Happy Friday, friends. I’ve spent all week (9 to 5 every day) in an SAP workshop that’s part of my MBA program, and it’s had me busy day and night. (I don’t know why I expected different, but I did.) As such, I haven’t had much time to write or watch film lately. I haven’t seen any Patriots stuff since they played the Broncos, so I don’t have any great new insight to offer on that front. What I was thinking I’d do is share some strategy thoughts for tomorrow night’s game, heavily leveraging what I saw four weeks ago and what I’ve seen lately from the Broncos. Something is better than nothing, right? For more detail, you can refer to my Digesting piece from a month ago.
The Broncos finally hit some throws against heavy boxes against Pittsburgh, and it won them the game, obviously. I didn’t expect Pittsburgh to play the Broncos any differently than they play anybody else, but they did. They played a lot of nine in the box, and they played their CBs in man coverage, which isn’t their strength. I don’t think that Dick LeBeau had a particularly good plan, and I think that Mike McCoy had a very good plan.
It turns out the Broncos will be without LS Lonie Paxton tomorrow for their divisional playoff game against New England. Word had been that despite missing practice this week due to personal reasons, Paxton would be present tomorrow. Denver doesn't list a backup long snapper on its depth chart, but Arnie Stapleton says Russ Hochstein is likely to fill in for Paxton. According to PFW, the Broncos worked out two long snappers yesterday: Jason Kyle and Andrew Schulze.
I was going to insert a spy joke here, but obviously something rather serious is going on in his life. Whatever Lonie's dealing with, our thoughts go out to him and his family.
Happy Friday, Broncos fans! It's going to be a cold one in Foxborough tomorrow night, with a gametime temperature of 22º F and a feel of 13º F when factoring in wind chill. As the game goes on, the temperature is expected to drop a few degrees (by both measures).
Along those lines, Brian Burke expanded upon his look into how weather affects game play, and there are some rays of hope for the Broncos which may be conducive to Foxball. Burke finds that extreme (for the NFL) temperatures tend to reduce both passing efficiency and the number of plays run on offense. And, we all know by now how difficult it is to contain the Patriots passing offense, so obviously the Broncos will appreciate any help from Mother Nature. Let's all
pray hope for cold and wind!
Good Morning, Broncos fans! In his analysis of the Denver/New England matchup, Andy Benoit thinks Tim Tebow will again be given enough time to make some throws against the Pats' Cover 3 defense. As for the running game, Benoit thinks the key will be how well J.D. Walton holds up in his one-on-one matchups with Vince Wilfork, against whom Walton thrived in their Week 15 meeting.
On the other side, Benoit thinks the Broncos will again have trouble covering both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; his guess is they'll place Chris Harris on Hernandez duty and again utilize D.J. Williams and Wesley Woodyard to disrupt Gronkoski's release at the LOS. Benoit says New England's likely response of putting Gronkowski in the slot and forcing a matchup with someone like Jonathan Wilhite could cause serious issues for Denver.
Meanwhile, Pat Kirwan thinks this rematch will be closer than the first meeting was, and that the Pats' lack of playmakers like Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and James Harrison may allow Denver to put up a bunch of points. On defense, Kirwan figures the Broncos will have a tougher time rushing Tom Brady than they did against Big Ben, and he strangely thinks the Broncos have more distractions despite having nothing to lose and New England's coaching changes.
As the incandescence of the Broncos victory fades to a warming glow, I wanted to take some time to talk about the OL’s performance in the Pittsburgh game. Simply put - it was remarkable. You have to keep in mind that by some fairly sophisticated measures, this is the ‘worst’ offensive line in the NFL. If you keep cumulative stats, it’s fair to say that their average ranking in some important categories was fairly poor. They were asked to learn an offense which is different from last year’s, then to throw that out and run an offense that some of the players had never run before. They capped off their season to date by shutting down the pass rush of a very good Pittsburgh team. I’ve said it before and will again here - I wish that Pittsburgh had been healthier, because on that day, I don’t think they could have beaten the Broncos. Denver was too focused, too tired of losing and too tired of hearing that they didn’t have a chance. There are times when being the underdog is the way to find the inner fire that can consume the other team, leaving only the taste of ashes in its wake.
