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Almost immediately after the Los Angeles Chargers throttled the Denver Broncos, the questions became uncomfortable. Will Trevor Siemian remain the starter? How will the team improve offensively?
In that press conference after the Broncos were shut out for the first time since 1992, Siemian looked like a prize fighter who had taken a 10-count. His nose was bloodied cheap nfl jerseys and swollen. He appeared determined, but lost in a daze after absorbing hits from Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.
What fans hoped was an aberration in an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants — a game that later prompted general manager John Elway to call his team ‘soft’ — became a pattern.
The Broncos stepped on a slippery slope and plummeted into a death spiral, losing eight straight games, and going 1-7 on the road. Watching the offense was confusing, not just for fans, but coach Vance Joseph. As the song “Rockstar” puts it eloquently: why do you have a 12-car garage if you only have six cars? That sums up my thoughts on offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s reliance on the three-wide set. All the Broncos had to do was use it, then step back and let the sacks, interceptions and fumbles begin. It led to the midseason firing of McCoy, whose reluctance to change or work in collaboration with Joseph left the Broncos straying from a run-first attack.
It was one of many low points. There were, of course, some memorable performances. My look back:
Most Valuable Player: OLB Von Miller
Honorable mention: CB Chris Harris Jr.
The quick glance at Miller’s stats reveals almost none of his excellence. He finished with 10 sacks, and zero in his last three games. However, he ranked as the most-dominant edge defender in quarterback pressures by Pro Football Focus. Opponents centered their game plan on him. They doubled him, chipped him, and directed quarterbacks to release the ball quickly to neutralize him. Not having a consistent force on the other side hurt Miller. Shaquil Barrett played well in spurts, but Shane Ray’s Pro Bowl-caliber season never materialized because of a preseason left wrist injury. Notably, Miller developed into a true leader, holding teammates accountable, while remaining positive throughout.
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Chris Harris’ versatility helps make the defense work. Like Harris himself, I prefer he moves outside and is no longer relegated to slot duty. However, that will be impossible if the team trades Aqib Talib (Again, I would love to see Talib stay on a restructured contract and eventually retire as a Bronco).
Had the Broncos committed to the run, limiting the exposure of their quarterbacks, it’s fair to wonder if they would have been competitive. Following an offseason cycling routine, Anderson showed newfound durability to match his typical passion and grit. He produced his first 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,007 yards, averaging 4.1 per clip. Anderson faces an uncertain future in Denver. He is scheduled to make $4.5 million next season. That won’t happen. Could he return on a new deal? Perhaps. But he has zero dead money, so Denver could simply move on. Regardless, Anderson showed well, and will help somebody, somewhere next season.
Paradis has played every snap the past three seasons. This offseason will be the first in seven years where Paradis can train without worrying about his surgically-repaired hips.
Biggest Surprise: NT Domata Peko
Honorable mention: DE Adam Gotsis
Peko, 33, appeared done in his last season in Cincinnati. He told me a change in scheme contributed to his slide, and insisted he had plenty left. He was right. Peko brought energy, attitude and professionalism. The Broncos improved their run defense dramatically with Peko at the nose, allowing 89.4 yards on the ground per game compared to 130.3 last season. Peko is a keeper as the Broncos try to regain their winning culture.
Gotsis, meanwhile, took a huge step forward, adding bulk and strength. The next step is developing an inside pass rush, which has been sorely lacking since Malik Jackson’s departure in free agency two years ago.
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Least Valuable Player: QBs Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch
Honorable mention: Special teams
Listen, everyone wants to be Cy Young. Some are Sigh Young. No one is blameless in the Broncos’ 5-11 season, but the quarterback play is impossible not to single out. The inefficiency was stunning, and related in part to McCoy’s expansive playbook that was more suited for Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. The Broncos ranked 25th in touchdown passes with 19, and 31st in interceptions with 22. The quarterbacks were sacked 52 times. Siemian regressed in the new offense, and ended the season with a second straight left shoulder surgery. Brock Osweiler went 0-4 as a starter, but prevented a winless road record with a terrific relief outing against the Colts. Paxton Lynch never progressed as hoped in his sophomore season, undone by injuries and his inability to beat out Siemian in training camp.
The only reason special teams did not win the honor is because quarterback is a more important element. Brock Olivo bombed as a first-time coordinator as the team made every type of mistake imaginable.
Biggest Disappointment: The 2017 draft class
Honorable mention: Tight end Jeff Heuerman
Only rookie Garett Bolles contributed, and he endured an uneven season because of his inexperience and the endless carousel of quarterbacks. Where to start? Defensive end DeMarcus Walker dropped to 242 pounds because of a position switch after Ray’s injury and an illness. He never regained traction and was frequently inactive because he had no role on special teams. Receiver Carlos Henderson appeared in danger of being inactive all season before suffering a thumb injury. Cornerback Brendan Langley, a project who had never played a full season of defense until this year, had a bad day at Oakland, and eventually lost his spot on the depth chart to Marcus Rios.
Jake Butt, an All-American tight end at Michigan, sat out the season healing from his second ACL surgery. Isaiah McKenzie muffed six punts, never rewarding the odd faith the coaching staff showed despite horrific results. Running back De’Angelo Henderson remained buried on the depth chart until the season finale when he scored a touchdown on a screen pass (where was that play all season to Jamaal Charles?). And quarterback Chad Kelly, who healed multiple injuries and dropped from 236 pounds to 212 pounds, sat out the entire year. He remains an intriguing prospect. He might be in the mix depending how the search for a starter plays out.
This was supposed to be Heuerman’s breakthrough season. It never materialized (nine catches for 142 yards), leaving the Broncos to count on Butt and the addition of a free agent to fortify the position this offseason.