If you don't consider middle linebacker one of Denver’s biggest issues, please raise your hand. There will be men in white coats coming around to take you for a nice car ride soon...
We all know that the Mike has been problematic for Denver ever since Al Wilson went down with a neck injury back in 2006.
There’s been a laundry list of people who stepped in and did their best, but none were truly up to the job. I thought Wesley Woodyard was the best of the group (especially in coverage), but he’s a bit too small to hold up to the runs up the middle. That showed last season.
Given that the Broncos' front five was completely dominated in SB 48, it’s no surprise that there’s talk about what to do with a pair of linemen - Zane Beadles and Chris Clark. It’s not hard to see that Denver’s line was overmatched by Seattle’s front four that ugly day.
A year after he was named a Pro Bowl alternate, Beadles was the least effective player on PFF's top line in the league, and now he's a pending unrestricted free agent. The question comes down to this: given the ups and downs in his level of play, is it worth keeping him? If not, what should Denver do to replace him? If so - what is he reasonably worth?
Whether you like Zane or not, it’s just reading his history to say that he has been extremely erratic in his NFL play.
The Broncos' offensive line play has been incredible this year, and it's a big reason the team was able to dispatch with the Chargers and Patriots with relative ease.
Peyton Manning’s lightning release (2.36 seconds on average, according to PFF) surely helps their numbers, but what they’ve done for the running game as well as stonewalling the pass rush has been historic as well as heroic.
One tool that the line used during every game and to great effect was the combination block. This block starts with two offensive linemen converging on a defender, and then one of those lineman will slide off to attack a defender on the second level.
During the week before the AFC title game, it seemed like the media couldn’t stop talking about Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount. Denver didn’t really have a good run defense, went the chorus, and Blount had run for 166 yards in the Patriots’ 43-22 victory over the Colts.
That, we were constantly told, would be a big key to the championship game.
All week long, I kept seeing pieces about the Pats and Blount: San Diego had run effectively on Denver during the regular season, what Denver could (or couldn’t) do, and how much they were vulnerable. I got tired of turning things off and generally just ignored it, but the repetitive talk about how the Broncos couldn’t stop the run was like having a small bird endlessly pecking the top of my head.
He’s 35 years old, 6'0" and 192 lbs, but Champ Bailey has shut down receivers a half a foot taller and 60+ lb heavier than he is. In all the years I’ve read and written on football, I’ve never seen anyone question Champ Bailey’s heart. This year, it was his foot that betrayed him - but we’re about to find out if his courage will be able to overcome it.
The Broncos secondary has been stretched thin, just as the playoff stretch is upon us. This year may be the last best chance that Champ has to add a Super Bowl ring to properly top off a storied career.
We knew that if he could walk, he’d be on the field. But where, many of us wondered, would he play? How could he best help the team?
Rookie Sylvester Williams had a unique journey to the pros, and struggled early, but lately has been showing exactly why Denver made him their first choice in the 2013 Draft. No one seemed to imagine a scenario where Williams would still be on the board when Denver chose, but an early run on offensive linemen left him to the Broncos, who gratefully snapped him up at #28.
That has turned out to be the right choice at the right time. Defensive line leader Kevin Vickerson suffered a season-ending hip injury in the Week 12 loss to the Patriots, and Williams started to see more time on the field.
He’s made the most of it, with a solid performance during the last quarter of the season. What Williams has done of late is to show that he understands the pro game and that he can play well at this level.
Earlier today, we got refamiliarized with San Diego's offense. Let's check in on the defensive personnel, plus consider some ideas for how the Broncos can complete a season sweep of the Chargers.
Defensive line - San Diego’s line has begun to come together, but they’re still not the team's strongest link. Third-year right end Corey Liuget (94) struggled early in the season with a shoulder injury, but he now has 4.5 sacks, and according to PFF, zero missed tackles. He has also committed six penalties and has struggled at times to get to the running back.
If he gets there, he doesn’t miss, but his lateral movement needs to improve. Luiget also has the most QB pressures on the team, with only 27 - that’s the lowest production from a team leader in the league.
Thursday night, the Broncos will host the Chargers and attempt to win their 11th straight divisional matchup. The two teams first met in Week 10, when Denver jumped out to a 28-6 third-quarter lead thanks to three straight touchdown passes from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas, and then held on for a 28-20 victory.
Each team enters the rematch coming off a big win - San Diego's a 37-14 drubbing of the visiting Giants, and Denver's a 51-28 comeback win over the Titans at SAF@MH.
While the media has overstated the ‘guarantee’ of a win that Mike McCoy supposedly promised for Thursday, the Chargers would no doubt relish the chance to be spoilers of the Broncos’ drive for a Super Bowl berth.
The Broncos celebrated the first day of December with a brilliant come-from-behind 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, and now control the AFCW and their own destiny for playoff seeding.
After customarily deferring possession on the opening kickoff, Denver had to weather KC's emotional level of play in the first half, falling behind 21-7, but getting to within a touchdown late in the second quarter.
They went three-and-out on their next series, but starting with the second-half kickoff, the Broncos sucked the life out of Arrowhead with three consecutive long touchdown drives - of 80, 92, and 95 yards.
Don’t you love life’s little ironies?
Just moments after Cris Collinsworth had long-windedly and orgasmically extolled the brilliance of Chiefs RT Eric Fisher (#72) during Denver's 27-17 Week 11 win, Derek Wolfe notched his fourth sack of the season by ragdolling Fisher. It happened with 9:35 left in the third quarter, and KC’s Alex Smith (#11) playing from the shotgun.
Since before he was drafted, I have liked Fisher’s play, and I enjoy watching his work. He’s learning quickly enough as a rookie for me to expect that at some point he’s going to take over the left tackle position from Branden Albert, just in view of his play so far. That doesn’t make his first year in the pros any less of a learning experience, though - every player has rookie moments.