Broncos vs SF - the aftermath

Sorry to be out of touch, folks. Certain things took precedence.

It looked yesterday like Denver was taking over the game in the 3rd quarter. Several problems came up, and they lost control of the game. Not unusually, the problems started for the most part with an idiotic penalty call on Knowshon Moreno for falling down. The Niners LB was indeed hit from behind, but if you watch, the lineman wasn’t in contact with the LB when he fell over Moreno - who did not, by any rational measure, block the player. Frankly, that was up there with the lack of an end-zone call on the hold on Brandon Lloyd. Those two factors together cost the Broncos the momentum, and probably a shot at the game. Kyle Orton has tried like heck to put the team on his back, but he also played against some terrible officiating.

Don’t think that I’m excusing the Broncos - I’m not. There are issues that will suddenly be solved when the 5 players who didn’t make the trip return, but you play with who you have. Andre’ Goodman had a terrible game. He’s still gimpy, and you could see it in his gait and his inability to cut and maintain coverage, something that he was brilliant at prior to the injury. He still can’t tackle, and with those issues, Perrish Cox may still take his job - when he returns from his own injury. That should give some perspective on this. Brian Dawkins had some great plays but he, too, seemed to lose ‘something’, as much as I thought that he helped. The secondary is aging, but it was much more than that. Matt Prater missing an extra point was a shock.

Robert Ayers is badly missed - Joe Mays did some good things, but he’s not even close to Ayers in terms of skill. Jarvis Moss didn’t do much, and he’s gotten good at that on game days. I know that he was a brilliant scout-team leader, but he hasn’t been much on Sundays. Screwing up Eddie Royal’s would-be punt-return TD with a block in the back was the icing on his cake.

Bench him.

What the heck happened to Britton Colquitt? Two terrible punts. Prater missed an extra point. The kicking game kicked itself to the curb. McD has not shown a lot of patience on bad punts or the punters who kick those. Colquitt may have an unpleasant conversation in his future.

Orton was incredible. I really haven’t looked at his stat line that much - he made some mistakes, but he left the pocket, got a first down (and misjudged the marker or he would have had two) and made some solid throws. He’s also a very tough SOB - coming back after that crushing hit at the end of the third quarter was a grand display of guts. Two illegal blows to the head and a massive hit, and all he does is come back and make completions. That final INT was a heart breaker, but Jabar Gaffney and Orton had a miscommunication, and we don’t know who was responsible. We do know that Orton has another game over 350 yards - the final count was 28 of 40, 369 yards and 1 TD with 1 INT. He was even better than the stat line. Those two strange calls - one a non-call - were problems, but every team has to overcome that. A running game and a little protection would be welcome additions to the team.

Brandon Lloyd also was remarkable - let’s not minimize the good parts. I thought that we’d see more of Eddie Royal, but as long as we need him for punt returns, he won’t catch as much, and we really need him at WR. Demaryius Thomas is coming along, but he’s not fully ready yet, and it would be foolish to think that he is. I keep hoping to see Syd’Quan Thompson on punts, but McD said that he dropped too many in practice, so that’s currently out. I’d like to see more of Eric Decker, but the coaches have a reason that he’s not contributing. We don’t know what it is, but it’s not just an afterthought. He probably, like most rookie WRs, needs more time.

There were some good things and some bad things - it was a game, and one that Denver could have won. Here are some things that I’d like to emphasize, for what that’s worth.

Marcus Thomas again gets my “He ain’t heavy, he’s my Bronco” for this week. On the OL, there wasn’t that much, but Chris Kuper made a pull block to spring Moreno on one of his few great runs, so he gets it on that squad. Let’s talk the rest of the DL first.

First and foremost, they miss Kevin Vickerson more than anyone could have imagined - except, I suspect, the coaches. Guys need to step up when a player goes down, and Ryan McBean had a truly terrible game. He constantly misread plays, got washed out and failed to gain penetration. He reminded me of the time when then-Buccaneers coach John McKay commented after his team’s very first game, “Well, we didn’t block, but we made up for it by not tackling.” Justin Bannan had a good game - he tends to quietly get his job done, and the guys around him need to do the same. Bannan’s penetration wasn’t what Denver needs - it’s not his strength, but I thought that he’d win more battles at the point of attack on passing plays.

