Happy Wednesday, and welcome to a day-late, dollar-short version of ST&NO. First of all, big up TJ for working hard to bring in his outstanding The Dude Abides... Stats That Don't Lie in a day early. I am a bit healthier on Tuesday as I write this, and I am going to see what I can get cranked out in one day, with moderate sneezing, and a heavy Day 1 of close workload in that pesky day job. I didn't take notes, and I didn't remember to record the Broncos game, so I am without a lot of detail this week, and will need to speak more generally than usual. No time to waste, so let's not waste any time. Ready..... BEGIN!!!
1. So I mentioned that I would be in the Constitution State, and that I'd be playing in a football game with my friend Tony, a diehard Giants fan. The morning game was fun, but I ended up pretty sore, for those who asked. It's tough playing once a year at the most.
As for the night game, well, my mom is not what you'd call a high-tech person. Every time I visit, without fail, there's some junk Coby brand DVD player she wants me to plug into some junk/old TV set without RCA inputs. (You have to drop like $40 on an RF modulator to run through coax, which is about 2.5 times the price of the DVD player.) The "how" of plugging in a DVD player is too daunting for my mom to even give it a try for herself. In her main TV-watching area, she has a 21ish-inch Symphonic brand LCD flat screen that I am sure came from Wal-Mart. Her equipment is garbage, but it works for her I guess. Law & Order SVU looks fine on it. (I don't mean to make fun of my mother; she just doesn't share my priorities, or general attitude toward spending a few extra bucks for quality gear.) It turned out to be moot anyway, because NFL Network is on a premium tier she doesn't subscribe to.
So, what to do? Well, Tony was still around. I asked if he wanted to go to a bar for the game, but he ended up inviting me to his parents' house to watch, which was cool. His dad, also Tony, is also a big Giants fan. I usually watch football alone, because I don't consider it to be a social activity. It's really kind of become my job, and I do best when I can take notes, and pause and rewind, and focus on being analytical. I will talk to my brother Chris sometimes during games, but that's annoying, because my DirecTV feed is always 2-3 seconds behind his, so he knows what happened before I do.
Last Thursday, I sat in the living room with Tony and Tony. Tony Version 2.0's mother, and his girlfriend Ana, were there for most of the first half. I like them both very much, but having women around for a Broncos game was a whole other level of different for me. Like, I don't think it has happened since I was married, and that ended Halloween 2007.
But I digest. (I just had a sandwich from Tomayydo Tomahhdo for lunch. It was excellent, as always.) Back to the lecture at hand. I'm watching this game with two Giants fans and their women, and I got it in my mind that I was going to be really respectful of the Giants one way or the other. It turned out I had to do so in the one way, and not the other, which made me happy. For me, it's easier to be gracious in victory than in defeat.
The Broncos dominated the Giants, and in my opinion, played their best all-around game of the season. Kyle Orton threw one bad ball that he'd like to have back. The Giants got one receiver wide open on a well-conceived rub play where Alphonso Smith and Andre' Goodman ran into each other. The line had those 3 stupid scoring-area false starts, and gave up one sack, on the opening play of the game, and it came from the free rusher on a blitz (which puts it on coverage and Orton). Other than those few plays, and a sense that Correll Buckhalter went down a little too easily a couple of times, I wouldn't change much of anything.
McGeorge asked after the San Diego game if I still stood by my 11-5 prediction. I wanted to see how the Broncos did against New York, but after that, I sure do. The Giants game showed the exact formula that the Broncos can use to beat just about anybody. On defense, it was coverage, pressure, and gap control. On offense, it was sharp routes, great catches and good throws, combined with hard running and excellent run blocking. If the Broncos play like that, they will crush the Raiders and Chiefs, and end up with a minimum of 10 wins. They match up pretty well with both the Colts and the Eagles, too, and I think they can win 1 out of those 2 games. Here is my rationale for saying they match up well.
