Expecting to manage: The 2012 Broncos as Super Bowl contenders

Friends, Coloradans, non-Coloradans, ninnies, lend me your eyes.  I finally made some time to write about football, and I also feel semi-motivated to do so, so I decided to throw a couple thousand words at you, like we were on a date. I’m springing for McDonald’s, going all Andrew “Dice” Clay with it.  I know what you’re thinking – yes, that does make you the heavyset woman in this deal.  Yum – Big Mac.

Since training camp has begun, it seems appropriate to start talking about current events.  This was supposed to be the year I went to Dove Valley for a few days to see it for myself, but with changing jobs a month ago, that wasn’t in the cards.  Next year, I guess. 

Anyway, I was watching NFLN the other day, and they seem to be featuring Heath Evans in a lot of their programming lately.  I can’t really figure out why – all this dude talks about is what it’s like to play for Sean Payton and Bill Belichick.  It seems like that’s the extent of his available insight.  While I respect both coaches, I think there’s a lot more to football than the way they do things.

Evans was saying the other day how rule number one of media relations while being a Patriot is to manage expectations.  There were two other ones that I forgot, because they kind of sucked, and then the last one was to speak only for yourself.  It all makes sense, right?  It’s kind of common sense stuff, like most of Belichick’s policies.

I think the Broncos have been managing expectations pretty well, and that it’s in keeping with how a Peyton Manning team operates.  Watch as I block-quote myself from March.

A Manning organization is a quiet, professional, methodical, and process-focused operation.

Actually, re-read that whole article, because it will bear heavily into my topic today, which I am getting to.  It was written a couple weeks before Manning announced his intention to become a Bronco, and having just read it, I am thrilled to find that I still agree with myself.

Back to expectation management – you’ll remember early last season that I was constantly trying to remind everybody that the Broncos were rebuilding.  I did so because Broncos fans are not patient in the least, and because the organization is also bad about asking for patience, or admitting that a rebuild is underway.

Guess what – the Broncos aren’t rebuilding any more.  The roster is now largely made up of draftees from 2009 thru 2012, and it’s due time for many of these guys to emerge as good players.  When Manning is the QB, any offense is going to play better.

I don’t think people realize how poor the overall talent was on offense in Indianapolis the last few years, but the right word is atrocious.  They had nothing at RB, nothing except Jeff Saturday on the offensive line, and overrated WRs who looked better than they were because of Manning.

Just check out how Kerry Collins fared last year with the same offensive players that Manning was planning to play with before the neck injury ended up being so severe.

This is a QB who'd thrown for over 40,000 yards and had some wankers on TV seriously debating his worthiness for the Hall of Fame.  He’s absolutely not worthy, but he was a competent journeyman QB for a lot of years, kind of an upper middle-class man’s Kyle Orton.  The talent he played with in 2011 was reminiscent of the dreck he led with the 1995 expansion Carolina Panthers.

As I wrote in March, the offensive talent on the Broncos roster is better than people think.  It’s been significantly upgraded since then, too.  Back then, there was no Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, Ronnie Hillman, Brandon Stokley, Bubba Caldwell, or Philip Blake. 

Let me just come right out, and say it.  This Broncos team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender from Day 1.  It’s a more talented roster, top to bottom, than Manning ever had with the Colts.  They always had some stars, most of whom were overpaid, and then a bunch of marginal young guys making minimum salaries, especially on defense.  They were trying to build like the Miami Heat have, except that that’s a hell of a lot harder to do when you have 22 starters than it is when you have five. 

The Broncos are a lot better balanced than those Colts teams, and they have some young guys with very high upsides.  Did you see TJ’s article about the nonsense that is commentary on strength of schedule based upon last year's results?  The number one reason that last year stays last year is that the NFL is highly dynamic.  Some players improve, others decline, and others switch teams. 

Here’s a quick list of young Broncos who I think have strong upside in 2012:

1. Eric Decker, WR - This is not your typical white possession receiver.  Decker has number-one-receiver talent, and with Manning throwing to him, I fully expect him to show it in 2012.  Remember, he was the best receiver in the Big 10 his last three years in school, and only the foot injury made him a third-round pick.  I’ll be really surprised if Decker isn’t in the Pro Bowl mix at year-end.  I need to see better routes and more consistent hands, but having now completed his first offseason program, and doing so in conjunction with Manning, I expect to see a lot of earned improvement.

2.  Demaryius Thomas, WR - Thomas is very gifted, obviously, and he’s also part of the progress-retarded 2010 draft class, like Decker is.  While I think that Decker probably portends to be a more consistent chain-mover than Thomas, that doesn’t discount from DT’s ability to beat a lot of CBs physically and make a lot of big plays.  Manning has never had a pair of big and athletic WRs like Decker and Thomas – they’ll run poorer routes than guys like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but they’ll make up for it with their physicality and catching radii.

3.  Von Miller, OLB - I was thinking offense, but Mr. Miller should threaten to be DPOY in 2012 if he plays to his potential.  I view him as the most talented player at that position since Lawrence Taylor.  You’ll hear a lot of nonsense about how he should be in a 3-4 defense, but people who say that are wrong.  Von can dominate in any scheme, and any coach who doesn’t find a way to maximize his impact is an idiot.  John Fox and Jack Del Rio are not idiots.

4.  Ronnie Hillman, RB - The more I watch film on Hillman, who had more or less escaped my radar before the Draft due to playing at a smallish school on the West Coast, the more I see a similar back to LeSean McCoy.  Check out this video here, go to about 1:27, and watch those two long TD runs that Hillman had against Missouri.  If you’re thinking that a dynamic RB can’t be found at #67 in the Draft, McCoy went 53rd in 2009.  As I recall, people thought he was too small, too.