Without the performance of the OL - in both the running and passing games - having picked up both systems, including a right tackle who topped off his rookie newness by taking on a position that he’d never played before, but who stepped into his first playoff game like a seasoned pro - neither the outcome of this game nor that of the season that preceded it. It’s true that there were some rough games for the OL. It’s just as true that there were a lot more good ones - enough to get a somewhat shaky ship into the advanced harbor of the playoffs. The harbor may be mined, but Denver negotiated the first leg of it well. The line played a big role in that.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! It was a big day on the coaching carousel yesterday, with the most significant move being Oakland's firing of Huebris* Jackson. As Monte Poole details, it appears the Raiders will finally be operating the way most other sports franchises do: with a clear hierarchy, and with new GM Reggie McKenzie's handpicked coach able to hire/fire his own staff and even call plays without keeping one ear open for a call from Big Al.
But thankfully, a couple of Raiders trademarks will endure: firstly, their locational uncertainty continues, as owner Mark Davis says the team is considering either a move back to LA, shacking up with the Niners, or a new stadium in Oaktown. Secondly, it appears Davis has the potential to someday sport a look as caricature-like as his late father did: his hairdo appears to be an amalgam of those belonging to Lloyd Christmas and Ishmael.
More good news for Denver arrives from Jacksonville, where the Jaguars have hired
Mark Mike Mularkey, meaning Mike McCoy is out of the running for that gig. Guess the Broncos are stuck with his terrible playcalling, huh?
* This one belongs to TJ
Adam Schefter is reporting that the Raiders have fired coach Hue Jackson after just one season. Speculation had grown in recent days that new Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie was considering bringing in a handpicked head coach. It's certainly understandable, especially considering the exceptional amount of power Jackson had wielded in recent months.
Jackson had become the de facto GM following the death of Al Davis, and it had been Jackson's curious decision to trade away two high picks for QB Carson Palmer. Under McKenzie, Jackson would have been taking a step backwards within the organization (even if it was called for), and of course the new GM has his own legacy to forge with the organization. Why do so with a coach who outranks you in terms of seniority, and who just got used to calling all the shots?
The Broncos have placed FB Spencer Larsen on IR; Larsen injured his knee against KC in Week 17 and along with FB Austin Sylvester did not dress for Sunday's victory over Pittsburgh. To take Larsen's roster spot and play Saturday should Eric Decker's own knee injury keep him out, the Broncos promoted rookie D'Andre Goodwin from the practice squad.
Denver also added WR Tim Toone to the PS to take the spot vacated by Goodwin's promotion. Toone was 2010's Mr. Irrelevant, as the Lions selected him with the final pick in that year's draft; he most recently was a member of the Bills. He also happens to have a head of hair which makes him look like Michael Bolton, except for the dreadlocks.
So, um, yeah. How about them Broncos? I’ve been thinking for the last few days about how to strike the right tone with regards to Tim Tebow. As most know, I’ve been saying that the guy will win Super Bowls in the NFL since he was a sophomore in college, long before he was ever drafted by the Broncos. Having now seen Tebow play great in his first NFL playoff game, I feel like I should revisit that. I don't want to be a gloater, and I definitely don't want to call out anybody personally who has disagreed with me.
Despite being both a longtime Florida Gators and Denver Broncos fan, I’m not emotionally invested in Tebow’s success. I made an evaluation of the guy years ago, have basically stuck to it, and I still think I’m right. Honestly, the Kansas City game made me wonder if the guy wasn’t as fearless as I’d always thought. Maybe I’d misevaluated that – it happens, right? If a QB is afraid to throw to a small window against tight coverage, he can’t play in the NFL. With more evidence of that deficiency, I’d have completely supported a change.
I’ve said this before, but I don’t care about whether I was correct in the past, I care about being correct right now. Being a good analyst is kind of like playing Cornerback; you have to forget the times you got burned, and be ready to dominate on the next snap. I'm right a lot more often than I'm wrong, and I have years of archives to back that up. As they say, tape don't lie.