Indianapolis - The Colts are not a complete team, but nobody really is in the salary cap era. What the Colts are is a team which is constructed around the idea that their QB is going to give them leads, and that their defense will therefore need to protect leads. What does that mean? Well, they value zone coverage and pressure from their DEs. If you make them defend both the pass and the run on any given snap, you can score on them without a lot of trouble. Because the Colts can't stop even an average running game with 7 men, their SS Melvin Bullitt runs down into the box very frequently, and the Colts are therefore susceptible to being beaten over the top on play action, if you can run against them. It was no accident how the Texans got out to a big lead Sunday. They ran and threw, and had the Colts defense off balance early. The Colts rookie CBs couldn't handle Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, and I'm here to tell you, they have nothing for Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal either. The Texans can't handle Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and the Broncos can, assuming Ryan Harris is fully back by then. The Broncos can block the Colts DEs, beat their CBs, and move their front seven in the running game.
Remember this point. Just because the Colts are 3rd in scoring defense (just behind Cincinnati and Dallas, and just ahead of Denver) doesn't mean they have a good defense. They really don't. They have a defense which is equipped to take care of leads by making teams gain yards in smallish chunks, and by sacking QBs with edge pressure. That, combined with Peyton Manning's constant use of the whole play clock leads to low-scoring days by opposing offenses
The trick, of course, is defending the Colts, and that's where the Broncos have historically struggled. This Broncos team, however, is better equipped than any in recent memory to have some success. The Colts do best when they can run the ball, and I like the Broncos' chances to stop their running game with 7 ½ men (meaning Brian Dawkins is starting in a cover-2 shell, but keying run first). By stopping the Colts run, you take away their play action stuff, which makes Peyton Manning beat you with perfect throws, and his receivers beat you with perfect routes. Which, of course, they can do, but it's a harder go than the other way. I like the secondary matchups pretty well for the Broncos, from Champ Bailey against Reggie Wayne, Andre' Goodman against Pierre Garcon, Ty Law or Alphonso Smith against Austin Collie, and either Law or Josh Barrett against Dallas Clark. The Clark matchup is key against the Colts, and I like Law and Barrett, depending on down and distance, better than anybody else's sub-package guys in the NFL for covering a big-time TE.
I'm not saying the game will be a runaway Broncos win, just that I can easily make a case for them TO win, and that I think they CAN win. What do you think?
Philadelphia - This is a game the Broncos SHOULD win. The Eagles are a lot like the Giants, from both schematic and personnel perspectives. From the angle of attacking Philly's defense, you can outside zone them to death, like the Broncos did so well against the Giants. That's because their LBs tend to be bigger, slower guys who struggle a bit to cover the lateral width of the field. Will Witherspoon is an exception to that archetype, but Chris Gocong, Joe Mays, and Moise Fokou are vertical players.
You have to block the Eagles' blitz packages, and it really helps to stay on schedule against them. That's a bit easier than it is against a Baltimore or Pittsburgh, because you can run the ball. (They're currently ranked 8th against the run, but trust me, you can gash them if you try a little.) In the passing game, you'd like to exploit Asante Samuel, who bites on a ton of double moves. Yes, he's a ball-hawk, but he doesn't shut anybody down. He can catch extremely well, and he's an excellent tackler, but he's just an okay coverage player. Sheldon Brown is kind of the opposite; better in coverage, but lesser as a ball-hawk and tackler. Where you can kill the Eagles is from the slot, and with TEs, especially if you block their blitz packages.
Offensively, the Eagles are a big-play offense, and the Broncos have been as good as anybody in the NFL at limiting big plays. Brent Celek got paid Tuesday, and he deserved it. He's a very good receiving TE. The Eagles don't have a big, physical #1 type WR, but they have two speedsters outside with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The guy I think is dangerous is Jason Avant, who is much stronger and more physical than the average slot receiver, and he's a tough matchup for the average thin/quick nickel CB. Of course, Alphonso Smith and Ty Law are both thicker/stronger players, so it's less of an issue. I don't fear the Eagles running game, because if you stop it early, they quit going to it.
