Happy Tuesday, friends and welcome to another edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations, where we're always aiming to deliver the best thing since Starks in Clark's Wallabees. It's a feel-good Tuesday, right? Our Broncos are 3-0, but it's a much more legitimate-feeling 3-0 than last season's version. The respect is still slow in coming, but it's coming bit by bit.
The most important thing I've witnessed happening is a growing confidence and self-respect among our fan base. MHR is mostly known as a positive-thinking community, so maybe a lot of us were on the feel-good train earlier than others, but I can feel it really starting to take hold. Contrast that to Cleveland (where most are aware that I reside). The feeling around here is just awful, and we can all be glad not to be feeling that way. It's on to the Cowboys game, but first let's do this thing here. Ready.... BEGIN!!!!
1. I was browsing through my Facebook news feed on Sunday night, and I saw this gem from NYCBroncosFan (Later posted on MHR by John Bena):
"Denver rookie head coach Josh McDaniels doesn't have a grasp on how to build a team." - John Clayton, April 23rd, 2009
Doesn't have a grasp, huh? That's a really, embarrassingly arrogant comment, because if you're commenting on other people's "grasps," it necessarily follows that you fancy yourself an expert, who is far beyond mere grasping of the operative subject. I spent some time excoriating Clayton last week, but since that's like stealing a candy bar from a developmentally challenged baby chinchilla, I have no interest in continuing with that tack this week. At some point, the referee calls the fight, and I'll take a bloody win by TKO. It's his blood, and not mine, after all.
What I want to talk about in this prime ST&NO real estate today is the idea of team building. For one thing, what in the world would John Clayton know about building a football team, any damn way?
OK... sorry about that. I guess I need to work on impulse control. Let me start again. New paragraph.
Deep breath. And another. OK, beginning again, in a more measured tone, I didn't tweet a whole lot on Sunday (@TedBartlett905) because I spent a lot of the game on the phone with my brother Chris, a Los Angeles-based fellow Broncos fan. He's a smart guy (it runs in part of the family), and we were talking about team building. His fanhood of Correll Buckhalter continues to grow, and he said that his impression was that Buckhalter was a winning player, and that he never perceived him that way in his Philadelphia days.
Some discussion ensued, and he said one of his classic, succinct "Chris things" that he bestows upon the world sometimes.
"Building a team isn't about getting the best players, it's about getting the right players." Chris Bartlett, September 27, 2009
Riddle me this, friends. Who is the worst player on the 2009 Broncos? That's a tough question to answer, because whoever it is, he is a pretty good football player. As far as I am concerned, this team has zero bad players on it. Now think back to last year. It was a horror show of bad players on defense, right? There were at least 5 starting by the end of the year, and another starting at RB, after all the injuries. Think how many of these players are out of the NFL now, who didn't even get a sniff of a training camp this year. Nearly all of them.
CBS showed a graphic of the sources of player acquisition for the Broncos' 53-man roster.
|2009 Free Agency||17||32.08%|
|2009 College Free Agent||1||1.89%|
That is an astounding amount of turnover, but it represented the importation of the right players, if not necessarily the best players. Instead of Channing Crowder, we got the much cheaper Andra Davis, who has been great for the Broncos through 3 games. Instead of Albert Haynesworth or Chris Canty, we got the very cost-effective Ronald Fields, who has also been outstanding. Derrick Ward? How about Buckhalter instead? Only two somewhat highly-priced players were brought in via Free Agency; Brian Dawkins (5 years, $17 Million) and Andre' Goodman (5 years, $20.4 Million), and both of them have been worth their weight in gold. (To get all finance-nerd on you, Dawkins weighs 210 pounds, which is 3,062.5 Troy Ounces. Gold traded at 990.42 USD per Troy Ounce on Monday night, so I just valued Dawkins at $3,033,161.25, which is pretty close to the average annual value of his contract of $3.4 million. Funny how that worked out.) :)
When you know exactly what you want to do on the football field, and you know exactly how you want to do it, you can go out and decisively get the right players to do those things in those ways. Of course, your ability to project the fit of the new players, and evaluate their talent is key. For my money, every single player whom the new Broncos staff signed, drafted, and traded for has performed EXACTLY as expected, if not better. The only bust was J.J. Arrington, who didn't recover well from an injury and cost $100,000 (and nobody was counting on him too much, anyway). It was $100,000 well spent, because a healthy Arrington would be a contributor on this team, and they weren't expecting him to necessarily be healthy anyway.
