With the starter's pistol raised and the NFL's free agency frenzy about to begin, reports the Denver Broncos are the front runner to land quarterback Peyton Manning have hopes running sky high in the Mile High City. However, before the future Hall-of-Fame QB signs on Denver's dotted line there seems to be a missing question for Mr. Manning…are you sure?
That has nothing to do with some asinine accounts a majority of Broncos fans are so tied to Tim Tebow they won't cheer footballs flying all over the house that John Elway built. Nor is it a knock on living in one of the best cities in the United States.
The question should be posed because, in spite of the Broncos making their first trip to the postseason since 2005 and getting only their second playoff win since Elway rode off holding a Lombardi Trophy and a Super Bowl MVP in his hands, this is a team with some serious flaws. More importantly for Manning and his surgically fused neck, the biggest flaws are in the men paid to keep his neck fused together.
Last season, the Broncos offensive line was 29th in pass protection. Even worse, center J.D. Walton and left guard Zane Beadles both were 2nd to last in pass protection at their respective positions. In 509 pass block snaps, Walton gave up 23 pressures and Beadles resorted to "look out" blocking a whopping 43 times. While it's true some of those pressures can be attributed to Tebow's slow reads, there's no getting around the guys at PFF labeling Walton as…"the worst center in football."
And anyone who watched right tackle Orlando Franklin in pass protection could easily see, he's a work in progress also. Just ask Kyle Orton getting sacked five times in the season opener against the Oakland Raiders. That's not even taking into account right guard Chris Kuper is coming off a gruesome dislocated left ankle injury he suffered in the regular season finale.
While the Broncos do have some talent at the wide receiver position in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, nobody seems to be talking about Denver's receiving corps having the 3rd worst drop percentage in the NFL. While Thomas had a record setting performance in the Broncos playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's important to point out all of those plays were down the field. If you roll the tape, you'll see Thomas drop a slant on 3rd down inside the Steelers' 5-yard line and another crucial drop early in Denver's loss to the New England Patriots on another 3rd down slant.
Think the Broncos running game can take pressure of opposing defense's applying pressure to Peyton? Think again. Sure, the Broncos ran out the NFL's #1 rushing offense last year but let's take a deeper look at that. First of all, pre-Tebow taking over at quarterback, Denver was tied for 25th in rushing at 86.8 yards/game. It was then the Broncos ground game started grinding up yards at 190.4 yards/game. That's not to say Tebow is THE reason for the jump in numbers (although his 660 yards rushing sure didn't hurt) but the offense the Broncos began running can probably be given credit for the running game's improvement.
As Pro Football Focus so deftly pointed out, the read option with Tebow took the Broncos from an offensive line who couldn't consistently get push at the point of attack to a team that no longer needed a blocker at the point of attack. The option forced opposing defenders to choose between taking Tebow or running back Willis McGahee. Whichever one he chooses, he loses, and runs made positive yardage simply from having ‘optioned’ that defender.
Not sold? Would you buy the Broncos were 26th in converting short yard situations (56%)? Let's not forget this is a team that lost 17-14 to the Tennessee Titans because they couldn't score on three runs from the two-yard line.
Look, Peyton, it's not like Broncos fans wouldn't love to have you…check that…it's not like Broncos fans wouldn't love to have you as long as your healthy, it's just that if you come to the Mile High City, you may have to bring some friends. Hey, what are Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne and Jeff Saturday doing these days?
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