Happy Tuesday, friends. It's a short week, with another game on Thursday night, so there's no time to mope or feel sorry for ourselves. In their scheduling wisdom, the NFL took away our right to do so - and I, for one, am glad. The Giants can be beaten, with sound play, but we'll get to that eventually. For now we'll put this week to bed and move on quickly. Ready.... BEGIN!!!!
1. I am approaching one full year as a staff contributor to MHR, having joined at the beginning of December 2008. It's been quite an interesting year, and my relationship to the team has kind of changed in an unexpected way during that time.
I first discovered MHR in April 2008, right before the draft. It, and SBNation, have come a long way since then, but the basics were the same; MHR is a respectful, knowledgeable community which discussed all things about their team. I was inspired to join such a community, and I started posting some FanPosts (which were still called Diaries only a year and a half ago).
Unlike a lot of staff members, I wasn't asked to fill a specific role, so I had to figure out what mine would be. I had always done some around the league stuff, but I wanted to find a delivery formula that would work well on a Broncos site. I debuted ST&NO on January 12, 2009, with the following opening:
As we enter the re-loading season, I felt like I needed to establish a fun new recurring feature. HT has MHR University, and Broncobear has the always excellent Tales from the Sunny Side. Styg is heading up some great draft coverage, which has a fun name, which you'll be hearing about very soon. Nick has some statistical analysis pieces which will be coming, and Zappa will continue to be Zappa, intermittently unleashing jolts of Broncos fan brilliance. And the Guru, when we form like Voltron, the Guru is the head.
So where does that leave me? Well, I was thinking a couple days ago, as I listened to Enter The Wu-Tang and shoveled a foot of snow, that two things I can consistently provide are shallow thoughts, and nearsighted observations. Since this is a Broncos blog, I'll focus on our team, but I'll also include some league-wide thoughts, for keeping-up-with- the-Jones purposes. Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. What else could be needed on top of that? Maybe just some more cowbell.... Did anybody bring a cowbell?
Well, ST&NO has grown, and I have too. As I was sitting on my couch Sunday, watching the debacle against the Chargers, I realized that I wasn't yelling and cursing as much as normal. I didn't get that excited, and I have to say, upon some reflection, that I have been less excitable about the Broncos this season than ever. For the first 6 games, I had a hard time finding new ways to express my pleasure with the situation, and for the last 4, I have had trouble doing the opposite thing.
All I can figure is that my role in writing for this site has subtly and gradually forced me to become more of an objective analyst, and less of a passionate fan. I think the change largely has to do with my relationship with and attitude toward reporters.
I like to beat up on NFL reporters, because I think that most of them only have a surface-level knowledge of what is going on in a football game. The Broncos have a couple of good reporters, in Lindsay Jones and Jeff Legwold, and I never take any shots at them. I actually have tended toward staying away from taking deserved shots at the Denver-area Woody Paige bloviator class, because I don't want to spend the site's goodwill with the Denver media; it's John's to spend, not mine, after all. (Woody going after Kyle at BroncoTalk made me briefly lift my moratorium in the comments section of Horse Tracks the other day.)
Here's a summary of my general attitude toward football reporting. I think there is relatively little value in the reporting of news, at the national level. When Lindsay Jones reports on what happened at the facility every day, there is value in that. When Chris Mortensen hears 10 minutes before Jay Glazer that Chris Simms will start, who cares? Everybody was going to find out soon enough anyway, so what's the difference who had it first?
The real value, to me, is in the analysis, which is why I devote my time and effort to being a good analyst. While I am not a journalist, I do admire the journalistic principle of objectivity, and I think that in reconciling my criticism of national NFL reporters with my long-held policy of non-hypocrisy, I have become more objective. If I am going to beat them up for not knowing the technical aspects of the game as well as me, I can't be less objective than them. Something like that.
I remember last spring sitting in a bar with some co-workers for a happy hour, and seeing Woody's face come on Around The Horn. I told this girl I work with, Trudy, that I competed with him in the marketplace of ideas, and that I kicked his butt, on the merits. Well, I really don't think of Woody as my competition anymore, for a lot of obvious reasons. (Like, for example, he can't compete with me.) Due to the established nature of my content, I feel like I am competing with national guys, like Peter King and Gregg Easterbrook, even if this platform is Broncos-specific.