This game can go either way, obviously, but the Broncos are well-equipped to get a good road win in Philadelphia. I feel pretty good about both games, actually. So, yeah. I still like the 11-5 prediction.
2. Information From My Eyes - Other Games:
a. Richard Seymour is still playing at a high level in Oakland, despite his fairly modest statistics this season. I watched him defeat the left side of the Cowboys offensive line several times on Thanksgiving Day. Seymour's contract is up after this season, and you have to think he'd rather not re-up with the Raiders. Of course, given the price Al Davis paid, he probably gets franchised. If he somehow isn't, I'd sure like to see him in Denver. Forget all this nonsense about building exclusively through the draft; as we've all hopefully realized this season, a team should take any approach available to it, in order to acquire the most good players possible.
b. Anthony Spencer had the best game I have ever seen him have for the Cowboys. Some Dallas fans took exception with my calling Spencer "just a guy" in Week 3, and if he keeps playing like he did last Thursday, I'll have to rethink my evaluation.
c. I have been a fan of the Cowboys' passing scheme for several years now, going back to the end of the Parcells regime. In 2007, when I started to make it my business to watch teams other than the Broncos closely, Jason Garrett was the young, hot name as the Offensive Coordinator, and Jerry Jones paid him a lot of money not to leave for jobs in Baltimore and Atlanta after the 2007 season.
When Tony Sparano left to become the Dolphins Head Coach last season, it came to light that Garrett hadn't been the primary playcaller in 2007, and that he'd be doing it for the first time in 2008 with Sparano's departure. The Cowboys took a noticeable step back last season, and some of the bloom came off the Garrett rose, even as he interviewed for Head Coaching jobs with the Broncos, Lions, and Rams, and seemed to initially be the favorite for the Rams job. There was speculation that Jones would love to be out from under Garrett's $3-million contract.
Well, the point of the history lesson is that the scheme and execution look much better in Dallas lately than they have since Sparano left. I don't know if this makes Garrett a Head Coach, but it makes him a guy who appears to have grown into his job. The Cowboys' passing scheme is very vertical, and it does a good job of getting the ball in the hands of its playmakers. Some will say they don't get Roy Williams involved enough, but those people believe more in Williams than I do. I think he is what he looks like; a lazy player, who has below average hands, lacks quickness out of his breaks, and rounds off his routes. If there's no salary cap for the Cowboys to take a prorated hit against, I guarantee that he gets released in the offseason, and has to beg for a 1 year, $1-million contract to compete for a backup role somewhere.
d. Charles Woodson is playing the best football of his career right now, which I have mentioned several times this season. He had a big stat game Thursday on national TV, and now everybody is on the bandwagon with me. I actually thought it may have only been the 3rd- or 4th-best game I have seen him play this season. To me, he's the no-question Defensive Player of the Year so far.
e. The Packers defense has really gotten their act together lately, and are a big key to the push they seem to be making. I am pretty comfortable projecting that the Packers will be in the postseason as a Wild Card at this point.
f. Jim Leonhard of the Jets is a tremendously underrated player, and I left him out of my Good AFC Safeties list last week, kind of by accident. He is always around the football, and I've been a big fan of his game going all the way back to his days at Wisconsin. The Broncos offered him more money than the Jets this offseason, but he chose to follow Rex Ryan. It seems like it was a good decision for him, anyway.
g. I watched the Short Cut of the Jets-Panthers game, and I agree with Doug Lee that Mark Sanchez's 13-of-17 stat line was very misleading. He had happy feet, and he looked really confused a lot of the time.
