Happy Friday, friends. Today we Digest the Kansas City Chiefs, who’ve had a really weird season. They lost key players in Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki and Jamaal Charles early on, and they lost their first three games huge, being outscored by a total of 109-27 in those games. They then went on to win four in a row, beating Minnesota and San Diego at home, and Indianapolis and Oakland on the road. Just when it seemed that they’d figured out how to play good undermanned football, they got crushed 31-3 at home by the Dolphins last Sunday. As TJ would say in Gut Reactions, who the heck knows?
Today, we’re going to try to figure out what the Chiefs really are, and what we can expect to see on Sunday afternoon. Really, what do you call a team that’s been blown out three times, blown out the first-place Raiders once (when they caught them on a Kyle Boller/rusty Carson Palmer day), and gone 3-1 in games decided by less than five points? That’s what we’re going to try to figure out today.
Welcome to the Week 10 Edition of The Stats That Don't Lie. Let's be blunt, here. This is one of those games that nobody outside of Broncos and Chiefs fans want to watch (Gators?). Denver and Kansas City rank 30th and 31st according to Brian Burke's efficiency numbers, respectively, ahead of only the winless Colts.
I'd like to make a point about these metrics (and any stats) - the goal here isn't to predict what's going to happen in any given game (win/lose/magnitude), because no set of numbers can do that - rather, it's just some commentary on what's likely to happen based upon past performance. These numbers are a guide to show you how efficient teams are in the various phases of the game, and of course a team can break out of a pattern of ineptitude or suddenly fail in a phase they've thrived in at any moment. Just because the Broncos don't fare well in turnover differential overall doesn't mean they can't win that battle on any given Sunday (like last week).
Happy Veterans Day, Broncos fans, and our sincerest thanks to all those who have served! Carson Palmer apparently shook off some more rust this week, as he looked quite sharp last night in leading the Raiders to a 24-17 victory over the Chargers last night. Palmer threw for 299 yards and two scores, while Michael Bush had a ridiculous 242 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. As far as the Broncos' playoffs chances go, this was probably the best outcome since they've already split with Oakland and would have to have an outright better record than San Diego should they again lose to them (meaning, season sweep and first tiebreaker lost).
Doug Farrar reminds us that Palmer made a bunch of great throws on Sunday too, so this wasn't exactly like the phoenix rising from the ashes or anything. Ryan Wilson says the game was a bit of vindication for Hue Jackson, as Palmer looked almost worthy of the crazy trade Oakland made to acquire him, if only for one night at this point. Eli Kaberon says Palmer did a lot to silence critics like himself. Christmas Ape found last night to be a wonderful three hours for Philip Rivers haters, and of course some dude got stabbed outside the stadium during the game.
Enjoy the game, everyone!
I thought I’d share just a few more thoughts on Sunday’s victory in Oakland. I usually stay with the offensive lines right now, but there were a number of things that really deserved to be looked at after the Broncos took it to the Raiders right in their own home. I'll start with a reference from one of the OL pieces that the plays Denver ran were also part of - the Zone-Read running game of Wisconsin.
Alvarez is the Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin. I quoted some of his work a few weeks ago and mentioned him again earlier today - he took over as the head coach of the Badgers in 1990 and was trying to figure out his offensive direction when he, much like Denver coach John Fox, decided to put the onus of the team’s offense on the running game. Why? It wasn’t a preference one way or the other for a certain type of attack, although Fox has been rightfully accused of that. It was simply a matter of logic meeting necessity. Alvarez and his coordinators and position coaches met and talked it out. They all came to the same conclusion that Denver did, unusual though it is in the modern game. Alvarez explains:
After bearing up through the first two weeks of Tim Tebow struggling as Denver's starting quarterback, Sunday's game was a grand change. It was the first time I've seen the Broncos play like a complete team in a long time. It was good to see, and I can't wait to see how much they can hold up to it consistently - they were able to put all the pieces together and despite Oakland’s protests that they expected it, it clearly caught their players off guard on the field. Stellar performances by the OL, Willis McGahee and Tebow, as well as a couple of nice catches by Eric Decker and an outstanding performance for Eddie Royal (with a tie-breaking punt return TD and a TD reception) rounded off a resounding route of the much-disliked (okay, hated) division rival.
