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Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations

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Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to another edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations.  Christmas is coming - and I, for one, am hoping for a much more joyous holiday season than I experienced last December.  All I got for Christmas last year was the Broncos' historic collapse, and all I had to give was the one scenario that could possibly be worse than the season-ending Chargers game (it involved hypothetically cutting an apple, slipping, and stabbing myself in the groin WHILE watching that game).

I'm not much for moral victories, but today in Donny Deutschland, I will talk about why I feel better about Sunday's loss than I have about any Broncos loss in years.  There's no time to waste, so let's not waste any time.  Out of the echo chamber, and into the fire, y'all.  Ready..... BEGIN!!!

1.  I learned on Sunday that what I suspected was the case, was in fact, the case.  That is, the Broncos can play with Indianapolis, at Indianapolis.  It happened a little differently than I thought it would, but the Broncos competed, and got back in the game after getting down in really ugly fashion.  Consider these statistics, as I pretend that I care about statistics for a moment.  The Broncos outgained Indianapolis 357-312.  They held the ball for 31:27, versus the Colts' 28:33.  They won the turnover battle 3-1.  The Broncos advanced into Colts territory on 8 of 12 posessions.  These measures would tend to indicate victory, but in this case, the Broncos fell a little short.

For next time, we can internalize a few thoughts:

a.  The Broncos have the players and schemes to cover the Colts receivers, pressure Peyton Manning, and generally disrupt their offense.

b.  The Broncos have the players and schemes to move the ball at will against the Colts defense. 

c.  As a fan base, we all mistakenly thought to ourselves "Here we go again" when the Colts got up 21-0 after four possessions.  We can take this game as a lesson that the past doesn't indicate the future.  Those Broncos teams which got their doors blown off by the Colts passing game are definitely not these Broncos.

One general concern is that the Broncos could have run the ball better, and will need to next time.  I felt the run scheme was too zone-heavy and horizontal, and it played into the Colts' plan to run-blitz the gaps.  A smaller, faster team needs to be man-blocked with a vertical scheme.  Those are guys you don't necessarily want moving laterally, because they're comfortable doing so.

The other concern is that at money time, Dallas Clark needed more and better attention.  Josh Barrett needed to be on the field manning him up, because he's the best guy in the NFL at covering TEs man-to-man.

All in all, I am proud of the way the Broncos stayed in the game, despite some reasons that lesser men would take to quit.  This was really a game which turned on a few plays, and I am pleased to know that the Broncos can compete with Indianapolis, unlike in past years.  This week, it's the Raiders, and luckily, JaMarcus Russell will be under center again.  Expect Elvis Dumervil to get some shots at him.  The Broncos can take care of business at home, and position themselves well to make the postseason.  Happy Raiders Week, friends.

2.  Information From My Eyes, Broncos at Colts:

a.  Andre' Goodman got beat on a crossing route by Pierre Garcon on the first offensive play of the game, and in the moment, I wondered if there was a major speed mismatch.  Goodman settled down to play Garcon spectacularly the rest of the game, breaking up four well-thrown balls.  Goodman has been terrific all year, but I'd call this his best game as a Bronco.

b.  When the Broncos drafted Darcel McBath, I'd never heard of him.  I'm very impressed with his play as a rookie, though, and he had a fantastic game Sunday.  He separated Dallas Clark from the ball on a 3rd down, and also baited Peyton Manning into his third interception.  It's a real bummer that he broke his forearm and is gone for the season, but he showed well when he got the opportunities.  I look for him to make a serious run at Renaldo Hill's starting job next season.

c.  I really "misunderestimated" the Colts' DTs, Daniel Muir and Antonio Johnson.  They both played fantastic, and drove the Broncos' interior players backward consistently. 

d.  Ryan Clady didn't play very well in the running game, which was a departure from what we've been seeing lately.  He got pushed backward several times when he lost leverage, and he misread a few run blitzes, and didn't hit the right guy.  He's young and growing, and we can only hope he learns from this game.

e.  Brandon Marshall was spectacular, of course.  It's obvious that Kyle Orton really trusts him to make plays at this point.  I wish he trusted Eddie Royal a little more, though.  The truth is, though, Royal hasn't come up with some plays when he's had chances to do so.

f.  I was happy to see Jabar Gaffney back in the mix this week.  He's a pro's pro, and the Broncos offense is better when he is involved.

g.  I was pleased with what I saw from Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil, despite the Broncos' lack of sacks.  Both played well against the run, and generated pressure against Manning.

h.  Peyton Hillis isn't a very good lead blocker, and I think a key part of the trouble the running game had was with the loss of Spencer Larsen.  Larsen has been knocking heads the last two weeks, and he wasn't there this time, obviously. 

