Ok so the final stretch is here, the proverbial fourth quarter. I'm going to cop out somewhat this week and not post specifically about the Baltimore Ravens game, rather, I am going to put down my thoughts on what I think the Denver Broncos need to accomplish in the next four games to make themselves playoff ready. Don't take this as a dismissal of this week's game. While the Ravens don't have a phenominal record they are a good team that plays hard....I see the Broncos winning but not by more than 14. So here they are, my key's predictions for the stretch run.
1. Three's a crowd. I think one of the most difficult decisions facing the Broncos coaching staff is how to handle the Anderson/Bell/Dayne situation at running back. In my opinion the only given in the deal is Mike Anderson starting. Tatum Bell brings a type of explosiveness that Ron Dayne just does not have but has been nicked up lately. Dayne has, for all intents and purposes, won two games for the Broncos and in all fairness should get some playing time.
Unfortunately I don't think using three backs in a rotation will allow ANY of them to get into the flow of the game. Fairness aside, I see the best way for the Broncos to win is to give Anderson and Bell the carries on a 2/1 basis. I think that keeps Tatum fresh all game and keeps him explosive while wearing defenses down on Andersons runs.
Prediction: Dayne looks to the be odd man out this year. Look for him to be active and even potentially get a few mop up carries late in games but, barring injury, don't expect him to get many during the meaningful part of the game.
2. Hand #16 the ball. So far this season the Broncos have relied on an outstanding ground attack and steady, reliable (for the most part) play from Jake Plummer. However...and its a HUGE however, I think things are going to have to change. History would show that teams that run the ball well and stop the run are by and large very successful. Denver has been exactly such a team this year. Unfortunately sometimes stats and figures can be misleading.
It seems to me in order for the Broncos to continue to win games (read beat Indy or Cincy in the playoffs) Jake is going to have to throw the ball 30+ times in a game without turning the ball over. As it stands our offense works off of the principal that if you run succesfully you can bootleg and pick your spots to pass. What happens though when this team gets down by more than 10 points in a game? Will defenses contine to honor the run or will they just sit back, give up 4 or 5 yards per rush and then try to keep you out of the endzone? That kind of strategy is what allowed K.C. to win last weeks game.
Prediction: It kills me to say this but I'm not sure Jake has the ability to step his game up. I know that's fatalistic at this point in the season but it seems to me that we are incredibly one dimensional right now.
3. Big n' Nasty. At times the four man combo of Brown/Warren/Myers/Pryce have been phenominal....at others they seem to be very pedestrian. Obviously the talent of the guys across the line from them have a lot to do with this but more than that it seems like the intensity we saw early season has gone missing for big chunks of games. All four of these guys have a TON of talent but talent is only as good as its application. A consistent push from the front four that ends in QB knock downs and sacks is the only way this team will beat Indy or Cincinnati in the playoffs. Against those teams the Broncos CANNOT rely on blitzes to create pressure on the quarterback, it all has to come from the front four.
Prediction: I'm hoping we see the intensity level pick up but I really don't know if it will. I think that Buffalo, Oakland and in particular San Diego will be good tests.
4. Step on up young fella!! This season Domonique Foxworth, Darrent Williams and to a smaller degree Curome Cox and Karl Paymah have really contributed more than anyone could have expected. No criticism for these guys, what we need to see is more of the same. As long as they keep playing like they are NOT rookies then we have a shot to go deep in the playoffs.
Prediction: I think Williams is a great defensive rookie of the year candidate. Give coach Mike Shanahan credit, he solidified our defensive backfield for years to come with this years draft. Look for these guys to keep getting better every game and contribute well in the playoffs.
5. Game plan. According to every single friggin' announcer that covers Broncos football, Shanahan scripts the first 15 plays of each game. The way they portray it is somewhat misleading. Shanahan is not going to call a running play off left guard if it's 3rd and 25 just because it's the #3 play on his list. What they do is identify 15 plays that are specific for down and distance. Those fifteen plays are based on film that the coaching staff watches every week and are designed to take advantage of defensive tendencies. Not only do those first 15 plays take advantage of the defenses tendencies, they run them to see how the defense reacts to them.
If you watch closely you will see that the Broncos almost always put a man in motion to give Jake, the WR's, O-line and the back a pre-snap read of what to expect post-snap. Almost every game it's a different guy in motion. That motion man is keyed to the defensive scheme and more often than not tells the offense exactly what the defense will do. In order for the Broncos offense to continue to roll I think they will have to become more diverse. As I said earlier this team needs to get out early in order to keep the game plan intact.
Prediction: Dont be suprised to see some new wrinkles the last four weeks. The Bradlee Van_Pelt play in week 13 shows that Shanahan is always likely to be innovative. I would expect to see them motion Bell out of the backfield more often into a five wide set with Rod Smith, Ashley Lelie, Todd Devoe and Charlie Adams. You also might see them shift to that by splitting Jeb Putzier out. That would almost certainly get either Bell or Putzier one on one with a linebacker.
6. Third times a charm. What's the key to beating Indy this year? Winning three of the next four and getting the bye and home field would be the correct answer. If we can do that I think you will see Cincy and San Diego make it out of that first playoff week. Neither of those teams scare me if we play them in Denver, and either of them could knock off Indy. I think the playoffs start right now for us. We NEED that bye and home field.
Prediction: We need three, Oakland and Baltimore don't cause me much concern. San Diego is in their house and they are playing well....oddly enough the game in Buffalo makes me more nervous than any other. I know they are not real talented at QB but the run the ball well with Willis McGahee and they play good D. I still think this team can close out 4-0 though.
7. WE have a job to do!! It's a little early to call for that aforementioned home playoff game....but if it comes, then fellas.....WE gotta make some freakin NOISE!!!! Denver has always been a tough venue for opposing teams. We lost a little when we left Mile High and Invesco has just never seemed as loud to me. That's all on us....we need to hear some "metal plate stompin'" LOUD noise if we get to play here in the playoffs.
Prediction : Best fans in Football....nuff said.
8. The final point. Everybody is unemployed as of the last game of the season. Unlike most other pro sports, football does not have guaranteed contracts. The only real financial ramifications for the team is the cap hit they take if you pay a significant signing bonus to a player you don't keep. I think that the players MUST approach the rest of this season like it is the last chance this particluar group of players might have to win the superbowl.
Should we bow out again short of that lofty goal I can see some significant changes coming down the pipe. We not only have two first round picks next year but a boatload of cap room to either sign current players or bring in quality free agents. That means guys like John Lynch, Darius Watts, Courtney Brown, Ron Dayne, and Jake Plummer (yes I said Jake) might not be Broncos next year. The time to win is now....I hope these guys understand that.
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