The best part of the entire game was to see each aspect of the team (offense, defense, and special teams - even with that punting mishap near the end zone) contribute greatly to the final outcome. Without any one of them coming through on the right plays, the game goes down as a loss. With all three working together, the Raiders did not seem to know what hit them. It was by far Tebow’s best all-around performance to date and Denver’s best game of the season.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Andrew Brandt points out that the deadline has passed for teams to extend players' contracts and confine the financial impact to the 2011 salary cap. This means it's likely Denver will allow Eddie Royal, Daniel Fells, Marcus Thomas, Brodrick Bunkley, Wesley Woodyard, Mario Haggan, Joe Mays, and Matt Prater become free agents, among others (not that it's a shock). Based upon their respective roles, age and what interest they'd likely command on the open market (not much, frankly), I'd say the only one I'd like to have seen locked up would be Prater - and Denver can always franchise the guy if they're unable to reach agreement with him after the season. Then again, the team is still able to work on a new deal with any of these players until the day before the season finale, and Denver has plenty of cap room - so any guaranteed money would be prorated over the length of the contract rather than assigned to the 2011 cap.
Obviously it'd be nice to hang onto most, if not all of those other guys, but the question is at what cost and rather than which potential draft/FA replacements? Even if Denver were interested in keeping Royal, it's safe to presume he'll want to test the FA waters to find a situation where he can start instead of potentially being stuck behind Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in a run-first (and second) offense. The question to consider is whether there will be better, cheaper and/or younger options available in the offseason, and the only resounding "no" in that regard is Prater.
Lost in the Tim Tebow debate this year has been the upswing on the defensive side of the ball.
The Broncos have yet to become the defense they really want to be. That much is clear. Yet they are no longer last in the league in yards allowed per game (22nd).
Much of this incremental upswing can be attributed to Von Miller and the signing of Brodrick Bunkley. However, I believe the signing of defensive coordinator Dennis Allen--along with his aggressive style and 4-3 scheme--has been a big factor. We all thought Allen would create more pressure on the quarterback. It turns out Broncos fans were correct in that assumption.
Today I'd like to look at some of the tools that Allen uses against the pass to get the most out of a defense that was one of the worst in Broncos history only a year ago.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! In his weekly film review, Andy Benoit is stunned that Oakland didn't spy Tim Tebow as much as Miami had, and he's baffled that the Raiders were so ill-prepared for Denver's zone read when considering the Broncos' lack of offensive diversity. Yes, Tebow & Co. had a few big pass plays including the two scores, but if 113 net yards on 23 attempts + sacks were enough to keep a defense honest, the whole league would be showing a 60/40 run/pass split every week. Seriously. It will be an outright shock if any Denver opponent going forward does not truly sell out to stop the run and keep Tebow in the pocket; doesn't mean it'll work or that the Broncos won't be able to win any more games in Sunday's manner (presumably Tebow will make at least some plays through the air, and hopefully the defense plays better than it has been), but don't expect other teams to be so hapless in defending the zone read.
Benoit also blames personnel for Oakland's problems (the absence of LB Rolando McClain), and on the other side of the ball, Benoit thinks the injury to C Samson Satele and their typical slew of penalties are what caused the Oakland rushing offense to go from gashing Denver early to struggling later. Benoit saw Dennis Allen's use of Von Miller as an inside blitzer as a great new wrinkle and isn't yet buying the notion that the real Elvis Dumervil is quite back.
Happy Victory Tuesday, friends. I hope you’re ready for a Serving, because I’ve got one for you. I’m in last place in the picks competition, and a primary reason why is that I’m now 2-6 in picking Broncos games. (I had them losing to Green Bay, and beating Miami.) You can’t win them all, I guess, and I just don't seem to have a great feel for when the Broncos are going to play well. Maybe if I read the DP rather than Doug's parsing of their work, I might know if they "had a good week of practice."
Anyway, today we’re going to explore in detail why the Broncos beat the Raiders on Sunday. It was a total team win, as has been said, but more than that, I would say that it was the first time this season that the offense pulled its weight. Aside from a couple of missed throws by Tim Tebow and some penalties (I’m looking at you, Ryan Clady) it was a consistent and productive effort. Since offense is kind of my thing, I’m excited to spend some time talking about it. Ready… BEGIN!!