Happy Tuesday, friends, if you can manage one. Welcome to another edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. Well, this was bound to happen, right? Since Sunday afternoon, I have been thinking about what the right tone is to take with this week's ST&NO. I still haven't decided, and it's Monday at 5 PM as I write this paragraph. I guess I am just going to go with it, and play it like it feels. We had an ugly loss, and to top it off, there were only 4 late games, and no Sunday night game, so I didn't see a lot of live football, at all. We'll make do, because that's all we can do. Out of the echo chamber, and into the fire y'all. Ready.... BEGIN!!!!
1. The two plays which set the tone for yesterday's game happened at the beginning of each half. On the Broncos' first play from scrimmage, Jarret Johnson came in untouched and unrecognized off the defense's left side, and creamed Kyle Orton for a big loss. As I watched the play happen, I couldn't help but think that the Broncos may not be well-prepared if they weren't expecting a lot of blitzing.
As the second half got underway, Lardarius Webb took the opening kickoff back 95 yards for a TD. That took a manageable 6-0 halftime deficit to 13-0, and essentially dictated that the Broncos start playing come-from-behind football. You see the picture of this play, and I used it because it sticks in my craw (whatever a craw is), and I want it stick in yours, too. I guarantee it bothers the coaches and players. You can't have that happen and expect to win.
The final score, 30-7, sounds like a blowout, but this game wasn't really that. This game swung on field position, and third-down performance, which was directly driven by down-and-distance situations. The Ravens made key plays on 3rd down, and the Broncos missed opportunities to make those plays.
There's an offensive concept called staying on schedule, and it means that from first and 10, you get to 2nd and 6, and then to 3rd and 2. All your down-and-distance situations are manageable if you stay on schedule. It's a really good thing to do every game, but it's absolutely imperative against a team like Baltimore, which can bring a bunch of overload pressure and force a QB to either throw way short of the first down or eat the ball.
Actually, the Broncos did a great job throughout the game with first-down defense, and getting Baltimore off schedule themselves. The Ravens, though, led by Joe Flacco, made enough plays to negate those early-down advantages.
The world didn't end, and all we can hope is that some lessons are learned from the experience by the players and coaches, and that those lessons are applied to future situations. Sometimes a loss is a growth opportunity, and I think that there is a solid reson to think that this loss was one of those.
a. I thought Mitch Berger was awul on Sunday, despite Josh McDaniels' charitable comments about his performance. Hang time is fine, but I want changes in field position. The Broncos lost the field position game the whole first half, in large part because of bad punting.
b. I disliked the offensive game plan and the play calling. The 3rd-and-5 sweep for Correll Buckhalter on the second series is an example. I thought there were too many screens against a team which clearly came to stop the screen. I wanted to see more use of Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal agains the Baltimore CBs, and I am perplexed as to why we didn't get more of that.
c. I was really pleased with the way that Mario Haggan was consistently setting the edge in this game. He has a physical style of play which is perfect for the position he plays. It's pretty shocking that he was basically a special teamer only in Buffalo, because he's a top-notch 3-4 OLB.
d. I don't blame Knowshon Moreno very much for the fumble (this time). That play was doomed from the start, with Jarret Johnson forcing a high throw and tough catch, and Moreno turning right into a thumping from Ed Reed.
e. Andra Davis is playing at a Pro Bowl level this season, when he is on the field. He plays downhill all the time and has a great sense of timing with the snap count. The great thing about him is that he seems to be cool with coming off the field on 3rd downs, and letting Wesley Woodyard play the long-yardage situations, which Woodyard's much better suited for.
f. There was a lot of dancing by Brandon Marshall on his four catches. I'd like to see him get upfield quicker after the catch. I'd also like to see him use his physicality to get open on some downfield stuff.
g. I was tired by 10:30 Monday night, when I re-watched this game, so I didn't tally anything, but anecdotally, the screen game was a complete disaster on offense for the Broncos.
