Happy New Year’s weekend, friends. Today, we re-digest the Kansas City Chiefs, hoping to avoid the rare situation of going 3-0 on the road in the AFC West, and 0-3 at home. Everybody knows this, I think, but if the Broncos win on Sunday, they’ll be division champions. If they lose, and the Raiders lose to San Diego, the Broncos would still back into winning the division. We shouldn’t be counting on that to happen, though, because the Raiders have a habit of beating San Diego, having taken 3 in a row from the Chargers. It’s a tough matchup for the Chargers, and it served as the first hint that their grip on the AFC West was slipping.
The Broncos, however, match up very well with Kansas City, and these matchup situations are a big part of what makes the AFC West interesting and competitive. (No, dumbass ESPN people – having a dominant team, two average teams, and a hopeless loser isn’t more interesting than having 4 closely matched teams in a division race, even if none of the closely matched teams are likely to compete for a Super Bowl. First things first.) The Broncos are a craptastic performance by Kyle Orton from last December away from having won 3 in a row against the Chiefs. The Broncos defend the Chiefs well, and their running game works really well against the Chiefs defense too.
By now, you know what's at stake. Seven weeks ago, the Broncos went into KC and came out victorious despite the fact that Tim Tebow completed just two of his eight pass attempts. Denver reeled off 244 rushing yards that day, the bulk of them provided by Lance Ball, Tebow and Knowshon Moreno. Neither team committed a turnover, and they combined for just 193 net passing yards. Overall, it was a snoozefest. Nine days later, Denver released Kyle Orton.
Tomorrow will be anything but boring - even if it's three hours of three-and-outs. After all, the AFC West is on the line, and as much as the two teams are trying to downplay it, the game really is Tim versus Kyle. About the only way this game could have had more drama is if the Chiefs had managed to beat Oakland last week (they were just a blocked FG shy of doing so), thus turning it into a winner-takes-all contest. So, how do the teams match up?
I like the improvement of J.D. Walton from last year, but I don’t see Denver running fourth and inches through his slot at this point, and I’m not sure that he ever will be that guy. He’s just not hitting with enough of a punch to drive people back, ala Tom Nalen. I’m sorry to compare him to one of the best from Denver’s past, but Denver wants to consistently be in the postseason playing for the Lombardi Trophy, and you won’t get there without a very good or elite center. Right now, J.D. doesn’t seem to be that. I like him, and he’s growing, but the lack of power and leverage are too often issues. J.D. snapped to two Heismann winners in college (including the one in Denver) but as important as his position is, they’re going to let him grow into it, or find a guy who can get those last inches. I’ve never heard anyone speak badly of Walton, and my only complaint is with his technical game - he’s tough-minded, he’s willing to mix it up and I like his moves to the second level, but he’s not dominating DTs. In a team that’s made no bones about going with a running attack, one of the three interior linemen have to be able to create that push. Right now, I haven’t seen it. To be clear, I like Walton and Chris Kuper in particular - I also follow Zane Beadles’ tweets and he’s the kind of guy I’d love to have a beer with, but he does have his balance troubles, and that can’t help Walton, either.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Chris Benson previews tomorrow's game for PFF, and he's expecting the Broncos to utilize a more conventional rushing attack since KC will presumably will be better prepared for the read option than they were last time. On defense, Benson figures that although Von Miller's struggles since he injured his thumb have been well chronicled, he should impact the game matching up against Barry Richardson - the worst right tackle in the game according to PFF's grading.
For PFF's latest Scramble column, Benson writes that the turning point for Denver's season may have been Chris Harris' interception of Carson Palmer and subsequent 60-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee. It was a remarkable sequence of events, one that should not be underestimated. I think people look back at the 38-24 final score and recall the game as a thumping by Denver, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The first half was all Oakland, and the Broncos running game didn't really dominate until that McGahee run to end the third quarter. Denver was 2-5 at that point, and here we are eight weeks later and they've got a chance to win the division tomorrow. Incredible.
Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Bucky Brooks dug into the film of Denver's last three games, and within them he sees a blueprint for stopping Tim Tebow and the Broncos offense. He says that in response to Denver's success running against sub packages, both the Bears and Bills decided not to allow the Broncos to dictate personnel. A Jets coach raised this point with Brooks, and the numbers appear to support the strategy - even more so than Brooks cites. Against the Jets, Bears and Bills, the Broncos averaged 127.3 rushing yards per game, while in the other seven games since Tebow took over, Denver ran for a staggering 217.9 yards per game. Of course, the last time these two teams faced off, Denver ripped off 244 rushing yards against Romeo Crennel's defense, and two weeks ago the Broncos ran for 252 against Bill Belichick's guys.
