It was everything we didn't really expect. After the victory against AZ, you had to be willing to consider that the defense has come light years since the wrenching dives of the last 5 games of 2008. Much as many on MHR has said, this is NOT the 2008 defense. Given the tools that Cincinnati has and the effectiveness that they can bring, the Broncos had to really step up to finalize this incredible, shocking victory. In the final analysis, they did. What a change from last season! We showed a dominating D, an offense that was out of kilter and out of rhythm and special teams that aren't special yet.
There was good, bad, and so, so ugly. Let's start, as I like to, with the good.
The defense: Can you start anywhere but with the defense? We've now seen several things over 2 games that have to encourage the Broncos faithful. The play of Mario Haggan was excellent. Haggan only scored two tackles (1 assist) and a sack, but he often seemed to be around the ball. The Broncos swarmed on the running game and many tackles were gang-tackles.
Andra Davis showed us the difference between practice and game play. Despite some serious and valid questions about his ability to turn up his speed and to cover (which is still a concern), he scored 5 tackles, and 4 assist and had a sack and an overall great game. But it was the play of Brian Dawkins, perhaps the most important pickup of the offseason, that really turned the tide. Dawkins had 7 tackles, 4 assists and had a heck of a game. Those who gained yards on him often paid dearly for them. The Broncos D has the ability to rush the QB, to stop the run and to play well in coverage. Andre Goodman had a heck of a game. showing up in coverage constantly and adding three tackles. The veterans we brought in paid off in spades. Cool, leadership, passion and effort all paid off for the first 57 minutes of the game. Nice job, guys. If you hold the Bengals to 7 points, you're playing very well. Darrell Reid added a sack and is getting more comfortable with his new slot. He's going to be a good player.
Alphonso Smith went a long way towards suggesting that the Broncos have made a brilliant, if controversial, decision in bringing him on. Smith was excellent in coverage, played the run like a linebacker and did a passable job on special teams. If this is rookie play, we need more rookies.
The Broncos gave up less than 90 yards rushing. That's good defense.
Kyle Orton. Let's face it - Kyle will figure heavily in the good, bad and the ugly, so let's not quibble. I'll give him credit for the things that did look good, and there were a few. I'll dun him in the bad and the ugly. The good:
Orton was playing with about 15 stitches in his index finger. Despite the nice words this week, it showed all game. he threw a few flat passes and we should expect that. Kyle always has, it's figured heavily in several articles I've written and it may not change sometime soon. Even so. Orton was 17 of 28 for 243 yards and a TD. He didn't throw a single INT. Orton's numbers would have been better with better protection, and that concerns me, as did the drops. Marshall alone had 3 and I have to admit that I wondered, at one point, if he was dogging it.. That's a lot of yards left on the field and it nearly cost us the game. I can't blame Orton for the things that others did badly. He never gives up, regardless of the situation, and you have to admire that.
Let's not leave out Daniel Graham. He made some mistakes and had a bad penalty, but he also had 3 completions for 40 yards and threw a couple of critical blocks.
Stokley - they saw him coming for most of the game, but the wily veteran showed why he's the Slot Machine with a head's up reception of a tipped pass to win the game. His cool under pressure in running the ball around parallel to the line of scrimmage to make sure Cincy didn't have enough time ton the clock to be a threat was stellar.
Finally, I have to give a nod to Matt Prater. He went 2 for 2, had a 50 yarder and might have put the game out of reach if the line had held or Orton had dumped off the ball. Prater starts the season perfectly. You can't ask for more.
If that's the best the offense plays, we're in trouble. The other side is, that won't be and we really do know that. McDaniels will spend a lot of time in the film room this week and a lot of players will need to prove that the game was an aberration.
Let's start with the O line. They looked more like 2007 than 2008. They committed foolish mistakes at important times, missed on pass protection and didn't open the holes for the rushing game that I'm looking for. Other than that, they played well. Oddly, both are true. Antwan Odom scored two sacks, which is unforgivable.
Orton - His vision of the field wasn't what it needs to be. He didn't make any terrible mistakes with the ball (i.e., no INTs), although a couple of passes, inevitably, could have been intercepted. Thankfully, they don't count those, but he'll need to see the field better. He will throw the ball better as his hand heals, but still needs work. I disagree with those who claim that the Broncos should pull him. You need to give the entire offense some time to develop. They played much better as the game went on, with good drives in the third and fourth quarters.
The receivers - Too danged many dropped balls, plain and simple. Reducing the errors by the receivers would have gone a long way to making Orton's performance more palatable.
I wasn't happy with Kern's performance. The shank with the game on the line stands out to me, but there were other issues as well. I'll look over the tape for a few days, but I thought that he could have kicked a lot better. More to come.
Defense: As well as they played, there is no doubt in my mind that a few players are still thinking rather than playing. I saw Ayers utterly lost on one play early - he's still behind the curve and needs to catch up. There is also a weakness in the middle of the field that will be exploited unless we get much better at coverage. Overall, though, I have to take my hat off to these guys.
Offense: They were flat, no question. The line started to pen holes for the runners in the second half, but the overall game wasn't strong enough to hang in there later in the season. I would be OK realizing that it's a first game, they're still becoming instinctive and it will continue to get better, but it wasn't what we need to see.
Field position - we started 5 drives from inside our own 20 by the end of the thrid quarter, and that needs to change. You don't score points when constantly driving more than 80 yards.
Penalties in the second half. It seemed that the O line lost its concentration too often. I'm worried that the power running scheme that McDaniels wants to use won't suit the skillset of the O line (even though e obviously used zone blocking most of the game) and that we'll lose ground because of it. You can't fault the blocking scheme for the lack of pass protection, though. People were missing assignments in a troubling display.
Orton's boneheaded error in not dumping off the ball in the 4th quarter. It could have cost us the game. He needs to stop that - it's an old habit, a bad habit, and he'll have to get past it or suffer the consequences. Orton earned himself another start, much as many will deny it, but he's got to improve for us to be successful.
Where do we go from here?
Home, to the home opener against Cleveland. The Broncos should send the league a thank you for this one - the Browns aren't a toothless tiger, but they are one of the less difficult challenges of the season. The Broncos will have to step up, tighten up their game and loose the horses on the Cleveland offense, but we can win this game. If the line can get this kind of pressure on Brady and the offense can find the area code of the end zone, we should be 2-0 at the end of the game. We need to protect our home field - and one thing that appeals to me about Orton is that he's 15-1 playing at home. If Orton can heal up and step up, the Broncos could be competitive week in and week out.
One thing that stands out:
However the heck they did it, the Broncos are undefeated in 2009 and Josh McDaniels has his first victory as a head coach. They don't put asterisks on victories - they all count as W's. We aren't the team that we were last season, and it shows. Last season, we wouldn't have held it all together and pulled out the win. I heard a number of announcers giving McDaniels credit for the victory and saying congratulations. More power to them, and more power to a team that didn't give up, never wavered and pulled out an unlikely and incredible win. Do you like all those tipped ball drills now? 1-0! It has a very nice ring to it. Before I go on to worry about Cleveland, I'm going to take a few days and bask in the glow. It's a great start.