h. Kyle Orton had two easy interceptions dropped in this game. One was on a play where he got crushed and the ball came out weakly, and the other was a terrible decision, with Jarret Johnson sitting in an underneath zone, and Dawan Landry right behind him. Orton needs to play better than he did Sunday, like the rest of the offense.
i. With the score 16-7 early in the 4th quarter, the Broncos had Baltimore in a 3rd and 12 near midfield. On consecutive plays, Elvis Dumervil and Darrell Reid jumped offsides. On the resulting 3rd and 2, Flacco escaped pressure and made a downfield throw to Derrick Mason. This basically ended the game, because soon after, Mason scored to make the score 23-7.
j. Renaldo Hill looked out of position on the aforementioned Mason TD. Andre' Goodman had outside leverage on the play, with good coverage, really, but Hill never got over the top to help him. He may have seen something that kept him in the shallow middle; but it was a bust, clear as day, because Brian Dawkins played the coverage like he had a deep half on the other side. Credit Flacco for seeing the blown coverage and making a perfect throw.
k. From the Ravens' side, I liked their use of the no-huddle stuff, and their attempts to vary tempo. The Broncos substitute very liberally, and are one of the most package-intensive defenses in the NFL. By having to hesitate on substituting at times, they assumed a disadvantaged position against the Ravens. Really, I think that the lack of freshness of some players, who had larger than usual workloads, is a lot of what got them in the 4th quarter.
3. Information From My Eyes, Other Games:
a. As I mentioned, I didn't see a lot of other live games, since most ran at the same time as the Broncos game. To make up for that, I recorded some Short Cuts Sunday night, and hurried home from Day 1 of month-end close Monday to watch them. I started with the Jets and Dolphins, and my first (Nearsighted) Observation is that the Jets played a dominant game on defense, which surprised me a little. I thought they'd miss Kris Jenkins a lot more than they seemed to, especially with all the Wildcat stuff going on. The Jets held the Dolphins to 104 total yards, 52 each passing and rushing.
b. It's really something to score 30 points with 104 yards of offense. Jason Taylor got a fumble recovery for a TD and Ted Ginn returned two kickoffs. I have highlighted Ginn's lack of suddenness before - but let me tell you, when he gets going, he's as fast as anybody in the NFL. He outran players who had good angles on both TD returns. He may never be a top WR, but he's elite as a kickoff returner.
c. I think Thomas Jones is the most underrated player in the NFL. He started slow in the NFL, largely due to his being drafted by a horrible Arizona Cardinals team, but once he got it going in Tampa Bay, he's been a consistently productive player. He's on pace for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs this season, and is a big part of the Jets' success on offense.
d. The most overrated player has to be Jason Peters, just ahead of Alan Faneca and Flozell Adams. The bloom is mostly off the Faneca and Adams roses, at this point, but Peters still gets a lot of love from the MSM. I have just seen him get beat too many times the last two years, and the jury is in for me. He looks like he'd make a good Right Tackle, but on the left side, he gets beaten constantly by quick pass rushers. Osi Umenyiora owned him several times on Sunday.
e. DeSean Jackson is already a great player, and he's improving. He needs to be played physically, because if you let him run free through a defense, he's going to shred you. He's not really a true number-one receiver, who's going to defeat double coverage, but he's a dynamic outside guy.
f. The Eagles have a pretty fearsome passing game, when their line isn't getting Donovan McNabb sacked. Jeremy Maclin is having a solid rookie year, but I'm especially impressed with Brent Celek, who does a great job of catching the ball in traffic. He's now on pace for over 1,000 receiving yards this season. Celek isn't much of a blocker, really, but he even had a good hold that didn't get called on Sunday, helping spring Leonard Weaver's long TD run.
g. ST&NO favorite Alex Smith had a pretty nice game on Sunday against Indianapolis. He looks really comfortable in the shotgun, and led a great hurry-up TD drive at the end of the first half. For his part, Smith looked good for most of the game. The 49ers offense just repeatedly found ways to take bad penalties or give up sacks, (especially in the second half, after Joe Staley got hurt), which kept stopping the offense. Smith is showing a good rapport with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, who looks like the real deal, already, two weeks into his career.