Linebacking was better this week by quite a bit, but we’re still not going to win with Jarvis Moss and Joe Mays. It’s not a knock on them (well, in Moss’ case it is, really), but Mays is a ST specialist who is great at defending the run and not so great at the pass. It’s a weakness that SF exploited. Mario Haggan had a fairly good game and DJ Williams had one of his best. Jason Hunter did well.  The center of the line was a big part of the problem, and when Jamal Williams was in SD, I thought that his mobility was compromised. I still do. Perhaps Vickerson will end up helping out there.

Ronald Fields should be at DE, but he did give a valiant effort for much of the game at NT. Dang, I still wish we’d gotten one of the NTs - Dan Williams or even Terrence Cody, although I much preferred Williams. The Broncos have little young depth on the line - when Vickerson returns, that will improve slightly. He can even play NT and has, with good results. Perhaps that’s how the team will go.

The Broncos started to do one thing that I’ve missed - they stopped the run on a lot of plays. Frank Gore is one of the best, and they did well against him for the most part. You don’t stop a guy like Gore - you try to control him. They did as well as I thought that they could. Mike Singletary also showed some faith in Anthony Dixon, and was let down.

Denver knows the feeling. Knowshon Moreno helps, but without the OL coming together, it’s in vain. Too many hits at or behind the line, still. You can’t blame the RBs for the O-Line’s problems. I will say, though, that it looks to me like Correll Buckhalter has lost a step this year. I don’t know if it’s injury-based or not - but he’s not the same player. Perhaps he, like Peyton Hillis before him, just does better with a zone-blocking scheme - and Moreno is poor with one. It’s a problem, and there’s not a solution right now. This offseason - guard, RB, CB, LB. If they can find a young NT, that would make the draft.

I’m disappointed in our secondary. Champ really has seemed to be less effective - of course, they are throwing at will and we’re not getting enough pressure. That’s not an excuse for some of the plays though - I’ve never seen him both misread and fail to recover before. He’s turning human, and yes, with that kind of capital tied up in him, something will tend to happen. If there isn’t a game in 2011, Champ will be allowed to walk - he’s not likely to take a cut in pay.

Tim Tebow looked great on the TD run, but every team knows that right now, he can’t throw - so he’s of limited use. Orton still goes down too easily, but he’s also tired of getting injured. Much of it is small stuff, much of it is not. This is his first healthy season - if he wants to go down rather than be clobbered, I can’t entirely fault that. The OL has a long, long way to go, and starting rookies and backups isn’t the way to deal with that. It’s not McD’s fault - you don’t know when players will start to fall apart or not step up.

Zane Beadles is vulnerable to speed rushers on the edge, and that’s something that his pre-draft scouting pointed out - his lateral movement isn’t what it has to be at tackle. Several folks asked me about the issue of RT and LG - would Beadles be a better guard? Yes, likely so. However - with Ryan Harris injured this much, we’re going to see Zane on the right edge. The problem continues to be depth, and I’d like to make a point that has come up repeatedly, but not in the media (other than here on IAOFM).

I have mentioned it before. I probably will again, because I think that it’s at the heart of much of the problem. You’re replacing roughly 40-50 players. 32 from the Shanahan regime couldn’t get jobs in the NFL. Not all of their decisions so far have been brilliant, although I was pleasantly surprised by Dan Gronkowski yesterday - not a huge stat line, but good, solid play for the most part. His blocking still needs work, but I saw improvement. Again, another rookie, filling in for a player - Richard Quinn - who hasn’t produced and may wash out. It’s a tough way to win. I like the pickups of Joe Mays, Gronkowski (conditionally), Perrish Cox, Demaryius Thomas, Justin Bannan, Jason Hunter and several others. It’s a team in development - clearly not ready for prime time.

However - you need players like Robert Ayers to be on the field and be productive. You need a running game and I will admit that I was surprised at the lack of foresight in terms of the OL during this offseason. You’re going to start Russ Hochstein and two rookies, and you’re surprised at the problems? Yet, again - how many players can you replace each year and not go broke in FA? How many rookies and backups can you play and win with in the NFL? That’s where they are.