There is no glaring weakness on this whole football team. That's a lofty statement, but I think it is a true one. The Broncos can run and throw, from big or small personnel groupings. They can stop the run and the pass, and be effective blitzing both and dropping, in base personnel or sub packages. The special teams have been excellent, through 3 games, even if I am a little reluctant to call that a sure thing yet. How many teams can say all of that? I can't really think of any, beyond the Giants and the Ravens. Maybe the Broncos' strengths aren't as strong as some other teams', but their weaknesses are mostly less weak. You'd better bring your "A" game when you play this team, because they're going to compete with you.
The 2009 Denver Broncos are a good football team, and they can compete with anybody in the NFL. This fact becomes clearer all the time, which is to say that most people still aren't hip to it, yet. They'll get there, though, eventually. Thinking ahead to 2010, anybody the Broncos bring in will be to upgrade a position of some strength. To me, that is a textbook way to build a team. As for John Clayton, I wonder when Josh McDaniels gets his apology, for the mean-spirited, myopic, and idiotic comment of April 23rd. I am betting on never.
2. Information From My Eyes - Denver at Oakland Edition:
a. I was just saying how the Broncos don't have any particular glaring weaknesses. An area where they can (and need to) perform better is in short-yardage running. I thought Russ Hochstein looked pretty bad as the goal-line FB for 3 straight plays; I want to see Spencer Larsen back filling that role if Peyton Hillis is going to be the ball carrier. I actually think that Knowshon Moreno could be the better option, though. He runs with quickness and violence, and I think he can be really effective down at the goal line.
b. Jabar Gaffney was a fantastic acquisition, and he continues to make key plays for the Broncos. He would be the number one guy for the Raiders if he'd signed there, and the Crypt Keeper wasn't setting the depth chart. I am glad he signed in Denver and that he plays a great deal for the Broncos.
c. Renaldo Hill has been such an unsung guy throughout his career, but he's a really good player. He is always in the right position, and plays the game with awareness and intelligence.
d. Does anybody realize the the Broncos' defense is now number 1 in the NFL in both yards and points per game?
e. I'll talk more about Ryan Clady in the Between The Lines segment, but he tied an NFL record Sunday by posting his 19th consecutive game from the start of his NFL career without allowing a full sack. The player he tied is Ryan Young, a forgotten former Jet, who began his career in 1999. It says here that next week, Mr. Clady will dominate DeMarcus Ware, as he did in the 2008 Preseason, and he'll hold the record alone.
f. I'd like to see Eddie Royal get the ball more on offense, and I am sure I am not alone in that camp. It just seems to me that the Broncos were sure they could run the ball at will against Cleveland and Oakland, and decided to follow that plan without a lot of deviation. When you get substantial leads, passing seems more risky than what you want in the second halves of games.
g. I didn't think RIch Gannon was particularly critical of the Raiders Sunday, and I wonder if John Herrerra's
clownish typical ploy worked, by chastening Gannon's commentary about his former team. It's pretty ridiculous that the Raiders are so allergic to criticism, and the better way to avoid it is to lose the Commitment To Sucking.
h. I usually get things right, and I still think JaMarcus Russell can salvage his career and be a good QB. I have to say, though, that ever since I said that he looked good in Week 3 of the preseason, he has played terribly. He clearly isn't playing with much confidence right now, and it is incumbent on the Raiders' staff to set him up for success by asking him to do things he is comfortable doing. My understanding is that they're messing with Russell's mechanics a lot in practice, and while he definitely needs refinement, the regular season is no time for overhauls.
i. Could Darrius Heyward-Bey possibly look more clueless on the field? That guy is a project, because he doesn't know how to run routes, and he's inconsistent catching the ball. Louis Murphy is better than him now, and probably always will be. Of course, Murphy didn't have too great a game Sunday, either.
k. Has anybody else noticed that the Broncos' captains aren't wearing the "C" patches? I was under the impression that doing so was a Roger Goodell mandate. Does anybody know more than me about this?
l. I also noticed (last week) that the Broncos' name wasn't painted in the end zones at Mile High, and all there were were the diagonal stripes. I didn't really care for the look, and I wonder what the rationale for it is.
