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Throwing the "Challenge Flag" on Broncos Perceptions

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In the NFL in 2009, coaches were only successful using instant replay for challenges 32% of the time.   While throwing those red (or sometimes pink) flags are good exercise for the rotator cuff, they don't often result in overturning a call on the field.  

Perhaps if they struck a Raiders fan they would be of more use.

Given the long odds of overturning a call, I thought I would throw my own challenge flag on six comments I've heard in the media over the last week.  While the odds of me changing your mind might be long, someone's got to try it.  And I've only to convince you on two of these challenges to beat the league average.

So let's hit the jump, and don't let these flags put your eye out.

1. Jarvis Green joined the Broncos because he likes the way Josh McDaniels fist pumps.  

Green made quite the splash when he signed with the Broncos on March 9th and had this to say:

"The last thing I remember was him giving the fist pumps after the game, and I saw that and saw the energy and saw the players playing for him. Everyone wants to play for a coach like that," Green said. "For me, I was in New England for all that time, and I was ready to move on, period. Just watching Josh on the sideline, I was like, I want to feel that too."

If this sort of quote doesn't get you pumped, you could be named JaMarcus Russell.  And I'm sure Green is sincere about his feelings for McDaniels.  However, let's get real.  Green is most excited because his deal is worth $20 million over four years, with a $2.5 million signing bonus and $7.5 million guaranteed over the first two years.  For a 31-year old end with 3 sacks in his last 26 games, that's a good haul--good enough for a fist pump.

Still, I appreciate a guy who sounds more like a fan than the actual fans.  Mr. Green, you can stand right behind Mr. Dawkins and I won't mind one bit.  We need more of these guys--sincere or otherwise.


2. The future of Alphonso Smith is in jeopardy.  

If you define your future the way Rod Smith did during his Broncos career, then yeah, Alphonso's job is on the line. However, Josh McDaniels recently had this to say about his former 2nd-round draft pick after the Broncos picked up nickel corner Nathan Jones from Miami:

"Doesn't change a thing. We have high expectations for all of our young players. Nathan Jones is a player we felt could come in and improve our competition and depth...I don't think you can have enough competition at any spot and I think Nathan is going to come in with a great attitude and Alphonso is working hard. It is year two for a lot of our players and we expect definite improvement in a lot of areas."

The Broncos have already paid Smith the biggest portion of his salary under his 4-year deal ($2.15 signing bonus), so keeping him around from a monetary standpoint isn't that difficult.  And despite the signing of Ty Law in 2009 and Jones in the most recent free agent period, and despite the drafting of Perrish Cox and Syd'Quan Thompson in this year's draft, the Broncos aren't giving up on Smith.   They're just  not taking Smith's development as a given.  Jones, who signed a four-year contract worth $4.2 million, with a $1 million signing bonus, is of particular note.  His base salary over the next several years is larger than Smith's as well, so the money is a good indication of how the Broncos view their nickel situation.

But let's not get too carried away.  Thompson was drafted primarily as a return guy, and the Broncos starting corner backs are a combined 62 years old.  They are one Vincent Jackson dig-route away from injury.  And in a league in which team's winning percentage correlates highest statistically to yards-per-pass, you simply can never have enough corner backs.  Never ever?  Yes, never ever...ever.  If Tim Tebow can play cornerback, I say put him on the depth chart, too.


3. Eddie Royal has to pick up Brandon Marshall's slack.  

While Royal needs to play better, he doesn't have to play out of his mind for the Broncos to be successful.   Royal is likely going to be used in the slot in 2010 and taken off return duty.   As McDaniels indicated in recent conversations, Royal played exclusively at the X-receiver spot (think split-end) in 2009, and in 2010, he plans on moving Royal more often to the Z and Y spots (flanker and slot).  So Royal is going to have more space which with to work at the line of scrimmage.  Even though Mike Shanahan told us in 2008 that Royal was the best WR in the draft at beating press coverage, we know different from 2009.  Royal is a guy that needs to get the ball in space.  Moving him to the flanker and slot should accomplish just that.  Thus, Royal is headed for a 60-to-70 catch season.  Not amazing, but decent.  

I'm more concerned with Jabar Gaffney.  Until Bay-Bay Thomas and Eric Decker truly heal, and Thomas learns to run routes, Gaffney is going to be on display.  This will force Gaffney to prove that last year's performance against team's like the Chiefs wasn't just a demonstration of his ability to dominate 3rd-string corner backs.   Gaffney's early-season performance could go a long way in determining the Broncos success. 


4. Kyle Orton is going to end the season as Denver's starting QB.  

I become more convinced each day that Orton's days will last until about mid-season.  Call it a gut instinct.  Call it a man-crush on Brady Quinn.  Or simply judge McDaniels by his actions.  McDaniels simply doesn't trade for Brady Quinn and amortize draft picks on Tim Tebow in the 1st round if he's feeling comfortable with Orton at the helm.  

