This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Matt Bunke
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Broncos entered the 2006 season with lofty expectations following a 13-3 finish
in 2005. While most felt the team had the makeup of a potential Super Bowl
contender, there were questions that had to be answered first.
Could Tatum Bell handle the punishment as a feature back in the NFL? Could
the defense put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks? And most importantly, could
Jake Plummer repeat his career-best 2005 performance?
After the Broncos raced out to a 7-2 start, the answers seemed promising. The defense
drew comparisons to several of the NFL's all-time best, Bell ranked among the league's
leading rushers and Plummer was doing just enough to win. But after the Broncos lost the
next four games and eventually missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record, the answer to all three
questions morphed into a resounding no.
The once impenetrable defense crumbled
down the stretch, Bell battled turf toe injuries,
and Plummer finally played his way
out of the starting job.
The second-half collapse led to an active
offseason for the Broncos. The onslaught
of moves really began when Jay Cutler
took over the starting quarterback job
in Week 13, and the overhaul continued
after the season when a flurry of coaching
changes was highlighted by the firing of
defensive coordinator Larry Coyer.
The Broncos hope new defensive coordinator
Jim Bates is successful in resurrecting
the team's dormant pass rush, and
if he is, the defense could