I boldly predicted on these same pages approximately one month ago that the Denver Broncos would win at least nine games this season.
So, naturally, I have kept one ear on sports radio to hear assessments from the two or three NFL analysts I actually respect, and to get their up-to-the-minute takes regarding our beloved Broncos.
I have kept a watchful eye on Broncos camp news and happenings, and I have survived the experience of watching the team perform in three preseason contests.
Contest is a strong word, actually. It implies there was a competition, or that something was contested. Perform is a strong word as well, but that’s not the point here.
The point here is that I might have, shall we say, over-spoken. In an effort to say something memorable, I might have said something better off forgotten. In an attempt to show off my prowess as a true NFL visionary, I might have shown off something entirely different, and far less appealing.
So I come to you now, not because it is pleasant, necessarily, and not because I relish being embarrassingly mistaken in a public forum. I come to you now because ink is permanent, and I have no real choice but to admit that I might have badly misjudged the collective strength of the Broncos’ current roster.
What can I say? The team looked amazing on paper; before they actually took the field.
You might be wondering if I’m jumping to conclusions too soon, or panicking just on the basis of a few preseason games. No, and yes. No, it’s not too soon. Yes, I am panicking after just three preseason games.
What’s the big concern?
My concern is that the scorekeeping and win-loss format in the NFL requiresa team to score more than its opponent over the span of four, 15-minute quarters in order to register a victory.
I’m not sure how this offense is going to accomplish that.
The demanding NFL game also requires blockers to open holes for runners, and to prevent defenses from crushing their quarterback on pass plays. That also concerns me quite a lot.
Sometimes, when offensive line play falters, quarterbacks must scramble out of trouble and fire passes to open receivers, or not-so-open receivers, on a dead run. They have to improvise, and beat the other team with raw athleticism when all else fails. I have yet to see that from Joe Flacco. That is, well, concerning.
This offense, as a unit, will also be required to consistently maintain possession of the ball for extended periods without fumbles or interceptions. Yikes.
Based on what I have seen thus far from our offense, I’m both concerned, and panicked.
The special teams units, by the admission of head coach Vic Fangio, are sub-par. The team has literally been through almost 20 prospects to find someone with a flair for fielding punts without dropping the football.
By all accounts, that sure-handed player is still not on this roster. Have I said “yikes” yet?
If we can’t field punts without incident, our less-than- potent offense isn’t going to have an opportunity to get onto the field very often, anyway.
First-round draft pick Noah Fant has had a poor camp and done little thus far in preseason games. What’s the use in being 6-5, 250 pounds and running a 4.5-second 40-yard sprint if you can’t remember pass patterns or blocking assignments?
Even worse, teammates are questioning Fant’s willingness to work through adversity. That’s never good, whether true or imagined. Perception is reality, or so they say.
Quarterbacks and receivers have yet to get onto the same page of the playbook. Timing looks to be off, and most pass plays have ended with dump-offs to running backs out of the backfield, interceptions, sacks or incompletions.
I still like the personnel in the running backs’ room, but those guys have often had little or no room in which to run. It is a difficult task to evaluate a running back when he is engulfed by blitzing defenders before even receiving a handoff.
Even though I am the sole owner of an over-reaching preseason prediction based almost entirely on blind optimism, raw emotion and unwarranted hope, these are real concerns that should be shared by each and every one of us in Bronco Nation.
Not jumping just yet
So why not just find a local 14’er and swan dive my way clear of this self-imposed embarrassment? It isn’t quite time for that; not yet.
There is one part of this year’s roster that still justifies some sense of optimism. If new head coach Fangio knows anything, it is how to put the bite with the bark when it comes to defenses.
Four decades’ worth of great defenses in the NFL is enough to convince me that this old dog needs no new tricks to turn a talented cast of defensive players into a top three type of unit in short order.
The Broncos still have one of the least expensive offenses in football, and it shows. The opposite is also true, however. John Elway has consistently been defense-heavy during both the draft and in free agency in recent years, and this is still one of the highest paid defenses in the NFL.
With Fangio at the helm, I expect those realities to show up and serve the Broncos well as the season wears on.
Who knows just how good the Broncos’ “D” can be, as injuries and opposing offenses will certainly factor into the equation?
Even so, a review of probable starters on this year’s defense, and knowing how great defenses have carried this franchise in the very recent past, I am not driving up in search of a launching point from Mt. Evans just yet.