The Lard

A comprehensive daily examination of NFL happenings and analysis

The Daily Lard 12-20-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! The official playoff scenarios haven't been released by the league yet (that's supposed to happen today), but it appears a Denver win at Buffalo combined with an Oakland loss or tie at KC would clinch the AFC West for the Broncos. And according to Stuart Zaas, the Broncos can also clinch a wild card spot on Saturday by beating the Bills, plus losses or ties by the Titans, Jets and Bengals.

The Niners beat the Steelers 20-3 last night in a game delayed twice by a power outage, and Ben Roethlisberger turned it over four times (three picks, one fumble). Big Ben played with a brace on his high ankle sprain (on his left/plant leg) but was apparently not hobbled. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers play Roethlisberger the next two weeks, although presumably they will since they still have a shot at both the AFC North title, the #1 or #2 seed and a first-round bye. The loss for Pittsburgh keeps Baltimore ahead of them in the standings (by virtue of sweeping the Steelers earlier in the season) and increases the likelihood that the Broncos would end up hosting the Steelers in the Wild Card round, should Denver win the AFC West.

So, if Big Ben plays the next two games but Baltimore hangs on for the division title, the Broncos would likely be facing a more faithful but less mobile Roethlisberger in the playoffs. Hmm. Before we get carried away, let's get to the links.

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The Daily Lard 12-19-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Unfortunately, the magic came early and did not linger, as the Patriots thumped the mistake-prone Broncos 41-23 after Denver had jumped out to a 13-7 lead. On their first two possessions, the Broncos racked up 162 yards on 13 plays (11 runs, two passes) and it looked like Denver actually had a chance to blow the doors off New England early. But on their third possession, John Fox curiously chose (again) to kick a FG on fourth-and-one from the New England eight-yard line despite the dominance of the Broncos' running game. One could never deem the explosive Pats to be against the ropes, but another TD there would have been quite a blow.

Denver's momentum was gone, the Pats went 80 yards to get within two points, and then the Broncos put the ball on the ground three times (Lance Ball, Tim Tebow, Quan Cosby) in a span of 8.5 minutes, leading directly to 13 New England points. Starting with that third Patriots possession, New England outscored Denver by a score of 34-7 the rest of the way.

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The Daily Lard 12-17-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! PFF has a new feature called The Scramble, featuring the writing of four different analysts about a given topic. The first installment covers late-round rookies who've excelled, and Chris Benson chose to profile Denver nickel corner Chris Harris, who of course wasn't even invited to the Combine, even less drafted or talked about by draft pundits.

As Benson sees it, Harris has been the most valuable rookie corner in the league, and in his limited play (331 snaps) Harris ranks second only to Antoine Winfield in terms of run stopping rate. Benson doesn't see Harris becoming a shutdown corner due to the physical limitations which kept him so far under the radar in the first place, but he thinks his smarts, physicality and work ethic could help him peak as a #2 corner or career nickel corner. Either result would be great if Harris were drafted perhaps anywhere outside the top 20 picks or so. But from a guy not drafted or invited to Indy? Beyond remarkable.

Of course, Harris isn't alone - several key Broncos went undrafted, including Wesley Woodyard, Britton Colquitt, Matt Prater and Lonie Paxton.

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The Daily Lard 12-16-11

Happy Friday, Broncos fans! As Dave Krieger points out, John Fox is now the first NFL coach to win three OT games in a single season for two different teams, as his 2003 Panthers played in five extra-session games including one in the playoffs, and winning four of them. Interestingly, Fox's teams have only been to overtime three times in his other eight seasons, and when combined, those '03 Panthers and these '11 Broncos are 7-1 in overtime.

Another crazy set of numbers? Those two squads are a combined 19-10 despite a mediocre minus-12 in point differential. Naturally, a point differential like that would suggest a record more along the lines of 14-15 or 15-14. Luck? Great coaching? Crappy offenses? Conservative coaching? Obviously, it's a combination of all of those. Perhaps at some point we'll take a look at OT coaching records and how they compare to regulation records. OT records will of course provide tiny samples, but it'd be interesting to see if they mirror a coach's overall record as he coaches more OT games.

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The Daily Lard 12-15-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! In his latest mailbag, Woody Paige dumps plenty of blame on Denver's receivers when it comes to not catching Tim Tebow's passes, and he gets pretty creative with it. On one hand the bad throws are supposedly a direct order from John Fox to throw balls in the dirt, and some more fault lies with John Elway for not having helped Tebow much during training camp. So, let's get this straight - Tebow's been playing QB his whole life (despite the narrative being falsely put out there that nobody wanted him to play QB). He came into the league with question marks about his throwing and his accuracy, and he supposedly spent countless hours (remember, nobody works harder) fixing/working on his throwing before being drafted, and then again last offseason (in between selling books and underwear). He has shown those very accuracy problems each and every week, but John Elway has the magic solution and it's just a matter of him not having shared his proprietary secret with Tim?

But back to the receivers, gotta hit them some more - Eric Decker couldn't see Sunday, Demaryius Thomas runs before he catches, and all of them "are just using their hands, not their arms" (huh?), and Woody's double-secret inside source tells him Decker and Thomas are still "learning touch and control" and his other sources say the young receivers simply aren't very good. Oh, and Brandon Lloyd is selfish and was an anonymous source, but who knows what that has to do with this. Tebow wasn't working with the guy in camp anyway, right Woodrow?

