Michael Schon, Syndicated Columnist, BroncosUpdate.com: Elvis has played out huge this year – eleven tackles, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, all within his first eight games. His three sack performance against Cleveland made him an instant target for the double-team, but he’s still managed to be very effective against the run.
As for the Cleveland Castoffs, or “Browncos”, as they’re known locally, I would have to say that they collectively rank as one of Shanahan’s best defensive acquisitions, alongside the trade for Champ Bailey. While their numbers may have cooled off the past few games, the five former Browns have played a key role in the Broncos’ 7-4 season.
DF: The Broncos are known for having the fastest corps of linebackers in the NFL, led by Al Wilson. Is the speed sometimes a hindrance? Is this a disciplined squad that stays with plays, or can they be taken out of position?
MS: So far they’ve been pretty disciplined, but with the special teams giving away nearly half the field on kick returns they’ve been forced to gamble more, which unfortunately hasn’t paid off as well as they had hoped.
It’s hard to pull Wilson, Ian Gold and D.J. Williams out of position, but all three have been found guilty of playing too far off the ball at various times throughout the year. You can share the blame on that one with defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.
DF: Champ Bailey is probably the best cover corner in the NFL, and he’s having another great year. We know that the receiver matched up with Champ will have a rough day, but how are things looking on the other side with Darrent Williams? How do the nickel packages look for the Broncos, and what is their primary defensive formation?
MS: It’s a given that Bailey is one of the best in the business, but don’t overlook Williams. For a second-year starter he’s got great speed and a good feel for position – with three picks for the season.
The biggest problem defensively has been the lack of adjustment. In losses to Indianapolis, San Diego and Kansas City, Coyer’s unit has failed to make any second half adjustments, sticking with a weak zone coverage that’s been picked apart by some of the better quarterbacks in the league. If the Broncos fall behind early, Hasselbeck could have a field day through the air.
DF: John Lynch is one of the great veterans in the game. Is he the leader of this defense, and how many more years do you think he has in him?
MS: Without a doubt Lynch is the most well respected member of the Denver Broncos, both on and off the field. Now in his fourteenth NFL season, the seven time Pro Bowler continues to bring a work ethic that few in the league can match. While he may have lost a step or two over the years, he still ranks among the game’s toughest hitters, and has been a key ingredient in the Broncos defensive success this year. Based on his love for the game and a grueling off-season workout program, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he banged it out another two or three years in the defensive backfield.
DF: The Bronco organization appears to be a model of stability, but having only one playoff win since the Elway years has to be a concern for a franchise that has seen six Super Bowls. Is there an urgency to get this team over the hump right now, or do Shanahan and owner Pat Bowlen always have the long-term in sight?
MS: Expectations are always high in the Mile High City – and while the long term is an important part of Shanahan’s overall plan, the commitment to finish out the season with Cutler clearly shows the team is looking at the here and now. Not too many 7-4 teams would risk benching their starting quarterback for an unproven rookie unless the goals were short term. It’ll be interesting how this one plays out.