Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations

We're back with more ST&NO, after taking a one-week sabbatical.  Well, actually, my day job kept me too busy to write anything, so it wasn't really like a sabbatical.  It was more like continuously cranking through re-forecast revenue plans and depreciation schedules, and simultaneously trying to figure out a bunch of new duties on top of that.

I deliberately didn't take my work computer home this weekend, and I plan to make up for my absence last Monday morning.  Ready, BEGIN!!!!

1. There is a pretty large time commitment which I put into writing this story every week.  I like to watch games, because doing so allows me to be well-informed in what I am writing.  I believe that the large majority of the people who get paid to write about football don't watch very much of it, and they only really have a superficial feel for what they're looking at when they do.  They never get past watching the ball, which is something that you really have to train yourself to be able to do.  There is no incentive in the current quasi-journalistic environment for a reporter to be able to tell if non-stats players are any good.  I hold myself to a much higher standard than that, because anything written under the Mile High Report masthead deserves that level of quality.

I have been intending to really meaningfully evaluate the Patriots offensive design, and haven't gotten the time to really do it right.  Today is the day in which it gets done.  We'll explore, we'll debunk some stupid misconceptions, and we'll learn together.  More after the jump.....

 
The first thing which jumps out about the recent New England offense is that the QB is almost always in the shotgun.  This flies directly in the face of conventional NFL offensive thinking, which tends to believe that you can't run effectively out of the shotgun.  Well, the Patriots run just fine out of the shotgun, and they even employ a sort of power gun look with a FB and a TE.  In the week 12 game against Miami that I watched for this exercise I saw Cassel under center twice.  Against Indianapolis, it was somewhat more common, but no more than 15% of the time.  I am sure that this was the result of a game-planning belief that Indianapolis should be run at frequently.

From a personnel grouping perspective, there are almost always 3 WRs, 1 RB, and either a 4th WR or a TE for the 5th eligible player.  As formations go, the interesting wrinkle is that Wes Welker and Randy Moss mostly line up on the same side.  This practically guarantees that coverage will be Cover-3, and that it will be rolled to that side, which resulted in a consistent one-on-one matchup on the left side for Jabar Gaffney. 

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Take a look at the play diagrammed here.  Gaffney is going to be able to get open on the Deep In in this play, or alternately, a Deep Out or a at will.  The CB backpedaling into his zone drop can't handle it.  If the WLB drops deeper to help with Gaffney, the easy read is to Hillis in the left flat.  (For those who love Receiver numbers in the 80s, note that all 4 of the WRs in this grouping have numbers beginning with 1.  I can picture the smoke coming out of Papigrande's ears...)

New England's offensive line was really lousy in 2008, with Cassel getting sacked 37 47 times.  The protection scheme favors minimum personnel, and zone techniques.  Matt Light and Dan Koppen are both tremendously overrated, and are really below-average players at their positions, rather than the Pro Bowlers which they get credit for being.  Logan Mankins at LG is the only good player on their whole line.  In Denver, the pass protection is the strength of the team. 

There is a tremendous amount of screening, both with Kevin Faulk, and with Wes Welker.  A lot of Broncos fans remember the WR screening we saw under the Shanahan regime, and it didn't work that well a lot of the time.  The concept there was a quick throw, and little blocking, relying on the WR to beat a tackler one-on-one.  It's done very differently by this offense, as you see in this diagram. 

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The play looks the same as the play before, with Marshall on a go-route, and Gaffney on a Deep In.  Graham is in the game, rather than Stokley here.  Royal, playing Welker, stabs out aggressively, and loops back toward the inside.  Graham, Harris, and Kuper are the blocking out front.

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If you look at this third diagram, you begin to see how easy this design makes it to get Brandon Marshall open.  By going vertical with Eddie Royal, you run the S and CB deep, and Brandon can simply break to the sideline, and catch a pretty easy throw to his outside shoulder.

The overall design concept is very vertical, which is dramatically different than what we're used to.  The running game tends to be very straight-ahead, and the pattern structuring seeks to challenge all levels of the defense, to move defensive guys back from the line-of-scrimmage.  We're used to a horizontal West-Coast passing scheme, which is completely different in its intent.  The Patriots O-Line doesn't do a lot of zone blocking in the running game, so I am questioning the extent to which that methodology will continue to be employed. 

I think zone-blocking and man-blocking are both fine ways to run the ball, so I don't consider a departure from the ZB principles of the past 15 years to be blasphemous, although I know many of you will.  I tend to come down on the side of effectiveness.  If the ball is moving, and the scoreboard is being lit up, I don't really quibble too much with how it is being done.

