The Denver Broncos are a mystery wrapped in an enigma. They are far and away the most puzzling team in the NFL. Every facet of the 2009 Broncos is new. Josh McDaniels' roster is a patchwork of question marks.
It is easy and tempting to immediately dismiss question marks as flaws, so proceed with caution when evaluating the 2009 Broncos.
McDaniels will prove that he assembled a better roster and coaching staff than most expect, especially on defense. Mike Nolan is a brilliant defensive mind. The Suit worked wonders for the Baltimore Ravens as a defensive coordinator between 2001 and 2004.
The pre-McDaniels defense indeed required refurbishing. Perhaps more of a renovation was in order? No, last year's defensive unit needed to be demolished and re-built to comply with contemporary Department of Energy Building Codes.
The 2009-10 Denver defense: Brought to you by Energy Star! All hail, the mighty yet affordable 'Green' Crush!
The McDaniels-Nolan defense possesses an attractive mix of aging wisdom and young, raw talent. Alphonso Smith does not jump. He bounces. Furthermore, Smith and ballhawk Darcel McBath will learn how to play NFL football from Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins. Could a rookie ask for better professors? Bailey (Aristotle) and Dawkins (Confucius) are not only top-ten players of all-time at their respective positions, but they are also consummate professionals.
Relax and repeat after me, "The Broncos' front-three, never needed Raji!"
Nolan expects his defensive linemen to perform inglorious, grunt work while Dumervil, DJ Williams, and Super Mario assault opposing quarterbacks. The Denver 3-4 relies on massive, motivated down-linemen. Journeymen Ronald Fields and Darrell Reid are adequate specimens; hunger always beats out hype.
B.J. Raji is the world's most expensive gummy bear. He is soft, sweet, and thrives on two things: food and leisure. McDaniels' passion would have melted the overhyped, overpaid, and overfed Raji down to a tub of goo. Wait, is the 345-pound leisure-fiend not already a tub of goo? Shrewd pick Fred Thompson. Gummy bears do tend to keep well when left in the freezer. A Gilbert Brown flashback just fried my mind. Anyone craving a Gilbert Burger? B.J. Raji just ordered seven.
The Broncos' defense will make mistakes, but the unit will ultimately benefit from its lack of flashy players. Uncertainty inspires nameless professionals to work harder. They learn more quickly from each mental lapse. They will listen to Mike Nolan and adhere to the game plan. They will play with constant enthusiasm and reckless abandon. They will fall into line and produce because the waiver wire looms.
Guaranteed money does not always guarantee results.
McDaniels understands this concept. This idea explains the Broncos' offseason, including the draft. McDaniels only acquired players that he believed would do more than just make his roster. He wanted players that compete daily and constantly contribute to a football team. A pricey player rarely pays off when he signs with a mediocre, re-building team. Expect McDaniels to reap the benefits of his controversial yet calculated offseason moves. He will likely receive more effort from his players this season and down the road because he only invests in players he trusts.
The Broncos are erecting a fortress for the future. Getting torched by the deep-ball, pounded by the run, or suspended by the League Office does not appear in the drafting plans (pun intended).
Nice touch, foreman Mc-D!
Now onto last Sunday's festivities ...
Referring to Sunday's game as "awful" does not say nearly enough about the overall level of play fans witnessed. Boring? Yes, the game was boring, but boring events seldom leave one incensed and shocked. Frustrating? This game was not just frustrating to watch, it was wearisome to tolerate. Before last Sunday, had our great nation ever suffered through three full hours of football?
Watching the Broncos offense was like eating mud. The activity did not kill me, but my health did not benefit from the experience and it was hard to keep myself from vomiting.
Some thoughts on "The Game That Shall Not Be Re-Aired" ...
-- Dan Fouts is the worst commentator on television ... in any sport. Period. His jokes about what NFL players did and looked like during the 1960s and 1970s were so thoughtless, pitiful, and numerous that I considered muting my TV. I only kept the volume on because Gus Johnson is a golden god.
-- Where was Brandon Marshall during that entire game? Hold on. Allow me to rephrase that. Who pressed a scalding iron to Brandon Marshall's hands on Saturday night thus rendering his fingers and palms useless for Sunday afternoon's game? I know Marshall missed training camp, but he looked totally "checked out" against the Bengals. I have never seen such a powerful man expend less energy and roll over as easily as the 6′5″ 250-pound Marshall did in his first game back from suspension. One more performance like Sunday's dud and it might be fair to claim that Marshall has indeed packed it in for the season.
Maybe Marshall needs a little more time to study the playbook. Yet, one would think that he spent the bulk of his time away from the team learning the new offense so that he could earn himself a new, lucrative contract? Of course, that assumption is far too rational, considering I am writing about Brandon Marshall.
Marshall might as well have dropped his pants and soiled the endzone at Paul Brown Stadium, and then followed that up by urinating on the Broncos' bench. His performance on Sunday was that offensive (pun definitely not intended). Furthermore, public defecation would have been more productive and required greater attention to detail than any route he ran or catch he "tried" to make.