So, the point of this is that I was struggling with what to say in a general way about Sunday's game, when I don't have the deep feelings that most of you do, and that I would have had a year ago. I feel like I imagine Tom Jackson to feel; I'm very disappointed at the result for my affiliated team, but at the end of the day, I have the rest of the football landscape to worry about, too, and I have to get on with the business of being an objective analyst. I am still coming to grips with this change, and I am not really sure what the ancillary implications are for me. This may be one of these existential crises like we're seeing with Team Edward or Team Jacob. (I have a lot of 20-something women among my Facebook friends, so, trust me, I know.) See here for a funny breakdown of that Twilight sitch-ee-ation.
(Big up my man Justin Dazet for finding that. Justin writes a blog that gets into gaming and other stuff, and a San Diego area column on Geek Culture. Check him out if you're into that sort of thing.)
Momentarily, I will get back to the business of breaking down the game details, like I always do, but I thought I should at least explain why there was no impassioned, emotional screed today about the Broncos.
2. Information From My Eyes - Chargers at Broncos
a. First things first. I am going to tell you why Kyle Orton didn't start the game. He couldn't take snaps from under center and drop back effectively. It's that simple. The injury that he has prevented it. If you can only play in the shotgun, your running game is severely limited, from the perspective of the direction you can run. Josh McDaniels said this without really getting detailed, but this is what he meant.
Orton took a few snaps under center, but he really labored with his footwork, and it hindered the timing of the running game, and the Broncos could only really run to the A and B gaps. When the QB is playing slow, it makes the whole offense play slow, unfortunately.
b. The Broncos came out running the ball like they meant business. They could do that with Chris Simms under center, but Simms obviously never held his end of the bargain as a passer. When Orton came into the game, it wasn't conducive to running the ball, and neither was Orton's ability to retreat from center.
c. Knowshon Moreno scored a Touchdown, and
Ron Nuclear Winter's crew blew the call. When I saw who the referee was, right after kickoff, I tweeted;
I am sure Moreno's play was a TD by virtue of relative positioning. To wit, Russ Hochstein's knee was across the goal line, and if his knee caused the fumble, which it clearly did, then the ball had to be across the goal line. That play was an absolute killer, because with a TD at the end of the half, the Broncos are right back in the game at 13-7. The energy of the game had momentarily shifted to the Broncos, and just like that, it was gone.
d. I was very disappointed with the defensive scheme, as I have been the last several weeks. The Broncos have really changed from an aggressive defense to one which is reading and reacting, and I don't like it at all. In the game at San Diego, the Broncos had great success pressuring the A gaps, and I saw very little effort to do that Sunday. They also got Elvis Dumervil in favorable matchups against the terrible Jeromey Clary, and again, there was none of that. Clary was even injured, and they didn't seem like they wanted to go after him. The Broncos need to get back to what made them tough on defense.
e. A little noticed good thing about Sunday was kickoff and punt coverage. The Broncos never let Darren Sproles hurt them in the return game, and both Josh Barrett and David Bruton made outstanding plays in downfield coverage.
f. The Chargers defensive backs got away with playing through the bodies of Denver receivers several times. The Broncos were a lot sloppier than San Diego, but not to the point where the penalty disparity should have been as wide as it was. It seems to me that teams which have "physical" labels like San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore get away with mugging a lot of WRs, and not just with crappy officiating crews like Nuclear Winter. It's like how you might call a foul playing an indoor basketball game at the Y, but you wouldn't call the same thing playing streetball.
g. Speaking of penalties, I want to know what the unsportsmanlike conduct was against Marcus Thomas and Ronald Fields on those two kicking plays. It seemed to me that they just hit the long snapper, though it was hard to tell from the TV angles on the recorded Short Cut. Those seemed like Nuclear Winter ticky-tack calls.