h. I've seen a few people starting to use the line which goes "If Alex Smith plays like he did Sunday, the Niners might not replace him in the draft." Really, he has played pretty well for six games, better than ever before in his career. I think the decision would already be made, if it was up to me. You have a guy who is proving he can play, and he's improving even as teams get some film on him. That rollout and throw to Frank Gore for the second TD was a thing of beauty, as Smith waited till the last possible second, and threw the ball to the only spot he could put it. I'd be looking to improve the offensive line, and counting on having a Top-10 offense next season, with Smith, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, and Vernon Davis. Joe Staley is a solid LT when he's healthy, but General Manager Scot McCloughan really would do well to replace the other 4 starters up front. Sunday's game was the first time in 18 games that the 49ers didn't give up a single sack.
i. I tend to like a lot of University of Florida guys, but Ray McDonald is really coming into his own in a specialist role for the 49ers. He looked unblockable at times Sunday. McDonald usually plays in passing situations at DE. According to ESPN, he didn't record a tackle, but he did recover a fumble. I'm telling you, though, he was defeating some blocks Sunday, and bringing a lot of pressure.
3. There are two kinds of name-droppers, and I am the second kind. It's not like I am extremely famous (yet) with my writing for this site, but when you think about it, I'm known by more people than probably 98% of the population. I'm definitely more famous than any of my friends and family, and in the course of telling my stories, I find it adds rhetorical flourish to mention them sometimes, and it's also fun to share my little bit of light with them. I tell people, if they want to make ST&NO, they should do something interesting with me.
The first kind of name-dropper is the one who tries to stand in other people's light. Our dear friend Jay Glazer is the quintessential example of this kind. Check this douchebaggery, from Tuesday night:
First of all, it's Too $hort, not two-short. And, you know what? That's all I have on that topic. I like making fun of Glazer, but whatever, you know? Fish in a barrel.
I am now going to name-drop a person who is as famous as I am. I met Doug Lee for lunch in Manhattan on Saturday. Yes, THE Doug Lee. Friggin Horse Tracks Doug Lee, people! Doug is a cool guy, and he suggested a great burger spot on the Upper East Side.
The lunch conversation was very interesting, the food was terrific, and it was great to meet Doug, but the hijinks ensued when I left to get back on the road back to Cleveland. I had parked on E 71st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue (for 14 bucks for 2 1/2 hours.) I came out heading south on 2nd Ave, thinking my GPS would send me back to the FDR, and the Triboro bridge, back up to catch the George Washington Bridge.
Well, it took about 2 minutes for my boy Tom Tom to reacquire a signal, and by then I had gone south 10-15 blocks on 2nd. Tom Tom then wanted me to go to the Lincoln Tunnel, the entrance for which is in the 30s, off 9th Avenue, so significantly south and west of where I started out. It's an unquestionably stupid way to go, driving over the river and through the woods in Manhattan, even on a Saturday afternoon, especially considering the Lincoln Tunnel spits you out on the New Jersey Turnpike, heading toward the world-renowned hell-hole of Newark.. (Home of wred-mann.)
Where's the payoff pitch? Here it goes. I was sitting at a traffic light at E 43rd St and 2nd Avenue, and this Puerto Rican guy (with a flag on his shirt, incidentally), knocked on my window. I looked at him like, WTF? But I lowered the window, and he told my right rear tire area looked like it was on fire, and was smoking like crazy. A woman walking behind him told me the same thing, so I pulled over on 43rd and troubleshot it with my dad on the phone for awhile, before deducing that the emergency brake had probably stayed clamped to the rotor, and was causing sparks and smoke. I watched it, with my mirror pointed down, but eventually I was comfortable enough to go through the tunnel, and eventually through Newark, and back to I-80. The moral of the story is if somebody knocks on your window, he may be trying to be helpful, so you shouldn't look cross-eyed at him, as a matter of instinct. Also, sometimes, Tom Tom messing up is a blessing in disguise. If I had gone FDR to the Triboro, to the GW, It would have been all highway, with nobody walking down the sidewalk to knock.
