First off, let me apologize for the lack of updates yesterday. Wasn't feeling all that great yesterday, so I didn't get around to doing an update. Hopefully this will at least start making up for it, as well as some of the stuff that will be up here after the season finale tomorrow.
With that, here's our final edition of Five Good Questions. You'll notice that there are more than five questions, in this case. Since the folks over at Mile High Report were so kind as to send me seven questions. . .my responses to which you can see here. . .I thought I would respond in kind with seven questions of my own. I'll put the questions in bold and the answers from The Sports Guru in italics.
1) The Broncos, like the Vikings, are riding out this season with a second-year quarterback at the controls. What has been your impression of Jay Cutler's play this season, and do you think he has shown enough to be Denver's long-term answer at the QB position?
There is no doubt in my mind that Jay Cutler has everything it take to be a star in this League. That said, he is going to have to become more consistent with his mechanics, especially when the pocket breaks down. He has that "no play is ever dead" mentality that all the great ones have, but that can get him in trouble as well. The next step in Cutler's progress MUST BE protecting the football. With 14 INT's and 2 fumbles lost, Jay is averaging more than a turnover a game this year. That just won't work, period. Going through another off-season will do wonders for him. They say that it takes a quarterback 3-4 years to really feel comfortable in the West Coast offense, and 2008 will be Cutler's third year in the system.
One big-time positive for Cutler is his leadership ability and the way the team rallies around him. The fact he was voted an offensive captain in his first season as the full-time starting quarterback should not be taken lightly. He has also organized off-season workouts for himself, TE Tony Scheffler and WR Brandon Marshall. Those three are a big-time part of the future in Denver, and it excites me that they are already taking their leadership roles so seriously.
2) For the first time in many years, the Broncos won't have a 1,000 yard RB this season, despite their rushing attack being in the Top 10 in the NFL. Has the rushing game still been as good as it's been in past seasons, despite the lack of a 1,000 yard rusher, or has it been a problem for the Broncos this season?
The running game is a microcosm of the rest of the Broncos season. Up and down, consistently inconsistent. Much of the fault for that falls on the instability on the offensive line. The Broncos have been without Ben Hamilton(former Golden Gopher) all year because of a concussion. Add the loss of Tom Nalen and the Broncos have been without 40% of their starting crew for more than half the season. Another starter, Montrae Holland, is in his first year as a Bronco, and the zone-scheme usually take a few years to fully grasp.
Of course, the running-back position has been a revolving door as well. Travis Henry could not get re-started after a knee injury and there is little question that the drug-test issues took a toll on him. Selvin Young and Andre Hall both looked impressive at times but couldn't stay healthy either. Add it all up and you have what amounts to a disappointing season in an area the Broncos usually thrive. Sure, the stats are there, but the Broncos inability to run with authority cost them a couple of games they should have won this season.
3) The Broncos have a lot of defensive talent on their roster, including (arguably) the best CB tandem in the league. With that being the case, how is it that only two teams in the NFL have allowed more points than Denver?
One reason, and one reason alone. The defensive line is plain bad. The defense has not been able to stop the run all year, and when they have slowed the run a bit there has been little to no pressure on the quarterback. Give any quarterback in the league 4-5 seconds to throw the ball and they are going to find an open receiver. And much like any young team, when the Broncos have been bad they have been very, very bad. 6 times this season the Broncos have lost by more than 2 touchdowns. When the things have gone bad the Broncos have not been able to stem the tide. That is indicative of a young football team. At the same time, there is cause for optimism. The Broncos were able to beat some quality opponents, like Pittsburgh and Tennessee and gave the Packers everything they could handle.
4) Going into the off-season, what's the biggest need for the Broncos on each side of the ball?
Easy. The Broncos have to fortify the trenches on both sides of the ball. Hopefully Hamilton can come back healthy, but there is no guarantee that Nalen will make it back. The experience some of the younger guys got this year will be huge. The defensive line is also young, but the Broncos need to address DT. We need to look no further than the Vikings to see what stud D-Tackles can do for a defense. The Broncos have some pieces and DE Elvis Dumervil is going to be a star. First Round pick Jarvis Moss needs to come back healthy and become a factor as well.
The Broncos also need to address Safety. John Lynch isn't getting any younger, and Nick Ferguson is a fill-in at best. I look for the Broncos to address the position during the draft. Another linebacker wouldn't hurt either.
5) There is a wide range of opinions on Denver's head coach, Mike Shanahan. What are your impressions of him? Is he still the uber-genius that he was purported to be when he first took the job in Denver, or has a bit of the shine come off since then?
It is easy to say Shanny has lost something. Though, looking at this from as close as I am I tend to think this could easily have been one of Shanny's best coaching jobs. The Broncos of today are a by-product of poor drafting early in this decade, specifically from 2000-2004. Those players would be heading into their primes right now. Unfortunately, the Broncos only have 4 of the 44 players they drafted during that time still on their roster. That just won't cut it. The past three drafts have been much better, and the Broncos have a full arsenal of picks this Draft as well. I am giving Shanny, the Personnel Man, the benefit of the doubt, for now. This is a HUGE off-season for the organization. They have the quarterback, they have a stud-in-waiting at wide-receiver. Now they need to add some playmakers on defense. Guys that can get after the quarterback, and separate receivers from the football.
6) If you could take any non-Adrian Peterson player from the Vikings' roster, which player would you take and why?
I'd take Pat Williams, even before AP. The Broncos have shown they can make stars out of no-name runners. Finding stud D-Linemen has proven a bit more difficult. Just for good measure, I'll take Kevin Williams off your hands as well. It's amazing how good a defense can be if they can stop the run and generate pressure from the front-4. Give the Broncos a couple of guys like that in the middle and we'll all see how good Bailey and Bly can be.
7) How have the Broncos performed relative to expectations this season? Or, as former Vikings' coach Denny Green might ask. . .are the Broncos who you thought they were, did you expect to crown their asses this year, or are you willing to let them off the hook?
I'd be lying if I said that 2007 wasn't a huge disappointment. That said, the Broncos had a lot of question marks heading into the season. Then the injuries. The Broncos will lose over 100 man-games to injuries this year. No football team can overcome that. Compare that number to 8, which was the total number of man games the Broncos lost in 2005 when they went 13-3 and advanced to the AFC Championship Game . Team Leader and emotional cog Al Wilson was released in the off-season, and of course the loss of not one(Darrent Williams), but two players(Damien Nash) to tragic deaths and 2007 has been a recipe for disaster from nearly the minute the clock struck 12. To me, they get a pass. Broncos fans will be watching this off-season closely, however, and we all expect big things form the team in 2008, with 2009 being a year I am targeting the Broncos to make a serious run.
Big thanks to The Sports Guru for taking the time to answer these questions. You can also catch Guru every Tuesday night at 8 PM Central, along with Big Blue Shoe, on the SBNation Football Frenzy, which is carried by The People's Sports Radio Network.
Possibly more later on today, folks, but for now, continue enjoying your Saturday, and get geared up for the Vikings' season finale tomorrow afternoon!