Hillis is a good RB, but he's a true HB, not a FB.  The truth is, he is where he should be on the depth chart; the third RB for the Broncos.  Zappa said that some DP posters were calling for Knowshon Moreno to be benched, and Hillis to get the starting job.  That's not going to happen, and frankly, it's asinine.  Hillis could get more opportunity to make plays, but he deserves to be behind Moreno and Correll Buckhalter.  There's no question in my mind of that.

i.  The Colts' last drive was enabled by missed tackles by Vonnie Holliday (first play of the series) and Mario Haggan (3rd down inside the Broncos 10).

j.  Oh, Dallas Clark.  Ty Law did a good job on him, but he often was assigned to cover Austin CollieWesley Woodyard is a good zone player, but he can't cover a Clark in man-to-man.  That 4th-and-4 was badly schemed, because Brian Dawkins shouldn't be manned up on Clark, either. 

Finally, at the end of the game, the approach should have been to look at the formation.  The power was left, and the only receiving threat was Clark, playing with his hand down on the right side.  You need somebody to drive him straight into the ground, so he can't get out in the pattern.  That's how I would coach that situation, anyway.  Tackle him when he pretends to block, without getting called for holding.

k.  D.J. Williams had a very good game, except for the one stupid penalty.  Darrell Reid got (another) one of those too, while we're at it.

3.  Information From My Eyes, Other Games

a.  I thought Thursday's Browns-Steelers game was pretty riveting, and I almost wish I went (but not quite).  Several of my friends tried to get me to go, because everybody in the world was trying to dump their tickets.  It was 12 degrees, with 50 mph winds, and felt negative-7 in Cleveland that night.  That's a recipe for freezing your hind-parts off, as Omar would say. 

The Browns are changing for the better, and I wonder if it saves Eric Mangini's job.  They're doing some very interesting things, like using Mike Furrey at FS.  He's played both ways in his career, but has been more of a WR in the NFL, and caught 98 passes for the Lions in 2006, which was second in the NFL.

He did some nice things at Safety in the game, and it reminded me of Troy Brown playing defense for the Patriots, though, as I mentioned, Furrey has played defense at the professional level.  You have to be impressed with a player doing what it takes to help his team win.

b.  A guy who I have always liked, who the Browns found for free is Matt Roth.  He got on the wrong side of Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano in Miami, and they put him on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list, and then waived him in November.   The Browns smartly claimed him, and he's played very well for the Browns thus far.  The Sam position in a 3-4 is pretty hard to fill, because it's a unique skill set.  Lamarr Woodley and Mario Haggan are both very good at it, and Adalius Thomas used to be, but like RT on offense, there are a lot more average 3-4 Sams than there are good ones.  Roth is a good one, because he sets the edge well, and generates a good pass rush when he's called upon to do so.  Finding a guy like him in-season is what a bad team has to do.

c.  Two unheralded guys who the Browns have discovered on offense are RB Chris Jennings and TE Evan Moore.  Jennings won a Grey Cup recently with the Montreal Alouettes, and looked like the best back on the Browns roster last Thursday.  He ran with power and explosion against an excellent run defense. 

I meant to mention Moore last week and forgot; but I know a football player when I see one, and he's a player.  He was a big WR at Stanford for 4 years, and also played basketball for his first 2 years.  His fluidity, body control, and overall athleticism jump off the screen, and really remind me of Antonio Gates.  I don't know if he's as fast as Gates, but he looks to me like he could definitely be a Brent Celek-caliber receiving TE.  He's been key to Brady Quinn's recent improvement, because Quinn does his best throwing work inside the numbers.