3. Information From My Eyes - Other Games Edition:
a. The Patriots sure have been struggling in goal-to-go situations the last couple weeks. I think if I had Randy Moss, I'd definitely be looking to hit some fade routes on teams down there. Part of the problem is definitely that their line isn't getting the same push as in past seasons
b. Brian Williams was released by the Jaguars, but still looks pretty useful to me. He broke up a deep ball to Randy Moss that would have been a sure TD, and generally looked to me like a solid player. For the Patriots, they were in on the Jaguars Retreads Act too, with Fred Taylor looking very good, and getting over 100 yards and a TD. Taylor is a formerly great player, who has declined to being merely a good one, but he was a classic Patriots bargain acquisition.
c. Ryan Mouton for the Titans may be playing himself out of a job, and he personally cost his team the game against the Jets (with help from Kerry Collns). Mouton hasn't shown much positive in the return game, and has shown trouble holding on to the football.
d. As for Collins, he was in a no-win situation, but he needed to play better. Sunday's game was a classic case of the game getting away from the better all-around team early on, and causing them to play from behind, to their operational detriment. Collins is not built to play like that, and he responded accordingly.
e. I haven't seen a lot of the Redskins this season, so I watched a bit of the Detroit-Washington game Sunday. The Skins are getting atrocious play from their offensive line, and are another team that should have taken Michael Oher. Jim Zorn has faced a lot of criticism for his scoring area play-calling, but the fact is, if the line doesn't block anybody, Clinton Portis can't pound the ball in.
f. The Lions are on the right track, and it's clear how much better coached they are than they have been - maybe ever in my lifetime. Matthew Stafford, Kevin Smith, and Calvin Johnson are an outstanding trio on offense, and Brandon Pettigrew is another nice weapon. The Lions need more talent to be a real contender, but they will steal a few more wins this season, like they did on Sunday, and add to their talent base in the next offseason. They'll grow up with Stafford, and finally be a legitimate team.
g. Tampa Bay is a terrible team right now, especially on defense. Tim Crowder is playing significant snaps for them, which speaks to their relative talent level, when he was the odd man out in Denver. Even a good play, like Sabby Piscitelli's tackle for a loss on Brandon Jacobs to force a FG rather than a TD is wasted, because the Bucs can't put together any kind of consistent performance in the other phases of the game.
h. Percy Harvin is a dangerous, dangerous player. He never returned kickoffs at Florida, because the best kick returner in America, Brandon James, was there, too. Harvin took one back 101 yards in the third quarter Sunday, and looked like he was born to do it. He has now scored in every game this season, and could challenge Mark Sanchez to be Offensive Rookie of the Year, if he keeps it up.
i. The 49ers got their own huge special teams play, when Ray McDonald blocked a FG attempt and Nate Clements took it back 59 yards for a TD as the first half ended. Both of those special teams plays felt like huge momentum shifts, and neither particularly ended up affecting the final score, thanks to Brett Favre's heroics.
j. A young defensive player I like a lot is Thomas DeCoud, a Safety for the Falcons. He was a third-round pick last season, and he showed very well against the Patriots on Sunday, especially in breaking up a well-thrown Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss deep ball.
k. The Cincinnati Bengals look real to me, as real as Carson Palmer can make them. The big surprise to me is how well their offensive line is playing, even without top draft pick Andre Smith. Andrew Whitworth is better than I thought he was, and he's doing pretty well at Left Tackle, even if James Harrison did get him once for a sack on Sunday. When Smith gets healthy, he'll step right in at RT, and they'll be even better, because he can blow guys off the ball.
l. For more Bengals fun, the winning Touchdown was caught by another ST&NO Favorite, Andre Caldwell, who is turning into a nice WR. He was a great player throughout his career at Florida, his brother Reche played in the NFL, and you have to love a WR whose nickname is Bubba. He is part of a really good group, along with Chad Ochocinco, Chris Henry, and Laveranues Coles (yet another ST&NO Favorite), and he makes the Bengals that much harder to defend, especially when you remember to worry about the highly underrated Cedric Benson. If I were the Bengals' offensive coordinator, I'd be going 4 wide with Benson all game long, and making teams try to stop me from running with their sub packages. The Bengals' coaching budget is too light to have that much creativity, though. It costs money, after all.
