Caught between Baltimore and New York

No one needs to ask if it was a tough Sunday for Broncos fans. Getting pounded that way after finding a way to beat Tennessee on the road, with rushing numbers that were violations of the obscenity laws is a hard row for any fan to hoe. Even so, there are things that you can find a way to see improvement in, and there are some things that you can’t help but recognize as better than you probably feel right now. Feeling better? Even with all the hurt from this game, if that’s hard to swallow, take a moment and consider these...

The Broncos entered the game in the top half of the league in rushing defense through four games, while not allowing any rusher to top the 100-yard mark. In a matchup of squads that pride themselves on being physical, those stats didn’t hold up.

No, those stats didn’t hold up at all. In fact, Denver gave up 233 rushing yards and 4 rushing TDs. Ray Rice had 133 of them himself with a 4.9 ypa. How do you get to feeling okay about that?

Take a deep breath and repeat after me - It’s one game. It’s a loss, and it’s one game. In fact, it’s one game, on the road, the second of back-to-back road games against great running backs, in Baltimore where Denver has yet to win, against a Baltimore team that was returning from beating arch-rival Pittsburgh on the road and who currently looks like a good bet for the AFC Championship. Denver’s schedule this year looks like it was drawn up by a sadistic fellow with a personal grudge. Actually, it’s just the normal changes that occur each year, but sometimes you get a smoother ride - other times, you get Mount Everest in avalanche season. This time, it was more like the second option. Denver is headed home for a game with the blitz-happy NY Jets, who have yet to lose on the road and who are riding a three-game winning streak. Oh, and they also have Shonn Greene, a power runner who can take over a game. The Denver run defense didn’t get it done against Baltimore, but they might get it done at home against NY. If they aren’t angry at themselves, their opponents and anyone or anything that gets in their way, then it’s going to be a long season. Denver even has an away game across the Pond - they have to protect their home turf and they have to get angry at the circumstances that they find themselves in.

What they have is not entirely their fault - while many missed the event, the Red Queen dropped in this summer and proclaimed, “Off with their legs!” That quickly saw Knowshon Moreno drop with a hamstring that may not heal for months, saw the carryover from Ryan Clady’s knee surgery which prevents him from moving laterally as quickly as he has in the past, and left a hole at left guard that was filled on Sunday by Russ Hochstein, the official Swiss Army knife of the offensive line, if not one of the more talented linemen. He was replacing Stanley Daniels, who had started the past 4 games, and passing up Zane Beadles, who had been discussed at that slot. Seth Eric Olsen wasn’t even mentioned, which suggests that perhaps this is another draft choice that just isn’t going to make it. Chris Kuper managed to stay in the game, but his ankle is far from healed. The fact that Ryan Harris was in there at all was a miracle - perhaps the royal decree is wearing off, and his toe is healing.

On the other side, David Bruton has been a rock. Darcel McBath led the team’s special teams in tackles last year. Robert Ayers is turning into a beast at OLB. Consider this - acquisition Jason Hunter came from Green Bay by way of Detroit. Green Bay let him go because they were going to a 3-4 defense and didn’t think that he would be a good option to switch to OLB. He’s gotten to Denver and is playing the 3-4 OLB like he was born to it. Why mention that? Because every team makes mistakes, and you don’t over-focus on them. You accept them, learn from them and let things move on. Fans suffer more because the coaches, assistants and players are out on the field and in the film room, which was a very unpleasant experience this week, working on making sure that it doesn’t happen again. They have something to do about it. The fans just have to look at the numbers, watch the replays, lowlights and highlights and worry that next week will look a lot like today. Perhaps it will - and perhaps not. Kyle Orton has had an excellent home record. The rest of the team may follow.

I know - we don’t have a rushing game. We are struggling on the OL, and we’ve already lost five of our best players for this upcoming contest. There’s nothing to sugarcoat - this is reality. From “Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said Monday that safeties Brian Dawkins (knee) and Darcel McBath (ankle) and cornerback Andre’ Goodman (thigh) already have been ruled out, along with linebackers Robert Ayers (leg) and Wesley Woodyard (hamstring).”

They are also evaluating Demaryius Thomas. Part of my job today is to look several times at the high/low that sidelined him - it looked like the ‘high’ fellow went after his head, but I want to see it clearly before I accuse anyone. The Red Queen’s decree has simply moved on to new victims: please note that all the injuries (possibly with the exception of DT, but he may also have a ‘lower extremity’ issue - McDaniels never tells) are the leg, above, middle and/or below. She’s the nastiest creature down the rabbit hole, and for some reason, she’s decided to take up residence in the Denver training room. This is a brutal year for injuries, and it started the first week of training camp. Sometimes, it just happens that way. You find other options and move on.