Jennings and Moore are two players who the Browns can be very excited about, as they figure out what their program is during the offseason.  Like Roth, they came with no significant cost.  Now the Browns just need to nail their offseason.

d.  I had a friend who is a Steelers fan ask me what was wrong with his team, and I think I may have disappointed him by not having a real definitive answer ready.  It's kind of a tough question to answer, really, because Mike Tomlin had it exactly right when he said it was a function of struggles in all three phases of the game.

The defense really misses Troy Polamalu, who I think might be the most irreplaceable defensive player in the NFL.  No safety plays with the speed of Polamalu, and the Steelers are much more conservative in their blitz packages without him.  Their CBs are also playing pretty poorly over the last five games.  On offense, I think the Steelers play-calling has been suspect.  Rashard Mendenhall has emerged as a good RB, and the Steelers seem reluctant to commit to letting him run.  I'm not surprised at the rumblings Sunday that some offensive coaches are likely going to get whacked after the season.

e.  Now, on to why the Browns won Thursday.  There were two reasons.  One reason is that Joshua Cribbs is a great football player, and he carried his team on offense and special teams.  The other is that the Browns covered the Steelers' receivers at a shockingly high level.  ST&NO Favorite Brandon McDonald was fantastic.  He might have had the best coverage game I have seen from a CB this year (although Andre' Goodman was awesome on Sunday, too).  Eric Wright was strong on the other side too, though he gave up a few completions to Santonio Holmes.  As has often been the case with the Broncos this season, the coverage allowed the pressure to get to Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked 8 times.

f.  It was another annoying weekend when almost every game was early, including the Broncos.  I had the Chicago-Green Bay game on at the same time as the Broncos game,. and as I watched some of it, I was struck by the fact that neither team showed me anything that I didn't already know about them.  Aaron Rodgers continued his recent run of getting sacked less, and the Packers defense was strong again.  The Bears had some flashes, but self-destructed at key times. 

The only real takeaway from this, to me, is another reminder why I don't really like fantasy football.  The number one player in the Official MHR League this year has been my QB, Rodgers.  In real football terms, he played fine on Sunday.  He completed 16 of 24 throws for 180 yards, and lost a fumble on a blind-side sack.  His team won the game, so no worries, right?  Well, in fantasy terms, he tanked.  Not only that, I am playing Zappa in the playoffs this week, and he has Ryan Grant, who had a monster game with 137 yards and 2 TDs, because the Bears were playing coverage to prevent big plays in the passing game.

g.  Speaking of guys who tanked on my fantasy team, Randy Moss, this skunky, warm Miller High Life is for you.  One catch for 16 yards, and a lost fumble?  Really?   He really looked like he wasn't trying hard, too; it was a total flashback to the Oakland days.  Good thing I had Brandon Marshall and the Eagles (TD scoring) defense.

h.  I think the Patriots are in trouble, and that their culture needs an adjustment.  I read Bill Belichick's sending tardy players home as a clear indication of that.  Adalius Thomas lipped off in the media, and got benched for it, and Randy Moss did it with his play somewhat on Sunday.  I wouldn't be shocked if both are gone after this season.  Thomas is gone for sure, and Moss is a possibility.  The Patriots have a lot of draft assets with which to restock the WR position, and they're pretty solid at LB anyway, with guys like Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich making positive contributions. 

It was pretty interesting how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick came to Moss's aid on Monday, after he clearly was dogging some pass routes.  Michael Lombardi had a good point on NFL Network that Moss has done that his whole career, and that the Patriots probably weren't too alarmed by it.  I think it's pretty bad, personally.

i.  Scary moment in Arlington, Texas, when DeMarcus Ware was carted off the field with a neck injury.  The Chargers had a false start, and then went right down the field in two plays to score the deciding TD afterward.  Reports on Monday were that Ware would miss the next two weeks, which would really handicap the Dallas defense.  Most casual fans think of Ware as just a pass rusher, but he is a rare player who stars against the run, and in zone coverage too.