As for the passing game, Brooks points to teams' use of man coverage on Denver's wideouts (and a heavy reliance upon Cover-1), with the Bills focusing on locking up Tebow's primary read, and he says teams are relying upon a four-man rush to contain Tim within the pocket, rather than blitzing and risking an open lane for Tebow to escape through. The question, of course, is whether Tim will be able to start beating this one-on-one coverage with his arm, and whether the Broncos will have some viable wrinkles to get the running game going against what may be a solid game plan for stopping them.
Picking up where we left off yesterday, I did a workup on each of the Denver linemen to establish what I’ve seen on film (I added stats when they seemed appropriate). I usually used the Pro Football Focus stats, and linked to the things that seemed to matter the most. After I’ve covered the players, I’m going to talk about the options that Denver has, and which I think might be the most productive.
Rating Orlando Franklin’s value has been somewhat contentious among the fans this year. If you take in the running style and consider the yards per play through Franklin’s slot (6.7 per carry - beating Chris Kuper’s 6.2 for the team lead), Franklin is playing pretty well for a rookie. Most of them get to sit for a year - he was tossed into a position that he’d never played before at right tackle. He’s not a 4th-and-short kind of leader to the team, and that’s just fine - no one does everything and he’s a heck of a run blocker over the course of the game: the Broncos need that. His pass blocking needs work, but a lot of that is technique and he has improved this year, without question. The footspeed issue remains another question with him - he’s generally good at getting downfield to the second level, but not as effective with his kickstep going right and mirroring a speed rusher on the outside. Denver hasn’t mentioned the issues specifically to my knowledge, so we don’t have any straight info on what they’re thinking for his future.
Tim Tebow has now started 10 games this season, and although he was responsible for two Denver TDs on Saturday, two of his four turnovers were brought back for six points by the Bills. Along with the 45-10 loss to Detroit in his second start of the season, Tebow now has two games where he was charged with both a pick-six and a fumble return for a score.
Although the narrative had been that Tebow takes exceptional care of the football, he now has 12 fumbles to go along with five interceptions. Among the NFL's top 40 QBs in terms of pass attempts, Tebow now has the second-highest sack rate (10.7%), third-highest fumble rate (3.0%) and the tenth-highest negative play rate (sacks, fumbles, interceptions - 11.9%).
Let's see how he stacks up in terms of Adjusted Net Yards and Net Yards:
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Andy Benoit raises an interesting point in his preview of Sunday's game, in that the simple matter of a win or loss could determine whether the Bronco decide to go all-in on building around Tim Tebow for 2012. Could it really be that simple? What if Tebow plays great but the team loses and misses the playoffs, or what if he continues to be off the mark with his passing yet the team wins and takes the division title? Will John Elway & Co be afforded the leeway to evaluate Tim for what he is, or will the decision be driven solely by team results?
As for the game, Benoit figures the Chiefs to better defend the Broncos' running game, and that their excellent group of corners should allow KC to man up on Denver's receivers, as Buffalo did last week. He thinks the Chiefs will try to utilize short drops in the passing game to help weaken the impact of Denver's pass rush, specifically Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. To counter, Benoit says the Broncos should go with tight man coverage from Champ Bailey and Andre' Goodman agains Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin.
The Chicago and New England games were the third and fourth times this season that the Denver OL has gotten pushed around by a strong defensive front: Buffalo put the icing on the cake. The opening week loss in Oakland could have been put down to being rusty, new coaching and opening nerves, but the pattern since then has been to handle lesser lines well, yet to fall apart against a stronger team. Denver had a run of wounded and problematic teams in terms of the opposing defensive lines, and the Broncos O-linemen moved and attacked well against them. Against the stronger teams, they weren’t worth much. They’ve had better games, but it’s become clear that there’s a talent/experience issue as well. J.D. Walton has made strides but still has weaknesses, Zane Beadles is a matter of some concern, and Orlando Franklin, for a guy who never played right tackle, has improved across the board.
There’s some good news. Mike McCoy agrees:
They’ve gotten better every week. That’s something that is going to take time coming together with the limited practices we had going into the season. Like everybody else in this league, we are going to grow and keep going.