Happy Tuesday friends, and welcome to another (shortened) edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. This is MileHighReport.com, the premier source of Broncos new and analysis in the entire world. I have been feeling like we're still kind of peripheral, in the eyes of the rest of the worldwide media, but we beat the bejesus out of them every day, when it comes to covering the Broncos.
As they say, game recognizes game, and correspondingly, it also recognizes groupthink and suckiness. By your being here, reading this today, and hopefully, every week, you mark yourself as having good sense, and at least a partial desire to be part of what is a collaborative learning and growth experience for us all. I'm a front-page staff guy, obviously, but I learn interesting things from FanPosters all the time. Those people are the lifeblood of the MHR community, and they should be commended for their outstanding contributions.
If you're a lurker, you obviously have the good sense to consume our front page content. I wanted to take a minute to ask you to consider joining as an MHR community member, and participating in the discussion. We always welcome people just like you, and chances are, you know something that will be of value to the rest of us, or you have a question which will spark a discussion, which has value to the rest of us. Either way, we all win.
Okay, Ted's Own Personal Membership Drive is over. My local NPR affiliate, 90.3 WCPN in Cleveland, has been doing a drive lately (seemingly, every time I am in my car), so I decided to do a quick one in Donny Deutschland this week. I don't want your money, just your participation. (For one thing, I think this is a great week for my lurking brother Chris to join.) Do a smart thing, and get down with MHR. As we say in the US Navy, welcome aboard.
OK, on to football, and whatever else pops into my head. Out of the echo chamber, and into the fire, y'all. Ready....?
Y'all weren't ready. Okay, get ready, and let's try this again. Ready.... BEGIN!!!
1. I have some early thoughts on the Ravens game, which i consider to be a pretty favorable matchup for the Broncos. First, the Ravens are extremely physical, so it's good to be playing them, healthy and coming off a bye week. The Broncos will have to match their physicality on both sides of the ball, and I have every reason to expect that they will.
Offensively, the Broncos need to attack the Ravens outside the numbers, with Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler. The Ravens are bad at CB, and really their only good DB is Ed Reed, so throwing it where he isn't is a solid plan. They also need to run the ball, and I believe that they'll have good success in doing so. The Ravens went about 3 years without giving up a 100-yard rusher, and then got hit back to back by Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson in their last two games. This is a good defense, but it's not the vintage great defense we're used to.
Defensively, the Broncos absolutely must tackle Ray Rice, who has arguably been the second-best RB in the AFC this season, just behind Benson. Rice is averaging 6 yards per carry (73-441-3) and 9.8 yards per catch (33-325-1). Rice is very short, and very stocky, which makes him hard to tackle. Joe Flacco can make all the throws, but I love the Broncos secondary against Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and Todd Heap. I'm not worried about any of those guys consistently beating anybody in the Broncos secondary. Rice is the key player.
2. Information From My Eyes:
a. I like the vision and decisiveness with which Ryan Grant ran on Sunday. There have been some rumors that the Packers want to replace him, but he hasn't been the problem with the running game in Green Bay. He could use a good tandem back to work with, and better play from the offensive line, but Grant is definitely a starting-caliber back.
b. The Browns are just unwatchable, so I haven't been talking about them much lately. If I were Eric Mangini, this is the all-inclusive list of guys I'd want to keep on the roster after this season: Joshua Cribbs, Joe Thomas, Shaun Rogers, Eric Steinbach, Alex Mack, Mohamed Massaquoi, David Veikune, Eric Wright, Brandon McDonald, and D'Qwell Jackson. (I like Brady Quinn better than he does, but since he clearly doesn't like him, I excluded him). That's the only 10 players who I think are good players (or potentially good players) on winning football teams. Maybe you keep 10 more for next year, which is still going to be transitional. For the rest of the roster, you take a page from your friend Josh McDaniels, and go out and find some professionals to fill your holes, and try to have a very good draft. It is a talent problem in Cleveland, and all the other stuff is red herrings, until they fix the talent.