My evaluation is that that this scheme is not really very complex, and I don't expect a very long-lived learning curve.  The key is running a few base plays repeatedly, and executing them well.  People forget (or never realized) that this was an entirely new scheme the year that the Patriots went 16-0.  People like Vic Carucci incorrectly believe that the Charlie Weis scheme and the McDaniels scheme are the same, but they're very different.  Weis ran a Ron Erhardt/Ray Perkins smash-mouth scheme, which every Parcells Tree team used for 25 years.  Prior to the 2007 season, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels consulted with Urban Meyer, and they revamped the whole concept.  The 2007 season was also the first in which McDaniels called the offensive plays (Belichick had done it himself in 2005 and 2006.)  Edit:  It has come to my attention that Belichick and McDaniels called the plays together in 2005, and McDaniels took over himself in 2006.  Great catch, and my apologies to all who read this pre-edit, for remembering incorrectly.

The offensive talent already in place in Denver is good enough to field the best offense in the NFL this season.  I wish Brandon Marshall were as good on the deep ball as Randy Moss is, but other than that, there's no reason the Broncos can't do every single thing the Patriots do, just as well or better.  There is reason to be excited, and to forget all the recent foolishness.

2.  Styg wrote a terrific piece about Bus Cook a few days ago, and it caused a firestorm, which is the sort of thing which always makes me happy.  It has come to my attention that a Broncos-centric radio show on 104.3 The Fan criticized bloggers as being know-nothing losers, sitting in their mom's basements, in just their underwear.  Speaking only for myself, allow me to refute that.

  Home_office_medium

In this picture is my desk at home, taken as I wrote this column.  As you can see, this is a serious setup, because I am a serious person.  On the right-side screen, I was watching game video.  On the left-side screen, I have web pages which I use for various research.  On the laptop, I was writing the column.  This is my work environment when I write for this site.

You'll notice, the room is kind of bright for it to be my mother's basement.  That's because I live alone on the second floor of a duplex in Lakewood, Ohio, and it's a nice day today.  My mother is in Connecticut, where I grew up, about 600 miles away.  I'll be visiting next week for the first time in 2 1/2 years.  In this picture, you can see the house behind me through a dirty storm window, and past my DirecTV antenna.  Note that the grass is a story down, indicating that I am not in a basement.  (I know the window is dirty.  That's exterior filth, and it's been too cold to be out trying to clean it, while standing on a theoretical ladder, which I don't have.)

Out_office_window_medium
 

What about the underwear?  Without directly getting into my undergarment-wearing habits, here is photographic evidence that I am wearing pants.  That's a Denver Broncos sweatshirt which my erstwhile in-laws gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago, and a pair of Levi's jeans.  I am not going to say anything more about my clothing than that.

  Wearing_pants_medium

I don't care about protecting sources, because I am not a reporter.  I care about Denver Broncos football, and sharing in the best possible experience for Broncos fans.  For about 60 hours a week, I am an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company.  And that's kind of the funny thing.  Every one of us who contributes content to this site, all 1300+ of us, does something other than write about football for a living.  And yet, the content here is the best you can find anywhere.  Not to divulge anybody else's occupation, but let's just say that the entirety of the staff here does work for which you have to be quite a bit smarter than the average sportswriter, so, with that in mind, maybe it isn't such a surprise that we consistently outperform them.

Styg's writing and thinking are so terrific that the "professionals" ought to be in awe of him.  They should be going to Alaska, beating down his door, and begging to hire him, only to have him laugh them off his porch.  He and Guru had this angle before anybody, and now the cat is out of the bag.  That story was another in a long line of great Mile High Report achievements.

3.  Speaking of reporters and agents, the classic agent mouthpiece of all time, ESPN's Len Pasquarelli, has started writing again, after about a year of recovery from a quintuple bypass surgery and a nervous system disorder.  I am glad his health is improved, but Len is probably my least favorite football writer on the planet.  He's a terrible axe-grinder, (known for hating Mike Shanahan and Joe Gibbs, and the entire Washington Redskins organization, among others) and he writes in such a morally superior tone that it often makes me want to vomit.  He's also a huge scoop stealer, though that is pretty standard at ESPN.  I remember listening to the Afternoon Blitz on Sirius a couple years ago, when a player told Adam Schein that he had just signed with the Eagles minutes earlier.  A full 30 minutes later, ESPN reported that Pasquarelli had "learned of the signing."  Schein was livid, and rightfully so.  As for parroting agents, check this out.  I bet he gets a Christmas fruitcake from Garcia's agent, Steve Baker, whether or not anybody signs the guy, who is 39 years old, a well-known me-first player, and pretty craptastic on the field at this point.

