Denver Broncos might be looking at a defensive redo
Rocky Mountain News
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” There may be more Bounce in California, as the song proclaims after each Chargers touchdown at Qualcomm Stadium – and incessantly Sunday.
But there’s sure to be some recoiling in Denver, too, especially when the hatchet is taken to the defensive side of the roster this offseason.
Denver’s year on that side of the ball was historically bad, even before San Diego scored the first four times it touched the ball to seize control of the AFC West – then answered the Broncos’ third-quarter march with two more of its own for the exclamation points.
The Broncos (8-8) finish the season having allowed the worst all- time completion percentage by opponents and having created the fewest number of takeaways in team history.
The Broncos also yielded more than 400 points for the second straight year, while finishing in the bottom 10 in a wide range of other defensive categories in franchise annals, including first downs, rushing yards, passing yards, rushing touchdowns and average gain per play.
That all adds up to changes to buttress an offense that was turnover-prone but full of potential, too, with a young core around which the franchise can build.
The Broncos’ deficiencies run much deeper on defense, which repeatedly has put too much pressure on Jay Cutler and Co. to have to score.
Case in point: Tatum Bell’s second rushing TD pulls Denver to 24-13 to start the second half Sunday. But LaDainian Tomlinson busts loose for a 45-yard run to set up Darren Sproles’ 13-yard answer on third-and-3.
Cutler throws an interception off a tip on the next drive and the game’s essentially over on another Tomlinson TD jaunt on the following play.
“I would say yes,” Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said leading up to the Chargers game, when asked whether he expected a defensive makeover.
“The guys put in a lot of effort and all this and that, but when it comes down to it this year, we didn’t necessarily hold up our end,” Ekuban added. “We can’t just always expect our offense to score 40 or 45 points.
“I’m not a coach or a GM, so I don’t know whether there’ll be schematic changes or personnel changes, but just looking at some stuff on defense, we could have done a little bit better.”
It certainly could have done better than yielding TD marches covering 60, 73, 72 and 58 to the Chargers before halftime – then the 69-yard dagger after Denver scored to start the third.
San Diego had 252 yards at the break, converted a fourth-and- inches, completed two passes of 30-plus yards, took advantage of a 52-yard pass-interference penalty on middle linebacker Nate Webster and scored despite facing a second-and-20 in forging its 24-6 advantage.
And the Broncos couldn’t use injuries as an excuse this time, even if it has been an issue for the preponderance of this season.
The unit’s top player, cornerback Champ Bailey, sat out seven games because of a groin pull but played again Sunday, though he didn’t appear to be full strength. Bailey noticeably couldn’t muster the closing speed to chase down Chargers tight end Antonio Gates on one pass play.
But the three starters for most of the year at linebacker, a position that has been beaten up in 2008, were again in the lineup. Only Boss Bailey, one of the free- agent acquisitions last spring along with Niko Koutouvides who were less than impactful this season, still was out.
It’s clear the team needs personnel upgrades, regardless of health, particularly at safety, where there was a revolving door of starters, and especially along the front four, which lacks players that require double-team attention from opposing coordinators.
Denver will look to sign perhaps two to three free defensive agents but might be limited financially.
The Broncos also will make it a draft weekend emphasis while also exploring perhaps moving D.J. Williams back to middle linebacker in order to get promising rookie Wesley Woodyard on the field at weak-side linebacker.
And, while nothing’s guaranteed, the Broncos likely will think twice about making a change in the leadership of the defense.
Bob Slowik, finishing his first season as coordinator, is well-respected by the players and by coach Mike Shanahan for his coaching acumen.
And the club might be reticent to make another change after the recent departures of Ray Rhodes, Larry Coyer and Jim Bates, since, at some point, there has to be some continuity in philosophy and the personnel deficiencies are so apparent.
Asked directly after the game whether Slowik will return, coach Mike Shanahan indicated there would not be a change.
“That’s out of my control, out of my realm. So I don’t know,” Broncos defensive tackle Kenny Peterson said of any anticipated front- office moves. “But this is the NFL, and things change every day. I don’t know what their game plan is and what the future holds, but I’m quite sure they’ll do whatever’s best for the team and make their decisions accordingly.”
Ekuban and Peterson are slated to become unrestricted free agents and want to return. Also about to have their contracts expire are Webster and cornerback Karl Paymah.
The club also could look to re- work the contract of defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who’s owed a $17 million roster bonus, $10 million of which is guaranteed and can be converted to a signing bonus that is apportioned over several years.