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Broncos Thoughts and Musings - A look back at Chargers Week

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Having taken a 'bye' week of my own, I thought that I'd put together a few musings for the general group. Before getting into the meat of this week's offering, though, I'd like to take a minute to mention a phenomena that has been showing its ugly face around Broncos Country. I'm talking about the problems of our fans having a 'Shanahangover': the sinking belief that the issues of the past years, in which the Broncos look good enough to fool us and lull us into a state of complacency before succumbing to a massive blowout (often to an inferior team) and shattering our dreams, could resurface in 2009. It's a dangerous disease, but fatal only to those who believe that this year's team has something in common with the teams of the past - notably, the past three seasons. Time will tell, but I don't see this happening any longer.

I've read this from a few of the members and in other blogs and sites: "The Broncos have fooled us before." It's true, too, but that was before a new sheriff, deputy, posse, marksman and scouts came into the picture. No matter what you've seen in the past, this team has little or nothing to do with the Ghosts of Seasons Past. The improvement in the coaching, performance of players, attitude and execution is light years beyond what we as fans are used to. Whether it's our team or another, living in the past is an exercise in misunderstanding the present. This is not last year's Broncos. It's a whole new experience.

As an example, Arrowhead Stadium is likely to be a tough place to win; but it's not because the Broncos haven't played well there in the past. They often didn't, but that's not a matter for this year's team. It's a windswept, loud, raucous place to play. It's hard to hear signals if the place is full and I don't take any game lightly, particularly a division rival. While I do think that the Chiefs are in early stages of an upswing, I'm not at all concerned that they're better than Denver or that they will beat us, even in their own house. Our veterans aren't going to take games off and they're not going to let the younger players take anyone lightly. If the Broncos play anywhere near their skill level, they're just too good for most teams. We've got a lot of great contests coming up, but one thing that doesn't concern me at all is the possibility that we will revert to the habits of seasons past. It's not going to happen, so put it out of your mind.

Charging into the Future

Before the Monday Night Football game that extended the Broncos' record to 6-0, Chargers TE Antonio Gates said, "One thing that gives us a chance is that we're still in the hunt in the AFC West. We never said it had to be pretty, and it wasn't pretty last year." After the game, it was a lot uglier. If Gates believes that the Chargers are still in the hunt, he needs to define his terms pretty quickly.

"It's tough to always be in this situation," Gates said afterward. "We didn't plan on being here. We didn't plan on being 8-8 last year either. But here we are. We have to keep working, or it could snowball and turn into a losing streak."

"We didn't plan on getting here." If there are words perfectly suited for failure, I think those should be high on the list. "We didn't plan on being here." Yes, that about covers it.

Bear in mind that they also didn't plan well enough to avoid it. They didn't run the extra sprints that the Broncos endured to get in better shape than their opponents. They didn't make the personnel moves that the Broncos did, realizing that no matter how good you were supposed to be, an 8-8 record will rarely get you into the postseason. They didn't identify the weaknesses that they had, nor the ones that could arise with age, injury and contract status. They didn't do enough to prepare themselves for the fact that Shawne Merriman was very unlikely to have a great year this year. Few will, after the kind of surgery that he had. In short - they didn't plan to succeed, either.

I'm sympathetic to their injury issues among linemen. That's tough and often unpredictable. But even there - is it a shock that Jamal Williams (who's had more surgeries than an aging Hollywood ingenue) would start to break down? Nick Hardwick has had a lot of injuries, plenty of surgeries (and I thought that Scott Mruczkowski did a very good job until Mike Nolan outfoxed him). Igor Olshansky was going to be gone. I wrote last spring about the issues that the Chargers were going to be experiencing, and I'm no expert. So, what happened?

Three things, I'd argue, and all are common: arrogance, lassitude and reversion to the mean. Arrogance in this case includes believing that you can start out poorly season after season and still make up the ground - the continuing decline of their schedule argues against that. But the arrogance also includes the behavior of individuals, including fighting within the team that is seen in public. Then there's lassitude, as in admitting, as A.J. Smith did last February, that the Chargers' woes were in great part on him but not doing more about it. And reversion to the mean: this is a team that has been heading for mediocrity (and how obvious can that be, after going 8-8?) for some time. It needed major help, and it got a few band-aids.

I loved the Kevin Burnett pickup, and it's just bad fortune that he's hurt. I liked the Larry English draft pick, and he's getting there. I also liked the Louis Vasquez draft pick, and he's developing quickly. I can't even fathom the Kynan Forney (who's since been released) or Travis Johnson pickups, though. The Bolts tended to stand pat with a suspect secondary, didn't develop their depth and accepted on faith that bad performances were anomalies instead of facts. It bought them a game in which a stellar performance by Philip Rivers wasn't enough, in which Nolan and McDaniels out-coached Ron Rivera and Norv Turner and in which the best the Chargers could bring wasn't close to enough.

There will, as Merriman pointed out, be a rematch. I look forward to it, and I'm sure the Broncos do. Stating before the game that 'the Broncos can't stop me' wasn't Rivers' smartest move. Claiming that they will get revenge after the game wasn't Merriman's, but I do appreciate the help those things gave Denver. If the Broncos needed any aid in getting up for the home half of this series, which I greatly doubt, they won't after that night's statements.

Arrogance...some things don't change.

Losing the Locker Room

That same arrogance has infected the locker room and the very attitude of the Chargers. You could see in a single moment why the Chargers have problems with their team very clearly during the first quarter of the Monday night game. The Chargers bogged down at the goal line - LaDainian Tomlinson was stopped short of the goal line twice. They took him out on the third play and put in Darren Sproles, trying to take advantage of a seam that Turner had seen. Tomlinson paced the sidelines, obviously complaining bitterly about not being in. The Broncos stopped Sproles and the Bolts short again, and they settled for kicking the FG.