In an instance of Ted speaking for Ted, I wish Pasquarelli would retire to a life of good health, because the credibility of the reporting at the Worldwide Leader just took another big hit.

4.  I don't didn't think Jay Cutler is was going anywhere, so this item is was just for fun.  I have a good buddy, from my Navy days, named Chris Dillon, who is from Detroit, and is one of those long-suffering Lions fans whom you have to feel a little bit bad for.  I have decided to make Chris famous, because he reads this column, and because he asked me last week to consider a deal where the Lions could send the first and 20th picks in this year's draft to Denver, for Jay Cutler, and the Broncos' 12th pick.

I gave it some thought, but I don't think I could do that deal, if I were running the Broncos.  The first pick has a very large financial cost to it, especially if you pick a QB, which the Broncos would almost have to, in this scenario.  You basically have to pay the same guaranteed money as you would on a Cutler extension, to a guy who has never played in the NFL.  I definitely don't feel strongly enough about Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez to feel great about picking them #1.  As for the other #1 candidates, Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe both play Tackle, which is the biggest positional strength the Broncos have.  Michael Crabtree would also fill an existing Broncos positional strength.  Aaron Curry looks a lot better with somebody else picking him #1, because he may only be a two-down player, and BJ Raji isn't quite at the level of these other guys, though he may go in the Top 5.  (Note:  The Saturday trade between Detroit and Seattle, where Cory Redding was swapped for Julian Peterson now makes it much less likely that Seattle takes Raji at #4.)

Now, if the theoretical proposal were Cutler for #1 and #20, with #12 staying in Denver, I'd think a little harder about it making the deal.  If you can take Stafford, and still get 2 defensive starters at 12 and 20, you have to at least consider that.  I'd also consider Cutler and #12 for #1, #20, and #33.  What do y'all think of this?  Chris thanks you for giving him much more feedback than he expected to get from just me. :)

Monday Morning Edit - 7 AM - Chris Facebook messages "Cutler is acting like my first girlfriend. Like a gold-digging, egotistical, spoiled slut.  I married her though, because the sex is FANTASTIC.  Let's work out a deal.  - Detroit" 

Yep.  I give you a representative of the Detroit Lions fan base.  To them, flaws just aren't as glaring, I guess. :)

5.  I am stuck on Sean Smith lately, the CB from Utah.  He's 6-3, a great athlete, and he has outstanding ball skills, because he started out as a WR.  He blew away everybody at the combine, where Malcolm Jenkins was comparably disappointing.  I think both will end up going in the teens in the draft, although the only "draftnik" who is as high on Smith as I am is Wes Bunting from the National Football Post.  As for Jenkins, I just wonder if he didn't look better than he really is, playing in the fraudulent Big Ten.  A Ted rule of thumb is to always doubt the speed of Big Ten players, except for guys who are obviously exceptions, like Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn, Jr.  I don't doubt Jenkins' ability to be a good FS, but I definitely doubt his speed as a CB, and his corresponding ability to play man-to-man in the NFL.  As for Smith, I am pretty sure that, athletically, he can man up on any WR, and he'll never have a significant size disadvantage.  I watched him shut down the extremely impressive (6-foot-4) Julio Jones in the Sugar Bowl.  Smith is less experienced and polished than Jenkins, but I think he'll ultimately be the better NFL player.  Picture a bigger and stronger version of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who absolutely should have won Defensive Rookie of the Year last season.

6.  Big up the Cleveland State University Vikings, for winning the Horizon League Championship Tournament this week, and qualifying for their first NCAA Tournament since 1986.  I hold 2 degrees from CSU, so I am briefly invoking my self-awarded right to occasionally meander, in order to call attention to my alma mater.  Of course, they'll probably lose to Wake Forest, but making it is an accomplishment, in and of itself.  I am actually a UConn fan, and they have a good shot to win the whole thing, so life is doubly nice.

7.  I mentioned before that I will be in Connecticut this week.  My mother doesn't have high-speed internet, so I won't be around that much, in all likelihood.  I will try to write some of this on my way back (10 hours in the car) next Sunday, but we'll see how that goes.  I hope everybody has a great week.

Monday Morning Edit - 7 AM EST-  Jay Cutler has now formally requested a trade.  The fact that Chris Mortensen has direct quotes from Jay himself is significant.  As much as I love Jay's ability to play, it's time to see what can be gotten for him, and, if (and only if) a beneficial deal can be found, let's cut the cord.

The implication would have to be that we believe so much in McDaniels' ability to make an offense work with any QB, that we're fine with losing the most talented one in the NFL.  That is not the case, in my view.  But the new program does need to be established, and it seems that this issue will be an impediment to that happening.  McDaniels just better be every bit as smart as he thinks he is.

 

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