turned-halfback Peyton Hillis had five touchdowns and was averaging 5.5 yards-per-carry over his weeks 11-14 starts, the Broncos seemed to have found their running back for the remainder of the season.

But the injury bug bit Hillis too.  Hillis was placed on IR with a hamstring injury.

After falling short of the playoffs for the third year in a row, longtime coach Mike Shanahan lost his job.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was hired as Shanahan's successor.

Key Additions 

S Brian Dawkins, CB Andre Goodman, S Renaldo Hill, QB Kyle Orton, QB Chris Simms, RB Knowshon Moreno (draft), RB Correll Buckhalter, RB LaMont Jordan, LB Nick Greisen, WR Jabar Gaffney, DT Ronald Fields, LB Andra Davis, DE Robert Ayers (draft), CB Alphonso Smith (draft)

Key Losses 

QB Jay Cutler, CB Dre' Bly, S Marlon McCree, S Marquand Manuel, LB Jamie Winborn, RB Selvin Young, DE John Engelberger, DE Dewayne Robertson

2009 Preview

The transition in Denver from the Mike Shanahan era to the Josh McDaniels era has been everything but smooth.

Early in the offseason, Matt Cassel, then of the New England Patriots, became available for trade after Tom Brady seemed to be on track with his recovery from knee surgery. 

Of course McDaniels coached Cassel with the Patriots so he was familiar with the young quarterback and he knew Cassel was knowledgeable of the offensive system.

Therefore, hearing Cassel was available sparked interest in McDaniels.

McDaniels felt Cassel would be a better fit in the offense than Cutler so he tried to make a deal with the Patriots.  But it was too late.

New England had already completed a deal that would send Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite the Broncos trying to keep the word quiet, the news got out that McDaniels tried to acquire his former quarterback.

Cutler, who was already aggravated at ownership about the firing of Shanahan and the decision not to bring back quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, was upset by the reports.  Although McDaniels and owner Pat Bowlen each tried to talk with him about the situation, Cutler requested a trade.

On April 2 Cutler was shipped to Chicago in exchange for draft picks and quarterback Kyle Orton.

Orton was quickly named the 2009 starting quarterback for Denver after he beat out Chris Simms for the job in the spring.

Orton is a good player, but Cutler led Denver to the NFL's No. 2 ranking in total offense last season. However, McDaniels is confident Orton will play well in his system. But, if Orton starts slow, the pressure on him will increase.

Orton's top target may be Brandon Marshall.

However, Marshall has also requested a trade out of Denver. He wants a new contract but isn't getting it.

Behind Marshall on the receivers depth chart is second-year wideout Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokely, and free agent signee Brandon Lloyd.  Tight end Tony Scheffler is also a big target in the passing attack.

With the first of their two first round picks in the 2009 draft, Denver selected Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno.

Moreno is expected to be the starter and share time with Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan in the backfield.  Others such as Ryan Torain, Darius Walker and Peyton Hillis will compete for a spot as well.

The offensive line is certainly a strength for the Broncos. Second-year tackle Ryan Clady quickly emerged as one of the best offensive lineman in the league as a rookie.  Clady will continue to block the quarterback's blindside in 2009.

Veteran guard Ben Hamilton is always a consistent piece on the line and Pro Bowl center Casey Wiegmann will snap the ball.

The weak defensive unit from a year ago saw several notable changes for '09.

New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will help the unit improve from a play calling and schemes perspective.

Under Nolan the defense will transition from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4.  There will likely be some "growing pains" through the transition.

Veteran safety Brian Dawkins comes over from the Eagles to be the hard-hitter and leader in the secondary.

The additions of Andre' Goodman and rookie Alphonso Smith will provide much needed talent and depth to go along with Champ Bailey at the cornerback position.

With Jamie Winborn, Denver's 2008 leading tackler, now gone, the health and play of linebacker DJ Williams and newly acquired Andra Davis will be essential to the success of the linebacking corps and the defensive unit.

Rookie Robert Ayers will likely play a hybrid position. He can play either defensive end or outside linebacker. But no matter where he plays, he must rush the passer effectively for a team that had just 26 sacks in '08.

Elvis Dumervil and Darrell Reid will compete for the other defensive end spot. Dumervil thrived as a pass rusher in his first two years, collecting 21 sacks, but he was only able to tally five sacks last season. He sometimes struggles at the point of attack and lacks the size of a prototypical end in the 3-4, but his experience gives him an advantage. Reid is bigger but has started just two games in his four NFL seasons.

Bottom Line: With the many changes in Denver, there are many questions: Do the players trust McDaniels? Can Kyle Orton succeed? Will the defense be improved?

We really don't know the answers to those questions yet, and until we do it's hard to predict what this team will be like.  But I think the Broncos will take a small step back before going forward in 2010. Expect somewhere between five and eight wins in '09.

Previous Rankings

32. Detroit Lions

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

30. Cleveland Browns

29. Oakland Raiders

28. Kansas City Chiefs

27. St. Louis Rams

Be sure to check in tomorrow for the unveiling of team 25. 


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