m. The Steelers defense really misses Troy Polamalu from a scheme perspective, because his presence allows them to do a lot of the exotic blitz packages they normally do. Polamalu is one of the very fastest players in the NFL in pads, and can consistently show blitz, and get to deep center field from there at the snap.
n. I think the Cardinals lost the Sunday Night Game on one play, when Tim Hightower fumbled inside the Colts' 5-yard line in the second quarter. If they scored, they'd have taken a 10-0 lead, and instead, the Colts just took off after that play. I question the mental toughness of the Cardinals team, and especially Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who seems like he doesn't want me to be right in praising him a few weeks ago.
o. Donald Brown is a much better player than Joseph Addai in all phases of the game, and it's absolutely no accident that he's getting the crunch-time snaps for the Colts, even if Addai is nominally the starter.
p. Dwight Freeney's injury could be catastrophic for the Colts, if he has to miss a lot of time. A lot is made of how irreplaceable Bob Sanders has been in years past, but I actually think Melvin Bullitt does a really nice job filling in for him. Freeney is the irreplaceable one for the Colts, make no mistake about that. If they can't rush the passer with 4 men, they're suddenly as vulnerable against the pass as they are against the run.
q. The Ravens are hitting on all cylinders right now, and look like the best team in the NFL, to me. I don't think they miss Rex Ryan too much, as it looks like Greg Mattison has their defense playing just as well as Ryan did. Mattison isn't well known to NFL fans yet, but he's a great coach (I am familiar with him from his college days).
r. Brady Quinn is not the problem for the Browns, and neither would Derek Anderson be, although Quinn is better. I talked about how the Broncos hit on all of their offseason acquisitions - well, the Browns missed on all of theirs, from the looks of things so far. They're talent-poor, and they look like they know they are losers. It's going to be a long season here in the metro area, but at least the locals are used to this. I can't imagine how Eric Mangini and George Kokinis evaluated this to be a competitive group of players.
s. Stick a fork in the Dolphins, even before Chad Pennington was lost for the season. Chad Henne is not the answer, and he'll prove that as the season goes on. Pat White isn't either, as a full-time QB, so I expect Miami to be shopping after this season, with a high first-rounder to spend. After passing on Matt Ryan in 2008, you wonder if they'd do it again.
t. Darren Sproles proved once again that he is a second banana, and not a lead back.
u. The longest run the Broncos have given up this season was 20 yards, to Cedric Benson. If Felix Jones is healthy next Sunday, and the Broncos miss setting the edge at an inopportune time, that could go out the window. The only RB who's more dangerous to the outside is Jones' draft classmate Chris Johnson, and it's not a very big difference. Jones strained his left knee on a 40-yard run in the 3rd quarter Monday night.
v. You know who has developed into a terrific player is Thomas Davis, who was a first-round pick as a Safety for the Panthers in 2005. It took him awhile to learn how to play LB, but he has really turned into a Pro Bowl-caliber guy. He is excellent in coverage, and really hits guys.
w. I only saw the very end of the Seattle-Chicago game, and didn't care enough to record or watch the Short Cut. What I saw though told me what I already knew, which is that Seneca Wallace isn't good enough to be a backup QB in the NFL. When he was forced to throw the ball from the pocket in a compressed-time situation, and beat zone defense with strong throws, he was unable to do it. The Seahawks have to know this by now, and should have addressed it in the offseason.
x. The Texans got screwed on that offensive pass-interference call on Kevin Walter, to be sure, but Chris Brown has to hold onto the ball going into the end zone. The Texans are a team that just can't seem to consistently do the little things to win games, which doesn't reflect very well on MHR favorite Gary Kubiak and his staff. To be honest, doing the big things well and missing the little things is sort of Later Years Shanahan-ish, when you think about it. I hope Kubiak and Company can get it turned around.
