Rick Jussel Columnn November 06, 2008

AFC West lead aside, you can stick a fork in the Broncos

The Denver Broncos, even though they still lead the AFC West by one game, are toast.




It’s wait ’til next season for the Broncos. You know it and I know it. To beat the Broncos from here on out, all you’ve got to do is one thing: Show up. Even once-certain wins over Oakland and Kansas City at New Mile High are now in serious question.

Cleveland will beat the Broncos tonight in Cleveland in a game the league schedule-makers must be wondering about.

It’s depressing to the max.

What has happened to bring out the absolute worst in this team?

For one thing, injuries have happened. They always do, always will.

Still …

Injuries aren’t the big reason for Denver’s plight. Sure Champ and Boss are gone, but the Denver D was terrible when the Baileys were on the field. And Sunday’s loss of running backs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall for the rest of the season won’t be a death knell because the Broncos won’t be running the ball anyway.

Injuries are part of the problem, but not the overriding factor.

Let’s look at coaching, first the lack of direction on the defensive side.

The corners, as Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall so astutely noticed Sunday, are playing roughly 10 yards off the line of scrimmage on most plays. What’s with that? It’s allowing teams to repeatedly march down the field using short passes.

Soft coverage, however, isn’t the only problem.

The defensive coaches can’t even figure out what base formation they want to run: a 4-3 or a 3-4 and it’s halfway through the season.

As for the players, let’s start at the safeties, whoever they may be this week. They have been terrible all season both in run support and as ball hawks. Folks, those are the things safeties are supposed to do by definition.

The defensive line isn’t big enough to stuff the run with the front three or four (take your pick). The youngsters drafted over the past two years have been ineffective, save for tackle Marcus Thomas, who will be a contributor, but not a star, for years to come.

Elvis Dumervil, drafted three years ago, is a competent defensive end and pass rusher, if he is moved around a bit — Karl Mecklenberg style. He does, however, have a hard time rushing or stopping the run if he plays in the same spot for an entire game.

As for the linebackers, with D.J. Williams out four weeks, there is very little star power and very little stopping power.

That’s the defense: Nothing that can’t be fixed with, say, five or six new players.

Now let’s look at the offensive side and start with play-calling.

Marshall, the team’s biggest weapon, wasn’t even looked at for most of Sunday’s loss to Miami as he hung around on the outside.

Has anyone ever heard of a crossing pattern? A pick of any sort, that although against the rules in some instances, can still be done in a variety of ways to help shake tight coverage.

All of the sudden, the team’s biggest threat is rookie fullback Peyton Hillis, who caught short passes worth more than 100 yards on Sunday, which begs the question: If he is indeed this good, why haven’t we seen him previously?

As for the running game, Denver’s line is not moving anyone when a running play is called. But it very seldom has been able to do that. Denver’s running game has always depended on tomfoolery, not brute strength. There is no tomfoolery now.

Now, it’s shotgun, take the first read, Jay Cutler, and throw the ball short.

If Denver can’t be consistent enough to march the ball down the field in one fashion or another, they have to look deep — often.

Slants work for other teams, why not Denver?

The deep toss to Marshall last week worked, albeit the official saw it another way. Why not more of that and less of the six-yards-and-out sideline patterns?

Tonight, the Broncos will have to slow the Browns with a new quarterback, Brady Quinn. That quarterback change may be a blessing in disguise for Denver in that Quinn will have had basically one practice before this game.

But, the way things have gone lately, I can’t see the Broncos doing anything other than losing.

I’ll take my 4-4 record picking with or against Denver, and say the Broncos, a 3-point underdog (I’m 3-4-1 against the spread), take another tumble, 27-20.


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