Week 4 will feature the much-hated traditional division rival Oakland Raiders coming into Mile High, still feeling good about their come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh. Denver is coming off a tough loss to the Houston Texans, falling short by six points for the second time in two weeks to teams that remain undefeated. Both the Broncos and Raiders see an opportunity to rack up a divisional win in the AFC West. Let’s go through the two teams.
The Raiders come in with the same 1-2 record that Denver has, with both teams’ wins having come against Pittsburgh. The Raiders have struggled to throw for distance, as shown by quarterback Carson Palmer’s 1-of-10 completions for 21 yards when throwing long (20 or more yards). He hasn’t thrown long for a TD, but has an interception when trying to go deep.
Darrius Heyward-Bey appears to have dodged a huge bullet after a frightening cervical injury last week, but he wasn’t helping them in the long game either. Denver should be able to maintain that tendency: Their pass rush appears stronger than the Raiders’ line, and cornerback Tracy Porter is expected to return to the lineup after a brief scare with what turned out to be a bruised knee.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Raiders were already down an early touchdown when Darren McFadden took a simple zone-blocking play and ran it 65 yards into the end zone. It’s basic ZB technique, and the Broncos will need to make sure that they’re disciplined in their gaps and able to both fight through the line’s blocks and to make sure that the safety has upfield containment to combat it.
Pittsburgh failed on both aspects, and the result will always be the same, no matter who’s running this basic play. Denver uses it, and so do many teams around the league. It’s also part of how Arian Foster has been burning the league for three seasons.
Here’s the basic lineup: Pittsburgh is in their classic, Okie-based odd-front defense. They’ve got three down linemen and two OLBs, spread wide this time. The ILBs are in their standard, base positioning. The Raiders are in 11 personnel and face 1st and 10 at their own 35. Their formation pulls one safety off into coverage, leaving only Ryan Mundy to handle the deep middle.
The Broncos are in Atlanta for their first road contest tonight and a meeting with the Falcons, a very good team whose drafting and team development approaches I've followed for years.
The modern version of their franchise was built first by Rich McKay, who’s still the president and CEO, and developed more recently by GM Thomas Dimitroff, who’s a top young executive. Between them, they’ve put together a team that has an excellent offense and a defense that’s good, but is also vulnerable.
Last week, Atlanta lost Brent Grimes, their top cornerback, for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. They’ve signed former Colts corner Terrence Johnson, but 2009 third-rounder Chris Owens, who's never lived up to the Falcons' expectations, is expected to be their nickel corner tonight.
Let's take a look at the rest of Atlanta's roster to see what the Broncos are up against:
We get it. The big topic tonight will be the strength of Peyton Manning's arm. Does he have it? Did he ever lose it? When will he get it?
That's fine if all you want is a casual relationship with the Denver Broncos. But if what you're looking for is a passionate affair--and I'm talking hot, steamy friction--then take your eyes off Manning's member (his arm, dude), and keep your eyes out for a few other things tonight:
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.
Happy Friday, friends. I’ve been sick lately with a cold for the last few days, so I decided that going a little light today was better than nothing, since I wasn’t able to go heavy. On Sunday afternoon, the Broncos play the Pittsburgh Steelers. I respectfully dislike the Steelers, but I disrespectfully hate their idiot fans. You probably know a few, but I know a lot of them, living two hours from Pittsburgh, and they’re just insufferable. The Steelers fan knows nothing about football, and all they can say is “Six rings.” Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the yahoos will be at the game on Sunday, due to some piker Broncos fans selling off their tickets (to a playoff game!!!!!!!)
I don’t really love the Broncos’ chances in this game, but making the playoffs is an accomplishment worthy of using your tickets on. I don’t know, I’m the guy that says you should support your team even if you don’t like a specific player or a coach, and around here, I feel like that makes me old-fashioned sometimes. In fantasy football, we can all pick which players to like! <vomits/>
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.
Happy Friday, friends. Today, we digest the formerly ascendant Buffalo Bills, who have lately been pretty descendant. In fact, they’ve lost seven in a row and are 5-9. They've won two blowouts, lost four, and are 3-4 in close games. It’s been a weird season.
Really, the 5-2 start was the case of a team with below-average talent and no depth overachieving on the strength of excellent coaching and good early health. The good health significantly disappeared, some marginal players had to play, defenses started playing to take away the short passing game, and the overachievement ended. After the jump, we’ll explore the Bills in detail.
Happy Friday, friends. It’s time to Digest the New England Patriots. This isn’t the same Patriots team that we’re used to, and the Broncos obviously aren’t the same Broncos team that Tom Brady and company are used to losing to, so it should be very interesting.
Off the top, it’s interesting that the Patriots are seven-point favorites on the road against a team that has won six straight games. I almost never talk about betting lines, because I don’t believe in betting on sports, but this is an interesting bit of narrative psychology to me. The media has set a narrative around the Broncos such that Joe Six-pack is led to believe that there was some magic happening, and a plucky QB who loves his Jesus was behind it, but just wait until the Tebows play the Bradys. The Tebows will come back to Earth. People are betting heavy for the Patriots, obviously, I think because they think in terms of media narratives.
Of course, I think conflating a whole team with its QB is completely stupid. There’s so much happening on a football field on any play that it’s silly to just focus on who’s throwing the ball. As always, today, we’re going to explore the rest of the story.