The Vikings have been making backup quarterback news for the past few days.
The Broncos have been making starting quarterback news for the past few months.
Denver and Minnesota have had more than their fair share of media attention this season, but what about the actual upcoming game between the two on Sunday? We asked Troy Hufford of Mile High Report some questions about his Broncos, and did he ever deliver. Here's what we had to say:
Daily Norseman: You know where I'm going to start when talking about the Broncos, right? Of course I'm talking about the part of your team that gets all the attention--their vaunted defense. (What, you thought I was going to ask about someone else?) After an awful 2010 campaign, how has Denver turned it around so quickly on defense? Is it as simple as having a healthy Elvis Dumervil and adding Von Miller, or are there other factors?
Mile High Report: The defense has been very impressive as of late. The Broncos defense turned it around so quickly because of two things: health and Von Miller. In 2010, the Broncos defense really struggled. We allowed 59 points against the Raiders, losing by the biggest margin in Broncos history thanks to an extremely depleted depth chart. Elvis Dumervil missed all of 2010 with an injury. In addition, players who missed the portions of the Raiders game included Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, Robert Ayers, Andre Goodman, Wesley Woodyard, Darcel McBath and Kevin Vickerson. That means we had 8 defensive starters who missed time when we went to war with the Raiders in 2010, if you include Elvis Dumervil. It was a microcosm of our season. We were bitten by the injury bug, which turned a below average defense into an awful one.
Needless to say, Broncos fans were seeking revenge for that Raiders game all offseason. This year, we’re fairly healthy... knock on wood...
Elvis Dumervil, who led the league in sacks during the 2009 season, is back in full force with 5.5 sacks this season. In addition, we’ve been getting a ton of additional pressure from rookie OLB Von Miller, who has 10.5 sacks and 2 FF. People compare him to Demarcus Ware, which is unfair, in my opinion. Ware is strictly a pass rusher. The 3-4 scheme suits him the way that it did for Dumervil in 2009. He puts his hand in the dirt and goes after the ball. Von Miller, on the other hand, still has coverage duties in his 4-3 OLB position. He is everywhere. He ran down a wide receiver after a Quinton Carter (safety) missed tackle against the Chargers. In addition, one of Elvis Dumervil’s sacks on Philip Rivers came because Von Miller lined up as a 4-3 DT and pushed his man into the face of Philip Rivers. That wasn’t a typo. He was a defensive tackle. Let that fact sink in, for a second...
This guy is the real deal. Von Miller has the power of a defensive tackle and the speed of a safety. He has a bull rush, a speed rush, and a nasty spin move that he debuted in overtime against the Chargers. For all the talk that Tim Tebow gets by the national media, Von Miller should be getting that attention and then some. If this guy isn’t the defensive rookie of the year, then the award is a joke.
DN: Speaking of Von Miller, what's the latest on his injury status? Does it sound like he'll play on Sunday? If not, how much will the Broncos miss him and what would they do differently in his absence?
MHR: Von Miller has been on injury report all week. Because of the aforementioned spin sack on Philip Rivers, Von Miller broke his thumb and had corrective surgery early in the week. The local media has gone back and forth about whether or not he would play. Personally, I think he does see the field. Even if he has to wear a club on his hand like Brian Dawkins did in 2009, I think he would do it. He means too much to this defense to miss out. The only way he doesn’t play is if the doctors declare him unable to play. With that said, I do not have any sort of special source on this. I know as much as you do, at this point. Today, it is unclear if Miller will play.
If he can’t play, it will be a huge loss for the Broncos defense. He generates a ton of big plays, by himself. He also draws double team blocks, freeing up other defenders. So, it turns a great Broncos defense and makes them average. We’re not going to fall apart because one player misses time, but I can tell you that Andre Goodman will miss him more than anyone. Goodman gets picked on, quite a bit, playing opposite Champ Bailey. Von Miller’s quick pressure makes his job a whole lot easier. I bet Christian Ponder is really hoping that he takes the day off, though. Von Miller makes opposing quarterbacks miserable. He even put Matt Cassel on injured reserve.
DN: Denver is only one game back of the division-leading, also-surprising Oakland Raiders in the AFC West. How do you rate the Broncos' chances of making the playoffs this year? What do you think needs to happen during the last five games of the year for Denver to make it? What's the biggest obstacle they face that might prevent them from making it?
