Each week I'll "sit down" with Lee Rasizer, Broncos Beat Writer at the Rocky Mountain News. He is as close to the team as anyone and has a solid handle on the pulse of the organization. My thanks to Lee for taking the time. Remember to join me, as well as Kyle from BroncoTalk and Sam Adams from the RMN for a Pre-Game Chat about the Broncos over at RMN's website! This week we start an hour before kickoff - 1:00 PM mst!!
You can see last week's edition RIGHT HERE.
On to the questions --
MHR - Casual football fans may not have been entertained by how things went down during the Broncos win over Tampa, but how important do you think it was for the Broncos to win a game primarily with defense as we move forward in 2008?
LR - The way I look at it is, it's important only if they keep it up. Any team can have one solid game. But can the Broncos string together several? There were some encouraging signs. Tampa hadn't allowed a sack in two weeks and Denver's pass rush was just shy of anemic for almost a month but the Broncos were able to hit Brian Griese where Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Damon Huard stayed clean. But largely Denver did it by deception, after proving its four-man front doesn't have the personnel to generate sufficient heat. Its pliable 4-3, 3-4 scheme featured zone drops, a few blitzes and at times, dropping eight in coverage and confused the Tampa front. But opposing coordinators will study that, and what happens when the element of surprise is gone? Can they still get there? The other positives were the gang-tackling to the ball and a lack of big plays. The effort should continue. We'll all see if the big plays continue to be kept down.
MHR - Is it just me, or is Michael Pittman the best option at running back right now?
LR - You might be right. I used to cover Pittman when he was with the Cardinals and not much has changed over the years. He isn't afraid to initiate contact and will be aggressive through the hole. Pittman doesn't have breakaway speed, which, along with the fear of overuse, is the key reason Selvin Young has remained the starter and the committee approach stayed in tact. Mike Shanahan said earlier this week he might consider Pittman in more a feature role. But an acknowledgment that it could happen isn't the same as coming out and saying it will. And Shanahan is infamous for leaving loose ends out there for people to pick apart and potentially create confusion. But if there's a week it could happen, this one's as good as any. Jacksonville has a stout front that won't back down physically and Pittman may be the right guy to attack that mindset. And with Young nursing a sore groin, it could give Shanahan an ‘in' to give Pittman a trial look, then go back to Young if things don't work out.
MHR - Cutler reminds me a bit of a young Peyton Manning in this sense - the book on Peyton used to be to force him to go "the long way" to score, that is, use several plays to get to the endzone. The reason was Peyton would get impatient and make mistakes. Cutler has shown a similar tendency. Do you think Sunday helped his growth process in the area?
LR - You could almost see the contempt dripping when Cutler discussed Kansas City's approach to take away the deep ball. But it also likely prompted discussion between him and the coaching staff that resulted in a better, more patient approach against the Bucs. Cutler will always be a gunslinger. He wants to push the envelope. And it's a delicate balance. Shanahan loves that quality in him, saying that the great QBs aren't just content to check it down but willing to force the issue when necessary and trust their physical gifts. But those attempts to go for it have to also come within the flow of the game. And while in Kansas City the feeling was Denver could (even though it didn't) get points in bunches, the upside risk firing to Brandon Marshall in coverage presented outweighed the potential risks. Against Tampa, it was clear any turnover could be a game-changer. Cutler, I think, is learning those distinctions.
MHR - I have talked at length about how the Broncos used Champ Bailey. It appears they finally got the picture on Sunday, using Bailey close to the line of scrimmage and to bring pressure. Is this something you feel the Broncos will keep doing or was this a one-game deal?
LR - I don't think this is the start of a trend. If you're going to send pressure, and leave your cornerbacks on an island if it doesn't work, wouldn't you rather have Bailey as one of those man-to-man cover options? There's a reason Bailey doesn't have a sack since, I believe, his rookie year. As for keeping Bailey close to the line of scrimmage, I did a story last year where I sat through film study with him and wrote about his game-planning and execution in a game vs. Arizona. Even when the Denver defensive philosophy is bump-and-run, Bailey prefers to be aligned off the line of scrimmage. It allows him to get a peek into the backfield and watch the quarterback's initial movements, keying him to the run (where he's a dynamite tackler) while still giving him enough time to react to the route in front of him because he has such fluid hips and short-area quickness.
MHR - I really believe the story of the 2007 season can be told by watching one game - Week 3 against Jacksonville. The Broncos were physically dominated that game, and it lead to several shaky performances the rest of the year. Do you think the Broncos will be looking to redeem themselves this week or is this just another game they will try to win?
LR - I think it's just another game. But I will say that it's a completely different configuration up front, and while this offensive line has been stellar in pass protection, if I were a Broncos fan, or a Denver lineman, I would like to see better success running between the tackles against a physical front. And this is another opportunity to prove this offense isn't so one-dimensional.
MHR - Last week I asked about your favorite player to cover. This week, give me one bad thing about your job that most of us don't know?
LR - Wow, that's a can of worms I don't want to open, especially with the current economy. I love everything. My job. The entire Broncos organization. Every assignment. My paper boy. Especially my bosses. ... OK, one thing? The shrinking access in the NFL. It's one thing to have a 45-minute locker room period. It's another getting to know some of these guys on a more personal level to write deeper stories. That's difficult, but not impossible, these days. Everything's ‘managed,' in my opinion.