5.  Derek Wolfe, DT - I’m a really big fan of Wolfe, and what I hear from camp makes me like him even more.  This is a football player who, in his own words, just likes to kick ass.  I like his hand use a lot, particularly for a rookie, and he obviously has a feel for getting to the QB.  More than anything, though, it’s really difficult to find 6-5, 300-pound guys with athleticism and durability.  It’s vastly harder to find ones with great motors, and Wolfe has one.  Broncos fans are going to love this guy, like I said on Draft weekend.

6.  Rahim Moore, FS - When Moore was drafted, I wasn’t high on the pick.  When I saw his range in the preseason, I found myself really liking him.  Then, he played poorly early on in the regular season, lost his confidence, and his rookie season was basically shot.  Moore has big-time talent and range, and he can get to the sideline from Cover 1 as well as any FS in the NFL.  With no minicamps, he proved not to be ready for prime time as a 21-year-old rookie in 2011, but the talent is there for him to make a big leap in 2012.

7.  Orlando Franklin, OL - I saw Doug call Franklin "below average" yesterday, and I’m going to respectfully disagree.  I think he did about as well as a rookie second-rounder can do when he isn’t playing his best position.  Franklin is a Left Guard who was playing Right Tackle.  Those two positions are about as far from each other, in terms of tasks and required skills, as it gets.  Franklin can be a solid RT, who’s always going to struggle some with speed off the edge.  He can be an awesome LG, though.

8.  Robert Ayers, DE - I continue to beat the drum for Ayers, who is a better player than most people realize.  I don’t know if he’ll quite live up to Mike Mayock predicting that he’d be the best defensive player in the 2009 class in three or four years, but he can still improve a lot, particularly as the talent around him has gotten better.  I still see him as a stout-against-the-run, every-down player who gets seven or eight sacks a year.

9.  Danny Trevathan, OLB - I love me some Trevathan, who was a highly noticeable and productive player for a terrible Kentucky program.  Like Hillman, I think Trevathan was underdrafted due to playing at a non-traditional football power.  How many scouts were hanging out at Kentucky (or San Diego State) regularly?  I’m a sucker for guys who find the football, and from everything that’s been reported, Trevathan continues to do so in the early part of his NFL career.

10.  Julius Thomas, TE - Don’t forget about Julius Thomas.  He didn’t have much of a rookie season, but he flashed some talent in the preseason last year.  Remember how inexperienced he still is, and give the kid an open mind.

That’s ten young players who excite me, and who I think have room for dynamic growth and improvement in 2012, and beyond.  Rebuilding for two or three years should yield a pool of young talent, and it has, whether the draft picks blew Mel Kiper’s skirt up, or not.

A really important factor to consider, as well, as that a football team is not the sum of its parts.  That is, even if you could quantify everything that happens on the field statistically, which you can’t, there’s no formula that can add them all up to equal Super Bowl champion.  You can work to have a good team, and use stats to get there, by recognizing that the best teams tend to pass the ball well, and limit the success of opponents’ passing, but doing that is only going to yield a good team that has a chance.

The Broncos are a good team that has a chance, especially if they clean up their pass defense against spread-out looks.  For the record, I think they will do so, because I tend to like the personnel acquisitions they’ve made in that area.  As for passing more effectively, I feel pretty comfortable saying that as long as Manning stays healthy, there will be a huge leap there.

I would ignore all the other noise from the “sum of its parts” conversations.  Yes, Zane Beadles and J.D. Walton (or whoever plays LG and C) need to play better, but Manning is so good that it doesn’t really matter that much.  They’re better than most of the guys he’s used to playing behind, if you can believe that.  Yes, there’s a minor concern in run defense, particularly if a DT or two gets hurt.  It doesn’t matter that much, because it’s very hard to beat a Peyton Manning team by running the ball 40 times.

What I’m getting at when I talk about “sum of its parts” is this – all it takes to win a Super Bowl is getting into the tournament and playing a little bit better than your opponents once you get there.  The Giants sure as hell weren’t the best team in the NFL last season, over the whole season sample, (they were 7-7 after 14 games), but they were the Super Bowl Champions in February.  They were the best team for a small sample size, but it was the sample that counted, and they won that specific part of the season for the second time in five years.

The team that wins the Super Bowl tends to be the one that makes plays when it counts, and that team tends to almost always have a great QB.  The Broncos have one again, and for that reason, they’re serious Super Bowl contenders, given some decent luck and team health. 

The 2012 Broncos can and should take a big step toward maturity under the leadership of Mr. Manning.  I believe that by season's end, even if they’re 10-6 and holding the fourth seed, they’re going to be a very tough out in the postseason.  They’ve been built for that moment - to have a legitimate shot to win a championship when the opportunity is there.  As an organization, you can’t do much more than that.  Thank you, John Elway.

I got a chuckle out of Doug’s creation of the IAOFM EGO Index, because I’ve always been a writer who talks about what I think, or what I would do.  It’s always worked for me, and it’s helped me gain a pretty good following over the last four years, so I’m not planning to stop.  Instead, I decided to have fun with it, and see if I can beat PK’s score with this article. So I intentionally went HAM on the use of I, I’m, I’ll, I’d, I’ve, me, and my in this article, just to see if I can be as Gruesomely Obnoxious as PK.  Here are the results, excluding this section.

I 49
I'm 3
I'll 1
I'd 0
I’ve 0
Me 1
My 6
Total 60
Total Words 2,388
EGO score 2.51%

Ted is the champion!  (He’s now using the third person so he doesn’t have to recalculate.)  #Winning

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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