The road isn’t easy, but Denver should keep improving
Who’d a thunk it?
The Denver Broncos start the season with six straight wins and, going into their bye weekend, have a 31⁄2-game lead over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West. The other two teams in the West aren’t worth mentioning.
This fast start means fans should start making plans for the weekend of Jan. 9 or 10, or, better yet, the weekend after that if their darlings earn a first-round playoff bye.
Not so fast, Bronco breath. There is still much work to be done.
For one thing, there is the remainder of that nasty schedule. Although the Broncos have indeed thrived — especially the past three games against teams expected to compete for playoff berths — many would say the toughest part is yet to come.
After this weekend’s respite, Josh McDaniels’ team travels to Baltimore, then plays Pittsburgh at home. A win over either would rank as a bonus, Baltimore because they are incredibly tough to beat at home and Pittsburgh because they are, well, tough enough to be the defending Super Bowl champions.
There is then a road trip to Washington — can you say “trap game?” — before a rematch with the Chargers at New Mile High. The Broncos then sandwich games with the Giants at home and Indy and Philadelphia on the road around two games against the Chiefs and a home contest against the Raiders.
With 10 games remaining, Denver will definitely be the favorite in only four, maybe a tossup or slight pick in one or two more.
According to Hoyle, the Broncos should finish no worse than 10-6, maybe as high as 12-4. But as the Broncos have proven thus far, things don’t always go the way the populace expects.
McDaniels has been the rage of professional football conversations since he took over as head coach. Sentiments have changed greatly, however, with the youngster going from knucklehead to genius in less than two months.
It is now a stock TV shot on Fox or CBS to see the 33-year-old cherub smiling broadly and pumping fists at fans in the stands after a Broncos win. That scene normally comes roughly one minute after what has become another standard for the cameras — his yelling, screaming, cajoling or whispering at a player or coach on the sideline.
It is also commonplace to see one of his 300-pounders giving him a big hug and maybe even carrying the comparatively tiny coach into the winning locker room.
The team obviously has a tight bond.
From new coach to new defensive coordinator to players who have been pulled off scrap heaps to players who have simply been whining at misfortune, this team has banded together.
Kyle Orton, the quarterback nobody wanted, is now being mentioned prominently as a Most Valuable Player candidate. He is the eighth-rated QB in the league, eight spots in front of the dearly departed you-know-who.
Also consider first-round draft pick Knowshon Moreno and free-agent pickup Correll Buckhalter: the first a bad draft selection because the Broncos needed defense above all else, the second too old, beat-up and washed up. All they have done in rotation is combine for 694 yards on the ground, more than Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ superstar, has accumulated in his solo performance.
Add an offensive line that has kept Orton upright, formerly disgruntled Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has seen the light, a number of other reliable targets, and the offense is good enough to be ranked sixth in the league in yards gained at 368 yards per game.
When you are the sixth ranked offense AND the ninth-ranked defense, you are a good team.
Denver has allowed only 66 points in its six games, 11 points per game.
For this success, again, it’s retreads and reorganization who have made the difference.
Safety Brian Dawkins at 36 years of age was deemed too old to stay in Philadelphia. Last week against San Diego in Denver’s 34-23 win, he had a leg injury in the first half, fussed and fumed on the sideline while playing the part of cheerleader, then returned to lead a vicious second-half attack on Charger QB Philip Rivers.
Elvis Dumervil, deemed too short to play in the league, added two more sacks to his total and now has 10 on the season, easily the best figure in the league. He is the short, squatty reincarnation of Karl Mecklenberg.
Add the offseason beef, the coaching of Mike Nolan, who implemented the 3-4 after getting the boot from the 49ers last year, the steady play of shutdown corner Champ Bailey and others, and Denver is suddenly among the haves, not the have-nots.
I see absolutely no reason for the team not to continue to improve. They’ve got attitude, they’ve got depth and they’ve got, we have found, good coaching.
Enjoy the rest of the ride.