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The Daily Lard 12-14-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! I was just about to write how fascinating it was that Alex Marvez is the first writer to point to the fact that Mike McCoy worked under Urban Meyer at Utah (How could it be that everyone missed that one?!), but then I realized there are a couple of problems with that. One, McCoy never worked for Utah, only playing for them from 1992 to 1994. Two, Meyer coached there from 2003 to 2004 while McCoy was coaching quarterbacks for John Fox with the Panthers. Marvez also points out that Tim Tebow threw a pick-six against Detroit but ignores/forgets that a fumble by Tim was returned for a score too. Man, where does Marvez get his facts from? The latter omission is easily excused, but to link McCoy and Meyer after apparently interviewing McCoy in depth is just mind-blowing. Well, he does work for FOX where quality journalism isn't exactly the highest of priorities.

Anyway, the rest of the article is pretty interesting as it talks about McCoy watching college film for inspiration to help him add wrinkles to the Denver offense, and he has apparently consulted with Demaryius Thomas, who played his college ball in Georgia Tech's triple-option offense. At least, that's what Marvez says. It's not a direct quote, which it would appear are the only things we can totally trust are accurate from Marvez, our latest inductee to the Hall of Hackery.

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The Daily Lard 12-13-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! In reviewing Sunday's win for PFF, Trey Cunningham says it appears Tim Tebow "is continuing to mature as an NFL quarterback," and he says Tim's TD pass to Demaryius Thomas was an impressive play (it was, especially since Tebow was moving to his right at the time of the throw). He also points out that it was Tebow's first second multi-turnover game of the season, not necessarily a huge mark against him considering the Bears' penchant for taking the ball away.

As for the O-line, only Zane Beadles came away with a positive score in pass protection, and as Cunningham states, if not for Tebow's athleticism he likely would have been hit more and sacked more than the five times he was. Oh yeah, and of course there's praise for the defense, especially Von Miller and Brodrick Bunkley.

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The Daily Lard 12-12-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! What's there to say anymore? Well, aside from the fact that Denver is now alone in first place after yet another needle-in-a-haystack win? The Broncos beat the Bears 13-10 in overtime thanks largely in part to the powerful right leg of Matt Prater and the apparent desire of Marion Barber to toss the game. First, Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds as the Bears were trying to run out the clock on Denver, instead giving Tim Tebow & Co. an extra 30 or 40 seconds with which to work with (rather than the 56 seconds they ended up getting) before they tied the game on a 59-yard blast from Prater.

Then, while running for what looked to be the game-winning TD in the extra session, Barber incredibly coughed up the ball on the Denver 33-yard line, and Chicago wouldn't get the ball back. Instead, Prater ended the game with a 51-yard no-doubter, and the Broncos are now 8-5 and a full game ahead of the Raiders, who got blasted 46-16 in Green Bay as expected.

As for the rest of the game, it was Week 7 in Miami all over again, again. 55 minutes of pure, unadulterated offensive suckitude. Only the most devoted of Tim's devoted fans saw an NFL quarterback wearing #15 for the first 92% of the game, but at this point what does it matter? Denver is now 7-1 since Tebow made his 2011 starting debut in identical fashion against the Dolphins, and they're likely headed to an AFC West division title and a home playoff game unless they slip up in Buffalo or at home against Kansas City in Week 17. Incredible, truly.

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The Daily Lard 12-11-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! As another slate of NFL games chock-full of bone-jarring tackles approaches, another sobering article is here to remind us of the long-term consequences facing the players whom we'll soon be imploring to lay down a harder hit, or to get an extra yard or two for the benefit of our fantasy teams. Peter King and SI spoke with 39 of the 48 players (46 are living) from the Week 1 roster of the 1986 Bengals, and they of course found a wide range of maladies, from the aches and pains inherent of any physical sport or labor to the precursors of dementia and worse.

How these ex-players (gladiators?) look back upon their careers is similarly expansive, from CB Ray Horton's I'd do it again in a minute, to S David Fulcher's it wasn't worth it whatsoever, to TE Eric Kattus not wanting his own sons to take up the sport at all. If I have a son someday, I doubt I'd encourage him to play the game. Yet here we are...

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The Daily Lard 12-10-11

Good Morning, Broncos fans! Willis McGahee and Eddie Royal have been listed as questionable for tomorrow's game, while Ryan Clady, Von Miller and several others are listed as probable; only Royal is unlikely to play among that quartet. S Major Wright is out for Chicago as expected.

Naturally, the first matchup Chris Benson considers is that between the Bears' woeful offensive line and Denver's elite edge rushers (Von and Doom officially have 17 sacks, but PFF cites them as having combined for 20 - it's not a typo, but a disagreement between the official scoring and PFF's tracking), and he points out that too much attention paid to the Dynamic Duo could result in sacks for guys like Ryan McBean and D.J. Williams.

Benson wonders if the Broncos can win if/when their running game is completely shut down and reminds that last week was not an example of that, as much as the current narrative says Tebow beat the Vikings by airing it out. He thinks tomorrow could be the day we find out, thanks to the Bears' fine run defense.

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