Ten thoughts from the AFC championship game

1. The Pats are driving deep, early on, and Ravens DE Paul Kruger sacks NE QB Tom Brady off the right tackle edge. The announcer said that he got RT Nate Solder leaning forward, but that wasn’t it - I went back several times to watch it because I love trench fighting. Kruger used fast stutter-steps, ala basketball, to get Solder flat-footed for a quick moment, and when that happened he punched hard with his right hand (legally) as he brought his left arm over and in front of himself in a swim move: he just flew past Nate. If you want to see a great pass rushing move, this one works fine. I know that Von Miller has struggled a times with Solder, who’s a fine young RT. He may want to work this move in.

2.  Patriots NT Vince Wilfork was unstoppable against Denver, but I think that he was even meaner against the Ravens. It takes Denver center J.D. Walton off the hook a little - not a lot, but a little. Wilfork seems to be playing at his highest level in a long time - congratulations to the big fella.

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The Daily Lard 1-25-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Jeff Legwold says Denver LB coach Richard Smith and former Jags HC Jack Del Rio are the most likely replacements for Dennis Allen, who left to take the head job in Oakland. Meanwhile, Andrew Mason adds ex-Rams DC Ken Flajole, Packers DL coach Mike Trgovac and Cowboys DL coach Brian Baker as possible candidates; all had coached on John Fox's defensive staff with the Panthers.

Although the glitziest name (by far) among these options, it's worth noting that Del Rio would presumably only take an assistant position as a precursor to lining himself up for another head gig elsewhere. So even if he were to take the job that Mason suggests could be "his to turn down," were Del Rio to be successful in Denver, he'd likely be out the door shortly thereafter. What's the priority for Fox? Get the best man for the job, period? Or, the best man for the job who is also likely to stick around beyond one year? Of course, it could be that Fox believes he can always refill the position with a qualified coach, and one can never know when a coach will get called upon for a promotion - after all, the presumption in this space had been that Allen's youth and relative inexperience would keep him in Denver for at least another year. So much for that.

Thanks, Dennis Allen, for returning the Broncos defense to respectability - it was no minor task. May you have many a second-place finish in your future.

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Raiders to hire Dennis Allen as head coach

The Broncos have lost defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to Oakland, where he will take over as their new head coach. Denver will again be searching for someone new to run their defense and will start the 2012 season with their seventh DC in  as many seasons. Allen had been an assistant for the Saints under DC Gregg Williams before John Fox made him a coordinator for the first time, and like Williams he showed himself a confident and aggressive coach unafraid to dictate terms to opposing offenses.

There's been some speculation that ex-Jags coach Jack Del Rio is a possibility, and Dave Krieger says current Denver LB coach Richard Smith is another option. Del Rio was the Carolina DC for one season under Fox in 2002 before taking the head job in Jacksonville, while Smith has been a DC in Miami (2005) and Houston (2006-08).

The Daily Lard 1-24-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Unfortunately it seems there's another dark side to the disastrous game Niners return man Kyle Williams had on Sunday, and we're not even talking about the death threats. As Giants LB Jacquian Williams tells it, his team's strategy was to focus on Kyle Williams and his history of concussions:

Had the Giants noticed something about Kyle Williams's technique, some weakness in the 49ers punt-return scheme? "Nah," Williams said. "The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game."

Barry Petchesky reacts:

NY Mag wonders if the fact that no beat writers are talking about it means that it's a commonplace tactic. I don't know if anyone would admit it in so many words, but it would be dumb to think otherwise...And it's naive to pretend that players have some sort of ethical obligation not to target the soft spongy neural tissue of others. They've already shown they play with no regard for their own long-term health, so to expect them to look out for each other is asking too much...This is football, and the players and fans have a silent bargain that we're going to live with this and not talk about it more than we have to.

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Broncography: Chris Harris

Pro Football Weekly’s All-Rookie Team came out this past week. Everyone knew that Von Miller would be on it. What people didn’t expect was that undrafted nickelback Chris Harris would be joining him. I’ve talked a lot about Miller, so I’ll pass for today - but what do you know about Chris Harris, other than his coming out of ‘nowhere’ and nailing down the starting nickel corner position after ripping it out of the hands of veteran Jonathan Wilhite?