j.  I alluded to this thought last week, but it was well-articulated by Michael Lombardi last night; Dallas's struggles have nothing to do with what month it is.  The same can be said of the Chargers and their success in the month of December.  If you're playing in a lot of places where there's bad weather, then maybe the month is a semi-meaningful data point, but neither Dallas nor San Diego particularly qualifies.  I know somebody is going to say that a game in December is a pressure game, but even that's not true a lot of times.  San Diego has tended to be healthy in December, and Dallas has tended to be banged up.  San Diego has tended to play weak late-season schedules, and Dallas has tended to play difficult ones.  Don't get caught up in things which Peter King would incorrectly call a factoid.

k.  That Radio Shack commercial with the sleeping scruffy dude saying "Dance, Sugar Plum Fairies" is bizarre.  It makes no sense at all to me, and I can't imagine how it would make anybody want to shop at Radio Shack, or buy that craptastic phone from Sprint.

l.  NBC lucked out with a great game on Sunday night between the Eagles and Giants.  Neither defense looked particularly good, but both offenses lit it up.  The difference in the game was a defensive TD from Sheldon Brown, and a punt-return TD from DeSean Jackson.  Those plays also provided the difference in the Shallow Thoughts team beating Zappa's Sactown Beavers in the playoffs.

m.  I would never let Jackson get off the line of scrimmage without getting hit.  Teams just insist on letting this guy run free through their secondary, and he kills them.  Little, fast guys like him must be re-routed off the line, and then you want over/under coverage on him after that.  He's not the typical big, physical number-1 WR like Brandon Marshall, but he does need double-team attention, or at least Cover-3 behind him, so he can be hit at the line with confidence.

n.  Brandon Jacobs, to me, is like a 98-mph fastball that's a little too straight, and rarely misses bats.  Jacobs has been running harder lately than he was early in the season, but he doesn't make anybody miss.  He takes so many hits, and this year, he's going down more easily than he used to.  I think the Giants offense is better when Ahmad Bradshaw is getting more carries than Jacobs at this point, even as Jacobs has been better lately.

o.  Speaking of the Giants, I want to share some ST&NO light with a Giants fan, because I've coincidentally been listening to his music as I wrote this part of the column.  If you like hip hop, you ought to check out Nickel at his website  He's got a couple albums worth of MP3s available for free download there.  I went to high school with the guy at Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, CT, and it's cool to see him doing well, and making good music.

p.  As always, I watched 5 games on Monday night, and the one I learned the most from was the New Orleans-Atlanta game.  Very simply, New Orleans deserved to lose the game, and I haven't seen or heard anybody acknowledge that.  I take that as a reaffirmation that my effort is worth the time.

Brent Grimes got called for two horrible pass-interference penalties, on plays where he reached around his man to play the ball.  Those two plays directly led to 14 points being scored, and the Saints won by 3.  The officials bogusly penalized ST&NO Favorite Thomas DeCoud on an even better play in the fourth quarter too, but Garrett Hartley subsequently missed a Field Goal, so it didn't affect the scoreboard.  The Saints are a very good team, and they don't need any bonus help, but apparently you can't breathe on their receivers.  It reminded me of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Dwyane Wade got "fouled" practically every time he touched the ball, and it disgusted me just as much to watch.

q.  Jonathan Vilma deserves credit for sealing the win for New Orleans.  He intercepted Chris Redman with 3 minutes to go in the game.  Then, after the Saints arrogantly tried a fake field goal, rather than taking the points and going up 6, Vilma tackled the formidable Jason Snelling cold in the open field, a yard short of the first down on 4th and 2.  He made the plays that were there to be made.

r.  While I'm on the topic of the Saints, here's an E! True Hollywood Story for you.  Or maybe it's a Letterman-style Top 2 list.  Yeah, that's the ticket.

Top 2 Things Ted Bartlett Currently Doesn't Give A Damn About (And Al Roker's Forecast Calls For No Change:)

1.  Whether or not the Colts or Saints go 16-0, and on a related note, whether or not they rest their starters.

2.  Who wins the NFL MVP Award.

Going 16-0 doesn't matter to anything.  All it would do is create something which Peter King would someday mistakenly call a factoid (even though it's actually a fact).   The only thing that matters is going 3-0 (or 4-0) in the Playoffs.  Plus, the whole thing puts Mercury Morris back in the spotlight, and he's a jerk who doesn't deserve it.

