Right up until the first snap of the Super Bowl the Broncos were on course to complete a sensational season and finally secure that elusive second ring for Peyton Manning. A botched snap and the massacre that followed at the hands of the Seahawks will ultimately be what the 2013 Broncos are remembered for, instead of the offensive genius that lead to a 13-3 record and a dominance over the rest of the AFC which made the route to the Super Bowl at times appear to be a formality. After a regular season that saw a whole host of records set, Denver moved effortlessly through the postseason until they met the immovable force that was the Seattle defence. GM John Elway has already made some bold off season moves that he hopes will make the difference this time around; time is running out for Peyton to pick up the Super Bowl win that he covets so badly.
The 2013 Broncos offence will go down as one of the most explosive and effective of all time. Manning set new single season records for yards thrown (5477) and touchdowns (55) on his way to a stunning passer rating of 115.1. Four different receivers caught 10 or more touchdowns as Manning spread the ball around amongst his offensive weapons. Demaryius Thomas 92 catches, 1430 yards and 14 scores) lead the way, marginally ahead of Eric Decker (87 catches, 1288 yards and 11 scores). Free Agent acquisition Wes Welker proved his worth by slotting into the offensive scheme easily. He hauled in 73 passes for 778 yards and 10 scores whilst the biggest surprise came via tight end Julius Thomas. He had a breakout year in catching 65 passes for 788 yards, 12 of which resulted in touchdowns. Knowshon Moreno chipped in with 60 catches of his own and racked up 1038 yards on the ground. His departure for Miami means that Monee Ball will need to step up and build upon a promising campaign which saw 559 yards on the ground and 20 catches from Manning passes. Decker has also left for the Jets, but with Manning at the helm the offence will certainly continue to threaten in 2014.
The weak link for Denver was definitely when they did not have possession of the ball. Ranked 19th in yards allowed (356 per game) and 22nd in points allowed (24.9 per game), the offence managed to mask some of the deficiencies for much of the season before they were found wanting on both sides of the ball in the biggest game of all. Von Miller’s absence through suspension hurt the unit badly, although he was able to register five sacks following his return to action. Shaun Phillips’ 10 sacks topped the team standings, with Malik Jackson chipping in with six. Danny Trevathan made 129 tackles and recorded three picks, while in the secondary corners Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both recorded three of their own and defended 14 passes. But the overall effectiveness of the Broncos defence needed improving and they have looked to address this aggressively in Free Agency and may continue to do so in the draft as they look to provide Manning with a defence good enough to help him win it all.
Trindon Holliday was a genuine threat all season long on return duty, recording touchdowns on both kick-off and punt returns. He has also left (for the Giants) leaving an opportunity for someone else to fill in 2014. Matt Prater missed just one kick all year (and that was from over 50 yards) and set a new NFL record with a 64 yarder sailing through the uprights. Britton Colquitt will need to improve on an average of just 38.8 yards Net per punt to ensure he keeps his job.
Head Coach John Fox narrowly failed to win the big game, but that he was on the sidelines at all at the end of the season was a major success as he underwent heart surgery during the regular season and left the running of the team to Jack Del Rio. With Elway’s splash in Free Agency, the pressure is on to deliver the Championship sooner rather than later. If 2014 is not the year then it could be the coach who pays the price at the end of the year as they look to win before Peyton hangs up his helmet for good.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Despite losing Decker and Moreno, the emergence of Ball ensures that the Broncos offence remains in a good place. The Free Agency [period was used to make a big splash defensively, by bringing in experienced and talented veterans T.J. Ward (from Cleveland), DeMarcus Ware (Dallas) and Aqib Talib (New England) to add quality to the secondary and pass rushing areas of the team. Ware replaces Shaun Phillips, who has left for Tennessee whilst both Harris and Rodgers-Cromartie have not been retained. Emmanuel Sanders has arrived from Pittsburgh as a direct replacement for the New York bound Decker.
With so much invested in Free Agency and focussed on the next year or two, the need from the draft is for players who will be able to make an immediate impact. Denver may have done a good job in attracting some high profile names to join them in the offseason, but they still need more depth at the cornerback position, at wide receiver and, with Wesley Woodyard’s move to Tennessee, at linebacker especially. Zane Beadles’ departure for the Jaguars leaves a hole to fill at guard and they may look to use a draft pick to pick up an extra body for that position too.