It got me to thinking. Last year at this time, the Chargers were starting slow, appeared unmotivated and perhaps even ill-prepared. Tomlinson was also complaining - about the play calling, the offensive line, and not getting enough carries. Now, imagine that he was in orange and blue. How likely is it that a Bronco would do that - two years running? If you consider that Turner's team has gone from 14-2 before he arrived, to slow starts three years running, you start to see why that might be true. Players fight with management in the media. The GM insults his team, as A.J. Smith did by calling their play 'soft'. Nowhere is there a sign that adults are in charge. Merriman has a public feud with Smith, dating back a couple of seasons. Smith doesn't like his side jobs, feeling that it takes away from the team. LDT fights with Turner, expresses his feelings and tussles with Smith this past offseason, very publicly. Smith gets quickly pulled into it. No one wins.

This past week, it was wide receiver Chris Chambers. A non-factor for quite a while now, he was complaining to the press that his snaps are being taken by Malcolm Floyd. I don't know what he expected - he's not gaining separation, he's not getting open and he hasn't shown a ton of skill at fighting for the ball. But he's still touting himself as if it were three seasons ago and he was doing good things. It's the kind of thing that you're not seeing from the Broncos, the kind of thing that tells you when a franchise is in disarray.

I can't even express my gratitude for the fact that Josh McDaniels has very good management skills. He won't carry arguments into the media, rarely gets flustered and keeps things behind closed doors. I've fired people for the kinds of destructive behavior that I've seen from the Chargers over the past two years. Those who claim that this is football and that it's really okay to have things this way should consider how the Broncos do handle things -- and how their team acts and plays. As in, as a unit. As a real team, one that's going good places. It matters. Once in a while, a dysfunctional team has a good year. Most of the time, though, they flame out, and the talent levels don't matter enough to get them where they want to go. That's happening in San Diego, and while it's good for the Broncos, it's an obvious sign of the Bolts organization needing a makeover.

Asked before the MNF debacle, LDT was asked what he saw in the Charger's locker room. "It's a quiet confidence. You look in each man's eyes in that locker room, you can tell there is something extra."

Did they also see that you'd be pacing the sidelines, yelling and pouting, LDT? Perhaps not. That's one reason that the Chargers are 3 games back. Even worse for the Bolts and better for the Broncos, LDT hasn't been alone.

Beating Kansas City has given the Bolts a brief respite, but that's hardly a road back into the land of the competitive. While I do think that the Denver game as been a wakeup call of Shakespearean proportions for San Diego, their problems run too deep to permit them to make the late season run this year profitable. The game in Denver will be a grudge match. Given the state of the raiders and Chiefs, that's a good thing. It may keep thing much more interesting.

Some Other Stats that Matter (With apologies to Lebowski)

What did the Broncos do right so far this year? It's a long list, but try these perspectives on the rushing game:

  • Stuffs per carry - Correll Buckhalter, 4th, at 0.043 Knowshon Moreno at 9th, with 0.061
  • Stuffed: Best in league - It only happened on 8 plays. Despite the issues that can improve in short yardage, the problem isn't with negative plays.
  • YPC: Buck, 1st, 6.7 Broncos 11th, 4.3
  • Yards: Broncos 7th, 798
  • Big play rushes: tied for 9th, 20
  • 100-yard rushers against: 0
  • 100 yards rushing by opposing teams: 0
  • Passes dropped, over 6 games: 5. Four of those came in the first two weeks. It's all about doing your job and doing it right.

Let's also look at the percentage of rushing versus passing plays. Going back to the offseason, Doug (nycbroncosfan) and I published the "Divining Josh McDaniels" series. We said at the time that McD had been viewed at being more of a passing kind of guy than he really deserved. It was true when McD was in NE and it is true in Denver. We're in 8th, with 47.7% rushing and therefore 52.3% passing - a very even, balanced attack. Over the last 4 years, McDaniels had averaged 43.1% rushing plays. That seems low, but it's not if you look at how the team was structured. In 2008 that number was 46.8% rushing and that was similar to 2006 as well. On the other years, the passing game was working too well to minimize it. Josh McD believes in maximizing all of your skill sets and using the ones that the defense lets you win with, whether it's the pass or the run. As you would expect, he's attempting to make sure hat both are viable options. It's that simple. By getting Moreno, Buckhalter, Orton, the O-line and the receiving corps, he can go either way with complete confidence. That makes it very hard to stop the Broncos' offense.

You might also look at how the aging, decrepit defensive secondary is doing. Teams have been challenging Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins and getting their hats handed to them. Take a look at these stats:  Bailey is tied for 2nd in the league with 8 passes defensed; Dawkins is tied for 11th with 6.

The Broncos have two players in the top 11 in the NFL in passes defensed -- and both players are over 30. That's a stat that not a lot of casual fans follow, but it tells you a lot about a team. It tells you that the Broncos have age, wisdom and maturity in the defensive secondary. Experienced players know how to communicate and that skill is constantly undervalued. It also tells you that those who believe that Champ Bailey, Andre' Goodman, Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill are 'losing a step' need to find their argument. Dawkins and Bailey are among the league leaders and are getting some payback on the 'lost a step' crowd. Andre' Goodman and Renaldo Hill are playing the best ball of their careers. The young guys, Alphonso Smith and Jack Williams, are also paying well and Darcel McBath has already shown why we drafted him on defense as well as by leading the team on special-teams tackles.

I'll be back later today with more Thoughts and Musings...