Perhaps it's too early to post this, just an hour after the Broncos were blown out by the Chargers, but I'm going to post it anyway. As a fan, sometimes I think that we can overreact to certain things without having some time to reflect on them. If someone isn't a fan of the Broncos, it's easy to talk about how bad the team was and is without taking the time to look to the past and the future, but I'm going to try and put the 2008 Denver Broncos' season into perspective as best I can, simply as a fan of the team. This team reminds me a lot of the 1995 team that went 8-8 in Mike Shanahan's first year in Denver. They had a good offense, but needed a lot of help defensively. Shanahan spent money and draft picks on defense, and they were excellent in the next several years, yielding two Super Bowl victories.
Right now, the loss obviously stings. However, when I look back at this season, I can't say that it was a bad season for the Broncos. Likewise, it's hard not to be excited about what we can expect from this team moving forward. I'm just going to break it down through all 3 phases of the game. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think. I will accept any trash-talking from Chargers "fans", and I won't delete your comments, but I will say that die-hard Charger fans are few and far between. I know that there are some die-hards out there, but the Chargers have the largest contingent of "bandwagon" fans in the NFL, so just know that I will gladly give it right back to you when the Broncos are a dominant force in the AFC West next year and beyond.
Jay Cutler is a stud. He's a kid with an attitude, but he has the talent to back up his attitude. Simply put, Mike Shanahan has found the right guy to build his offense around. However, he was charged with carrying this team into the playoffs this year, and that is an awful lot to ask of a guy that is in his second year starting. I said 2 weeks ago that the loss of Peyton Hillis could single-handedly derail the Broncos season, and I think that that held true. He has the ability to grind out the game, and, after he went down, the Broncos no longer had any semblance of a reliable running game. Had he been in the lineup, the Broncos would not have lost to the Buffalo Bills last week. Without a running game or any defense at all, Jay Cutler had to do it all, and there isn't a quarterback alive that can handle that, particularly with a team as young as the Broncos are. However, they have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Cutler, a Pro Bowl receiver in Brandon Marshall, an excellent offensive line anchored by two outstanding young tackles in Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, a stud rookie in Eddie Royal, 2 very good tight ends in Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham, and the potential to be one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL in the coming years. They will need to draft a running back, and it always helps to stay healthy, but there's an awful lot to be excited about on the offensive side of the ball.
The defense obviously needs to be completely rebuilt. There are some players to be excited about, namely DJ Williams, Champ Bailey, and Wesley Woodyard, but not much beyond that. I will be shocked if 'Dre Bly is back next year, and I don't think that he should be. He's just not that good. The Broncos have the #27 payroll in the NFL and 9 draft picks next year, so it can be a relatively quick turnaround if the available money and picks are spent right. Julius Peppers would look great in the Orange and Blue next year, and the Broncos have the money to spend to get ahold of him. They need a pass rushing defensive end, two safeties, and a middle linebacker, in that order. I'm not sure about the scheme, but Bob Slowik needs to be back as defensive coordinator next year. They can't just keep turning over the defensive coordinator position. At some point, you just have to admit that there is a lack of talent.
Special teams have long been the Broncos' achilles heel. They haven't had a kick return for a touchdown in 11 years now, and they constantly lose the field position battle. A lot of that can be attributed to defensive struggles, but kick coverage is and has been bad for many years now. Before the 2007 season, they hired special teams "genious" Scott O'Brien as the special teams coordinator, who had overseen a number of special teams rebuilds, most recently with the Carolina Panthers. I'm not sure what the reason is, but it hasn't worked in Denver, and I have some doubts as to whether he'll be back. I think that kicker Matt Prater will be fine, as he is young and has a strong leg, but he has some work to do. Rookie punter Brett Kern proved to be pretty good this year, and hopefully he'll blossom in years to come.
There is a lot that can be said about this team, but that is my quick synopsis. Yes, I think that Mike Shanahan should be back next year. Even if you want him to be fired, you can give up that dream, because it's simply not going to happen. As long as he wants to coach the Broncos, he's going to coach the Broncos. This stings right now, but time heals all wounds, and there is a lot to be excited about moving forward with the Denver Broncos. Until training camp opens in July, we can think of what might have been and what might be in the future.