The Super Bowl 50 champs aren’t quite where they want to be. They missed the playoffs last year after a surprisingly competitive AFC West took them down. A QB battle later and they are ready for the 2017 season. Can they get back to the playoffs and contend for another Lombardi trophy?
With Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler lost to free agency, the Denver Broncos came into 2016 needing to find a new starting quarterback.
It was Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick in 2015, who would win the battle to be Week 1 starter, with his extra year around the team serving him well against 2016 first-rounder Paxton Lynch. However, while his arm talent was there the mental capacity that Peyton Manning had used to keep the Broncos offense above water in 2015 was not. The Broncos squeezed out a win against Carolina thanks mostly to the defense, and then put up good scores against the Colts and Bengals before starting to fall apart. An injury to his left shoulder in Week 4 just before half-time thrust Lynch into action. Lynch would start Week 5 as Siemian healed up, but he soon returned to the bench until Week 13 when Siemian was once again hurt.
Unfortunately the early successes of Siemian’s offense soon dried up as defenses adjusted to his talents and the offensive line began to struggle.
Meanwhile, the defense continued to be exceptionally good. Ten times they held opposing offenses to 20 points or fewer. Led by Von Miller and the stellar secondary they crushed passing games to such an extent that even a below-average run defense couldn’t prevent them from being the #1 defense in DVOA.
Off the field, after a Week 5 loss head coach Gary Kubiak was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a “complex migraine”. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis served as interim head coach during Kubiak’s absence, and while he did return to finish out the season he ended up stepping down and retiring from coaching due to health concerns.
|Ron Leary, G||DeMarcus Ware, OLB (Retired)|
|Menelik Watson, OT||Russell Okung, OT|
|Domata Peko, DT||Sylvester Williams, DT|
|Jamaal Charles, RB||Kayvon Webster, CB|
|Zach Kerr, DE||Gary Kubiak, Head coach|
|Vance Joseph, Head coach||Wade Phillips, Defensive coordinator|
|Garett Bolles, OT (Draft)|
The biggest loss for the Broncos is off the field, with Kubiak retiring and Wade Phillips leaving. As a result there has been coaching turnover on both sides of the ball, and that is rarely a great thing for teams. Vance Joseph, the new head coach, was defensive coordinator in Miami which is what propelled Phillips to leave, but after years of leaning on a great defense making any change to coaching is a big risk.
Player-wise, adding Leary is a nice move. He was a very good guard in Dallas, but how he performs without elite talent either side of him is a big question mark hanging over his head. Still, he should improve the heart of the line, and Menelik Watson is nice competition at right tackle. Adding Domata Peko makes up for the loss of Sly Williams, and bringing in Jamaal Charles is a low-risk, high-reward move.
In the Draft, the Broncos added Garett Bolles which was a nice move, he has great fundamentals at offensive tackle, but may be a very good guard too.
|1||Vs Los Angeles Chargers|
|2||Vs Dallas Cowboys|
|3||@ Buffalo Bills|
|4||Vs Oakland Raiders|
|6||Vs New York Giants|
|7||@ Los Angeles Chargers|
|8||@ Kansas City Chiefs|
|9||@ Philadelphia Eagles|
|10||Vs New England Patriots|
|11||Vs Cincinnati Bengals|
|12||@ Oakland Raiders|
|13||@ Miami Dolphins|
|14||Vs New York Jets|
|15||@ Indianapolis Colts|
|16||@ Washington Redskins|
|17||Vs Kansas City Chiefs|
The schedule gods have handed Denver the AFC East, NFC East, Indianapolis Colts, and Cincinnati Bengals.
Thanks to that they will get to see the New England Patriots once again, but they also get the terrible Jets and rebuilding Bills. They also get to take on the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, two of the best teams in the NFC last year.
This schedule, thanks to two games a piece against strong Oakland and Kansas City sides, is tough. Closing out with four of the last six games on the road is not great either, and while there is not particularly tough stretch there is no easy run either.
Three players to watch
Every year some players take on a larger role, improve, or go backwards. Which Broncos will be the ones to keep an eye on this season?
Trevor Siemian, quarterback
After an open competition through training camp, Siemian was named the starter this week. A great success for him, a great failure for Paxton Lynch and the man who drafted him, John Elway. However, he’s only won the job as long as he is good.
Siemian completed 59.5% of his passes last year for 3,401 yards, 18 touchdowns, and ten interceptions. In 1980 that’s pretty good, in 2017 not so much. He has good weapons around him in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, he just needs to work the ball to them regularly.
Siemian has to keep producing because there will always be talk of giving Lynch a chance due to his draft status, and that puts pressure on him in every play.
Garett Bolles, offensive tackle
Along with Siemian being named starting quarterback, Garett Bolles has won the left tackle job. Bolles has great feet and can kick back into position smoothly in pass protection. Where he struggles a little is with power and run blocking. Gary Kubiak’s zone scheme would helped Bolles with that, but Kubiak is gone and as a result things are a little different.
Still, the bread and butter of a left tackle is pass protection, and that’s how he will be judged. With Melvin Ingram, Khalil Mack, Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon, and Brandon Graham on the schedule he will be sorely tested.
Shane Ray, outside linebacker
The 2015 first-round pick underwent surgery for a torn ligament in his wrist at the end of July. That puts him on track to be back on the field around mid-to-late September. Ray was immediately elevated to a starting role when DeMarcus Ware retired, and he has shown previously enough ability on the field to at least partially fill Ware’s enormous boots.
The injury was a big shame, and he’s basically missed all of training camp, but when he comes back he will be a big piece of the Broncos puzzle. Protections shift to Von Miller, and the Broncos need someone to take advantage of that on the otherside. Ray was in a position to hit 12+ sacks this year, the injury will bring his overall impact down but when he’s on the field he has to generate pressure.
The AFC West is perhaps the most competitive division in the league. Oakland and Kansas City each won 12 games last year, and the Chargers have a team that when healthy can compete with almost anyone. With that in mind, the Broncos season outcomes range from a #2 seed in the AFC to 7-9.
How the defense reacts to the loss of Wade Phillips, who is perhaps the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, will be key. If they can stay at the top of the league, especially against the pass, then they will be competing for the playoffs almost regardless of how the offense does.
If the defense falls even to a top-10 rather than top-3 unit, then the offense will have to pick up the slack, and I’m not sure it can. Trevor Siemian looks far more like a poor man’s Alex Smith than a potential Drew Brees, and that immediately puts a cap on your offenses production.
The only real wild card in the Broncos is Jamaal Charles. The once-brilliant back has been battling injuries, playing in just eight games since the start of the 2015 season, and seems to be coming to the end of his career. If, however, he has one more season to give, he could provide the kind of offensive spark that helps propel the team.
In the end I think the Broncos will be a tough team to play due to the defense, but again fall short of the playoffs. Being the third-best team in a division is an incredibly difficult position to be in, especially when the top of your coaching staff changes. 2017 could end up being an extremely frustrating season for Broncos fans.
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