As for the MVP Award, really, who cares?  I may start caring if somebody other than a QB or RB can win, other than the rare Lawrence Taylor in 1986.  (Since the AP award began in 1957, only DT Alan Page, K Mark Moseley, and Taylor have won the award from positions other than QB or RB.  Taylor is the only winner for the Pro Football Writers Association award, which began in 1975.  This is an absolute farce.)

Remember ST&NO Rule #1:  If reporters vote for it, and decide it, it's usually not particularly worth paying attention to.  That includes any and all power rankings, the NFL All-Pro team, all season-ending awards in all sports, and membership in all Halls of Fame.  Reporters often mean well, and they add some value to the overall football discourse, but the value they add ends when they're not asking questions, finding things out, and reporting those things.  When you ask them to judge something, most can't get past the very obvious, or what other people tell them, and nearly all are biased by what they consider to be the most interesting story.  While that's understandable, given the fact that they're in the interesting story business, it's also self-serving, and represents noise rather than a reflection of truth.

s.  The more I watch Chad Henne, the more I like his mechanics, all the way through the process of playing QB.  I most especially like the way he carries out his fakes after he hands off the ball.  You can tell that he's very well coached, both at the collegiate level and the professional level.

t.  Speaking of good coaching, if Head Coaching jobs were being handed out based only upon excellence as a coordinator, Mike Mularkey would be looking pretty good for a shot at another job.  People who know things about offense, and pay attention, know that Mularkey has been getting a lot of production out of some pretty marginal talent the last two seasons.  It's equal parts scheme, knowing the capabilities of his players, and getting his guys to execute, but Atlanta's offense overachieves.  Remember - Mularkey didn't get fired in Buffalo; he resigned in 2006 because he didn't see eye-to-eye with the recently hired Marv Levy.  He's up there with Houston's Kyle Shanahan on offense, and the Broncos' Mike Nolan, Cincinnati's Mike Zimmer, and Arizona's Bill Davis on defense as guys who I think are adding a great deal of value to their sides of the ball.

u.  I tend to dislike University of Texas players, because they have a well-known reputation for being coddled in Austin, and often coming into the NFL as soft players.  A limitation of making evaluations from a distance is that you sometimes have to rely on information which may or may not be meaningful, such as the fact that coaches are prohibited from cursing at players at UT.  That's pretty absurd in my opinion, like the urban legend about stress cards in basic training.

I didn't take to Brian Orakpo much coming out of college, partially due to the UT factor.  Turns out, he's very good, and he's brought a lot to the table for Oakland.  He has had a very good rookie season, but he was dominant on Sunday against the Raiders' bad offensive line and indecisive JaMarcus Russell.  I still prefer Knowshon Moreno to Orakpo for the long haul, and I still think the Redskins should have taken Michael Oher (after the Packers should have taken Michael Oher).  Orakpo was a good choice though, and is a good player, so I missed on that one.

 v. I said a couple weeks ago that I was pretty sure that the Chiefs didn't regret acquiring Matt Cassel, and he's proceeded to have the two worst games of his career the last two weeks.  His ability is very clear, so I still don't think they regret it, but he needs to step it up, and buy Todd Haley and Scott Pioli some cover.  Kansas City has an aggressive local sports media, led by Adam Teicher and Jason Whitlock.  Whitlock has already renamed Pioli as Scott Egoli, so it would be mighty helpful to this regime if they and Cassel could finish the season stronger than they've been showing, and feel like there's something to build on.

w.  A vital part of a 3-step drop passing play is that the outside blocker on the throw side (usually the Tackle) needs to cut the Defensive End and get him on the ground.  The 49ers RT, Adam Snyder, failed to cut Darnell Dockett twice in the first half Monday night, resulting in an Interception by Dockett, and another deflection by Dockett, which Alex Smith caught himself, and promptly was tackled for a 6-yard loss.  Neither play was Smith's fault; his job is to get to the top of his drop, and let the ball go.  Snyder's job is to clear the throwing lane.

x.  Speaking of guys clearly not doing their jobs (and jumping back to the Dallas game because of the topic), Tony Dungy was right on when he was asked if coaching was the problem in Dallas.  He said that he knows Terence Newman has been coached to jam a WR and re-route him in Cover-2, and that coaching definitely wasn't the problem on the big Vincent Jackson 39-yard catch on 3rd and 12 (right after the aforementioned Ware injury).