c. At a total team level, I am very impressed with the Cincinnati Bengals, and I think that they are a serious threat in the playoffs. I know I have smart readers, and I exchanged emails with a guy in the UK named Jake last week. He thought that the Bengals were a lock against the Bears, and I agreed. The Bengals controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and they hit and frustrated Jay Cutler all day.
d. I don't want to be too inflammatory with any of our Cutler lovers (if any are left), but has anybody noticed that he took his personal tendency for being on the losing end of blowouts with him to Chicago? I am sure the Broncos will eventually lose a game, but I find it impossible to imagine this team losing any game 45-10. It takes a certain kind of team to have the wheels just totally fall off in all phases of the game. I looked at the Bears Sunday and saw a complete lack of gameness and mental toughness. We all remember the games the 2006-2008 Broncos had like that, and I don't mean to attribute it personally to Cutler, or take a cheap shot. You simply can't deny, though, that this bad team-wide trait followed him out of town, and joined him in Chicago.
e. Cutler still seems to have the Favre-ian effect on the media and his fan base, where he manages to completely avoid personal blame, even when he plays very poorly, as he did Sunday. I visited the Bears' SBNation side, Windy City Gridiron, and there was virtually no criticism of Cutler, and you can see that he has again escaped much MSM accountability, too. I know I used to rationalize his bad play, and I think everybody here pretty much did too, at least to some degree. It's really a pretty amazing phenomenon, in a bad way. (By the way, I was proud to see that none of our members were over there trolling. Big up, MHR.)
f. Nobody gets picked in the top 5 of a draft because they look like they can't play in the NFL. Cedric Benson's talent just jumps off the screen. He's so fast for his size, and he has changed everything for Cincinnati. He's the main reason that the Bengals are so good on offense, because defenses are having to play eight in the box against him. That allows their good WRs to run wild, and Carson Palmer to hit his choice of open players. Benson is 10 times the player that Matt Forte is. The magnitude of the difference is akin to comparing Brian Dawkins to (Safety) Roy Williams.
g. The Bears' 7-man fronts were getting blown off the ball consistently. Just wait until Andre Smith gets started playing at RT. He is going to flat-out dominate in the running game, if he can keep his head on straight. He was clearly the best lineman in the 2009 Draft, and only his erratic pre-Draft behavior made him last to the sixth-overall pick.
h. Tank Johnson has been excellent all season for the Bengals, and was particularly terrific Sunday. Frostee Rucker and Robert Geathers had big games too, and the Bengals didn't seem to miss Antwan Odom too terribly (for one game, anyway).
i. Remember that business about top-5 guys going in the top 5 for a reason? ST&NO favorite Alex Smith had that on display Sunday. If he is ever put in a position to succeed, and can stay healthy, he will be the second coming of Rich Gannon. He's had 5 offensive coordinators in 5 years, and had the really bad shoulder injury, which he foolishly tried to play through for awhile. Remember, he is still only 25 years old. He's smart, athletic, and throws a pretty nice ball, and he's a humble, team-first player. I think Smith has an opportunity to get his career back on track, because Shaun Hill has played poorly for most of this season. There is no question that Smith is more talented than Hill.
j. It took him awhile, and some tough love from Mike Singletary to get there, but Vernon Davis is the best two-way TE in the NFL. I'd say the next best guy is probably Jason Witten, but there's a big drop-off between the two. Davis is such a fantastic blocker, and he's improved greatly as a receiver.
k. On the topic of pride and mental toughness, you have to be impressed with the job the Saints did Sunday, in coming back from a 24-3 first-half deficit against Miami. They just kept plugging away, and started executing, and eventually overtook the Dolphins. It was a great team effort, on a day where they didn't have their best stuff.
l. One serious concern I have for the Saints is how susceptible they looked to backside pressure on Drew Brees, with Jermon Bushrod filling in for Jammal Brown at LT (Brown is out for the year). Brees was shaky when he was getting pressured Sunday, like most QBs. You especially want to pressure the "A" gaps against him, because he has a strong predisposition for aggressively stepping straight up into the pocket. The Dolphins were especially successful when they generated interior pressure.
