The Daily Lard 12-31-11

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.

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The Daily Lard 12-30-11

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.

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Fattening Up on the offensive line, Part 2

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.

Orlando Franklin

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.

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STDL: QB stats through 16 weeks

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:

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The Daily Lard 12-29-11

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.

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Fattening Up on the offensive line, Part 1

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.

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The Daily Lard 12-28-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Denver made a surprising move yesterday, waiving Quan Cosby and bringing back FB Austin Sylvester. Cosby had been an effective return man for much of the season, with a 10.0-yard average on 27 punts and a 26.9-yard average on 17 kickoffs, before muffing a punt against New England and being a healthy scratch against Buffalo. Cosby's release leaves Eddie Royal and Eric Decker as punt returners, with Matt Willis presumably returning kickoffs (he returned seven kicks Sunday for a 19.7-yard average).

Denver also waived FB Will Ta’ufo’ou from the practice squad and added TE Cornelius Ingram in his place.

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Three Broncos to Pro Bowl; six are alternates

Although the NFL is set to officially announce the Popularity Contest Pro Bowl rosters at 7PM ET, word has slipped out that Broncos stars Von Miller, Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil have made the AFC squad. Ryan Clady, Britton Colquitt, Brian Dawkins, Willis McGahee, Matt Prater and Tim Tebow have been named as alternates. This marks Champ's 11th selection in his 13-year career, while for Dumervil it's his second.

Observations from a debacle

Happy Tuesday, friends.  I have limited time today, due to a confluence of continuing holiday activities and the continuation of my year-end financial close, so I’m just going to share some observations from my fantastic trip to Buffalo on Saturday. 

a.  It’s really pretty funny, but Tim Tebow looked great in warmups before the game, and during the game.  Whenever he was just making throws in non-game situations, the throws were perfectly on-target, and his delivery looked excellent.  Didn't his reputation used to be that he couldn't make a throw in warmups?  Maybe it was bizarro Tim on Saturday – good in practice, shaky in the fourth quarter of actual games?

Seriously, though, of the interceptions I witnessed in person, there were three flavors of them.  The first one was a good decision and a very good job extending the play, but a terrible overthrow of Demaryius Thomas.  The second pick was a case of staring down Eric Decker and not looking off a Cover-1 Safety; Tebow needs to get better at looking away from the intended receiver, because Decker had his corner beat, and the throw was good, if Jairus Byrd isn’t able to jump it.

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The Daily Lard 12-27-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! According to Nick Canepa, the Chargers will fire Norv Turner at some point next week, and there's a good chance that A.J. Smith will be joining him. For his two cents, Canepa thinks firing Smith would be a mistake, and he says not only that rumors of Bill Cowher already having interviewed for Turner's gig are untrue, but that San Diego owner Dean Spanos is unlikely to hire one person to handle both the GM and head coaching duties - something Cowher is said to be seeking.

If Smith retains the GM gig, Canepa is hearing that Jeff Fisher could be interested in joining the Chargers, but he says Smith's closeness to Jon Gruden makes Chucky the best fit for the job, if not the most likely successor to Turner. Meanwhile, Kevin Acee writes that should Spanos drop the axe on Smith, the Rams will pounce and hire the egomaniacal pair of A.J. and Chucky. This would apparently send current Rams HC Steve Spagnuolo back to Philly as their DC, and of course it also would free up Josh McDaniels (this part is my speculation) to potentially be reunited with Scott Pioli in KC as either his head coach or handpicked OC - perhaps under Romeo Crennel.

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