i. I put a great deal of the Broncos' recent offensive struggles on the absence of Ryan Harris. They haven't been able to protect nearly as well as they did in the first six games. That's not exactly meant to be an indictment of Tyler Polumbus, who is fine as a backup OT and special teams player. It's just recognizing the fact that Harris is one of the best RTs in the game. The timing of the offensive struggles aren't coincidental. It looks like Harris is still hurt, but let's hope he can play on the other side of the Giants game.
j. Again, the gap discipline took a vacation in the second half of the football game. Peter King thinks the defense of the first six games was a mirage, which is dramatically oversimplifying the case. They have still been quick and active for big stretches during the losing streak. It's just been less common to see them sustain it for 60 minutes lately. D.J. Williams (again) and Andra Davis both had pretty bad days in the gap discipline department.
k. I was fine with the onsides kick call, even if it didn't work. It was a good situation for it, because the Broncos were going to lose anyway without a big play.
3. Information From My Eyes - Other Games
a. Again, Thursday seems like it was a long time ago. I was very impressed with the play of Ricky Williams in the absence of Ronnie Brown. I haven't liked the play of Williams so much, maybe ever. The Dolphins didn't do much of their Wild Cute Marine Mammal stuff, but they ran very well from traditional formations, against a Carolina defense which is usually stout against the run. The direct snap stuff is good because of Brown, who has a rare instinctiveness for the options it provides. The Dolphins were smart to go back to the handoff game with Williams.
b. I still don't like Chad Henne's tattoo, but he had a very steady game. He's improving as a player every week, and I give the Dolphins a lot of credit for taking it slow with him, and developing him in an intelligent way. Tony Sparano doesn't receive a lot of acclaim, but I have been very impressed with the coaching job his staff has done for two years now.
c. The Dolphins have started ST&NO Favorite Sean Smith at RCB all season, and are now starting Vontae Davis at LCB. They have done a great job, and they really more than held their own against Muhsin Muhammad and Steve Smith last Thursday. Both guys are very talented, but again, it's a testament to the coaching they are getting from Todd Bowles, the Dolphins Assistant Head Coach and Secondary coach. I fully expect Bowles to get a head coaching job this offseason, even though nobody in the reporter-o-sphere is talking about him.
d. I criticized Joey Porter's play last week, but the benching seems to have motivated him. He was dominant, with two sacks and two other tackles for losses. It helped that Jordan Gross was hurt, but Porter looked much better than I have seen him this season, regardless of the matchup.
e. I watched a great deal of the Green Bay-San Francisco game, and I came away thinking that Aaron Rodgers has it better than Alex Smith from a protection standpoint, which isn't saying much at all, obviously. San Francisco has a pretty good LT in Joe Staley, but he's been hurt for a few weeks now. Smith couldn't do anything at all for most of the game Sunday, because he was getting hit the second he got to the top of his drops.
In the second half, with the score getting lopsided, the Niners smartened up and just put Smith in the shotgun, where he is most comfortable. He responded with 3 TD passes and made the game look like it was closer than it was. I continue to think that Smith is more than good enough to win with, if he gets protection. When you evaluate what he does in a vacuum, he's doing the right things way more often than not.
f. I have heard a lot of criticism of Aaron Rodgers lately, but he continues to look like a top-notch passer to me. He is gaining 8.2 yards per pass attempt, with 19 TDs and 5 INTs this season. He has also run for more yards than any QB in the NFL, and 3 TDs. I also tend to think you have to evaluate Rodgers in a vacuum, and other than holding the ball a little too long sometimes, he doesn't do much wrong. The last couple weeks, he's been getting the ball out quicker, too.
g. The loss of Al Harris is really going to hurt the Packers badly. It severely limits their ability to use Charles Woodson in the wide variety of roles that they liked to use him in. Woodson has often covered TEs and is a great blitzer. He's played as well as any defensive player in the NFL this season, and now the Packers may need to use him more on the outside.
