As I was watching the Super Bowl, my thoughts drifted to ten years ago, when the Broncos were showing they were the best in the NFL.
I wondered how far the Broncos might be from again scaling to the top of the league and hoisting another Lombardi Trophy. I realized that by looking at the Steelers and Cardinals, one can get at least some idea of how close, or how far, the Broncos might be from their third NFL title.
CULTURE OF WINNING
This is obvious with the Steelers. They were great decades ago. And they are still great. Sure, they have had some lean years but no team is great every year.
The Steelers personify toughness. And more often than not, they win. No team has more Super Bowl titles than Pittsburgh’s six. Enough said.
I remember leading up to the Super Bowl, one of the national commentators, it might have been John Madden, was asked what comes to mind first when one mentions the Arizona Cardinals? The answer the person gave was, “Futility.”
For years, the Cardinals were the doormat of the NFL. See them on the schedule and a team automatically figured it would win.
No more. Head coach ken Whisenhunt changed the culture of the Cardinals from one of futility to one of winning. The Cardinals are just now beginning to reap the rewards of that change.
I don’t think the Broncos need to develop a culture of winning. There is a standard of excellence that is in place and that’s one reason people are so upset at the 24-24 record over the past three seasons.
Furthermore, new head coach Josh McDaniels comes from a winning atmosphere in New England. He has seen up close what it takes to win at the highest level and he has been an integral part of that winning. From what he has said, he is comfortable with that being the expectation.
A QUARTERBACK THAT GETS IT DONE WHEN IT COUNTS
Ben Roethlisberger did it again. Seriously, the guy came up huge time after time after time all season long. He guided the Steelers through the toughest schedule in the NFL and then capped it off with a clutch drive to win Super Bowl XLIII.
Arizona’s Kurt Warner dusted off the magic carpet and took the Cardinals on a magical ride. Sure, he had some rough patches during the year but he was absolutely fantastic in the playoffs. And the way he led the Cardinals back to take the lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl showed how good he is.
In this area, I think the Broncos are on the right track. Ultimately, nobody knows how good Jay Cutler will be. But there can’t be much debate about his incredible talent. His career is only three years old. Let’s not forget how long it took John Elway to figure it out.
I’m not saying Cutler will prove to be as good as Elway was. Time will tell. But I do believe Cutler is on the right track to develop into a great NFL quarterback that gets it done when the game is on the line.
A SHUT-DOWN DEFENSE
Again, not much needs to be said about the Steelers. They consistently have one of the best, if not THE best, defense in the NFL.
The Cardinals gave up over 400 points this season. But they were terrific in the playoffs. They made Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan look like a rookie. Then they picked off Carolina’s Jake Delhomme five times. And they withstood an Eagles’ rally to get to the Super Bowl.
This is the area where the Broncos need the most improvement. There is no doubt the talent level has to get better. There is no doubt the Broncos have to be tougher. And some continuity on the defensive coaching staff would probably help, too.
THE “IT” FACTOR
This is the hardest factor to quantify. It is one of those things that fans recognize when it’s there. The Steelers always seem to have “it.” They find a way to get it done. They make the big plays at the big times. They seem to be a unified group working together towards a common goal. And they seem to have fun doing it.
Without question the Cardinals had “it” this season. No one considered them a serious Super Bowl contender. Yet they kept grinding away. They battled through adversity. They won when it counted.
To me, this area is to be determined for the Broncos. With the latest move to make Brian Xanders the general manager, the hierarchy in the front office seems to be in place. Clearly, the new coaching staff is in place. Now they must retool the roster, install the systems and then see what results on the field.
Am I saying the Broncos are on the brink of a Super Bowl championship? No. But I am saying in today’s NFL, they might not be as far as some people think.
Time will tell.
What do you think? How far are the Broncos from returning to the group of elite teams in the NFL?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.