m. The Dolphins are probably going to miss the playoffs this year, and they'll look back with regret on letting the Colts and Saints get off the mat, when they had both teams pretty well beaten. Miami is a good team, which has just whiffed on opportunities to beat other good teams.
n. I don't think there is anything particularly noteworthy about Miles Austin, from a skills perspective. I watched the Dallas/Atlanta game when I got back from Dallas on Monday afternoon, and my first thought was that a good portion of the torching Austin put on the Falcons was from the slot in 3-WR packages, against base defensive personnel. I got all set to rip the Falcons for not subbing to match the offensive personnel grouping, but then I thought about it, and found myself wondering if I wouldn't be sticking to base too, if I were their Defensive Coordinator Brian Van Gorder. The Falcons lost their best CB, Brian Williams, to injury last week, and, remember, he was a Jaguars training camp casualty. Behind him are Chris Houston (who is talented but inconsistent), and Brent Grimes (who is not really talented, but tries hard). Nickel offense is the way to beat the Falcons, because they severely lack the quality players in the secondary to match up with it. I think Sunday was the first step to them having that deficiency cost them a playoff spot this year.
p. One thing that jumped out in the Dallas-Atlanta game was that the Falcons receivers (including Tony Gonzalez) had a great deal of trouble separating from the man-to-man coverage they were getting from the Cowboys (whose secondary is average, at best). Matt Ryan had a lot of really tight spots to throw to, and largely since he got hit a great deal Sunday, he missed a lot of those throws.
q. So, I promised I'd interject some fraternity-man wedding hijinks, whether anybody wants it or not, so here goes. Have you ever had a snakebite? It's a shot my contemporaries and I favor, and it consists of Yukon Jack and lime juice. It strikes a good balance between being masculine and manageable, and it's kind of that one shot that everybody agrees is doable. Anyway - apparently, Yukon Jack hasn't penetrated the Dallas-Fort Worth market very effectively, because these local bartenders there have never heard of it, or a snakebite. Well, Scott (the groom) came to play, and he made sure that there was Yukon Jack at the reception, and that the caterers knew how to make the shot.
So, at some point, when the music shifted from craptastic country dinner music, and moved on to Run DMC, the 5 Tekes who were there did a snakebite. Good times. Then we did another, and we were joined by the cool girls in the wedding party, and a couple of Scott's cousins. The Tekes put it down like it was water, the rest of them struggled, and made faces while choking it down. Scott looked at me, with this extreme solemnity, and he nodded and said, "This is how we do."
Five eloquent words, and truth was achieved. This is, in fact, how we do. He was absolutely right. There's an easily discernible identity about us, as a group of men, and part of that identity is that we dominate some snakebites. I thought of this, as I watched the Short Cut of the Colts-Rams game. The Colts have an easily discernible identity. They play a lot of Cover-2 on defense, and try to limit their exposure to big plays. On offense, they take the whole play clock, try to shorten the game, and Peyton Manning works to always take what the defense gives him. They want to get a 10-14 point lead, and then send Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis after your QB, once you have to throw the ball. There's no secret or mystery to it, and they don't even particularly game-plan much for specific teams, beyond adjusting some protection schemes, maybe. There is a great deal of comfort to knowing exactly what you're going to do, and exactly who you are.
r. Why in the world would the new Twilight movie be advertised during Monday Night Football? I am sure a few people like (or would like) both Twilight and pro football, but can it possibly be more than 10% of the viewers? Seems like little value for the advertising dollar, there, pinning your hopes to a mostly male audience being interested in the visual depiction of chick lit.
s. So, I have a half-sister, Abby, who is going to be 8 in November. She's a smart kid, but when I was over last week, her mother was telling her that she needed to learn how to think outside the box a little more. Abby didn't know what that meant, so I drew her the classic MBA school exercise that our father shared with me when I was about 13 (and he was in MBA school, and this was a brand new idea). This exercise is actually where the now-tired phrase came from.