4. Between The Lines
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
a. Once again, the Broncos were nearly flawless in pass protection - this time, against the best pair of DEs they've seen this season. Kyle Orton took one significant hit, on an outside stunt by Gerard Warren, after he'd gotten rid of the ball. Ryan Clady owned Richard Seymour, to the point where Seymour was called for a personal foul for pulling Clady's hair. On the right side, Ryan Harris dominated Greg Ellis, as well. Ellis came into the game with 3 sacks but never got a sniff of Orton. The inside of the Broncos' line also held up well, against their somewhat-lesser individual competition. Largely since the Broncos rarely had to throw, the Raiders never generated a significant rush in this game. ESPN.com didn't even give Warren credit for his QB hit, and had the Raiders entirely shut out in their box score.
b. For their part, the Raiders struggled in pass protection, before finally pretty much giving up on throwing the football. I had to look up who #51 was, because he showed up in my notes several times with terrible plays. It's Chris Morris, a natural Center, who was playing Guard. In addition to two holding penalties, he got beaten a few times. Mario Henderson struggled mightily with Elvis Dumervil, who had two sacks and should have had two more (Darrell Reid's hands-to-the-face penalty cost him one, and JaMarcus Russell dragged him past the line of scrimmage on another). Robert Ayers lined up all over and got a lot of pressure. I am really pleased with his growth. Darrell Reid got a sack, and Vonnie Holliday and Marcus Thomas also got good pressure in spots. The Broncos sacked Russell 3 times, and hit him 3 more.
c. The Broncos line also dominated in the running game, again splitting about half and half between zone- and man-blocking concepts. The only black mark was the failure to convert 3 straight runs from the 1-yard line early in the game. Ryan Harris was dominant in the running game, and was key to springing both of Correll Buckhalter's long runs. Clady was his normal self, and his cut block on Nnamdi Asomugha allowed Knowshon Moreno to score his first-ever TD. The Broncos rushed 45 times for 215 yards (4.8 per rush) and the Moreno TD. I did think the Broncos slowed down a bit when Russ Hochstein and Tyler Polumbus played a lot in the second half. I really enjoyed Richard Quinn's blocking, and he showed again that he is just another player who is perfectly fitting his role, as imagined when he was acquired.
d. The Raiders came into the game with a pretty vaunted rushing attack, and it never really got going. They rushed for 95 yards on 21 carries, but it was tremendously disjointed, and 15 of those yards came on one run by Russell. Henderson was a bit better in the running game for Oakland, and Samson Satele showed a bit of surge a few times, too. For the most part, though, the Broncos held the line of scrimmage, and maintained their gap discipline well. Mario Haggan had a really nice game against the run, and forced a Darren McFadden fumble, which Thomas and Reid unfortunately failed to recover, after the three of them had combined to stack up a play. McFadden got a couple of outside creases, but nothing consistent at all.
e. The Broncos dominated both lines in this game, and there was no bigger reason why they won. It was so clear that even the fairly reticent Josh McDaniels claimed the victory in these areas.
a. I feel like I have been telling this story for two years (possibly because I have been), but the Packers are bad in pass protection. Leonard Little beat Allen Barbre twice for sacks, and Aaron Rodgers avoided 5 other near sacks by running with the ball (he had 8 carries for 38 yards and a TD). If the Rams were any better on the defensive line, Rodgers could have had a more-typically painful day. I didn't see much of anything from Chris Long in the pass-rushing department, even against the underwhelming pass blocking of Daryn Colledge.
b. The Packers disappointed in terms of rushing the passer. Aaron Kampman got a sack and injured Marc Bulger, but the Packers never hit Kyle Boller after that. I was really surprised, because the Rams' OT combination of Alex Barron and Adam Goldberg is decidedly below average. Barron was solid, but Goldberg surrendered the Kampman sack and had a holding penalty, on a play where I initially wrote "great block" (The replay showed it to definitely be a hold). Jason Brown has been a very nice acquisition for the Rams, and anchored the middle. I really didn't see much from Clay Matthews, and I haven't yet.
c. The Packers' rushing stats looked pretty good, with 37 carries for 152 yards and 2 TDs. The truth is, the gains made by Ryan Grant were very hard-fought, and only averaged 3.8 yards per carry. The overall number is dramatically inflated by Rodgers' 38 yards and Donald Driver's 13. Chris Long did show well in the running game, and Clifton Ryan hung pretty tough inside, but the best run stopper was S Craig Dahl, not a lineman.
d. The Rams actually did a very nice job of run blocking, led by Jason Brown and RG Richie Incognito. Barron and Goldberg were OK outside, but the battle was won inside. For the Packers, ST&NO Favorite Cullen Jenkins had a disappointing game, but NT Ryan Pickett showed pretty well. B.J. Raji was active for the first time, and I never noticed him in this game once, and I'm not even sure that he played, since he didn't register on the stat sheet.
e. I'd give a slight edge to the Rams overall, which is mostly probably due to low expectations. I just can't get past the feeling that the Packers are really bad on the O-Line, and it's a shame, because they're very good otherwise. The Rams have to feel pretty good about their performance, and maybe it carries over to games against lesser competition.
