Three reasons why the Broncos will win
Yesterday I gave you three reasons the Steelers will win in Denver
. Here are three reasons to favor the home team:
1. Jake Plummer is the new Trent Dilfer. Remember when the Baltimore Ravens marched to a surprisingly easy Super Bowl championship in 2001? The defense was the reason, but Dilfer had become under Ravens’ head coach Brian Billick a reliable starting quarterback after years of being a coach-killer. Plummer has shown much the same progress working with another talented offensive mind, Mike Shanahan. In his ninth year (that’s right, his NINTH year) in the league, he had his second-best quarterback rating at 90.2, only one point worse than what he had in 2003, his first season in Denver. Dilfer was in his seventh season, and, like Plummer, with his second team when he won a ring in Baltimore. Plummer’s three seasons under Shanahan have been his three best statistically, and he took a big leap forward this year in dropping his interception number from 20 to seven. Known in college as a gunslinger and a playmaker, he’s become an NFL late-bloomer who now has the ability to manage a game and take what the defense gives him. That is important against a defense like Pittsburgh’s, which will try to confuse Plummer with its zone blitzing schemes and dare him to take the safe route.
2. They use the altitude to their advantage. Denver is so good at home not just because of crowd noise, but also because the Broncos are built for Mile High’s altitude. It’s no coincidence that Denver became a Super Bowl champion when they added the running game to complement John Elway’s passing. In Denver, the key to beating an opposing defense is to outlast them by keeping them on the field. That’s a function of running the ball. Because it’s the offense that knows the play coming to the line, the defense usually expends more effort since their players have to react and charge the play. With a defense that’s as high-octane as that of the Steelers, Denver must use its running game to keep Pittsburgh on the field. The Broncos’ backs – Mike Anderson, Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne – and a solid offensive line allow them to do that. On the flip side, Denver’s tremendous depth on the defensive line – which came about by trading for virtually the entire Cleveland Browns unit – gives them an opportunity to bring in fresh bodies on almost every play in an attempt to neutralize the Steelers’ running offense.
3. Shanahan is the Bill Belichick of offense. Shanahan coaches his offense the same way Belichick coaches his defense. His philosophy is: Figure out what the opponents feel most comfortable doing, and then take that option away. Volumes have been written about Belichick’s defenses slowing down the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, or jamming the Rams’ wide receivers in Super Bowl XXXVI, or continually showing up in Peyton Manning’s nightmares. What doesn’t get written as much, probably because Denver hadn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XXXIII, is Shanahan’s ability to do the same thing on the other side of the ball. Ask Bill Cowher about how Shanahan’s offense exploited a blitzing Steelers defense, holding them to two sacks, when the teams last met in the AFC Championship Game. Or how they pounded away for 179 yards against the Packers’ suspect run defense in the Super Bowl that year. Or how they, um, exploited Eugene Robinson in the following Super Bowl.
If you notice, I’ve hardly said anything about the Broncos defense yet. It’s a solid unit with a number of standouts, and it led the Broncos to victory last week. But ultimately, the Broncos' success this week will hinge on Shanahan's game plan, the running backs ability to control the clock, and Plummer's game management. If those three things are favorable, Denver wins.On Wednesday, I’ll shift to the NFC and present the case for the Panthers.DJ