Unique, occasionally off the beaten path, and even adamant perspective's on the greatest football team in the NFL, the DENVER BRONCOS. Might just be another group of average John & Jane Doe's that does not even claim to always be correct, exceptional, or even smarter than any others perspectives. Only our opinions. The stories are 100% valid regarding news. #DB4L #BroncosCR3W We do have well trained eyes, ears, and even noses for the sport and team though.
Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.
• NFC season wrap-ups: N | S | E | W
• AFC season wrap-ups: N | S | E | W
Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.
Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.
Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.
GRADING THE DENVER BRONCOS
Everything the Broncos needed in the regular season and two playoff wins, Peyton Manning gave them before struggling in the Super Bowl. He is 28-9 as a starter with the Broncos, with back-to-back 13-3 finishes to go with four playoff games. He is their unquestioned leader and, unless doctors give him an unexpected report in the coming weeks, the Broncos say Manning will be back behind center in 2014.
At the season's halfway mark, this group wasn't doing a good enough job of taking care of the ball, outside of Knowshon Moreno. Moreno finished with 1,038 yards rushing and 60 receptions overall, while the light went on for Montee Ball over the season's second half. But Ronnie Hillman, a third-round pick in 2012, seems to be regressing and C.J. Anderson had just seven carries all season.
There is no doubt Demaryius Thomas has pushed himself into the league's elite at the position. He was the go-to guy in the Super Bowl loss. Eric Decker will be an unrestricted free agent who may be able to secure his best deal elsewhere. A one-catch Super Bowl was not the bargaining chip Decker was hoping for.
Julius Thomas is a front-line receiver at the position, but the Broncos were limited in what they could do with him when he lined up next to the offensive tackle. Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green were effective spot players, depending on the situation.Joel Dreessen did not play in any of the Broncos' postseason games.
Manning, with his pre-snap ability to identify extra rushers and his consistency in getting rid of the ball, has always helped his team's pass protection. Chris Clark did an admirable job filling in for Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady for much of the season;Louis Vasquez was the best offseason pickup; and Manny Ramirez at times played close to Pro Bowl level in his first season at center. But the group sometimes struggled against the more physical fronts it faced.
The defensive linemen showed signs of top-tier work against the run in their base defense, especially defensive tackleTerrance Knighton. Down the stretch, opposing offenses were structuring game plans to avoid Knighton. But because of injuries, the Broncos had Jeremy Mincey, a player they signed in December, in the regular rotation late in the season, whileShaun Phillips and Robert Ayers had a combined two sacks over the final six games of regular season.
Danny Trevathan was the do-it-all playmaker here. Paris Lenongave the Broncos more than they likely expected when they signed him in August, and Nate Irving flashed front-line work at times. But overall the group didn't always tackle well and the team needs far more from Von Miller than it got when he was in the lineup.
The defensive backs couldn't always match up in the nickel and dime, and they'll need some attention here in the coming months. Champ Bailey carries a $10 million cap figure, while Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris Jr., Quentin Jammer, Tony Carter and Mike Adams will all be free agents. Of the group, Rodgers-Cromartie and Harris played the best, but Harris also just had ACL surgery.
If not for kicker Matt Prater and punter Britton Colquitt, this grade would be lower. The Broncos' special-teams play fell apart after the first month of the season. They'll need more speed and to play with more assignment discipline in these units.
For much of the season, the Broncos were focused. They overcame John Fox's absence because of open-heart surgery and had a plan that made them one of the dominant teams in the league. But the Super Bowl loss matters. They looked out of sorts all evening, did not rebound from early troubles, and the Seahawks played with more fire and looked better prepared much of the time.