The Broncos not only went from 4-12 to 8-8 and from the bottom of the division to the top this season, but they had a lot of players who got some well-deserved recognition for their play at season’s end. There have been no shortage of awards and compliments, and it’s been a while since that’s been true. The one that I got the most enjoyment from is probably the one that no one saw coming, and that was Harris' honor. A supposedly too-short (at 5’9 and a quarter inch but 192 chiseled lb.) cornerback who has been talked about as a free safety out of Kansas, even a brief glance through his college record makes the fact that the Combine overlooked him even stranger.

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The Daily Lard 1-23-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Two hard-fought, physical games ended with special teams gaffes last night, first the Patriots surviving a last-minute drive by the Ravens after Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard FG which would have sent the 23-20 game into overtime. Only moments prior, Ravens WR Lee Evans had a potential game-winning TD catch knocked out of his mitts; he actually had the ball with both feet on the ground, but Sterling Moore knocked it away at what was probably the last possible instant before the play would have been ruled a catch.

New England's opponent in the Super Bowl will be the Giants, who defeated the Niners 20-17 in overtime after being given the ball on the 49er 22-yard line when Kyle Williams fumbled a punt return for the second time in the game.

It will be the first Super Bowl rematch since the Cowboys pummelled the Bills in Supes 28 and 29, and the two teams got there in much the same manner as when the 10-6 Giants took down the 16-0 Patriots four years ago. These overdog Patriots won 13 games and took home-field advantage, while the Giants again overcame a sluggish start to their season and rumors of Tom Coughlin being on the hot seat before taking down both of the NFC's top seeds. However, this time the Pats open as three-point favorites instead of the 12-point line which preceded SB 42.

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Open Thread - Championship Sunday

Enjoy the games, everyone!

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Celebrating the IAOFM community

In the Deadspin column TJ cited the other day, Drew Magary called out Scott Pioli and Josh McDaniels for ruining the "Patriots Way" by their own actions. It’s true that neither Pioli nor McDaniels have found the nearly instant success that marked the rise of the New England Patriots, and this has been true of others who achieved well with Belichick too, although Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has been successful away from him.

That fact led to a spirited (and polite) discussion here of how people relate to Belichick and the NE success. It ranged from a stated personal hatred of Belichick and a perception of him as a failed coach and a less than brilliant man who has gotten lucky to the possibility that he’s very talented. The fact that Belichick hasn’t won a Super Bowl in several years was brought up, and the fact that BB "got lucky" on Tom Brady and the possibility that he has ridden Brady’s coat tails was also mentioned. There were also folks who defended him, in various degrees. The discussion ranged the full gamut on how people feel about Belichick. It was a good thread, not that long, but with lots of ideas and perspectives.

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The Daily Lard 1-22-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! In his column today, Woody Paige revisits his relationship with the late ex-owner of the Broncos, Edgar Kaiser Jr. It's an interesting read, especially when noting how the NFL has changed in the past thirty years, from what sounds like a whimsical hobby of billionaires to the serious moneymaker it is today. As Kaiser told Paige, his purchase of the franchise from the Phipps family was completed "in a matter of hours," and then-Colts owner Robert Irsay apparently chose Denver as John Elway's trade destination because Irsay had befriended the young Broncos owner.

Franchises swapping hands and moving cities on flip decisions, owners agreeing to trade star players and directing their GMs to do so; sure, it all seems quite haphazard in retrospect - but will the game ever be as fun as it was back then?

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The Daily Lard 1-21-12

Good Morning, Broncos fans! By now, everyone knows that Mike McCoy lost out in his bid to become the head coach of the Dolphins, who instead chose Packers OC Joe Philbin. And while a certain segment of the fan base thinks they could do a better job of calling plays than him, there is no doubt that retaining McCoy is the best thing for Tim Tebow's future as a quarterback and with the Broncos. Unless he suddenly becomes a candidate for the Tampa or Indy job, or Reggie McKenzie overlooks McCoy's snub from earlier in the week, the former QB will be entering his third season as Denver's OC.

Just as was the case heading into the 2011 season, nothing could be more important for Tebow's development than continuity. Denver call-in shows have likely spent the week suggesting candidates to replace (and upgrade over) McCoy, but we should all be letting out a big sigh of relief. McCoy understands Tim's strengths and weaknesses and how he learns, and he's seen them on display everyday at Dove Valley for the past two years. He's already shown a willingness and commitment to adapt his playbook for Tebow in a way most OCs likely would not; can anyone imagine Mike Shanahan doing such a thing? Mike Martz? McCarthy? Payton? Think any of those offensive geniuses would take over the Broncos if they were forced to have Tebow as their starting QB?

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