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The Future Is Brighter Than It Seems In Denver

Joe Amon-The Denver Post

Despite looking horrendous during this seven-game losing streak, Denver is poised to bounce back quickly.

After a promising 3-1 start to the season, the Denver Broncos have now lost their seventh game in a row and look completely lost at 3-8. They don’t have a clear identity, an issue headlined by a quarterback controversy that makes the Browns look look competent. It is shocking how far this team has fallen, being just two years removed from a Super Bowl. 


Although Denver looks nowhere near Super Bowl contenders with all their struggles this year, their future going into next season is brighter than it seems. Their defense looks nearly as dominant as it did in the past. They are currently giving up 25.5 points per game, which is amongst the worst in the league. However, PPG doesn’t do the defense justice because it isn’t entirely their fault. They rank top three in the league in fewest yards against per game, which is astonishingly high for a team that is 3-8. This suggests that the defense is being put in horrible situations by an offense that ranks second in the NFL in giveaways with 24

Additionally, the defense still has former Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and All-Pro corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. Pro Football Focus has Miller as the third-rated edge defender with a 92.3 rating through 11 games. He is trailing only Cameron Jordan and Calais Campbell, both of whom are defensive player of the year candidates. Harris, Jr. will still be in his prime for the next couple years, and although Talib is near the end of his career, he is still performing at a high level. Both players are rated as top-20 cornerbacks by PFF

The elite pass rushers through 9 weeks pic.twitter.com/xVY5H7l3c1

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 10, 2017

So does the blame for this year’s struggle fall entirely on the offense? Yes and no. They rank in the bottom half of the league in total yards per game, including 16th in rushing and 19th in passing. Contrary to popular belief, the Denver offensive line isn’t playing that poorly. Football Outsiders has them ranked eighth in adjusted line yards, which measures how many yards the offensive line is responsible for on rushing plays. This suggests an issue with the running backs rather than the line. CJ Anderson (79.3), Devontae Booker (72.8), and Jamaal Charles (49.0) are all rated poorly by Pro Football Focus.

Criticisms about the offensive line in pass protection are warranted. They need to improve significantly because having given up 36 sacks already, but again, the blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on them. Nick Kendell of Mile High Huddle detailed in his article how the pass protection woes aren’t as bad as they seem. 

The advanced stat of adjusted sack rate is 9.3 percent. The Adjusted Sack Rate represents sacks divided by pass plays, which include passes, sacks, and aborted snaps.

It is a better measure of pass blocking than total sacks because it takes into account how often an offense passes the ball. ASR adds adjustments for opponent quality, as well as down and distance (sacks are more common on third down, specifically third-and-long).

The adjustment for the quality opponent should normalize as the season continues, as the Broncos have gone up against many of the best pass rushers in the NFL this season already (Justin Houston, Khalil Mack, Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, DeMarcus Lawrence all are playing at or near All-Pro level).

The Broncos are not great pass blockers right now, this is true, but a lot of this blame should fall on the quarterback as well. (Trevor) Siemian had one of the longest snap-to-release times in the NFL this season and was struggling mightily to step up and find natural openings in the pocket, often backwards or running into pressure. 

Kendell talked about how the line should improve with a more pocket aware QB at the helm, which currently isn’t on the roster. Neither Siemian, Osweiler, nor Paxton Lynch look like they are the long term answers for Denver. Quarterback is the most important position in football and if you don’t have one, it is nearly impossible to win consistently. This leads to the question of where the Broncos should turn to solve this glaring hole in their team. 

For most teams that are 3-8, the NFL draft would be the best option. As good as Elway has been at identifying talent at other positions in the draft, he has missed on nearly every quarterback he has taken. 

Here’s the list of QBs he has drafted since taking over as general manager in 2011. 


YearRoundPickPlayerSchool
2012257Brock OsweilerArizona St.
20137234Zac DysertMiami (OH)
20157250Trevor SiemianNorthwestern
2016126Paxton LynchMemphis
20177253Chad KellyOle Miss


Three of those five picks were in the seventh round, and the fact that one turned into a serviceable QB in Siemian is impressive. However, the fact that this defense is ready to win at a high level now, I’m not sure Elway will be eager to take another shot at developing a rookie quarterback with a high draft pick. That’s why Elway should turn to free agency once again like they did with Peyton Manning. 

There isn’t going to be another Peyton Manning on the market, but this year’s free agency class definitely has some quarterbacks that would be upgrades. Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford could be serviceable options for the Broncos. If they are able to land one of those two, upgrade a bit at running back, and keep their current defensive personnel, they will be right back in the mix in the AFC West next year.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
How many sacks did Von Miller have in Super Bowl 50?
Created 12/3/17
  1. 4
  2. 3.5
  3. 2.5
  4. 2

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