There is no doubting that Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but there is still a lot of questions regarding his health. One would have to assume that Manning must be as healthy as possible right now, but how long can that or will that last? If the physical Pittsburgh defense happens to hit Peyton in the right spot, game one, everything can change in a heartbeat. However, this is the choice that the Denver Broncos have chosen and on paper it looks like the right one.
The Denver Broncos greatest strength last season was their intimidating pass rush. The pass rush was led by Vonn Miller who had a terrific rookie season, recording 11.5 sacks and Elvis Dumervil, who chipped in 9.5 sacks. That pass rush will take a hit early in the season with linebacker DJ Williams serving a six game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.
Despite the Broncos excellent pass rush, the defense was not all that good against the run in 2011. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, will look to improve upon the run defense, which his 4-3 defense is predicated on. With that in mind it is important to point out that the Broncos defensive makeup is not exactly suited for stopping the run, with their small, but quick defenders. Denver has brought in the former Patriot defensive tackle Ty Warren, to sure up the defensive front, but it is hard to expect a lot from a man who has missed the last two seasons.
One thing for sure is that Champ Bailey appears to still have the goods, even at his advanced age of 34. Just last week the former Bronco running back Clinton Portis retired, who was involved in the trade with the Redskins to bring Bailey over to Denver nine years ago.
Denver’s offense is very similar to last year, except the addition of Peyton Manning. If Manning remains healthy, there is no doubting that he will perform well, how well will rest on the weapons around him. Eric Decker has displayed a lot of the quiet assets that Peyton Manning will love to have at his disposal. Decker runs good routes, is deceptively fast, and provides a big target at 6’3″. It would not surprise me if Decker racks up anywhere from 1100-1400 yards receiving this season.
However, I do have concerns with both Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Thomas and Decker have both shown that they are professional pass droppers. as much as they are wide receivers. They were both in the bottom twenty of drop rate percentage (http://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/01/17/drop-rate-2011-which-receivers-are-dropping-the-ball/), among NFL receivers last season. Both players combined for 14 drops in 2011, which can be costly when Peyton Manning is going to be able to throw you open for big plays.
Willis McGahee is a nice running back, but you have to be concerned about his durability with his age, and potential for knee problems. That means third year back Knowshon Moreno will finally have to live up to the expectations that come with being selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Moreno has shown a propensity to fumble the ball and being injured. Although Willis McGahee is a better running back, Moreno may be the better fit with Manning at the helm. Moreno can catch the ball out of the backfield and is more likely to break a big run with limited carries. Unless Coach Fox makes Manning run the ball with more persistence than he has done in the past, expect less carries to be dispersed among McGahee, Moreno, and Lance Ball.
The big question mark on the Denver offense is their offensive line. It was hard to tell last year with the large percentage of running plays they ran with Tebow as the quarterback, but they are not exactly the best pass protectors. Protection is one thing that is essential to the health of Peyton. Clearly Manning has a better feel for the pocket, and quicker release than Tim Tebow, but make no mistake about it, this Broncos Oline is not exactly the most effective pass blockers, with guard Zane Beadles being the biggest culprit.
As of right now the Denver Broncos, look like a 9-7 team, which could definitely be good enough to win the AFC West. Expect the Broncos to be competitive all season long and make a run for the division crown with Kansas City as their main competition.