The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Bansal believes in Broncos’ ability, vision

The coming of autumn means different things to different people. For many Grinnellians, it means the beginning of another challenging, yet thoroughly enjoyable school year. It also means that it is merely another few weeks before the bone-chilling winds come and dry our souls as completely as they dry our skin—but I digress. For me, the coming of autumn means one thing above all else—the beginning of the NFL season. High school football is good, college football is great, but nothing quite compares to watching the best of the best compete against each other in the pros. 

While the 2009-10 NFL season is still young, it has already manufactured several compelling storylines. Perhaps no story is as surprising, though, as the undefeated Denver Broncos. Left for dead by the football media after trading star quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears, the Broncos have won their first three games of the season, and have looked extremely impressive in doing so.

The outlook for the 2009 season was bleak for the Broncos after a tumultuous offseason. After firing their head coach of 13 seasons, two-time Super Bowl Champion Mike Shanahan, the Broncos made the bold move of hiring 32-year-old Josh McDaniels. McDaniels is best known as the Quarterbacks’ coach and Offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots from 2004-2008 under media bad boy Bill Belichick.  Upon taking the job in Denver, McDaniels almost immediately clashed with Cutler who demanded a trade and got one to the Chicago Bears. In return, the Broncos received often-criticized quarterback Kyle Orton and multiple high-draft picks. 

As if on cue, the media tore into McDaniels and the Broncos. So-called “experts” preached how rare it is to come by good quarterbacks and how owner Pat Bowlen was foolish to let both Shanahan and Cutler walk in the same offseason. Besides being unusually young for the position, McDaniels had no previous experience as a head coach and the collective NFL world wondered whether this was really an improvement over Shanahan—the winningest, most beloved coach in the history of the Broncos’ franchise. McDaniels’ status as a Bill Belichick disciple further hurt his credibility with the media, players and the fans. 

All the controversy surrounding McDaniels, along with various other issues, such as star receiver Brandon Marshall coming off a major hip surgery and the defense licking their wounds after finishing 29th last season, combined to deflate expectations for the Broncos 2009 season to an all-time low. 

Yet, somehow, the Broncos are 3-0 and find themselves atop the AFC West.

Granted, the season is only three weeks in, and skeptics are quick to point out that the Broncos have not beaten a 2008 playoff team. However, the Broncos have absolutely demolished the last two teams they have played, beating the Browns 27-6 and the Raiders, on the road, 23-3. In fact, the only close game the Broncos have played this year is their season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, in which they just squeaked by for a 12-7 road victory. These are the same Bengals that beat the Packers at Lambeau Field and, last week, beat the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Forget the qualitative stuff, though, let’s look at the numbers. The stats tell a tale of stout defense and efficient offense. Perhaps the most telling stat is the amount of points the Broncos have allowed through their first three games—only 16. To give you a sense of how ridiculously low that is, the second lowest total of points allowed this season is 33, more than twice the number of points the Broncos have allowed. The Broncos are tied for first in the league with 10 sacks through three games this season. 

On the offensive side of the ball the Broncos are fourth in the league in rushing, averaging 158.7 yards per game. Through the air, the Broncos are 15th in the league with 215.7 yards passing per game—nothing spectacular. However, Kyle Orton is doing what he has always done throughout his career—managing the game and protecting the football. The Broncos are one of only two teams in the league, the Packers the other, to not throw a single interception this season. People are quick to forget that Orton is 23-12 as a starter throughout his five-year NFL career. The bottom line is that if you give Orton a solid running game, the man can win games. 

Of course, this was all part of Pat Bowlen’s shrewd plan to rebuild the Broncos. While no one could have foreseen the Broncos having the immediate success they are enjoying now, Bowlen was well aware of the big picture when pulling the trigger on the Cutler trade. Besides Orton, the Broncos also received some high-draft picks from the Cutler trade with the Broncos. They converted the first rounder they received into stud defensive end Robert Ayers who should help solidify that Broncos’ pass rush for years to come. They also picked Seth Olsen, whom Iowa fans know is a very talented guard with great size. Perhaps even more important than those draft picks in the rebuilding of the Denver Broncos is the money they saved by unloading Jay Cutler’s contract onto the Chicago Bears. Cutler is in the third year of a six-year, $47.86 million deal. While most of that money has already been paid to him, believe me when I tell you the Broncos are still saving a lot of money, which they have used to bring in prized free agents such as linebacker Andra Davis and defensive end Vonnie Holliday.

The Broncos have laid down a very solid template on how to rebuild a football team after a slough of disappointing seasons. They did what most organizations lack the cajones to do—dispose of the star player and legendary coach in order to benefit the team. As a result of these bold personnel decisions, the team took a lot of flak from the media, which in turn led to deflated expectations for the season, expectations that severely underestimated the talent level of the team and the coaching ability of Josh McDaniels. Remember, this is the man that ran the Patriots offense while Tom Brady was rewriting the record books with his passing proficiency. The fact of the matter is that the Broncos are a good team and I fully expect them to challenge for the AFC West title and a playoff spot this season. 

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