5. So, I guess this makes me something of a flip-flopper, but I am going to briefly explain a change in previously stated policy, so we're all on the same page, and nobody wonders. I have previously declared that I would henceforth refer to several underwhelming football writers by unflattering nicknames. I have decided to change course on that policy, and call them by their names.
I like to think that this column is pretty good, and I don't want to detract from that. There's no need to feed the God of Obviousness by calling people names, and I can get cheap laughs by other methods. I will still feel free to criticize stupid things that people write, but I will call their writers by their chosen names.
6. Back to football, I decided to name glaring weaknesses by team, to illustrate my point in item 1. I am limiting this to whole phases of the game, and mostly not subsets of a phase of the game.
Dallas Cowboys - Pass coverage, Pass rush (other than DeMarcus Ware)
New York Giants - None, but pass protection is sometimes close to being one.
Philadelphia Eagles - Running the ball inside
Washington Redskins - The offensive line in both the running and passing games
Green Bay Packers - Pass protection (a major weakness)
Detroit Lions- Pass protection, run defense, pass defense
Minnesota Vikings- Pass protection, Pass coverage
Chicago Bears - The offensive line in both the running and passing games, and pass coverage from safeties
San Francisco 49ers - Pass offense, Pass rush
Seattle Seahawks - Run offense, Pass protection
Arizona Cardinals - Pass protection (a major weakness, like Green Bay)
St. Louis Rams - Everything, except for punting and place-kicking; this is the least talented team in the NFL
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Pass rush, Run defense, Pass offense
Carolina Panthers - Run defense
Atlanta Falcons - Pass defense and Interior run defense
New England Patriots - Pass protection, Pass rush
New York Jets - Pass protection (though it is improving)
Miami Dolphins - Passing offense
Buffalo Bills - Pass defense
Pittsburgh Steelers- Pass protection, Run offense
Baltimore Ravens - None
Cleveland Browns - Everything except special teams
Cincinnati Bengals - Pass protection (but they're improving lately)
Oakland Raiders - Pass offense, Run defense
Kansas City Chiefs - Run defense, Pass rush, Pass offense
San Diego Chargers - Run defense, Pass rush
Jacksonville Jaguars - Pass offense, Pass defense
Houston Texans - Pass protection, Run defense
Indianapolis Colts - Run defense
Tennessee Titans - Pass offense, Pass coverage
7. Retired for John Elway
8. I saw where ESPN Dallas was launched this week, joining Chicago and Boston as cities where the Worldwide Leader has spread. I wonder when/if Denver gets its own site. If it happens, their writers better consistently bring their "A" games to compete with MHR.
9. Big up Matt Bowen of the National Football Post for being the first widely-distributed national NFL writer to admit he didn't see the Broncos coming, and that they're for real.
Can the Broncos keep it going?
Sure they can. I fully understand that the early season schedule has been favorable for the Broncos, but looking ahead, they still have two games against Kansas City, one more at home versus the Raiders (three games they should win) and two big games against Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
Anybody who can divorce themselves from their preconceived notions can see that the Broncos are doing all of the little things that win games. That's the crux of Bowen's realization, and I salute him for being the first to have the combination of acumen and guts to see it and say it.
10. An early thought on next week's Cowboys game. Dallas has a massive offensive line, and they tend to wear teams down by the time the second half rolls around. That's what happened with the Panthers Monday night. I think the Broncos will be tougher to wear down, because they use such an interchangeable rotation of defensive linemen, and there's no particular drop-off in quality when the subs come in. Every player in the rotation is contributing, and I think it bodes really well for success in Week 4.
That's all for this week, friends. Check us out Saturday morning for Lighting Up