Denver rode one of the most dominant offenses in NFL history to a 13-3 regular season and an appearance in the Super Bowl. But the Broncos’ championship dreams ended in a hurry when Seattle put on a show in the Big Game.
This offseason has seen quite a bit of turnover on a Broncos roster that, at least defensively, was exposed by injury and suspension in 2013. So can Denver rediscover that magic and give Peyton Manning one more run at his second ring? Or is the window closing too fast? Sayre Bedinger, editor at Predominantly Orange, shares his thoughts.
Zoneblitz: The Super Bowl got ugly, but the Broncos still got there in record-setting fashion. How would you assess the season?
Bedinger: It’s hard to not think about the Super Bowl but you’re right, it wasn’t reflective of how good and dominant the Broncos were last year. I think Seattle just flat out-played them in every facet in the Super Bowl. The Broncos tried the ‘it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality with their offense despite its conservative nature playing directly into the hands of Seattle. Overall, it was one of the most memorable seasons in team history with the record-setting scoring offense. Still, the disappointment of what could have been will always be an asterisk.
Zoneblitz: How much does Peyton Manning have left and how are the Broncos set for the future once he does call it a career?
Bedinger: You let me know when you notice Peyton Manning slowing down. Far as I could tell last year, he was ascending into the end of his career, not the latter. He has three years left on his deal. If his bionic neck holds up, it’s hard to see him calling it quits unless the Broncos win the Super Bowl before it’s up.
Zoneblitz: While the offense was amazing, the defense dropped in 2013 from fourth to 22nd in points allowed and second to 19th in yards allowed. What happened there?
Bedinger: A barrage of injuries and Von Miller’s stupidity were the death of the Denver D. Miller was suspended the first six games, Elvis Dumervil was gone, and suddenly you wondered where Denver’s pass rush went. When Miller came back, he wasn’t in shape and though he still impacted plays, wasn’t the same player. Then he tore his knee up late in the season. The Broncos also were without players like Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson — you name the position and there was a top player that missed significant time.
Zoneblitz: The team released Champ Bailey and lost several players, including Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Knowshon Moreno and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to free agency. Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders and T.J. Ward are among offseason additions. Is the defense better than it was and have the losses been sufficiently replaced?
Bedinger: I think not only has Denver sufficiently replaced the players it lost, but they have upgraded across the board. You factor in Cody Latimer with Emmanuel Sanders and I pose the question to Broncos fans — who would you rather have, Decker or both Sanders and Latimer? The biggest question mark comes on the offensive line, and even there you’re upgrading with Ryan Clady. The question is whether Orlando Franklin can transition to guard and Chris Clark on the right side, but the Broncos didn’t seem overly concerned about it having not signed anyone to play LG or RT in free agency and waiting until round three to draft Michigan OT Michael Schofield.
Zoneblitz: What did you think of the Broncos’ draft?
Bedinger: I loved the Broncos’ draft. They addressed every position we thought they would, including doubling up on OL and LB, which were arguably the two biggest question marks. I think the top pick of Bradley Roby was smart. There were a number of players who inexplicably dropped to the bottom of round one, but the Broncos got a guy with top 10 talent though at times maddening inconsistency at Ohio State. He should be a starter and key contributor as a rookie. Cody Latimer was mocked by many in the first round. People that I’d talked to said ‘for sure’ when asked if he’d be a first round pick. The Broncos traded up to get him and rightfully so. They needed to address the size void left by Decker on the outside and they got a more talented prospect for sure. Schofield should add weight and fit in as a RT or LG for Denver, which he played both in college. Lamin Barrow will contend early for MLB duties, and the two later round guys OC Matt Paradis (Boise State) and LB Corey Nelson (Oklahoma) have some intriguing potential as well. I loved it.
Zoneblitz: Who on the roster do you see as possible breakout candidates?
Bedinger: Possible breakout candidates for the Broncos offensively, the obvious one is Montee Ball, the 2nd year back out of Wisconsin. He’s taking over as the full-time back now with Moreno off to Miami. He was my favorite pick out of last year’s draft and I see him definitely showing out this year as a thousand yard back with double-digit TDs. Defensively, I think Sylvester Williams–the 2013 first rounder–showed out at the end of last year and played pretty well. I hope he starts alongside Terrance Knighton but the upside with Williams athletically is he doesn’t have to leave the field on third downs. He could be in line for a big jump in year two. Here’s a dark-horse — Quanterus Smith. The DE out of Western Kentucky spent last year on injured reserve but has top level pass rush abilities.
Zoneblitz: Are the Broncos still the class of the AFC and are the moves that have been made this offseason sufficient to counter Seattle should the opportunity to meet them happen again? Can the Broncos make another Super Bowl run?
Bedinger: I believe the Broncos have cemented their status as the top team in the AFC going into the season, however they are not off the hook until we see the improvements on the field. On paper, I think this year’s roster is better than last year’s. I think they can not only make a Super Bowl run but I think also they did a lot more this offseason to improve their roster than Seattle did. Seattle lost a lot of key players, including many that made their special teams so ‘special’.
Zoneblitz: What else would you like to see Broncos do before training camp?
Bedinger: Things to do before camp — stay out of trouble, stay healthy, and compete. The Broncos’ roster could maybe use a veteran RB if they want it but otherwise, they are set to go.
Zoneblitz: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Bedinger: I’m pumped about this season for Denver, and to see how they adjust with the big changes. The fact that they look better on paper after all they lost is astounding.
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