Are there bright spots? Sure, you could say that. Take Brandon Lloyd - actually leave him the heck alone, because we need the guy. How is he doing? From Andrew Mason:

Lloyd’s tally leads the league heading into Monday night, and is the largest total after five games since Santana Moss opened the 2005 season with 631 yards on 33 receptions.

Only 12 receivers in history have opened a season with more yards than Lloyd. One did it twice; appropriately he’s the greatest in NFL history, Jerry Rice, who had 634 yards after five games in 1990 and 593 after five games in 1995. The others on the list include Charley Hennigan (704 yards for the Houston Oilers in 1961), Mark Duper (649 for Miami in 1984), Henry Ellard (636 for the Los Angeles Rams in 1989), Terry Glenn (636 for New England in 1999), Lance “Bambi” Alworth (616 for San Diego in 1965), Don Maynard (611 for the Jets in 1967), Isaac Bruce (604 for the St. Louis Rams in 2000), Mike Quick (595 for Philadelphia in 1983), Tim Brown (591 for Oakland in 1997) and Michael Irvin (590 for Dallas in 1992).

Brandon Lloyd is, without question, doing things that Brandon Marshall never could. He’s catching over his shoulder - for TDs. He’s just as good at leaping, and he’s able to catch without turning to face the QB. On this week’s listing, Lloyd has 30 receptions for a league-leading 589 yards. Brandon Marshall has 27 catches for 340 yards. Anyone want to explain to me how Denver will be lost without Brandon Marshall? Didn’t think so - when you have a group like the Broncos do, the specific receiver becomes fungible. It may be Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal, Lloyd, Eric Decker, perhaps even Matthew Willis. This is a strong group - one of the best.

Royal hasn’t been a slouch. He has 29 receptions for 330 yards. He’s fast, powerful, elusive and has been consistent. On Sunday, he was robbed - of the Broncos’ fifty-two offensive snaps, with 10 total penalties (8 on the offense) - two of those penalties negated gains of 33 and 17 yards by Royal. The issue with penalties were insane. Losing 50 yards and killing a drive or two just against Eddie is a crime. But until the OL has come together and settled on who will play where, it’s something that’s going to happen again.

Out of the slot, he’s tough to cover. Slot receivers often have less yards per catch, but he’s keep his number respectable. The injuries to DT are worrisome, since Decker isn’t the kind of player that DT is (although he’s probably going to be a heck of a slot receiver over time),  I suspect that Matthew Willis will get to show off his speed agsinst the Jets, and as we saw with DT’s initial entrance, if a team doesn’t have much film on a player, it’s hard to defend against him. Lloyd and Royal, along with the steady play of Jabar Gaffney, will still be out there, but it’s a deep relief that there are still options. I wish that was true in the running game - watching Andre Brown hit the defender at the LOS and bounce backwards onto his tailbone wasn’t exactly encouraging. Really, none of the options have been encouraging, and that’s about half the OL and half the RBs. Which means that there are nasty problems with both.

But the player that gives Denver a chance on offense is also making waves around the league. Kyle Orton, when the trade with Chicago went through, was considered a joke. Commentators and pundits, players and coaches who moved to the media all found humor in the idea that Orton (plus two 1st-rounders and a third) was some kind of an equal trade for Jay Cutler (and a fifth-rounder). Cutler, to be sure, has the physical skills that you hope for in a QB, but they come in a package with a young man who pouts too much and who, at age 26, demanded to be included in choosing the coaches for his team and refused to return calls from the owner. I hope that his concussion heals quickly and I wish him well in his career, but the trade wasn’t one player for another. It was a fairly complicated trade, but if you just looked at Orton vs. Cutler, the comparison is closer than most - any - of those who were laughing would have believed. The joke isn’t on Orton - it’s on the people who denied his ability, who laughed at his apparent lack of skills and who pushed the endless Greek Chorus of ‘noodle arm’ ‘immobile’, ‘weak’, ‘can’t make the deep throws’ (tell that to Lloyd - and please let me watch) and a half dozen or so other claims that have backfired like a string of shotgun blasts. Orton is win, even when Denver loses.

Also from Andrew Mason:

3 and 140: Orton became the first quarterback in NFL history with at least 140 completions (he has 141) and three or fewer interceptions after five games.

Orton is scond in the league in yards, behind Philip Rivers, who also has serious OL problems, but who at least has a running game of sorts. Orton is in 2d with 1733 yards, while Rivers has 1759 - a difference of 26 yards. Orton’s QB rating is 97.8. Given that he’s blitzed almost constantly and has no running game to speak of - when you’re happy that your team has gone from 2.5 to 3.0 yaards per carry, you’re in it pretty deep - Orton has been the rock of the offense. And, he’s been heaving the rock in ways that are going into history books.

