If you’ve been watching SportsCenter lately, you know that the experts don’t think much of the Broncos’ chances to defend their Super Bowl title. Apparently, the team is about to endure its first losing season since 2010, when some guy named McDaniels was
sent by Bill Belichick to ruin the Broncos flaming out as a head coach. The losses of Brent (or is it Brad?) Osweiler, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan are insurmountable. Never mind the fact that the Broncos had some of the worst quarterback play in the league last season, or that Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and members of the No Fly Zone still spearhead the NFL’s no. 1 defense. The “experts” have spoken and 2016 is going to be a horrible year at Mile High, right?
Well, maybe for Sports Authority, but for the team? Not so much.
I don’t think I have to defend the idea that despite the loss of two starters, the defense will be pretty good again this season. Probably damn good. I also believe that it won’t be overly difficult for the Broncos to improve on their quarterback situation from a year ago, and that is indeed an idea worth exploring. Hit the jump and we’ll take a look.
Let’s be clear on one thing before we continue: the Broncos have no shot at going back-to-back if the offense struggles as often as it did last year. It took an all-time great defense to cover up for the lack of a running game and an aging Peyton Manning, and somehow that was enough to win a championship. It’s one of the most memorable occurrences in the history of Denver sports and something that we will all cherish for the rest of our lives. However, it’s not a model for sustained success. If the offense doesn’t make a big jump in 2016, none of what follows is going to matter.
It’s also worth noting that the key to Gary Kubiak’s offense is and always will be the running game. Since Peyton rode off into the sunset (man it feels good to type that), Kubiak will no longer attempt to pacify his starter by altering his system. He’ll be running his offense regardless of whether its Mark Sanchez or Paxton Lynch under center. Thankfully, either of those guys can offer the Broncos more consistent quarterback play, and all we have to do is look to the past to find the evidence.
I present to you the passing statistics of four different quarterbacks.
Player A: 19 TDS/23 INTS/4,216 YDS
Player B: 17 TDS/17 INTS/3,025 YDS
Player C: 17 TDS/9 INTS/2,803 YDS
Player D: 19 TDS/11 INTS/2,903 YDS
Alright, I wasn’t completely honest. They are actually the averages of four different combinations of quarterbacks. Trust me, by the end it will all make sense.
Players A and B
A is the combined numbers of Manning and Osweiler from last year, while B is what Sanchez averaged during his four seasons as the starter for the Jets, as well as his time with the Eagles. This is what I’m talking about when I say that the Broncos can’t afford that kind of erratic performance at quarterback if they want to throw another victory parade in 2017. To be fair, most of those picks came from Peyton, but it’s not like Brent was the second-coming of Aaron Rodgers or anything. As far as Sanchez goes, well you can see why his arrival in Denver wasn’t met with more enthusiasm (besides all that Butt Fumble stuff). He just hasn’t been able to take care of the ball and that’s why it only cost John Elway a seventh-round pick to acquire him. That being said, Kubiak has a proven track record of getting the most out of his quarterbacks (an injured and brittle PFM not withstanding), which leads us to Player C.
This represents the average first season that three separate quarterbacks posted under Kubiak, those three being Jake Plummer, Matt Schaub and Joe Flacco. They were also all reclamation projects, albeit for different reasons. Plummer was a turnover machine as the starter for the Cardinals, Schaub was largely unproven and had never been a starter and although Flacco is generally considered to be a franchise quarterback, he was also coming off the worst season of his career before Kubiak got his hands on him. While Player C’s stat line shouldn’t wow anyone, the touchdown passes are about the same and the interception total is drastically lower than what Manning and Osweiler put up last year. It’s probably the best case scenario for Mark Sanchez, who would be asked to manage the game and not leave his defense out to dry with any costly interceptions. It’s certainly attainable with an improved running game opening up throws down the field to Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and the tight ends.
As crazy as it sounds, Sanchez can provide the Broncos with more stability at quarterback than Peyton did a year ago. What a time to be alive.
Now if you’re part of the Paxton Lynch camp and are ready to crucify Sanchez the first time he throws a pick, well there is also hope that the rookie could get it done in his first year in Denver. Remember, a young quarterback’s best friend is a strong running game and good defense, which just so happens to be Elway and Kubiak’s blueprint for winning. For Player D, I combined three other rookie quarterbacks who took their teams to the playoffs following a similar formula, and they are Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Believe me, I didn’t expect to write this much about Flacco today either, but hey, the dude has a Super Bowl ring, as do Big Ben and Wilson.
What stood out to me was how similar the stats of Player’s C and D were, and that tells me that Elway isn’t just spewing out nonsense when he says that Lynch could be ready to start soon. Again, numbers like that wouldn’t convince you to use Lynch in fantasy football, but it would be more than enough to keep the Broncos in the hunt. Never mind the fact that the “experts” don’t think that Lynch will be ready to play this year. Did anyone think that Roethlisberger would go 13-0 after Tommy Maddox got hurt, or that Flacco would go from playing at Delaware to playing in the AFC Championship game, or that an undersized Wilson would beat out Matt Flynn and take Seattle to the divisional round of the playoffs? Of course not, but the Steelers, Ravens and Seahawks kept things simple for their rookie quarterbacks and allowed the running game and defense to carry their teams.
None of this guarantees that Lynch would enjoy the same kind of success or even beat out Sanchez in training camp, for that matter. It does offer another upgrade at quarterback over 2015 and a plausible solution if Sanchez stumbles at any point. More importantly, it refutes the storyline in the national media that the Broncos are in for a huge decline this season.
Based on what’s happened in similar situations, I’d say the champs are poised to valiantly defend their Super Bowl title, and that’s really the most that any of us can ask for.