It usually takes me a few weeks to start getting these random thoughts in my head. I go into each season with a clean slate, not allowing what has happened in the past to spoil my thinking on the future. With an entirely new organization, it seemed that was easy this year with the Broncos. Now that we have played 3 games, and won all three, I am beginning to get a feeling on how I feel about the 2009 Denver Broncos.
Let's start with the obvious. The Denver Broncos are a good football team. Go ahead, you can say it and feel good about it. That isn't a promise of the playoffs or anything like that. Just a statement of fact. The Denver Broncos are a good football team. The opponent you play, in the NFL at least, matters little when you allow 16 points in 12 quarters.
It is amazing that perception can stick with a team for so long. Let's take the Baltimore Ravens for a minute. They, like the Broncos, are 3-0. Most people expected the Ravens to be a solid group so they aren't a surprise. The Broncos, of course, are a surprise and to some, still untested. That's where perception comes in. Let's look at the teams both have played so far -
Boy, to me it looks like those numbers, almost across the board, are pretty similar. Sure, Baltimore has scored 41 more points, but they have also allowed 37 more points. They have had to score more in order to win.
Don't get me wrong. The Ravens played in the AFC Championship Game last year. I know the Ravens are a solid football team. Public perception, however, was that Baltimore is a good team, so their opponents simply don't matter when it comes to evaluating their performance in 2009.
The perception with the Broncos was they were going to be a bad team. As such, their quality of opponent is used as a weapon AGAINST them. Funny, that perception thing, or should I say hypocrisy?
Personally, who you play matters little. These are all professionals, and strength of schedule doesn't effect who makes the playoffs and who doesn't. Win and move on.
We all know how great Ryan Clady is. He is, for my money, the best Left Tackle in football today, bar none. You can have Joe Thomas, you can have Jake Long. Clady is better. Just this weekend, after owning Richard Seymour, Clady tied an NFL Record by going 19 games to start his career without giving up a full sack (he was charged for a 1/2 sack against Seymour last season).
What might not get mentioned, or at least doesn't get talked about enough, is how Clady impacts the Broncos defense. Think about it. Every day, Elvis Dumervil goes against Clady in practice. I wonder how many sacks Elvis has against him. No matter, it is the other left tackles in the NFL Dumervil has been dominating, to the tune of 6 sacks in his past 6 quarters. One does have to wonder, however, just how much of a positive impact going against Clady everyday has helped Dumervil as a pass rusher. I think we all know the answer to that.
A lot has been made about players "buying in" to Josh McDaniels. Like other terms ("Shutdown Corner" comes to mind) that are overused and misunderstood, I don't believe that players choose to buy into a coach, a system, a scheme or anything else. Players buy into one thing - winning. 99% of these guys are professionals and will do what they are told because it is their job. All 32 teams have video on all players; how they deal with change and adversity says a lot about a player. I can tell a lot about someone's character by how they handle the bad times, not the good times.
When it comes to Josh McDaniels it is all about winning. Players that are on board with a "Team-First, Win-First" attitude will be here, and will be on the field. Players that do not will be shown the door. What gets the players excited is when the results start showing on the field. Winning equals everything players want - attention, endorsements, money, notoriety, success. That is what players buy into. That is why the veterans in the Broncos' locker room, especially ones that have experienced success at the highest level like Brian Dawkins, were excited to play for McDaniels. They recognized very early on that he understood what it takes to win and be successful, in the short term AND long term.
No matter your stance on players "buying in", it is pretty clear that the 53 men in the Denver Broncos locker room are all heading in the same direction. Despite the talent the team has had in the past, that was not always the case; I think that mentality led to many of the problems that surrounded the team this offseason. Problems solved, and that is scary for the rest of the NFL.
First, McDaniels was asked how he would keep his team humble after starting 3-0...
Just show them the film. Show them the film. We have got a 50-play cut-up we are going to watch during the squad meeting, and it is not all bows and ribbons. They see it. They saw it every week that we have played so far that, ‘Boy! If we had only done these five or six things better, it could have been an even better performance, and we could have won by a bigger margin.' When players see that, you don't have to convince them that they need to improve. They know that they have got to get better. The biggest thing that you can do is take the things that we didn't do well in the film and go out there on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and go out there and actually emphasize it and put a period in practice where we have to do this better. Yesterday, our field-goal protection was not very good. We are going to work on field-goal protection on Wednesday Thursday and Friday this week. They will learn how important that is and they are going to see how important it is when they see it
That is exactly the answer I want to hear. Think about it. The Broncos started 3-0 last season. They proceeded to fall apart, finishing 5-8. If anyone should feel uncomfortable being 3-0, it is Denver Broncos fans. I looked back to some comments Mike Shanahan made after the Broncos beat the Saints last season to go to 3-0. Here is what Shanny said about Denver's defensive performance that day -
"I am not alarmed at all because if you get that kind of effort overall, good things are going to happen. You have to be alarmed because you gave up so many passing yards but that is something you can work on and get better at. You have drops and different zones. You get different things that different offenses do that you have to adjust to. You get different scheming and different quarterbacks that can sometimes give you different opportunities to come up with big plays. We have to get better on third downs. They were 8-14 on third downs, and they had a third down and 12 and a third down and 7 when it was 21-3 and that game was almost over. You just have to be on with your zone drops and you have to make a tackle here and there. It is something we can work on, especially with that type of effort. That was as hard as we have played in a long time.
Think about that for a second. His team had just given up 32 points, and he was not concerned because there was 'good effort'. Sure, he goes on to say that there were some things that needed to be worked on (3rd-Down Conversions), but the sense of satisfaction was there. See the difference?
The second statement, even more impressive than the first, was McDaniels' answer about teaching the defense -
That is what coaching is to me-teaching. If you are not a good communicator or a good teacher, it is hard to be a real affective coach at this level. There is too much information that you need to pass on along to your players, and we have so many different types of learners in our locker room. Some guys learn quickly from the mouth. Some guys need it on the board. Some guys need it on the board, on film, from the mouth, walkthrough and practice it twice, and then they have got it. That is just the way this game is. Every player is different, and I think that is part of being a good coach is figuring out, ‘How do I have to teach my players because they are not all the same guy?' That is a really critical component to being a good staff. If you have got a lot of good teachers and good communicators, then you are going to have players out there on the field that are well prepared. If you have good players who are well prepared, that is usually a good formula."
I get chills reading, and definitely got chills watching him say it yesterday. This man is 33 years old, mind you. He gets it. Even in the NFL, coaching is teaching; and players, in their quest to be the best, want to learn. They are sponges for information. All coaches know this, the best ones know how to read their players in order to figure out the best way to get the information into them. McDaniels knows the key is to be a good communicator. Good communicators cater their message to the audience. Forget the public persona, coaches like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick are master communicators inside their locker rooms. They know that football is all about situations, and they constantly talk to and teach their players on how to react to those situations. That way, when they happen, the players are ready.
One last thought. We have talked at length about McDaniels' decision to bring Mike Nolan on board. It has been a huge success and shows just how confident McDaniels is to bring in a former Head Coach. Another hire, one on the offensive side, can't be ignored either. McDaniels took a lot of heat for dismissing Jeremy Bates and bringing in former Panthers QB coach Mike McCoy. Sure, McDaniels call the plays on offense, but has anyone seen how the Panthers have looked on offense this season? Anyone notice how badly Jake Delhomme has played?
The Panthers are missing McCoy, and the Broncos have him. Right now I would put this coaching staff up against any in the NFL.