AFC West: Bottom Line is that Broncos Were Bad By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In the end, any objective observer of the Denver Broncos' descent from the brink of the playoffs to 8-8 and out of the postseason money is left with the following hard truth: the 2008 Denver Broncos weren't a playoff-worthy team by a long shot.
Of course, had the Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe caught an onsides kick to finish off what should have been a Kansas City win over San Diego in Week 15, the Broncos would be sitting as an 8-8 division winner as the New Year was being rung in, and an unapologetic one at that. Certainly they wouldn't have been the first team of questionable quality to earn a playoff berth, but they would have been the most flawed unit in this year's 12-unit field by a fairly wide margin.
The 2008 Broncos, whose season ended with Sunday's 52-21 road humbling at the hands of the resurgent Chargers, did one thing extremely well: throw the football between the 20-yard lines.
Jay Cutler will be going to the Pro Bowl following a season in which he set a franchise record by tossing for 4,526 yards with 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
His top receiver, Brandon Marshall, caught a whopping 104 balls for more than 1,200 yards despite missing Week 1 due to a suspension, and rookie phenom Eddie Royal caught 91 passes and finished just 20 yards shy of 1,000.
Impressive numbers, but the fact that the Broncos finished second in the league in yards while coming in at 16th in points is proof positive that the offense's magic didn't extend to the red-zone all that often.
Cutler threw only six touchdown passes in his final six games, which corresponded with a 2-4 finish for Denver.
The revolving door of running backs in a year when no fewer than six players who garnered backfield carries (Michael Pittman, Ryan Torain, Andre Hall, Peyton Hillis, Selvin Young, P.J. Pope) ended up on season-ending injured reserve began to take on an almost-comedic effect, as Cutler was left to put the ball in the air almost exclusively on many occasions.
Then, there was the defense, that woeful, woeful defense that gave up 448 points, third-worst in the league behind only a Lions team that surrendered the second-most points in NFL history (517) and the 2-14 Rams (465).
When you consider that the Broncos came out -78 in point differential on the season, it is stunning that they finished with the same record as the Chargers, who were +92 in that category.
With or without cornerback Champ Bailey, who missed seven games with a groin tear, Denver was generally incapable of stopping opposing offenses.
The same Bills team that ran up and down the field against the Broncos in Week 16 was shut out at home a week later. The Browns, who just set an NFL record by going its final 24 quarters of the season without an offensive touchdown, scored 30 points on Denver back in Week 10.
On special teams, the Broncos were below-average in kick coverage and unreliable in the kicking game, as strong-legged Matt Prater proved to be at his most erratic late in the season.
In all, other than Cutler, his top targets, most of the offensive line and perhaps Bailey (if healthy), there isn't a member of this team whose place on the roster shouldn't be called into serious question during an offseason period that might be head coach Mike Shanahan's last if he can't find a quick fix.
For his part, Cutler thinks the Broncos are close.
"We don't want to point fingers around here," said the quarterback in the wake of Sunday's loss. "Offensively, we could have done some things better and taken care of the ball in certain games. I think [the organization is] going to try and improve all three areas [offense, defense and special teams]. Offensively, I'm sure we are going to get some new guys in here to help us out. Defensively, I'm sure they are going to follow suit.
"I think with Mike and the front office, they are going to make some moves and try to improve us as a whole team. I love the direction the offense is going with [quarterbacks coach] Jeremy [Bates leading us, the coaching, the offensive line and the receivers...I think we have a real chance next year."