As I said last week,  McDaniels has three years left on his contract, and there are people out there saying Tim Tebow is a 2-3 year project.   If this logic is true, McDaniels just drafted a guy, who, if the Broncos are not successful in the next two years, McDaniels won't even be able to get on the field to coach.

The truth is that McDaniels knows he's probably got 2 more years to prove to Broncos fans and Pat Bowlen that he's the real deal.  That's 32 games.  You think that a guy who pulled the trigger on the Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall trades is going to hesitate to start Quinn or Tebow at quarterback if Orton struggles in the least?  

Unfortunately, Orton is in a tough situation and he's not reading a choose-your-own-adventure book.   He almost has to impersonate Drew Brees if he wants to come out of this on the other side.   If he struggles early in the year, the fanbase will immediately jump ship for Quinn, or more likely, for Tebow, and we'll all be riding our hover boards back to the future (2006).  

Doubt this?  See Phillips, Wade.  Guy went 16-16 in 2 years and Bowlen pulled the trigger.  Are you thinking he's going to give McDaniels 4 years of .500 football?   In the words of former Bronco Brandon Marshall, "it's a business."  And in Pat Bowlen's business, breaking even doesn't cut it. 



5.  The Broncos are in trouble because they didn't draft a nose tackle.  

Yes, I wanted the Broncos to draft Dan Williams, I'm not going to lie.  But just because they didn't, it doesn't mean they are going to struggle this year.  As many have pointed out, including here in a piece I wrote called Every Rose Has It's Thorn...Life After Mike Nolan in January, the weakness in Denver's line last year was the left side (think Kenny Peterson).   Here's what I wrote back then:

After six games, however, the novelty wore off and the run defense crumbled. In the last third of the season, if you really wanted to gash the Broncos, you ran to the left side of the line. Here you would find the worst three run defenders on the Broncos defense: Kenny Peterson, Elvis Dumervil, and D.J. Williams. Once teams figured this out, they worked the left side like a nervous tick. Even the Chiefs and the always-combustible Oakland Raiders figured this formula out. In the last two divisional games, K.C. and Oakland ran the ball over the left guard-center on 42% of their rush attempts, averaging almost 9 yards per carry. Without beating a dead Bronco, there is a reason Brian Dawkins led the team in solo tackles this year aside from the fact that he is immortal. As any coach can tell you, if you are running a 5-2 defense and a defensive back is leading the team in solo tackles, you've got some big-time problems.

The Broncos have since let Peterson go.  And with the additions of Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams, there is a lot of reason for hope.     Also, since the Broncos didn't draft a nose tackle, one has to believe that Chris "Shake 'N Bake" Baker is getting into the lineup this year and causing problems for the opposition.    

So the concern isn't at nose tackle.  For me it's at the right defensive end.  Specifically, I'm concerned about Jarvis Green's run-stop abilities.  He was pulled out of the Patriots game last year for his failure to stop the run against the Ravens.  If you were running against the Broncos on first down, who would you attack in a front consisting of Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams, and Jarvis Green?  I'm sure Raiders fans will choose Jamal Williams, so at least we've narrowed down the choices.


6.  Without Ryan Clady, the Broncos are doomed.

If Clady doesn't make it back for the first quarter of the season, the Broncos will be fine.  Sure, Clady made the Pro-Bowl last year, but let's look ourselves in the mirror.  First, the left tackle position is slightly overrated.  Second, at times Clady struggled just as mightily with the power-blocking scheme as the rest of the line.  The tape doesn't lie, and neither do the numbers.  I've put this table up before, but since there are so many new readers to MHR each week, it's worth putting up again.  These are the expected points the Broncos "received" when they ran behind each lineman in 2009:

Play     Lineman   Count   Avg. EPV Value   Play     Lineman   Count  Avg. EPV Value
Run Ryan Clady 54 0.072740741 Run Tyler Polumbus 32 -0.1238125
Run Ben Hamilton 26 0.209423077 Run Russ Hochstein 12 0.242083333
Run Casey Weigmann 131 -0.10829771 Run

Run Chris Kuper 42 0.16252381 Run

Run Ryan Harris 19 0.415368421      


Yes, Clady is one of the best left tackles in the game today--specifically against the pass. But let's not act as if he's Anthony Muñoz just yet.  He wasn't as devastating as you've red in the running game, and his EPV value demosntrates this.  Denver will compensate for him until he gets back, and with all of the new "carne" they´ve drafted up front, I would expect a commitment to the running game early in the year.  

So there you have it.  Have a great Wednesday.  Now that I've used up all of my challenge flags, move out of the way so I can get a clean shot at that Raiders fan sitting in the South Stands.


Go Broncos!