But the Jets are coming to Denver this week, and with the list of players that are out, the Broncos are going to need to make some serious adjustments. Looking at the depth chart, I’m betting that a few players will be moved around from the way that they are listed. I’m going to be off on some of these - I have no inside info on Josh McDaniels’ thoughts - but there are going to be some big changes made. The Jets are going to expect to win this game. Denver has no running game, a slap-dash OL and major injuries on defense. They’re ripe for the picking, and if it happens, I won’t be shocked or hurt. But this is what I think will give Denver the best shot at winning this game.

Linebacker is rough with Ayers out. Wesley Woodyard might or might not be ready - if he is, he’s going in at ILB with DJ Williams, and Mario Haggan goes back to LOLB. That would help - otherwise, you’ve got Joe Mays at ILB, and they’ll pick him apart all day, sice he can’t cover. If he has to play, he’s probably best at LOLB - he hits like a freight train, and can hold an edge. He’s always going to be vulnerable in coverage - the idea is to minimize it. Others will see him in other slots, and that’s okay, too. Just tell me why - there are plenty of options.

The next option is Jarvis Moss. In addition to being a pretty fair pass rusher - he’s no Doom, but no one is - Moss claims that he’s good in coverage. I’d like to find out about that - we need someone who is. He’s a litbility in the run game, though. Shonn Greene will probably want to get acquainted with him, and that could hurt. Moss will have to have support in the scheme.

The worst blow is the loss of Brian Dawkins. He’s been the heart and soul of the team, and the vocal leader. Darcel McBath isn’t available, but I wouldn’t use him anyway, much as his coverage skills are a huge benefit. This one goes to David Bruton, who showed, last year, that he’s got more game than a lot of folks thought when he came out of college (Notre Dame -made captain his senior year). I’d look for him to have a better game than the Jets will expect. He’s just one year past being a rookie - they’ll go right at him, so it won’t take long to see how he can do. He can really hit, and he’s fearless, which should help.

Goody is out, so we’ll see more of Perrish Cox, who is playing well for a rookie. Nate Jones can help out at safety, and while I’d prefer to see Bruton, Jones may get the call. Syd’Quan Thompson may get a chance this weekend, at least at returning. I’d like to see if he’s ready for the NFL or not. I know that they were mostly looking to develop him, but in the pros, people get injured and younger players need to step up. It’s the way of things in the NFL. And, Cassius Vaughn has done well at STs - perhaps he’ll get a chance at nickel CB. If Jones moves to safety, I wouldn’t be surprised by Vaughn getting the call. He’s big enough to handle the TEs better than some of our other choices. In fact, I’d love to see if he can do the job - it’s been open for quite a while,much like the ILB-who-can-cover job. But to be fair - DJ had a lot of tackles last weekend, and he’s playing better than I’ve seen him since his rookie year. He looks a lot stronger, too - another Tuten Tutorial.

I’m concerned with the DL, but I haven’t had a chance to see the tape on it yet. That’s today and tomorrow’s work and while it won’t be fun, it’s going to be an education at the least. I’ve got notes from the first three quarters to look over - the fourth was sort of a waste of time, although I’ll go over it. Apparently, McDaniels thought that it was too - the punt with 5 minutes left told me that he’d seen enough for one day. I was shocked at the time - today, I really don’t blame him. They were getting murdered, and players were getting hurt. It was time to let it play out.

Just to go back to the OL for a minute - there’s a problem with no perfect solution. Apparently, Daniels didn’t grade out as well as he needed to. I haven’t watched the film, but I saw Hochstein make a few errors. I’m prejudiced - he’s been bad for too many games, and I admit to going in expecting that. Even so - Zane Beadles may be the permanent solution. I know they like him for backup tackle, and so do I - but we don’t have a solid LG, and Hochstein, from what I’ve seen, isn’t it. It’s another issue to work out this offseason - they’re starting to pile up. ILB who can cover, backup OLB, safety if Dawkins’ injury is severe, left guard - large and nasty. NT, certainly, and while I’m fond of our DL, each wil have to grade out. I do see Kevin Vickerson as a good addition, though, to keep this in perspective. At 321 lb, he might be backup NT material, and might move up whenever Jamal Williams does end his career. Or, he might be the start of a DL much like the Ravens, with 320 lb DEs. It does make it harder to gain yards.

The final point is this - it was one game. We’ve been hit by the injury bug, and we’re going to have to really strap it on to beat the Jets. Thank goodness it’s at home. TJ and I will talk more about how you might try to beat them later in the week, but there are two ways a team can handle an old-fashioned whipping like Denver took in Baltimore. You can curl up and wish it would go away - which I think is unlikely - or you can get angry and embarrassed and take it out on the next game. That’s hard with the kind of injury list that Denver is looking at, but it can be done. Some players who don’t always get to be on the field will be, and I’m hoping that people like Bruton, Moss and Mays will be psyched at getting their chance.  I’m hoping that they are thinking the same thing that the fans are thinking:

Go Broncos!

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

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