4. One of the hazards of relying on "insiders" for information is that it comes with agendas and spin. Pro Football Weekly is a (Bill Williamson Memorial) decent site, but they rely tremendously on anonymous insider commentary. They've been talking to somebody who seems incentivized to cast Raheem Morris as woefully inept. Check this out:
Talk of the Buccaneers giving head coach Raheem Morris another offseason to turn the team around is fading fast, as his latest bold decision was another admission of failure in a season marked with disappointment. Morris seized defensive coordinator duties from Jim Bates on Nov. 24 and demoted Bates to what is being described as an advisory role, although it's not clear just what kind of involvement or authority, if any, Bates will have for the rest of his time with the organization.
Morris made a couple of mistakes in hiring his staff, but they were the kind of mistakes a first-timer can make, especially one who gets a Head Coaching job a month after most of the movement was over. There's this persistent meme that relieving Jeff Jagodzinski and Jim Bates of their duties somehow shows Morris to be weak. I say it's the other way around. He realized that he had made mistakes, and he let sunk costs be sunk costs, and made the moves that he felt gave his team the best chance to win.
Morris's team is 1-10, but the Bucs have improved as the season has gone on, and it would be asinine to fire him after a season which was a declared rebuilding year, where a coach who they knew was probably hired a year too early learned the ropes.
There are a lot of haters in the world, and I relate pretty closely to Morris. I have always been an overachiever, who has consistently beaten out older, more experienced professional competition for promotions and recognition. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have a pretty good deal of talent, and a strong work ethic. The majority of my critics have only been moderately talented people, with medium work ethics. Let's face it, there are a lot of people in the center of the bell curve. I am in the center of the bell curve in certain ways, and so is everybody. I am not, though, as an accountant, and Raheem Morris is not as a football coach.
So, some 25-year career assistant who has been hired and fired 15 times is jealous of Morris and his early success. He spouts off to Dan Parr at PFW, and Parr writes that article above. The same thing was going on with Josh McDaniels, with the questioning of his ability, and Josh only got clear of it by winning. Morris will, too.
Even a guy like Marshall Faulk was hating on Morris on Sunday morning, intimating that all the young coach knew how to call was Tampa-2. Well, for 7 end-of-game goal-to-go plays, he called press man-to-man, and his guys covered well. On 4th down, Roddy White made a great play, and won the game for the Falcons. Really, if Connor Barth had hit the 51-yard field goal he attempted, they would have only been playing for a tie. I saw somewhere Morris was criticized for kicking the field goal rather than punting. Really? The point is don't listen to these idiots. I'd be very surprised if the Glazer family is.
5. I have a couple of quick college thoughts.
a. The Head Coaching job at Notre Dame is not a good one. I could usually take or leave SI.com's Stewart Mandel, but he has it exactly right. The expectations there are entirely unreasonable, given the constraints they face. If I were Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, there is no way in hell I'd take that job. At Cincinnati, he has a program whose credibility is on the rise, and who will soon be taken more seriously in the National Championship picture. At Notre Dame, there's just faded mystique.
b. I am a Florida fan, and I think it is unlikely that Tim Tebow wins the Heisman Trophy. I am actually pretty excited for the prospect of the lesser Colt McCoy winning, because history will be repeating itself. I am projecting a win against Alabama, and a Texas win against Nebraska, neither of which is a foregone conclusion, but let's say it happens like that. Tebow will lead Florida into a National Championship game against a guy he lost the Heisman to. I would be really bullish for Florida's 3rd title in 4 years, even more than I already am.
c. Speaking of the Heisman, I think it's ridiculous how it's turned into nothing more than a tool for media conjecture. Frankly, it follows along the same line of thinking that dominates professional football writing, that all of the best players are QBs and RBs, joined by the occasional WR. It's a total farce.
That's all I have this week. I will be back next Tuesday for more of a full-figured ST&NO. Have a great week, and Go Broncos!