The objective is to connect all 9 dots, using 4 or less straight lines. As the term "outside the box" indicates, this is how you complete the objective.
I dislike the term "outside the box," because people who have no idea what it means use it all the time. (It's one of those concepts that would have been better off being compartmentalized to smart people only, like any number of concepts I can think of, actually). Anyway, I am taking a long route to applauding the Eagles for making an "outside the box" huge trade last week, just ahead of the deadline.
Will Witherspoon is not particularly famous, because he has toiled on irrelevant teams for his whole career (first, some mostly bad Carolina teams, and then some awful St. Louis teams). He's very good, though, and he has experience both in the middle, and on the weakside. He's a run-and-hit player, like the kind of guy you'd probably see in a Jim Bates- or Larry Coyer-kind of design. It seems to me that Steve Spagnuolo didn't think that Witherspoon particularly fit his system, which is, of course, basically the same system used in Philadelphia and with the New York Giants. It's a big, blitz-happy 40-front, which is designed around getting A-gap pressure consistently. It's stylistically similar to a Phillips 3-4, and it favors interior front-seven players who are basically 3-4 profile guys.
The Jim Johnson tree has always favored big, downhill thumpers in the middle. Power trumps speed at that position. The quintessential guy is Jeremiah Trotter, who was the size of a DE in his prime, and is now closer to a DT. (Trotter, you'll remember, once struggled mightily when he signed a big contract with Washington, and they tried to make him fit their scheme.) The Eagles brought him back this season, and he was a huge liability in the passing game (to wit, see the Raiders game last week). By bringing in Witherspoon, the Eagles went outside of type, but the impact single-handedly returned them to real-contender status. He had a huge game Monday night, with an interception for a TD, and a strip-sack, and I expect that it's only the beginning.
t. I hope Jon Gruden doesn't get and/or take a coaching job next season. He is fantastic on Monday Night Football, and y'all know I am not too prone to wantonly complimenting much of anything about ESPN. He had a great piece of information on the Redskins, which was really shocking to me, actually. Clinton Portis told him that the last time he heard an audible, he was a Bronco. Gruden's point was that if Jason Campbell could at least change the protection scheme to account for overload blitzes, it could put him in better position not to get crushed, while knowing the crushing is coming.
Umm, you think? That's just scratching the surface of the benefits of audible-ing. The Redskins are a total Mickey Mouse operation, and I am just shocked that they didn't have anything in place, even when Joe Gibbs was there. That strikes me as having to be an organizational policy, and if it is, it's the stupidest thing that I have ever heard of, in 22 years of being a serious football observer. I know high school teams that audible, for God's sake.
u. Jason Peters, who I have been wanting to take a close look at, looked pretty cockamamie to me on Monday night, which agreed with my long-held perception of him. He gave up a sack, and generally looked like a low-effort, I-already-got-paid kind of guy. There were several plays where I saw him watching the play, and not looking to hit anybody. I see and hear all these glowing reports on the guy, but where's the beef? I am starting to understand why Buffalo thought paying Peters was a bad idea.
v. I don't like gambling, but I had to take the bet my friend Paul offered me. I had Philadelphia, straight-up against Washington, with dinner as the stakes, the next time Paul is in Cleveland around Thanksgiving. That was such a lock, it's almost unbelievable that he offered me the bet. And, no, he's actually a Dallas fan, in case you were wondering if he was just a silly Washington homer.
3. I have been something of a Brett Kern apologist, but he wasn't getting it done. I like the message that replacing him sends to the rest of the team. Even a 6-0 team has room for improvement, and everybody needs to handle the job they're hired to do.
4. I was thinking about roles over the weekend, how we all have certain roles to fill in life, and how that's true of football too, which was the context I was thinking in. All good teams are full of role players who understand their roles. As a member of the MHR creative team, I have a role, and so do the rest of the guys. (I don't know if what my role became is what John had in mind when he asked me to join last year, but it is what it is now.) Snark, discussion about offense, courage, media criticism, pop culture, snark, meandering, community building, snark, detailed football analysis, play diagrams, obscure references, lots of (now correctly punctuated) parentheses, righteous indignation, commentary on other teams and games, optimism, prescience in 2009, and snark. That's my role, and that's ST&NO.
