GLS Preview: Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are still trying to find some consistency in the post-Mike Shanahan era. After two nightmarish years with Josh McDaniels at the helm, the franchise has handed the personnel keys to a legend and the coaching keys to an established defensive mind with an impressive head-coaching résumé.

But while the onus is on John Elway and John Fox (and I suppose general manager Brian Xanders) to fix a defense that surrendered a sickening 29.5 points per game in 2010, the focus continues to be on the quarterback position.

That isn’t surprising, because quarterbacks are the easiest players to analyze and criticize on any team. But it’s still sort of perplexing, because the Broncos had the NFL’s seventh-best passing game last year.

It’s no secret that the Broncos considered trading Kyle Orton in the offseason. It’s also no secret that Tim Tebow has struggled in training camp and the preseason, so much so that Brady Quinn has (at least temporarily) supplanted him as Orton’s backup. These are juicy storylines, but they aren’t overly crucial when assessing the fate of the 2011 Broncos.

As long as Orton is under center, they’ll be good offensively. And Tebow proved late last season that he can probably hold it down in Orton’s stead, if necessary.

The passing game isn’t the problem in Denver.

The problem? Everything else.

2010 in a nutshell: They go 4-12 despite winning two of their first four games. The defense can’t stop anybody, especially on the ground. Kyle Orton and Brandon Lloyd emerge to become the only bright spots in a painful season.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. Von Miller will be the defensive rookie of the year: Marcell Dareus and Ryan Kerrigan might be primed to have big years in Buffalo and Washington respectively, but Miller has emerged as a clear DROY frontrunner during training camp and the preseason. The No. 2 overall pick (and the defense as a whole) will benefit greatly from the presence of a healthy Elvis Dumervil on the opposite side. Dumervil led the league in sacks in 2009 before missing all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle. This is a team that registered a league-low 23 sacks and 18 takeaways last year. With Miller and Dumervil rushing the passer and a healthy Andre Goodman teaming up with rookie ballhawk Rahim Moore in the secondary, they’ll make more big plays in 2011.

2. They won’t run well: They ranked 26th on the ground last year, and I see no reason why Knowshon Moreno will be any more effective this season. He still doesn’t have much support from a weak interior offensive line and there’s a feeling that he’s simply not capable of being a quality No. 1 back. Fox had a great power running game in Carolina, so his presence and the acquisition of Willis McGahee could help a little, but don’t expect them to dazzle on the ground.

3. And they won’t defend the run well: They tried to improve a horrible run defense with the addition of free agent defensive tackle Ty Warren, but it looks like he’ll miss most of the season with a torn triceps tendon. Solid linebacker D.J. Williams is also hurt, which is nothing new for him. For the second year in a row the Broncos will rely on a group of mediocre run defenders to keep offenses balanced, but I don’t envision Brodrick Bunkley, Kevin Vickerson and Marcus Thomas (who is also currently injured) making a big difference. Denver surrendered a league-high 26 rushing touchdowns and was beat for a league-high 22 runs of 20 yards or more last year. I don’t see those numbers improving much this season.

The final word(s): Improvements were made to the defense, they’ll be better off with an established head coach and the passing game will again experience success. But they still lack both the talent and depth required to compete. They’ll win five or six games.