Posted Tue May 25th by Ian Henson
Is it better to be too offensive or too defensive?
It’s been said that defense wins championships, I’ve been known to agree to that, but offense wins games. It wasn’t often the lack of defense that killed the Denver Broncos last season, it was usually the lack of offense.
The defense deserves most of the credit for the early season rise and hardly any of the blame for the sharp fall following. Only the San Diego Chargers managed to score more than 17 points on the Broncos prior to the bye week (23).
Immediately following that week the Baltimore Ravens put up 30, the Ravens first non-special teams touchdown coming off of a (then rookie) Knowshon Moreno fumble.
Then it got dark for Denver.
Kyle Orton’s never been known for throwing interceptions, but in the week following Baltimore facing the Pittsburgh Steelers he threw one-fourth (though it would be more, had he not given a long ball up to Randy Moss in a first-half hail mary against the New England Patriots) of his seasonal interceptions and the Broncos were routed by the Steelers 28-10.
Did you know that the Washington Redskins had the number one pass defense in the NFL in week ten when they faced the Broncos?
Didn’t matter, Brandon Marshall was good on a 40 and 75-yard touchdown in the first half against that defense. Then Orton went down, and Chris Simms came in, do I even need to finish what I don’t want to begin? I don’t know that there’s a defense in the NFL that could produce when their offense puts up negative eight yards in the second half (which Denver did under Simms). Orton played one half and put up better stats then the Redskins Jason Campbell did in an entire game.
Week ten again, 26-3, Chargers victory, you’d think the defense had a lot to do with that… You’d be wrong though, two fumbles in the red zone by the Broncos offense (one on the goal line, Moreno, Marshall, shoving and one by Simms which led to a touchdown). An injured Orton interception and a recovered on-side kick had a lot to do with the score. The Broncos were inside the red zone four time that game and remained unable to convert. It would be easy to point at this game as the case against Orton, but given that he was injured, you’ve got to give the guy a couple stars.
Though to play devil’s advocate in Philip Rivers‘ own words, the Broncos didn’t blitz nearly as much as they had the first game. Marshall referred to the loss as, “The most frustrating game I’ve ever played in.”
Then it was the New York Giants turn and the Kansas City Chiefs turn, both games the Broncos won convincingly. Offense clicking on all cylinders and defense able to withstand basically everything.
Now, the Indianapolis Colts… Week 14, did you know the Orton finished with more passing yards than Peyton Manning? Of course you remember the Marshall broke the NFL record for most catches in a game, the Broncos even picked off Manning three times! The Broncos however went 6 for 17 on third downs and 0 for 3 on fourth downs. Credit a great Colts defense, but add further kindle to my flame.
Yes, Dallas Clark seemed to have lit the Broncos defense up by scoring three times, but look at how many yards he had (43). That to me is poor play calling near the red zone, not lack of defensive strength. I’m not saying the entire game the defensive play calling was bad, just in the red zone, but this is really the first time I can say it was the defenses fault. However, it was week fourteen and against the Colts. The Broncos inability to run the ball also contributed to this, some other factors being that the Broncos were across the fifty nine times, scoring three times and Orton’s lone interception came inside the red zone.
Does anyone know a good red zone QB? Maybe a guy that could even run it in himself? Or catch it himself (no dummy, Tim Tebow doesn’t catch) if need be?
Despite all of that, the Broncos arguably gave the Colts one of their toughest games of the season aside from the Super Bowl. Yes, I know they lost to the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets, but were they playing their starters jackass?
Here lies my thesis or conspiracy theory, you judge. After the loss in the Colts game is where I am assuming there was a shift in Denver, due to what Josh McDaniels perceived as a lack of good play calling in the red zone. The game against the Colts could have been a very big win for Denver, but McDaniels revealed his age and experience by pulling the reins from then defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Who, by my account, had done a terrific job up until that point.
McDaniels made the same mistake that Mike Shanahan had constantly made, he insisted on a bend but don’t break defense, as opposed to an attack defense. In my mind the attack defense is what led to Manning throwing three interceptions and getting beat three times in the red zone by the Manning to Clark connection. Panicked with an eight and five record, a chance to make the playoffs and the possibility of being slapped in the face by failure McDaniels may have got a little too ahead of himself.
The bend but don’t break defense was enforced against the Oakland Raiders, this is evident by the amount of yards the Raiders had on the ground (241), but ultimately low score (20). The Raiders were able to pull away with a win, it wasn’t luck (it never is), but it was about as close to it as it can come. If it were skill the Raiders would have never let JaMarcus Russell go this month (and hasn’t been signed since).
So McDaniels let up a bit, gave it back to Nolan, men can admit when they’re wrong. Going into week sixteen against the Philadelphia Eagles the Broncos were in a must win situation (well, almost, they needed help). McDaniels likely gave the reins back with these words, ‘Keep it under thirty (points)…’
So what occurred? Full on defensive offensive onslaught! Which resulted in nine Broncos penalties that accounted for 95-yards (remember Brandon Stokley slapping the referee’s finger?), he’d been scout teaming for the Broncos number one defense the whole week and was fired up too (I’m kidding, maybe). The Broncos defense accounted for five fumbles (but only two recoveries) and a Donovan McNabb interception.
Did anyone notice the offensive formation the Eagles employed predominantly against the Broncos? Yeah, that was the spread. It kept Denver from huddling and had analysts calling the Eagles the hottest team in the NFC following the game. This is the second game that I’m willing to say that Denver’s defense could be blamed for the loss. Though the offense and an injured Correll Buckhalter helped a ton, Moreno had 18 yards on the ground.
This game I see McDaniels using in his final stand against Nolan as proof that something needed to be done (and it couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with that atrocious running offense). McDaniels again implored the bend but don’t break in week seventeen against the Chiefs and in resulted in a record day (and that’s saying a lot given the greatness of some of the Chiefs running backs seasons) for Jamaal Charles. Given that the Chiefs had what fifteen plus years of tape to see this same defense?
It also resulted in an unfix-able rift developing between Nolan and McDaniels.
Some will point to the fact that in 2010, had McDaniels had a bad season, Nolan would be his immediate replacement. Some will point to the fact that McDaniels by all assumptions seems to have taken control away from Nolan at some point (I’m a fan of the later). There are lots of other theories that we may develop, but I think after much evaluation…
McDaniels agrees with me, it’s not the opposite teams offenses that beat Denver, it’s Denver offense that beat Denver. It wasn’t the defense that was faltering and flailing, it was the offense that was.
I’m not even saying it was play calling, it was an utter inability of the Broncos offenses’ behalf to convert third downs and score inside the red zone.
Now you look at Denver in their 2010 draft and you see immediate proof as to what McDaniels blames. Fans would have had us picking a defensive tackle, a center and a guard with the first three picks. McDaniels chose a wide receiver, a quarterback, an all purpose lineman, a center, another wide receiver, a kick returner and another center with their first seven picks! They didn’t pick a pure defensive player until the seventh round and they had to trade to do it! Excuse the exclamation points, but I feel like McDaniels knows what he’s doing and it’s clear to him what went wrong and if you study you’ll see what went wrong too.
An offense that produces, creates a defense that seduces.