I like that the Broncos were constructed and operate with a lot of thought devoted to roles. As a coach, when you sign a veteran like Vonnie Holliday on the eve of the season, and you tell him that he'll be a rotation player, primarily on the field in pass-rush situations, there's a clarity of understanding between you and the player. That clarity is good for business, and it comes through when you see all 53 players knowing their roles, and playing them well.
5. I think MSM NFL reporters are mostly dorks; that's pretty well-established here. (I don't mean the stringers and the local AP guys, per se, I mean the scoop-seeking talking heads.) The most dork-tastic one, in my opinion, is Jay Glazer from Fox, and he's several laps ahead of the field. Here are some recent Glazer tweets:
i'm reporting dallas and d ware have agreed on new 6 yr deal worth up to 13 per yr and nearly 40mil guaranteed. well worth it!
I reported Dan Snyder was urged to give Zorn vote of conf but opted not to. Also didnt wanna speak to press, fearing he wouldn't bite tongue
i'm so tired from spending the whole dang day workin the phones for scoopage i really don't wanna go out. wait, wait... my arm is a twistin
Cindy Crawford was here at this party, gotta admit she is one of the my physically beautiful and elegant women I have ever seen! stunning!!!
dumbest line of our night! Strahan: "There's TWO things i can do: spell, add and subtract." yes, he really said that! my friend is a moron
Have you ever known a person who is always name-dropping, and was at this party, and saw that celebrity, and is always claiming credit for themselves, because they're so much better than everybody else? That's Jay Glazer. Really, how hard is it to be an MSM NFL reporter? You offer yourself up as a convenient mouthpiece for anybody who wants to use you, and then they use you. You try to make them let you use them once in a while, too.
The Cowboys signed DeMarcus Ware; okay, that's admittedly news. Does it matter if Glazer heard about it 10 minutes before Adam Schefter did? With these guys, it's always about who had information first that everybody was going to have soon anyway. None of these guys is ever finding out anything significant which wasn't meant to come out. The Snyder thing is meaningless. Who cares? Everybody knows he's going to fire Jim Zorn after the season, so how he felt last week, when he didn't make any news, is worthless. It's just something Glazer can claim that he knew, that nobody else did. There's no Woodward or Bernstein covering the NFL, you know?
Since we're all friends here, I just wanted to vent, because Glazer makes me crazy, with his "scoopage," and his name-dropping, and his day-drinking in Beverly Hills. Thanks for listening/reading.
6. From Stuart Scott, trying to sound smart by saying that Donovan McNabb is an H-back when he's lined up outside in the Eagles "Wildcat" look:
H-back means good speed, some heft to him, runs good routes, and can catch the ball.
Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I don't care for Stuart Scott, and all of his contrived, Berman-esque, shucking and jiving, but I would like him a little better if he'd not talk about things he has no clue about. Just stick to worshipping Michael Jordan, mmmmkay, Stu? And while we're at it, how is Matt Winer the analytical counter-balance to Trent Dilfer, on the ESPN Monday Night 3-man set? Those two with noted other shucker/jiver Scott Van Pelt is a weird trio.
7. Retired for John Elway
8. I had occasion to drive by the new Dallas Cowboys stadium over the weekend, and TV doesn't do justice to how enormous it is. It's a really impressive-looking building from the outside. One thing, though, which I found interesting about my DFW experience, was how few people and cars I saw rocking Cowboys gear. I saw more on Monday morning, which is probably no surprise.
I hope everybody has a good Ravens week. All you get is about 4,200 words this week, because I am out of interesting things to say, and we're on some all-killer, no-filler here, like always. Really, that would be about an 18-20 page term paper in college, so it's still not too shabby. Look for Lighting Up The Scoreboard Saturday afternoon, and follow me on Twitter @TedBartlett905. And join MHR, if you haven't yet. There's no time like now.