John Elway worked wonders in Denver on the field. But even the king of comebacks has his work cut out for him with this team. After a dreadful 4-12 record in 2010, Elway is part of a whole new power structure in Denver, with a new GM and John Fox taking over as head coach after the in-season sacking of Josh McDaniels.
The clean-up effort is substantial. The Broncos cast off quarterback Jay Cutler and wide receiver Brandon Marshall before last season, replacing them with Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas. Neither was much of an answer, especially with the biggest problems coming on defense, which surrendered more points than the Doug Moe Nuggets.
And while Tebow provided the season's biggest highlight with some late-season heroics, 2010 was a year to take these busted Broncos out back and shoot them.
The 2010 storyline: Not even Tebow could prevent this abortion of a season.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 4-12 (21.5 PPG – 29.4 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 36-44 (.450)
Best Quality Stat in 2010: Passing YPA (9th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2010: Bendability, Defensive Passing YPA, Defensive Quarterback Rating, Defensive Passer Rating, Relativity Index (30th)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 30th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Quarterback Rating: 20th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 30th (new Quality Stat for 2011)
Relativity Index: 30th (once-proud Quality Stat being reintroduced for 2011)
Statistical curiosity of 2010
The Denver defense last year surrendered two 500-yard games of total offense – both to the Oakland Raiders (508, 502), a team that averaged 333 yards per game in its other 14.
Best game of 2010
24-23 win vs. Houston (Week 16). Behold, the Tebow Era! With Kyle Orton benched and Josh McDaniel fired, a new day dawned in Denver, and for one afternoon, at least, Tebow justified his first-round draft selection by engineering an Elway-esque second-half comeback.
After falling behind 17-0, Tebow led the Broncos on a furious, fourth-quarter charge, directing a pair of touchdown drives, the last a 74-yard march he culminated with a six-yard scramble for the go-ahead score with three minutes remaining. Making his second NFL start, and first at Invesco Field, Tebow threw for 308 yards, the third-most by a rookie in Broncos history, with a gaudy average of 10.6 YPA.
Worst game of 2010
59-14 vs. Oakland (Week 7). Did we mention the Raiders? It took only 33 years, but the Silver and Black finally got payback for Rob Lytle's non-fumble in the 1977 AFC championship game, scoring the most points in the history of the franchise, and doing it all in the first three quarters alone. With help from two Broncos turnovers, the Raiders scored three first-quarter touchdowns in a span of 1:46 to take a 21-0 lead. It only got worse from there for Denver.
The Broncos had to look back beyond even the old Lou Saban "they're killing me Whitey, they're killing me" days to find a loss this bad.
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The 45-point beatdown to the Raiders was Denver's largest margin of defeat since losing to Kansas City, 56-10, on October 23, 1966 and their most points allowed in game since the Chiefs hung a 59 on them in 1963.
Wide receiver. We had to put something in this category, and if there was one area the Broncos found some success, it was throwing the ball. Sure, they had to throw a lot, especially in games where they trailed 24-0 in the first quarter. But the receiving corps of Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Jabbar Gaffney put up solid numbers, combining for 2,950 yards and 16 touchdowns. Lloyd, who was a bust with the 49ers and barely touched the field for the Redskins (2007), Bears (2008) and Broncos (2009), had a breakout season in 2010 with 77 receptions for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns for his first Pro Bowl selection.
Defense. The Broncos could not stop anyone in 2010, ranking near the bottom of every defensive metric imaginable. They were last in total defense (6,253) and scoring defense (471). Unless you're playing Tecmo Bowl, that is a prescription for utter disaster in the NFL, especially when you can't force turnovers.
The Broncos couldn't stop the run (4.66 YPA, 29th) and couldn't stop the pass (30th in Defensive Passer Rating). But they made up for it by failing to create turnovers, too. The Broncos forced just 18, tied for the league worst with Houston and Jacksonville.
General off-season strategy/overview
Tebow's heroics may have helped him in more ways than one. By finishing with a 4-12 record, the Broncos were denied the top pick in the draft, which means a quarterback like Missouri's Blaine Gabbert is heading to Carolina instead.
That isn't necessarily great news for the Broncos, who have turned to John Fox, the coach who led Carolina to the league's worst record in 2010, to lead them into 2011. Remember, Fox oversaw one of the worst passing attacks in recent history last season in Carolina, as we chronicled here on CHFF
and with our friends at Sports Illustrated
But even if Tebow may prove to be a modern-day Norris Weese, the real issues for the Broncos are on defense. Maybe not drafting a QB isn't so bad after all, as the Broncos can focus instead on a defensive wrecker, such as Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers or Alabama DT Marcell Dareus with the second pick.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
There is precedent for John Fox and the defense. When Fox took over the Panthers in 2002, he turned a team that finished last in total defense the year before into the second-best defense in the NFL, behind only the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers.
Still, this team needs a whole lotta work, and the Tebow situation remains shaky, despite his strong finish. If Kansas City and Oakland continue to improve and San Diego regains its form, the Broncos are almost certain to finish last again in the AFC West.