That was the key play of the game, and Newman didn't make it.  As the play happened live, I yelled out "Where's the f$%^&* jam, 41?"  I was glad Dungy called him out, although I bet he wasn't moved to profanity like I was.  I've always thought Newman was highly overrated, by virtue of being a Cowboy.  It comes with wearing the blue star, I am afraid.

y.  Usually, when a defensive lineman is drafted highly, you expect him to be a big sack guy.  The Bengals once drafted Justin Smith fourth overall, in 2001.  His career high in sacks, mostly as a Right DE in a 40-front, was 8.5 in his rookie season.  He had 6.5, 5, 8, 6, 7.5, and 2 in his next five seasons, which are respectable numbers, but not for an open-side DE drafted that highly. 

Smith signed a 6-year $45 million deal with San Francisco in 2008, and moved to 5-technique in a 30-front.  It's the role he should have been playing all along, because he's always been a physical, block-defeating player more than a speed-rushing player.  It's not too different than the highly drafted Derrick Harvey from the Jaguars, or Jamaal Anderson for the Falcons (who moved to DT eventually).  Their skill sets are just better suited to playing with physicality than with speed.  (Harvey got only his second sack of the year Sunday, and Anderson has 0.5).

Anyway, Smith was dominant on Monday night, and consistently held the point of attack, while often penetrating and disrupting the Cardinals offense.  It sure seemed like he is earning his money.  I was also very impressed with the pass-rushing skills of Ahmad Brooks, who used to be just a MLB.

z.  Another rookie I criticized for seeming to be soft was Beanie Wells, and he continues to play like he isn't.  His TD run early in the 4th quarter Monday night was a man's TD run, all second effort.  He did fumble later in the 4th quarter, but it was on a kill-shot by Dashon Goldson, who had a couple of those in Monday night's game.

aa.  Genetics are a funny thing.  In my family, we have something called the Bartlett Calves.  My dad and all his siblings have them, and all my siblings and I have them, even my 8-year old half-sister Abby.  The Bartlett Calves are notable for being disproportionately muscular and large, compared to the rest of our bodies.  I am 6 feet tall and weigh 235 pounds, and when flexed, my calves are 18 inches around, which is 3-4 inches bigger than the average man's calf, and an inch bigger than the average man's neck. 

I bring up this genetic oddity, because it makes me feel a certain kinship with Frank Gore, who has thunder thighs like whoa.  He's found out a way to make good professional use of his thighs, because they're what give him such impressive power in traffic.  Mine don't really come in too useful as an accounting manager and blogger.

ab.  The jury is in as far as I am concerned for San Francisco.  The 49ers are on the right track, and ST&NO Favorite Alex Smith has definitely emerged as their long-term QB.  They have 2 first-round picks this season, which are both going to be in the 10-15 area.  They need a CB and an offensive lineman with those picks, or maybe even two offensive linemen.  This team is not far at all from the playoffs, and they're not even going to miss by much this season.

ac.  The Cardinals are still legitimate championship contenders, but they got their hind parts kicked Monday night.  The result of the game was more a reflection of good play by the Niners than it was of bad play by the Cardinals.  The bright spot for Arizona was the excellent Adrian Wilson, who baited Smith into a dumb INT, and was around the ball constantly, the whole game.

4.  I couldn't agree more with TJ Johnson's piece about deferring the option yesterday, and a smart analyst got out ahead of me before I wrote about it, which happens once in awhile with a Tuesday slot.  I'm always glad to see an in-house MHR guy do it.  Big up TJ!  If you haven't read his article, you should.  So should Don Banks (and Dan Fouts.)

From Banks:

• Did I hear that right, the Broncos won the coin toss to start their game at Indy and deferred to the Colts? And Peyton Manning? Why exactly would you give Manning the chance to get the ball in his hands any more than you absolutely have to? What were you thinking, Josh McDaniels? That's a dubious, rookie-like call for the Broncos new head coach. I do believe McDaniels was guilty of overconfidence in his defense.