I actually think the loss of Aaron Kampman is pretty negligible for them, despite his big name. He hasn't adjusted well to playing OLB, and his tallness has hurt him. By coming from a standup position, Kampman hasn't gotten the leverage he used to play with. He needs to move on to a 4-3 team where he can play on the strongside again. He's about the best in the NFL at that, after Mario Williams.
h. I can't believe the Jaguars are 6-4, but they are. When they win, they have been getting good play from David Garrard and Mike Sims-Walker, which they did on Sunday against Buffalo. Garrard is an interesting guy, because he seems young, but he isn't. He's actually 31, and he's probably reached the prime of his career. He's good enough to take a team to the playoffs, obviously, but do you build around him? I kind of feel the same way about Garrard as I did about Jake Plummer at the end of 2005, though I think Garrard is a little better player than Plummer was.
i. A guy who has been an outstanding player for a few years, without getting any credit, is Kyle Williams for the Bills. He was dominant on Sunday. Williams is kind of a short, stout DT, who does a great job getting penetration from a 3-technique position. He's never been a big sack guy, but his ability to shoot gaps has disrupted a lot of running games.
j. It's funny how many ST&NO favorites become really good players in the NFL. Percy Harvin hasn't gotten a lot of credit, because the media is busy loving on Brett Favre, but he's become a good NFL receiver quickly. A lot of Mel Kiper's said Harvin didn't run a lot of routes at Florida, but he was always open when he did. It was clear to me that he'd be able to separate with quickness as he learned NFL technique. His technique is improving quickly, and he's a handful. Along with Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian, he's part of a really dangerous receiving corps. I can't think of a lot of groups I'd take over them, actually.
k. Joseph Addai has never been a favorite of mine, but he's playing better than ever lately. I still think that Donald Brown is going to be the better player, but Addai seems to have found some confidence and toughness that I never perceived in him.
l. The AFC has had a lot of outstanding safety play this season, but if I had to pick two starters for the Pro Bowl, they'd be Melvin Bullitt and Bernard Pollard. Bullitt got some notice for stopping the 4th and 2 last week, but he has been terrific in replacing Bob Sanders. Tampa 2-teams need a quick safety who can get from a cover-2 shell to the box very quickly, and Bullitt has done it as well as Sanders ever did.
Pollard was cut by Kansas City, and I just didn't get it. Maybe Scott Pioli was paying him back for last season's hit on Tom Brady? Pollard has been spectacular at times for the Texans, and has really been the star on the back end that they've never had. (No, Dunta Robinson is not a star; he's only paid like one.)
Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, Jairus Byrd, Antoine Bethea, Kerry Rhodes, Brandon Meriweather, and Reggie Nelson would be battling it out for the last Pro Bowl spot, but I am sure about the top 2, as of today.
m. Laurence Maroney is doing a decent job of re-establishing his reputation as a solid RB. He has had the knock of not being particularly tough, kind of like Addai, but Maroney has been picking up a lot of tough yards lately. Take away the goal-line fumble against he Colts, and he's been really good.
n. Mark Sanchez looked confused almost the whole game on Sunday, against a New England team that knows how to confuse a QB. Sanchez is a classic example of what happens when teams get some film on you and know what you're going to do. I don't think it's time to bench him, like the average Peter King is calling for, but it would definitely behoove the Jets to figure out what Sanchez is comfortable doing, and sticking to only that stuff.
o. I can tell you right now, the Lions had a fantastic draft in 2009. Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and Louis Delmas all look like future Pro Bowlers. MHR favorite Sammie Lee Hill has been a solid starter at DT, and DeAndre Levy has been solid starting at WLB, since Ernie Sims as lost for the season, too. The guy I might like best, actually, is sixth-rounder Aaron Brown, a RB from TCU. He caught a TD pass on Sunday, but where he looked really dangerous was on kickoff returns. He's very explosive looking. I think Derrick Williams will eventually be a useful player too, and that makes 7 hits in one draft class. It's exactly the kind of performance that their opponents from Sunday (the Browns) need.
p. Speaking of he Browns, I have some thoughts. It sucks to lose like that, on an untimed down, but if I was a Browns fan, I would feel a lot better than I did a week ago. Brady Quinn had his best day as a pro, with 4 TD passes, and a 5th one dropped. Sure, he wasn't pressured a lot, when Detroit didn't blitz, but he looked like he was in command, and the offensive game plan looked like Brian Daboll trusted Quinn, finally. Mohamed Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey did a very nice job making plays down the field.