h. Peyton Manning was a little off on Sunday with his deep ball. That happens so infrequently that I thought it was worth highlighting.
i. I still can't figure out why the Colts cut Ed Johnson a couple weeks ago. They're very vulnerable to the inside running game without him. The Colts brass said the release was performance-related, but I don't buy that for a second. Johnson was definitely their best DT.
j. Very interesting news Monday evening that the Chargers had released Chris Chambers. He has been struggling to get the separation he used to get, but waiving him seems like a pretty extreme measure. You can't tell me that he couldn't beat nickel or dime CBs against most teams. I'd be very surprised if he isn't on a new team very quickly.
k. The Raiders had a legitimate shot to drive to a tying TD and 2-point conversion in the final minutes of Sunday's game against the Chargers. Then, something completely emblematic of the Raiders happened. Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey lined up on the offense's right side, and both ran vertical routes against man coverage. The inside receiver released outside of the DB covering him, and the outside receiver released inside. They bumped into each other, and both fell down. JaMarcus Russell had nowhere to throw the ball and got sacked, despite a 7-step drop and max protection on the play. The game was functionally over at that point.
l. Aaron Rodgers got beaten up mercilessly again on Sunday, particularly early in the game. I actually thought T.J. Lang was generally pretty solid at LT, but Jared Allen still got 3 sacks. He now has 7.5 sacks in 2 games against Green Bay this year, which is like giving him a handicap in the sack race with Elvis Dumervil.
m. I really thought that Arizona had gotten their act together, but they got hammered by Carolina on Sunday. They went into the game with the number-one run defense in the NFL, and then got run over by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. I think it was an aberration, but that remains to be seen.
n. I've never liked Matt Ryan's arm much, and Monday night reinforced that feeling for me. Because the Falcons have a below-average line in pass protection, they max-protect a lot, leaving few receivers in the pattern. If the coverage is tight, as it was Monday, Ryan always seems to struggle to make throws to beat the coverage. He's really not too dissimilar to Kyle Orton in that way, though Orton throws the ball with more velocity. Ryan needs to have a lot of options, where he can pick a guy who is open. For that reason, Atlanta needs to focus on building their offensive line. Sam Baker, particularly, isn't good enough at LT, and would make a better LG. Baker got annihilated by Will Smith throughout Monday night's game.
o. My man Thomas DeCoud was at it again for the Falcons on Monday night. He had a sack that forced a TD in the first quarter. This guy is a big-time young player.
p. Jeff Triplette is the worst referee in the NFL, and it's not even close. He just couldn't figure out the clock on Monday night, and he has no command with the crowd. It always seems like he lets them rattle him. When you're a referee, a sheepish smile is a bad thing. You need to command the stadium, like Ed Hochuli and Mike Carey do. Gene Steratore is a good younger referee, too.
r. Marques Colston is having a fantastic year for the Saints. Prior to this year, I've always thought of him as a fairly-average starting WR who has benfitted from strong QB play, and a friendly system. I really see him winning a lot of one-on-one battles with his physicality now. He was targeted 6 times Monday night, and made 6 catches for 85 yards and a TD. He really battled for the ball on a few of those catches, including the TD.
4. Between The Lines, Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
a. The Broncos had a very bad day in protection, and there's no way to sugarcoat that. The Ravens blitzed more often than what it seemed the Broncos were prepared for. Ryan Clady got beaten twice, which is twice more than usual, and got Orton hit. He was otherwise his normal self. The rag-doll was Ben Hamilton. I am getting tired of writing that every week, but if he's going to get his butt kicked, I'll keep writing it. Old friend Trevor Pryce destroyed Hamilton all game. Casey Wiegmann had his worst game of the year too, with Kelly Gregg beating him more often than not. I was pleased with Chris Kuper's play against Haloti Ngata, and I thought Tyler Polumbus did a very nice job filling in for Ryan Harris. The Broncos got Orton sacked twice (once by a DB) and pressured many more times than that. The passing game was a clear win for the Ravens defensive line.