My two cents was going to be that each team gets the ball kicked to them to start one half, and there's no way around that fact, so if you consider just this fact, it's utterly meaningless which half a particular team gets their opportunity to receive.  TJ goes much further, and finds that there is actually evidence that teams who get the ball to start the second half tend to experience more success.  Very interesting stuff.

5.  That first-rounder from the Bears is looking really good right now.   Chicago fell to 5-8 Sunday, and I like them to finish 6-10.  They play at Baltimore and home against Minnesota before finishing at Detroit.  For the Broncos' playoff chances, I'd like to see the Bears beat the Ravens, but I doubt it happens.  A 6-10 record is probably good for a pick in the neighborhood of 9th or 10th overall.  I gave a cursory look at the remaining schedules of every team with a losing record, and this is what I came up with for season-ending records, and way-too-early possible picks.

1.  St. Louis  1-15  Sam Bradford QB Oklahoma

2.  Tampa Bay 1-15  Ndamukong Suh DT Nebraska

3.  Detroit 2-14  Gerald McCoy DT Oklahoma

4.  Kansas City 3-13  Eric Berry S Tennessee

5.  Cleveland 4-12  Russell Okung T Oklahoma State

6.  Oakland 4-12  Carlos Dunlap DE Florida

7.  Buffalo 5-11  Jimmy Clausen QB Notre Dame

8.  Washington 5-11  Trent Williams T Oklahoma

9.  San Francisco Carolina 5-11  Joe Haden CB Florida

10.  Seattle  6-10  Anthony Davis T Rutgers

11.  Denver Chicago 6-10 

12.  San Francisco 7-9

13.  Pittsburgh 7-9

14.  Houston 8-8

15.  Tennessee 8-8

With a 10th or 11th pick, you can get yourself a difference-making defensive player like a Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, or Brandon Spikes.  You could also go outside the box, and draft a guy like C.J. Spiller from Clemson, who projects as a major home-run threat, a la Chris Johnson, at the NFL level.  You have to admit, he'd make a nice tandem with Knowshon Moreno.  My move, though, might be to try to trade down, and enjoy some of the depth of this Draft.  (I say try, because you can't always do it.)  I am treading kind of lightly with this line of thinking, because I am a well-known believer that players are better than draft picks.  (A player is a real asset, and a draft pick is a derivative asset; when you're needing to operate now, it's better to have a barrel of oil than a contract guaranteeing the delivery of a barrel of oil at a future date and price.)

To me, the Broncos could get back once or twice to #20 or so, and take someone like either Mike or Maurkice Pouncey from Florida, if they elect to enter the draft. (Incidentally, I think Florida is going to lose a bunch of underclassmen.)  Both are 6-5 320-pound interior offensive linemen, and would fill what I think is the Broncos' biggest roster need.  The overall point, though, is that it's good to be in the position the Broncos are in right now, with this pick coming in higher than their record would earn.  For those who were sure the Broncos erred in trading their own pick rather than Chicago's, I'd hope they remember that you don't know how things are going to play out until they play out.

6.  Bad news emerged for QB-needy teams yesterday that Washington junior Jake Locker will return for his senior season.  It was not altogether unexpected, but I believe that Locker would have been the first QB selected, and maybe the number-1 overall pick.  His talent as a thrower and runner is way ahead of the other guys in this class.  The guy who benefits is Sam Bradford, because if he checks out healthy, his size and arm are both a bit better than Jimmy Clausen's.  I, personally, am not in love with either guy.  Bradford looks like a young Matt Hasselbeck to me, while a comparison for Clausen doesn't come to me so easily.  Clausen is short, average athletically, looks like he needs to get a lot stronger, and has an average arm.  He looks a bit like a young Drew Brees, before Drew worked so hard to become what he became.  I am reluctant to make that comparison, but it's the best one I can come up with.

7.  Retired for John Elway.

That's all I have for this week.  We'll be back next Tuesday with more Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations.  Until then, have a fantastic Raiders Week, and Go Broncos!