After taking bumps, Broncos can recover

Posted Jan. 16, 2012 @ 5:07 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

The Broncos' season was compared by many to a roller coaster, as there were multiple inclines up and several steep drops down from the kickoff of Week One to the final whistle of the divisional-playoff loss last Saturday to the Patriots.

However, a more apt amusement park comparison instead might be bumper cars. While there were some enjoyable parts to Denver's season, which included beating the brains out of a couple of opponents, there were a lot of heavy hits taken, ones that might leave the Broncos bruised heading into the offseason.

The biggest bumper the Broncos' car crashed into was driven by Tom Brady. The New England quarterback didn't just ram into the Denver defense, he absolutely annihilated them, to the tune of five first-half touchdown passes and a sixth for good measure in the second half. The Patriots scored early and often, using their All-World QB and pair of dynamic tight ends to give the Broncos a case of whiplash before the first half was even over. One could argue the 2012 offseason began with John Fox's halftime speech.

When the ride was over, the Patriots drove off to the AFC championship and the Broncos had to limp back to Denver, a 45-10 shellacking hanging over them for the next eight months.

The PFW Spin

In order to avoid taking similar bumps next season, the Broncos have several areas they must address. On both offense and defense, changes must be made, some by choice and others out of necessity.

QB Tim Tebow made great strides from the time he was installed as a starter in Week Seven through the end of the season, and the organization said he will be given every chance to win the starting job in 2012. As a second-year player — and one without a real offseason this year because of the lockout — Tebow has a chance to take further strides this summer. Improving his accuracy (he completed only 46.5 percent of his passes) and ball security (six interceptions and 13 fumbles this season) are a must if Tebow wants to go from ESPN talking point to a regular in actual highlights.

The quarterback's supporting cast must improve, too. At running back, it might be a lot to expect nearly 1,200 yards again from Willis McGahee, who turns 31 in October. The team needs a reliable change-of-pace runner, and although both Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno showed glimpses of being that, neither was consistent enough for the team's liking. Expect a back to be drafted somewhere in the middle rounds by Denver. A receiver could be added to the mix too, likely in free agency. Brandon Lloyd, who was traded in midseason, was never replaced, and the team could use a physical, over-the-middle complement to big-play WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker for Tebow to throw to.  

Defensively, a strong draft class really helped the team take the next step. OLB Von Miller and FS Quinton Carter both look like long-term starters. Meanwhile, the team is still waiting to see what it has in SS Rahim Moore and LB Nate Irving. Undrafted CB Chris Harris — who, like Miller, made the PFW/PFWA All-Rookie team — was a great find, as he proved to be a fearless player who could be an heir apparent to starting CB Andre' Goodman one day.

The defense still needs more talent, something the Broncos' front office is sure to address in the 2012 draft and free agency. A physical run stuffer on the line would be welcome, and counting on a healthy Ty Warren — who hasn't taken a snap since 2009 — isn't recommended. Depth at defensive end would be a plus, too. But perhaps the greatest need is more talented bodies in the secondary. As Brady showed on Saturday night, throwing against Denver isn't too tough. Both Goodman and fellow starter Champ Bailey are getting up there in age, and like Warren, it might not be wise to count on SS Brian Dawkins, who turns 38 in October and had neck issues late in the season, next year either. The Broncos took two safeties in the draft in 2011, and they might have to do that again — plus some cornerbacks — to get the defense closer to a championship level.

There is also the chance the team could lose one or both of its coordinators. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and defensive counterpart Dennis Allen both have been interviewed for head-coaching jobs, and its not out of the realm of possibilities that replacements must be found for John Fox's staff.

Many will look at the Broncos' 2011 season as a pleasant surprise, something the team can build off of in the future. If everything goes according to plan, the loss to the Patriots will just have been a minor bump in the road for a car cruising to a championship.

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