This was easily as complete a game as the Denver Broncos have played since before the championship game last year, and perhaps even the most complete game. Quarterback Jay Cutler made strides that equaled those of last week, and the defense found their form again.
So, Step One has been taken. A win against a so-so Arizona Cardinals team on the road (one that most of the Talking Heads at the networks and ESPN were calling for the Cards to win). A big load off the defense, off the offense, off the special teams (they actually showed up!) and off the coaching staff. It gives the Boys in Predominantly Orange some great momentum for another crucial game on Christmas Eve against the Bengals.
Today was the day that Cutler actually ran the game rather than, for lack of a better term, participating in the offense. You could see the confidence he had, and you could see the team responding to him. Fifty percent third-down conversions (The team average going in was about 33% or so), and a 68% completion rating at about 8.3 yards/pass.
Overall, Cutler had more yards passing today than Jake Plummer had in any game this season. Yes, he did have the one pick that was simply a horrible throw. But what was important was that he didn't let it affect how he played the next series of downs - he simply came out and took care of business. The other thing of note - he throws an absolutely beautiful ball. The long TD throw (50+ yards in the air) to Javon Walker was a strike that hit him perfectly in stride, instead of the jump ball that Plummer tended to throw up on long passes.
A big part of Cutler's success today was directly attributable to the pass blocking. For the most part, the offensive line gave a good pocket from which Cutler could work. He had time to make the throws. The bigger problem today (something of a 180 from what it usually is) was that the run blocking wasn't very good. Today the Broncos were held to just over 100 yards rushing, although they did score two rushing touchdowns.
The other big sign of a maturing offense - seven players caught balls today, and that included (again) good participations from the tight ends. When the TE's are that involved, good things happen, as it did today.
An outstanding effort, particularly since cornerback Darrent Williams didn't play. The secondary was ripe to be picked apart, but today the defensive line actually showed up to put pressure on Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, who had only been sacked something like four times in his most recent two or three games. I found it just a bit unbelievable that Leinart apparently remarked to analyst Phil Simms that he was going after cornerback Champ Bailey. That's a mistake that he's not going to make again. Neither of Champs interceptions was a "gimmie". He made some beautiful plays on balls that you just knew Leinart thought he was going to complete easily.
The run defense also did a good job today, the best they've done in several games. There were a few longish runs (with Edgerrin James running, that has to be expected), but they held Arizona to 100 yards on the ground - and 23 of those were on three runs by Leinart.
Special Teams: A
Gotta give it to them. Paul Ernster's only punt was a beauty. The kick return game was FINALLY in high gear, with Quincy Morgan averaging over 30 yards per return. And kicker Jason Elam was accurate as always.
A great game plan on both sides of the ball. I would have liked to see coach Mike Shanahan turn Cutler loose on the goal line in bootlegs, etc, but you could see that he had much more confidence in Cutler than he's had the previous two weeks. More and more of the offense that Plummer didn't/couldn't run is being put in, and that's a great thing to see.
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