b. The running aspect was actually better for the Broncos. They picked up a couple of 3rd and shorts, which was nice for a change, and generally held the line of scrimmage, and got a bit of surge against an excellent group for Baltimore. The only notable running play which was blown up was the 3rd-and-5 sweep. I liked the work of Clady and Kuper, and everybody was actually pretty solid in the running game. The Broncos only ran for 3.5 yards per carry - but against Baltimore, that's pretty solid. This was a draw, but one the Broncos would have been happy with if they'd protected better.
c. The Broncos did a good job pressuring Flacco throughout the game, and were beaten by some great throws and poise. These things happen. Jared Gaither held Elvis Dumervil repeatedly, but he didn't get penalized, so kudos to him, if he likes granola bars. Ben Grubbs and Michael Oher, the two best players on the Baltimore line, had good days, and the two weakest, Matt Birk and Chris Chester, didn't so much. A lot of the Broncos' pressure came from the Back 8, which is typical of them. The Ravens allowed a lot of pressure, but much like Ben Roethlisberger, Flacco showed a really good ability to evade the pressure, and make plays in spite of it.
d. The Broncos defense won big in the running game, until the last 10 minutes of the game, when it seemed like they wore down. The Broncos had 10 tackles for loss, which is the kind of performance that typically wins games. Unfortunately, Flacco's big plays negated a lot of this good work. When you consider it separately though, the Broncos won this battle for most of the game. Notable Broncos were Ronald Fields, Kenny Peterson, and Marcus Thomas. Ryan McBean got some penetration too, and Le Kevin Smith made a good play, also.
e. Overall, you have to give an edge to Baltimore, for how well they pressured Kyle Orton. It was the primary reason the Broncos never got untracked on offense. The Broncos did a more-than-respectable job in the other phases, though.
5. Word broke on Monday that the Browns had fired General Manager George Kokinis. I really can't imagine why they'd want to do that. Reportedly, Randy Lerner is displeased that Kokinis didn't take an active role in speaking to the media and communicating to the outside world. If that's really the problem, then I think it's clear that Lerner doesn't get professional football. During the season, the GM needs to be quiet and let the Head Coach be the voice of the team. This is the way it works everywhere, even a place like Baltimore, where GM Ozzie Newsome is the top football guy in the organization. That's where Kokinis came from.
Here in Cleveland, the Browns organization is really far too worried about public opinion. Remember how the Broncos organization ignored the DP message boards all offseason, and then the booing at the scrimmage? You have to do that, or you'll never get going in a coherent direction. I don't know if the Mangini plan is the right one, but it seems that Randy Lerner just canceled it before it even had half a season to work. Rumor has it that Lerner is trying to bring in Ernie Accorsi to join Bernie Kosar as a consultant. As respected as Accorsi is, this sounds like Lerner already blew the situation.
Phil Savage, who is still being paid for the next 3 1/2 years, had some interesting comments this past week. He said that the previous regime left this one with two quarterbacks, and that both of them look ruined at this point. The Browns will almost certainly be in the drafting-a-QB business again this coming spring, and that typically signals another full deep dive into rebuilding. While they're at it, they need a right side of the offensive line, two RBs, a WR, and a TE. Then they can turn their attention to the defense, which is currently solid enough to be part of a .500 team.
The team, led by Lerner, needs to definitively figure out what they want to be. They need to then formulate a plan to become that, and start executing the plan. Most importantly, though, they have to try to clearly articulate that plan to their stakeholders, and then prepare to stick to that plan, no matter what Joe in Berea, or Stanislaus in West Park have to say on the radio. You have to build your program, and winning will follow. As we all know, winning is the great deodorant.
More month-end closing activities are ahead for me this week. It seems like just last week I was closing September and complaining here about how busy I am. Now, it returns. The good news is that I will have a full Sunday of game-watching and channel-flipping next weekend, so expect a more-robust set of games which I'll be commenting on. Have a great week, friends, and remember to visit MileHighReport.com every day, for all your Broncos news and analysis.