The midweek-preview series returns for the 2012 season, much to the delight (or chagrin) of our intrepid readership; after all, it's preseason for us as well, and we need to make sure we're ready to make the final cut heading into the regular season. (Um, Kev? Dane? Why are you guys coming this way?)
So with the preseason premier coming up in less than 24 hours, let's get into this straightaway with the Denver Broncos.
What'd They Do Last Year: Finished 8-8, winning the AFC West (somehow) and taking down the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round, before bowing out (more like getting thrown out) as the New England Patriots took them down 45-10.
So Far This Year: They're in the same place as everybody else, 0-0 and trying to figure stuff out in the preseason.
When Last We Met: ... Do I even need to say something here?
Offense: The Broncos started two different quarterbacks last season. Neither is on the team. ESPN idol and perfect Al Davis player ("Just win, baby!") Tim Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after the Broncos signed some other quarterback, and Kyle Orton was placed on waivers after being benched in favor of... Tim Tebow.
So what quarterback made these final dominoes fall? Only Peyton Freaking Manning, whose neck surgeries and injuries made him hefty baggage on a Colts team that could only win two games without him and spent the first overall pick of the draft on Andrew Luck. And behind him is a guy that started four games for the Bears last season and whose departure was the exact opposite of a head scratcher - Caleb Hanie. No wonder the Broncos spent a second round draft pick on Brock Osweiler from Arizona State to complete the position overhaul.
That being said, fair to say that offensively, the Broncos' playoff chances rest on the neck of Peyton Manning. Third-rounder Ronnie Hillman will be in the running back picture with Willis McGahee (while Knowshon Moreno has been reported to hit fourth on the depth chart), but Manning will have to make the most of a young receiving corps of Eric Decker and Not Much Else (okay, I'll give you Demaryius Thomas).
Also, Dane sent this over earlier today; I thought you might enjoy it.
Above all, it's a unit that loves coming after the quarterback - Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil had 11.5 and 9.5 sacks, respectively, and Champ Bailey joined them making the Pro Bowl. And like the Bears, they blitz the gaps, which helped hold them to allowing the 22nd most rushing yards last season (eleven rushing touchdowns, however, and five since the Bears' matchup). But really, there's not much different about them this year that I mentioned last year, and it's the preseason, so who knows how long we'll see the main defensive players. Nine players had sacks last year (including Jonathan Wilhite with two - hey, where's he now?), so they can get pressure from a lot of places.
What Will We See?
It's not exactly going to be the full teams out there, particularly for much of the game - instead, we'll probably see the starters for a drive or two and that's it. That being said, a couple of things I'm interested in looking for:
- Getting a pass rush against Peyton Manning, with a unit that allowed 33 sacks to Tim Tebow in 14 games - a good number for a run-first quarterback.
- Stopping the Broncos' pass rush, particularly locating the blitzing Von Miller, and seeing how J'Marcus Webb handles Elvis Dumervil.
- Watching Jay Cutler's new weapons against a mediocre passing defense, and not a particularly good ball-hawking unit at that.
- Further watching the protections and extra help given to the tackles as required.
- Seeing how the different tight ends are used in the receiving game.
- If Kelvin Hayden can get an edge on Tim Jennings.
- How the bottom of the receiving roster can shake out.
- If Major Wright can finally show some improvement.