-- Kyle Orton was brutal. Broken pinkie aside, Orton looked indecisive, weak, and confused all day. I understand why McDaniels acquired Orton to replace Cutler. Orton is smart, tall, and allegedly possesses untapped potential. Yet, Orton is hopelessly average. He therefore remains a poor investment for a franchise that claims to be so devoted to avoiding mediocrity.
Orton lacks the competitive drive that defines all successful NFL players. Think about it. He had the opportunity for four seasons to run away with the keys to the Chicago Bears offense. He never did. His competition was Rex Grossman and the illustrious Brian Griese. Each time Orton won the starting job he managed to hand it back over to his lowly competition. He does not have "it."
As far as weak-armed quarterbacks go, would you not take Chad Pennington's lame rotator-cuffs over Kyle Orton's limp release? At least Pennington took losing the starting job in New York personally. He clearly used the Jets' lack of faith in him as motivation to succeed once he landed in Miami. Maybe Orton is just reserved, but he did not look like a confident player or a leader out there against Cincinnati. This does not bode well for the Broncos' offense. My mouth still tastes like mud ...
-- Ladies and Gentlemen, Rey Maualuga has arrived. He should not have dropped to the second round of the draft; he looks better in orange than Robert Ayers does. Maualuga and Keith Rivers make the Cincy defense one of the more underrated units in the NFL. Knowshon seconds this observation.
-- Denver, please remain patient with Knowshon Moreno. He did not look good in his first regular season appearance, but he will move the chains by week ten.
-- Faith in the Broncos' defense remains firm. While the Bengals offense did not perform at an elite level, an NFL defense always deserves credit for holding an opposing offense to one touchdown and 86 rushing yards. Super Mario stole a sack lunch (num, num, num, num, num!), Champ's legs looked healthy and fresh as he held Ochocinco in check, and the front-seven constantly harassed Carson Palmer and kept him from ever finding his rhythm.
-- The Broncos remain shrouded in mystery. The nameless defensive line was supposed to crack. The Rotowire upgraded Cedric Benson to "sleeper alert" status. On the other hand, many expected McDaniels to at long last flash his fancy, red playbook. The Great Patriot Offense -- the most "impressive" collection of screens and six-yard outs ever assembled -- failed to launch. Pre-season football is meaningless; the Lions went undefeated in 2008 exhibition games. Unfortunately, McDaniels' offense continued its pre-season timidity by not scoring a legitimate touchdown in Week 1. The burden of proof has shifted away from the defense and onto the offense until further notice. All Orton jokes are officially in play, especially ones that compare his arm to something that died in the Crimean War or was never born at all.
-- What exactly does offensive coordinator Mike McCoy do? Walk McDaniels' dogs? Fetch Nolan beverages in the play-calling booth? Moonlight as Marshall's probation officer? McCoy carries the most ambiguous job description in pro sports.
-- Josh McDaniels! Y-E-S! Say what you will about his stubbornness or his offseason decisions, but this man is an intense competitor. He carries a presence and belongs in the NFL. Coaching is his craft and he holds himself accountable for the performance of his players. Watching him berate Orton for taking a sack that pushed the Broncos out of field goal range and forced a punt late in the fourth quarter was the most exciting moment of the game ... until the luckiest play in Denver sports history occurred.
McDaniels is also smart, meticulous, and persistent. He rebuked the officials when the game clock was incorrectly set to 20 seconds following the Bengals fourth-quarter touchdown. Moments later the game clock was re-set to 38 seconds, which paved the way for the luckiest play in Denver sports history. McDaniels hates mediocrity, and I bet he is also a sore loser. These are qualities one wants to see in an NFL head coach. Plus, I think he and I are technically part of the same generation, which is exciting.
-- CSI, CSI: Miami, and CSI: New York. N-O! The proliferation of primetime crime dramas has officially gotten out of control. If the government can control the H1N1 virus, then they can certainly solve the current crime drama pandemic. This is a real problem that affects all of us.
-- Poor Marvin Lewis. He is not a great head coach and he is not going to win many games this season. He won Sunday's game, but then he did not win Sunday's game. Bummer, man.
-- 1-0 has never felt less good. Recall that Ed Hochuli lifted the Broncos to 2-0 last season. That said, the defense looked solid, and this team could make some noise if Marshall and Orton never ever again play like they did this past weekend.
-- Don your most tattered sweatshirt and a plain facial expression in preparation for next weekend. It is Hood Jr. vs. Hood Jr. when the Broncos lineup against Cleveland. I would make a gentleman's bet (in an effort to keep things as banal as Hood Sr.) that Belichick will root for young Josh.
The Broncos should build off of Sunday's improbable victory. Plus, there is no way next Sunday's match-up will play out as unpleasantly for the audience as "The Game That Shall Not Be Re-Aired."