MHR: I think that the Broncos’ playoff hopes are fairly high. Considering the way we’ve been playing in November, our schedule looks to be fairly easy with our most difficult game being against New England in a few weeks. The Broncos haven’t lost since converting to the read option, following the Lions game. While I don’t expect us to go undefeated, I think that we have a considerably larger chance of making the playoffs than we did in week 6. Of course, to catch the Raiders, we need them to lose a few. I think that’s very possible, considering that they have to travel to Green Bay, play the Lions (Suh will be playing by then), and then end the year against San Diego. I see 2, maybe 3 losses in the Raiders schedule, meaning that the Broncos can afford to lose 1, maybe 2 games by years’ end.
Can it be done? If we play like we did in November, no doubt. We’ll see what happens. the biggest obstacle standing between the Broncos and a division title is themselves. In Tim Tebow’s 5 wins, he has turned the ball over zero times. Turnovers will be the killer for this football team. If the Broncos can continue to pound the rock, control the ball, and have the defense continue to play at a high level, they shouldn’t lose. And a season ending injury to Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller would surely end our season, as well, now that I think about it...
Whatever the outcome, I’m just happy that Broncos fans are able to talk about meaningful football going into December. The year 2010 was very taxing on Broncos Country.
DN: OK fine, I'll ask about him. As someone that covers the Broncos daily, are you getting sick of all the non-stop Tim Tebow coverage? Do you think that Denver's current style of play with Tebow is sustainable long-term, or do you fear that this will eventually turn into another Wildcat-like fad that quickly fades away?
MHR: At times, the Tebow coverage is too much. I think that the more he plays, the less he’ll be talked about. When he first took over the first team offense, I couldn’t turn on the television without being bombarded with how bad Tim Tebow would be. As the weeks progressed, the media seemed to slow their roll a little bit, which was great. As more people were forced to eat crow, I began to enjoy turning on the TV and listening to the radio. There’s something intrinsically wonderful about watching people eat crow. We’re just waiting on Merril Hoge...
Anyways, people have asked about the sustainability of the read option offense. Is it a fad? I don’t think so. The read option, by itself, is completely short-lived. However, the Broncos have been adding more and more wrinkles to this offense as the weeks have gone on. There’s an end around that we use, at times. We line up with a triple option out of the wishbone, at times. Sometimes, Eric Decker takes the ball on an end around and throws it deep. In addition, if you think of the read option as a singleback shotgun formation and the tackle blocks the defensive end instead of going straight to the second level, there are a lot of play action wrinkles that can come out of this formation. The entire wide receiver route tree is available.
So, simply put, no. This is not a fad. It’s a base formation that can run a variety of different plays. The most important variable, however, is Tebow’s passing ability. As he gets some more familiarity with his receivers (he has never had a full offseason of work and had limited first team training camp reps behind Kyle Orton) and develops as a passer, the Broncos may wean Tebow off of the read option, using it as a change of pace formation.
DN: Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that most Vikings fans may not know about, but might have a big impact on Sunday's game. Finally, tell us who you think wins when Denver and Minnesota face off in the Metrodome.
MHR: On offense, if you haven’t heard of Demaryius Thomas, get familiar. While Eric Decker has put up the biggest numbers of any Broncos receiver, Demaryius Thomas is much more of a physical threat. Coming out of the Georgia Tech option offense, Demaryius Thomas was a 2010 1st round draft pick, being taken a few spots ahead of Tim Tebow. He showed some flashes early, but an achilles tendon injury ended his 2010 season. As he was coming back from this injury in training camp, he suffered a broken finger, which delayed his return even further. Eric Decker will be your first read in the passing game, but don’t sleep on Demaryius Thomas. He can catch about any jump ball, so watch the back shoulder fade.
On defense, there are plenty of big names that you’ll hear about on game day - Brian Dawkins, Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, and Von Miller. But a guy you may not know about is Robert Ayers. You might not hear his name called at all, but he’ll be a key player in this game. He plays the defensive end position, opposite Elvis Dumervil, so he is required to seal the edges on early downs and push the pocket from the defensive tackle position on passing situations, allowing Von Miller to take his DE spot. Of course, there’s all kinds of variability for the Broncos defensive line, but Robert Ayers is one of the quietest, but most important players on this defense.
I think it will be a 24-20 win for the Broncos.
Thanks again to Troy for providing so much Broncos insight. Head to Mile High Report for updates on the Broncos leading up to the game.