Here is this week's edition of "A Few Good Questions With....Lee Rasizer". Our thanks to Lee again for taking the time to do this. Have some ideas for next week's Q&A? Send them to MileHighReport@gmail.com
MHR -- After winning 3 straight to start the season (a norm for the Broncos, getting out to fast starts), the team has lost 2 of 3. What is the mood of the team and coaches? Are they worried the season might be slipping away a bit?
LR -- I don’t think there’s panic, and with the state of the AFC this season with no dominant team outside of perhaps Tennessee, there’s really no need. But publicly, at least, there’s a bit of denial going on. There should be plenty of concerns defensively. Coming off what I felt was its best showing of the season vs. Tampa, that unit did not progress. That’s the biggest issue right now. They are sporadic vs. the run, allowing too many break-out rushes, and their pass defense is allowing an inexcusable 72.7 percent completion rate. I don’t care if those are underneath, move-the-chains types of routes, somebody needs to bat a ball away or pick the ball off every once in a while. But it’s not shocking with the way the Broncos have failed to generate a sustained pass rush, even while blitzing. Big picture-wise, the New England game is huge. It gives them some momentum going into the bye, keeps Denver in first place and allows the injured to heal. A loss, coupled with the way San Diego looked vs. the Patriots, and to me, it’s another classic case of one of their recent mid-season lulls.
MHR -- The Broncos have owned the Patriots, especially during the Belichick/Brady era (5-1). Why do you think that is?
LR -- This is just a hunch, but the artist formerly known as the ‘Mastermind’ I’m sure gets tired of hearing about what a genius Belichick is and the juices get flowing that he can coach a little too. The game plans have been mostly pitch perfect. From what I can recall from those games, and my college years have robbed me of some of my senses, the Broncos were able to put pressure on Brady and make him uncomfortable in the pocket most times. That’s the biggest key. And Denver with Bailey has been able to match up on the Patriots best receivers and dull his effectiveness.. Denver hasn’t run the ball exceedingly well in the series but has been able to attack the Patriots downfield some. That will be the primary plan again, I predict this week, given the Patriots problems in the secondary and the Broncos previous troubles moving New England’s stout front.
MHR -- The offensive production has been trending downward, looking more like the 2007 Broncos instead of the 2008 version we saw the first few weeks of the season. What has been the difference?
LR -- The answer is three-fold. Turnovers have been the biggest culprit, especially vs. KC and Jacksonville. And what’s interesting there is that many of those give-aways have been relatively unforced. What I mean by that is they haven’t come on ‘kill shots’ separating players from the ball. They’ve been correctable type issues. Marshall losing the ball while simply switching it from arm to arm. Eddie Royal and Jay Cutler holding the ball precariously away from their bodies, allowing a defender to swat it from behind. Secondly, defensive approach. The Broncos surprised teams by spreading the field with three and four wide receiver sets early and weren’t equipped for the pass-first philosophy that suddenly evolved from a normally run-first, set-up-the-pass Denver club. And, for the first time in a while, they had the kind of depth that could take advantage of second and third cornerbacks and linebackers/safeties covering the tight end. The Broncos have been zoned more the last few weeks, with defenses keeping everything underneath and testing Jay Cutler’s patience to work his checkdowns. It worked well vs. Tampa Bay, not so much vs. Jacksonville. Which brings up the third issue – injuries. Losing Royal, Scheffler and for most of three quarter against the Jaguars, Brandon Stokley, removed the second, third and fourth leading pass targets on the team. Wonde r why Cutler locked on Brandon Marshall? Darrell Jackson showed no explosiveness.. Nate Jackson had a key drop and Glenn Martinez is serviceable but not someone defenses fear. The Broncos should have many of their key components back vs. the Patriots, and perhaps just in time.
MHR -- Just how good has Ryan Clady been so far? Do you think he deserves consideration for Rookie of the Year, or the Pro Bowl?
LR -- Little too early for Pro Bowl talk. Rookie of the Year? Linemen have no statistics so it might be tough. But if Denver builds off its early start and reaches the playoffs, Clady, like Joe Thomas in Cleveland, deserves consideration for helping forge a turnaround and allowing the passing game to carry his team’s offense. Clady is the real deal. He has tremendous ability to slide in pass protection, just excellent feet. And his long arms keep defensive ends at bay. He’s yet to allow a sack this season. Pretty impressive. The Broncos, barring an injury and contract shenanigans, have a fixture on the left side for the next decade.
MHR -- What were your thoughts when you heard Jay Cutler’s comments about his arm strength compared to Elway’s?
LR -- Honestly, why couldn’t I have gotten that little nugget? Actually, I know the editor at Sporting News and he asked if he’d put me in touch with the writer. The reason was I wanted to ask directly what the context was when the question was asked and Cutler’s demeanor answering it. To me, it just seemed tremendously out of character from what we’ve seen the last two years from a public standpoint from Cutler. It was brash and ballsy. I know he has those qualities on the field, but he usually doesn’t lend voice to what had been previously quiet confidence by making public proclamations. Remember, he wouldn’t even respond to the Philip Rivers incident last season, even right after it happened. Cutler’s words have caused something of a stir. One national figure the other day asked me how he could make a statement like that in Denver and get away with it. But I actually believe it would have been an even bigger deal had he said that to the Denver media. It would have been headline news. Instead, it was relegated to an interesting factoid that’s going to be brought up but not incessantly dissected.
MHR -- What advice would you give to someone aspiring to be a sportswriter that they won’t learn in school?
LR -- Be prepared to steadily move up the ladder, not do it suddenly. Even going to college and earning a journalism degree from a major college doesn’t guarantee entry to covering a major professional sports team. Think preps and lots of them while cutting your teeth and try to work your way to bigger assignments, at least in the newspaper realm. But it is a changing dynamic with the Internet, which may allow you to get into the games quicker to see how everything operates and perhaps provide some samples that might be useful in building a resume. And know that these are coveted jobs and the competition is fierce.