I mentioned that the Browns need a good draft; they have 11 picks as of right now, and they need to hit on the majority of them. If I were their new football czar, I wouldn't draft a QB in the first round. I would give Quinn a full year with better talent (and coaching), and see what I have. My target would be Russell Okung, an OT from Oklahoma State, who I'd play on the right side. The Browns' current right side is flat-out awful. I'd be bringing in 2 good RBs, since they have zero right now. They need a Correll Buckhalter-type of free agent, and a second-round pick like a Jonathan Dwyer from Georgia Tech. One of their 3rd-round picks would go for a TE who can catch, like Ed Dickson from Oregon. With 2 new RBs, a TE, and a RT, all of a sudden, you have a solid group of players on offense.
Offense has to be the priority, because their 5 TDs on Sunday matched their previous total in 9 games. They aren't really that far away from being league-average, and I only used 3 of 11 picks in this hypothetical situation. The Browns could be 8-8 or 9-7 next season, if they make the most of their offseason opportunities. I can see it now; Todd Bowles wins coach of the year for them, after going from 2-14 to 9-7.
q. The Texans just continue to lose heartbreakers. Matt Schaub made plays, again, and gave his team a chance to win, again. And then Kris Brown blew it, again. I feel really bad for guys like Schaub, Andre Johnson and Mario Williams, who bring it every week. I'd hate to see these circumstances cost Gary Kubiak his job, but they just might.
r. I was going to talk about how everybody needs to slow down on the Vince Young hype train, but he justified the hype Monday night. Repeatedly, he picked up 3rd downs with his legs, and his throwing was pretty good too. He particularly threw a pretty ball that Nate Washington didn't come down with. He looked like he did at the University of Texas. You heard it here first; the Titans are going to beat San Diego by 2 TDs in a few weeks.
s. Trent Dilfer is a really terrible analyst, and I don't get the Steve Levy and Matt Winer combination with him. Usually, there's one anchor type to serve up softballs to the analyst. It's a weird setup. Back to Dilfer, I think the guy is just about always wrong.
t. Right after I typed that, ESPN went back to the Stuart Scott-Matt Millen-Steve Young set, and they proceeded to blame Matt Schaub for Kris Brown's missed field goal. Epic FAIL. All the guy could do was what he did. He moved his team down the field in 45 seconds, and set them up with a shot at a makeable kick. How in the world does that fall on the QB that they lost the game? That is just too idiotic for words
4. As promised, here is the rationale for why the Broncos can win on Thursday night. The Giants are extremely susceptible to getting beaten down the field, since they lost their starting Free Safety, Kenny Phillips. They are getting Aaron Ross back into the swing of things at CB, but he hadn't played all season, prior to this past Sunday.
With their shakiness on the back end, the Giants have blitzed a bit less than in past years, particularly in the A gaps. Tyler Polumbus will need some help on Justin Tuck, when they're matched up, but I expect the Broncos to be able to protect Kyle Orton reasonably well.
The Giants, meanwhile, aren't getting much from their running game lately. I also believe that their WRs don't pose a huge threat against Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman. David Diehl will almost certainly struggle against Elvis Dumervil, because he's a natural LG playing LT. I feel pretty good about the defensive matchup, really.
This game is no lock, obviously, but it's one which the Broncos can win if they execute, stop taking bad penalties, and take care of the football. John Bena had it exactly right Sunday night. The Broncos can't beat good teams if they make mistakes, and the Giants are a good team. A victory is very plausible, though, if they do what they need to do.
5. I have cited several reasons lately for cutting ST&NO a little short, and I have another one. I got a bit sidetracked from writing, because of some big news in my family, which led to some calling, texting, and emailing, but not much writing.
