The Aftermath: Punching The Bully In The Mouth; Denver Broncos 26 - Tennessee Titans 20

NASHVILLE TN - OCTOBER 03: Brian Dawkins #20 of the Denver Broncos pressures quarterback Vince Young #10 of the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 3 2010 in Nashville Tennessee. Denver won 26-20. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Happy Monday Broncos Country!  Let me say, writing a column like this is definitely more fun after a win on Sunday.  Before I get knee deep into the game, someone help me out a bit. When did winning a football game become something NOT to celebrate?  Granted, I feel somewhat responsible for what has happened to fans - and not just of the Broncos.  MHR allows fans to collaborate in real time about the team.  Generally, with expectations that all fans have, we will look at the warts a majority of the time, almost to ease the fall in case of failure. 

"Yea, we won, but......"

Doesn't matter what the 'buts' are, there are always qualifiers.  The Denver Broncos won a football game yesterday!  Hell yea I'm excited and you can be too.  Many of us visit this site multiple times per day, 365 days a year.  Why?  For 16 games per season - hopefully more - that's it.  All the posts, comments, fan shots, fan posts, podcasts, etc, are for those 16 games.  When the Broncos win one, I am psyched, I could care less how, or why!  Well, I do care, 24 hours later, which is why this post is written the next day.

I guess what I am saying is, we know the Broncos have weaknesses.  All teams do.  IT IS OK, however, to take a minute and enjoy the sweet smell of victory. We work too hard in this community NOT TO!  The Broncos played a tough, physical, some-would-say-cheap football team yesterday.  They won.  The Broncos were the tougher team.  When was the last time we thought that?

Let's get on with it.

Let's Talk 4th Down Again - Every week we get the chance to break down a 4th Down decision by Josh McDaniels.  Once again the Broncos were down in the 4th quarter, inside the opponents Red Zone, faced with a 4th and 3.  This time it was at the 4 yard line. 

I'll admit it.  I thought for a second that the Broncos should kick the FG.  That was my 'sitting-on-the-couch' thought.  Then it occurred to me the situation in the game -

  • Broncos had all 3 timeouts
  • Titans had chewed up the Broncos coverage units, returning a kickoff for a TD
  • The Wind was going against the Broncos, meaning a FG attempt(even after the make) would have to be that much closer
  • Field Position was in Broncos favor.  Let's make Vince Young make some plays from inside his 10-yard line instead of the 25 or 30.
  • Broncos defense had done a solid job against Titans offense

That is a pretty solid argument to go for it there.  Those reasons are not far off from the reasons the Broncos went for it on 4th and 3 against Jacksonville and Indianapolis.  Humor me for a second.  Could the confidence the defense is playing with, that Kyle Orton is playing with, come from the fact that the coaching staff is showing confidence in those groups to perform in high-pressure situations?

Isn't coaching about putting your players in the best possible situation to succeed?  Is it easier for a defense to succeed against an offense from inside the 10 or at the 25 or 30?  What does the opponent's playbook become when Vince Young is taking snaps from his 6 yard-line?  I'll tell you, it becomes predictable.  It allows Wink Martindale to dial up a safety blitz on 3rd and long because he knows what's coming.  He did, and Brian Dawkins made the play.

I can listen to the argument to kick a FG in that situation.  What I can't listen to is a STATEMENT OF FACT, saying that McDaniels was WRONG to do it.  That is NOT open minded, or tolerant, or being a 'realist'.  I'm not saying anywhere here that I think kicking the FG would have been ABSOLUTELY WRONG.  I'm just giving my reasons for thinking the other side is right, just like I did in Weeks 1 and 3.

As a sidenote.  It is OK to disagree with the way McDaniels handles certain situations.  He made some mistakes yesterday, and admitted them(clock management).  Just don't push your opinion as fact.  Everything in this column, and on this site, is opinion.  You can certainly disagree with me.  Please do, but come with something constructive to counter with.

McDaniels wasn't the only coach to struggle a bit yesterday.  Jeff Fisher, on a 3rd and 11, deep in Broncos territory, played it safe, ran the ball, essentially settling for the FG and the Titans missed it.  Bad move by Fisher?  Early in the game, Rod Bironas is the kicker. probably not.  It didn't work out.  Andy Reid, too, against the Redskins.  4th and 1 from the 1-yard line.  Reid is arguing with the referee instead of getting a play in.  The result?  Delay of Game penalty forces the Eagles to kick a field goal.  I'd say that ended up hurting the Eagles.  I'm just saying that football is a fast-paced, snap-judgment environment.  To claim Josh McDaniels cannot handle it, or is worse than many of his peers, is a stretch.  Fisher and Reid have 25 years combined and they still make 'mistakes'.