That’s the real question, and right now, the answer is obvious. Do you fire McDaniels? No. Wink Martindale? Heck, no. Do you take all four years and let the team mature? You bet. The job is huge, immensely challenging and Denver hasn’t taken its turn as a losing team for a long, long time. They are now. It happens to almost every team, and the few that it doesn’t happen with have one thing in common - continuity. Was Mike Shanahan, much as I respect so much of what he did, respectful of continuity? Not at all. The pulling of Jake Plummer with a 7-4 record, the lack of interest in defense, letting young Jeremy Bates call plays and handle Jay Cutler - and I’ll still take Orton over Cutler every day - the revolving door at DC and the constant belief that the team was one player away from greatness were themes that cost the organization at a level that is only just being seen - and it’s not pretty.

At the end, the Broncos’ continuity was a lack of scheme at DC, very little attention to the defense and then when injuries inevitably hit - IAOFM reader Colinski was often right on when he talked of regression to the mean on such things, which means that Denver may be owed a couple of good years in the future - the OL fell apart and all the pieces needed to be put back together. The RBs hadn’t been good in years, and they still weren’t.

One thing that no one has talked about - both Oakland and KC had years of early 1st-round picks - often, multiple picks - because they were terrible. Eventually, that paid off, as it’s supposed to - that’s the idea of parity.  Denver has gone longer than any team in football - I looked it up - without a pick in the top 10 of the draft. It’s caught up to them, too. There are no Patrick Willises, no superstars in the making. Even though overall Denver is doing reasonably well at finding people and putting them in slots, it’s still a wild ride.

So take a walk, sober up if necessary, and take a few deep breaths. It won’t be this year, guys. It may be the worst year in a long time, but in retrospect, the Broncos had it coming. You can only wobble along for just so long before you fall over, and Denver has. Fixing it won’t be quick, and for that reason, quick ‘solutions’ just lead the team down the path of the Rams and Lions of recent years - teams that constantly try ‘new’ things in an attempt to turn the franchise around. Denver is a big step up on them, and to get back to the playoffs won’t be easy - and probably not quick.

Yet the change is happening. Bannan is at his peak. Vickerson is a diamond in a rough patch for injuries, but he’ll be back, as will Robert Ayers. I see a new CB in Andre’ Goodman’s future, and perhaps a change in Champ’s status. I see a lot of other changes - and so do you. One thing that I have learned over the years - good things take time. Bad things can be accomplished quickly. Change is only preferable if the team has no other option, or if you have a great opportunity. I’m slow to accept that this is the right thing for Denver - you can easily see how they got into this mess. It’s still a disappointment, but it’s one that they earned, over time.

The record won’t indicate it, but this is a team going in the right direction. Two bad calls weren’t the game, but they did change it. Neither were the 5 good players who didn’t make the trip, but they might have changed it - it was very close, and those five would have tended to make a difference. You hate to lose a game like this, but many NFL game hinge on a few plays. This one did. The Hail Mary that Troy Smith threw up under huge pressure, and Brian Dawkins missing on deflecting it with Champ on the ground pretty much summed up the game. Some days, you just aren’t meant to make it.

But when you look at it all - and I’ve gone through the tape a couple of times now - the problems aren’t hard to recognize. They’re fixable, too - but tossing the system and running to a new one is an invitation to disaster. Take the beatings this year. Mature the youngsters - and count them, too, because the total number that you have to start influences the game in so many ways. It’s officially rebuilding, folks. I hate it too, but you can’t deny the reality, or how the team got there. Change coaches and schemes and you can do it again, too. It’s a mistake that I don’t see Pat Bowlen making, although I could always be wrong.

40 to 50 players. It’s the story of how the once-proud franchise finally had to rebuild. You don’t fire the architect or the contractors before you see the final product - buildings and organizations take time to build. Josh McDaniels has two more years, and he’s likely to play them out. If the team is still struggling like this, fine, let him move on. But in the meantime, let’s be real about this. It’s Denver’s turn to rebuild. Much as I dislike that, my feeling is the same as last week or last year. It’s summed up simply.

Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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