On Monday night, my brother Chris911's wife Ana gave birth to their first child, Elizabeth Danielle Bartlett, at 7:36 Pacific Time, in Los Angeles, CA. Elizabeth weighed 5 pounds, 12.5 ounces, and was 17 1/4 inches long. Mother and baby are doing well. It occurred to me that I was in a good position to write the first birth announcement. Please join me in congratulating Chris and Ana on the birth of the newest little Broncos fan.
Since I am decidedly not in the having kids business, I took some time to live vicariously through them, and try to feel their excitement. Now, I am going to get back to living vicariously though myself, though. Y'all know how I do...
6. I am hitting the road for Connecticut on Tuesday, right after this story posts, to go eat some turkey, take a hellified tryptophan nap, and find a bar with NFL Network. My main reason for going, though, is to play in the 38th Annual Erb-Orsini Bowl in my hometown of Norwich, CT. I am only 32, so it predates me, but I have played in a number of them over the years. I said I would try to go back east for it last year, but it was snowing all across Pennsylvania, and I decided at the last minute to stay in Cleveland. I wasn't feeling 600 miles of driving in snow. This year, I wanted to show up and play, and the weather is cooperative. I have too much work to do to take the time, but I am going to work on Wednesday from a Tim Horton's restaurant.
The Erb-Orsini Bowl is a touch game, but it's been pretty physical and competitive in the past. The picture below is from the 2004 game. I am on the left. On the right is my brother John. He laid out for a pass early in the game, and was shaken up. His shoulder hurt, and he said that he didn't want to catch any more passes, and that he'd just stay in and pass-block, so he did just that. Thirty-six hours later, after not saying anything more about the topic, he decided to go to the hospital. Turned out, he had broken his shoulder. It's kind of the Bartlett way to suffer in silence, really, which is owed to being half Irish.
The keeper of the flame is the guy in the midde, my long-time friend Tony Orsini. Tony, as it happens, is a huge Giants fan. He's such a huge fan, actually, that he and his dad spent thousands of dollars to go to Arizona and get tickets for Super Bowl XLII against the mighty Patriots. Against that 16-0 team, i would have never spent that kind of coin, but he did, and he was rewarded. (To me, when I heard about it, it sounded like that time in 7th grade when I bet Pete Lacombe 5 bucks that Denver would beat San Francisco, straight-up, in Super Bowl XXIV, even though my allowance was $2 per week at that time. That was an all-time dumb call.)
On Thursday morning, I am hoping for a good Erb-Orsini Bowl, where I make some big plays, and on Thursday night, for our Broncos to beat Tony's Giants. Do any of y'all have good Turkey Bowls to play in? Let's hear some tangential Thanksgiving football stories. You might as well get with me on this meandering, because you never know where we might end up when the carousel stops.
7. Retired for John Elway.
8. The Buffalo coaching search is interesting. We know they've reached out to Mike Shanahan, and word materialized Monday night/Tuesday morning that Bill Cowher was contacted, and that he declined to be considered. Ralph Wilson is 91, and he wants to win now. Unfortunately for Buffalo, he is relatively cash-poor, and the team probably doesn't stay in his family when he dies, due to estate taxation. If it leaves his family, it almost certainly leaves Buffalo, which is a rapidly declining city.
If I were a coach looking for work, I would consider Buffalo unattractive for those reasons, as well as for the fact that they don't have a QB or any real quality on the O-Line. They have 2 good RBs, the fantastic Lee Evans, some good CBs and a good young safety in Jairus Byrd and pass rusher in Aaron Maybin. Paul Posluszny is solid, and Kyle Williams is very good, as I mentioned. The cupboard is not totally empty talent-wise, but it's a serious personnel challenge in a boring, economically depressed cold-weather town. The only thing they have on Cleveland, in terms of attracting free agents, is marginally better-looking uniforms. I expect that the Bills end up hiring a first time Head Coach, after being spurned by Shanahan and others.
That's all I have for this week, friends. I am off to get on the road for the East Coast. I won't see any comments until 10 or 11 hours from now, but I will check them out when I get where I am going, and will answer the ones that need answering. Have a great week, a great holiday, and a great Football Thursday. Go Broncos!