So, What Is Wrong With The Running Game - That is the million dollar question isn't it.  We've heard many reasons.  I'm going to stick with the same thing I have said all along - youth and instability along the offensive line, combined with injuries.  I know, that is a mouth full, but really, that is a bit more specific that saying it is the 'scheme'.  What does that mean, exactly?  Scheme.  I've seen that a lot lately.  So, two questions for you to answer in the comments:

1.  What 'scheme' is the Broncos running and why isn't it working?
2.  What 'scheme' should the Broncos be running and why will it work?

Back to my reasons. 

Let's look at youth first.  The Broncos, at different times, are starting two rookies and a first year player.  Yesterday, with the return of Ryan Harris, the Broncos were starting J.D Walton at C and Stanley Daniels at RG.  There's the youth.  If I had a true research department, I'd try and find the numbers for teams starting 2 rookies on the offensive line.  I don't, but I do have a Kaptain.  Kirk was nice enough to pull up some stats for another team in the NFL doing it. 

The 0-4 San Francisco 49'ers.

PPG(Rank)
13
31
YPG(Rank)
298.2
23
Rush YPG(Rank)
78.8
28
Pass YPG(Rank)
219.5
17

 

What we are looking at above is San Francisco's offensive rankings through 4 games.  Let's see, pretty awful.  They are in the bottom half in every offensive category, and remember - the Niners drafted BOTH ROOKIES in the First Round, and they have Frank Gore who is arguably more talented - at least more proven - than anyone the Broncos have.

Let's look at Denver through 4 games

PPG(Rank)
21.8
11
YPG(Rank)
394.5
4
Rush YPG(Rank)
55.0
32
Pass YPG(Rank)
339.5
1


The Broncos, like the Niners, are starting 2 rookies(Stanley Daniels is as close as possible, and Zane Beadles is a rookie).  J.D. Walton was drafted in the 4th Round and Daniels was undrafted.  Beadles is a 2nd Round pick.  Is the Broncos running game as bad as San Francisco's?  No, but the 23 yards the Niners average above what the Broncos do is more than made up by the Broncos ability to throw the football.  The Broncos also score 9 more points per game.

All this, with Ryan Clady far from 100%, Ryan Harris far from 100%, and Chris Kuper not at 100%.  Do injuries happen to all teams?  Absolutely, but to blindly disregard injuries, and ignore youth and instability, yet claim something as general as 'scheme' is, again, far-fetched.  I'm not saying what the Broncos are trying to do on the ground is 100% right or effective, but throwing a different set of offensive linemen out there every Sunday - especially when these guys don't practice together all week - is a recipe for disaster.

The MAGIC-50 - Let's take a look at where Josh McDaniels came from - from a coaching tree perspective.  Sure, he has a limb directly on the Bill Belichick coaching-tree.   Belichick, of course, is part of the Bill Parcells tree.  That means McDaniels comes from the Parcells tree, the same way Mike Shanahan came from the Bill Walsh tree despite never coaching with Walsh.

Michael Lombardi was on the radio this morning talking about the Broncos running game and he said something that reminded me of a principle Parcells believed in, and I've been stumbling over for the past couple weeks.  I've been talking about the Broncos needing to run the ball despite the results.  That attempts were more important than yards.  This, in a lot of ways, was the same thing Parcells believed in.

Parcells believed that, to win, your PASS COMPLETIONS and RUSHING ATTEMPTS should equal 50.  Get there, and you'll win more than you lose.  Nothing in the NFL is an absolute, but the 'Magic-50' was worth checking out.

GAME
PASSES
RUSHES
TOTAL
RESULT
2009
-
-
-
-
WK1
17
20
37
W
WK2
19
37
56
W
WK3
13
45
58
W
WK4
20
25
45
W
WK5
35
25
60
W
WK6
20
33
53
W
WK7
23
19
42
L
WK8
23
14
37
L
WK9
14
22
36
L
WK10
17
17
34
L
WK11
18
40
58
W
WK12
15
45
60
W
WK13
29
30
59
L
WK14
19
28
47
L
WK15
27
18
45
L
WK16
32
22
54
L
2010
-
-
-
-
WK1
21
25
46
L
WK2
25
38
63
W
WK3
37
18
55
L
WK4
35
20
55
W

Here is the cliffs notes:

  • The Broncos are 10-10 in their past 20 games.
  • 11 times in those 20 games they have eclipsed 50.  They are 8-3 in those games. Ironically, two of the losses came against Indianapolis, something I attribute to the Manning Effect.  Manning puts so much pressure on a team - just by the fact he is on the field - that an opposing offense has to be perfect. That means the Broncos have lost just ONCE over the past 20 games when they have hit the 'Magic 50'.  That happened against the Chiefs in Week 17 last season(54).
  • Broncos are 2-7 when they don't hit the 'Magic-50'

Like I said, there are no absolutes, but the Broncos are 8-3 when they get to 50, and 2-7 when they don't.  I'll go out on a limb and say that the 'Magic-50' is real and something the Broncos should aspire to, regardless of yards. 

Time To Credit Wink - Lost in all the hand-wringing about the running game is the performance of the Broncos defense.  Remember how foolish Josh McDaniels was when Mike Nolan and the Broncos parted ways?  I'm not going to sit here and say that Nolan isn't a great coach.  He is.  I saw it first-hand.  But I also watched Elvis Dumervil leave the field this summer, lost for the season.  I've watched Champ Bailey get hurt.  I've watched Perrish Cox have to step in as a rookie and play for Andre Goodman.  I've seen two players - Jason Hunter and Kevin Vickerson - come to the team in the middle of training camp and play a big role. 

In other words, you've got to give credit to the coaches sometimes too.  Martindale has yet to be overmatched in a game this season.  Were there some issues Week 1?  Yes.  We also found out that the helmet communications weren't working.  Since then, the Broncos defense has been stout, holding some of the best running backs in football to less-than-stellar performances.

And the tackling!  This is the best I've seen a Broncos team tackle in at least 5 years.  D.J. Williams is playing at a Pro Bowl level.  Brian Dawkins looks 5 years younger and Bailey looks re-energized.  In other words, Martindale has his defense playing at a high-level - rookies and veterans alike. 

All coaches and teams deserve criticism at times.  They also deserve some credit.  I'm not going to weigh in on the reasons Nolan left, but I can say the Broncos made the RIGHT choice with Martindale.

I Heart Matt Prater - Tennessee is not an easy place to kick field goals. Matt Prater wasn't phased, however, hitting 4 field goals of 35+ yards.  That included a FG he had to hit twice.  It is rare for a defensive penalty to force a re-kick, but that is what happened when the Titans were called for an Offsides call.  After a lengthy delay to sort out the game clock, Prater calmly drilled the FG a second time.

It wasn't his field goals, though, that I loved the most.  His pooch kick-off, one that Darcel McBath said was by design, was a thing of beauty.  Remember when the Broncos' Jason Elam did something similar against the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game - John Elway's final game in Denver - which turned the tide of that game.

Yesterday had the same effect.  It allowed the Broncos to get insurance points and take some more time off the clock.  It is the little things in a football game that have a big effect on the outcome.  Matt Prater, for my money, is the best kicker in the NFL.

I Heart Kyle Orton, too - We can talk about Orton's numbers, but they speak for themselves.  Ok, just one.  Orton's 1419 yards over the first 4 games is the second most in the HISTORY of the NFL.  Only Kurt Warner, in 2000, has more.

Ok, enough numbers.  I'm talking about the leadership Orton continues to show.  His comments the past two weeks have shown just how in command he is in the locker room.  Last week, Orton took full responsibility for the Broncos Red Zone troubles.  He's the quarterback, and right or wrong, he knows it is on him.  Yesterday he stood up for the guys in front of him - guys that are playing hurt to protect him - when the Titans seemed to be playing a bit dirty.

"I think we were the tougher team today.  You always hear about how tough they are and all that stuff. I don't think they're tough. I think they're cheap.  If that's the type of player Cortland Finnegan wants to be, well, then, he's a cheap player, not a good player."

Pretty strong statements from Orton.

It is a statement about Orton, and the fire that burns inside him that many have questioned.  It is also a statement about the Broncos as a team.  There is a new culture in Denver.  No longer are the Broncos going to get bullied by the 'tougher' teams in the NFL.  Kyle Orton - and the Broncos - stood toe-to-toe with the Titans yesterday.  They took their best shots, even a couple below the belt.  The Broncos maintained their poise and they punched back - on the score board - and they won. 

As a fan of smash-mouth football, that was the most gratifying.  This is a game the Broncos DON'T win that past few years, when it was all about finesse.  This Broncos team might throw the ball all over the field, but they are tough - from the quarterback on down, the Broncos are not going to back-down from anyone.

That, alone, is something to celebrate.  It's OK Broncos fans, we can smile today.  The Broncos won a football game, one of 16 each season we spend all year talking about.  Take the time to enjoy it.  You deserve it.

This is where you expect to see my mailbag.  Since there were so many questions this week, I am going to post it separately.  Look for 'The Aftermath: Mailbag Edition" tomorrow and thanks for all the questions!

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