Gut Reactions - Divisional Playoff Weekend

Quick, what do the remaining playoff teams have in common?

Yes, all of them could double up the Broncos.  But I was thinking about something else.

All four teams are ranked in the top ten in both takeaways and defensive 3rd-down efficiency.

What's the lesson?

Don't pee on an electric (de)fence, that's what.

Oh, and the Broncos need an electric fence real bad.

Now, on to The Positives, the Negatives, and the Who The Heck Knows from this weekend.

The Positives

1) The hiring of John Fox.  Last week I did not weigh in on the Fox hire because I really had nothing of value to add to the discourse.  I was about as familiar with Fox as I was with MENSA members residing in Oakland, California.  But after researching Fox, his teams, and his methods,  I've really begun to like the move more and more.  Allow me to divert your attention for a few moments and describe my rationale.

First, at my core, I enjoy watching the defensive side of the ball more than I do the offensive side.  So I'm going to like watching a Broncos head coach put significant time into a defense that, one could argue, hasn't received anything of significance since the acquisition of Champ Bailey (with due respect to John Lynch and Brian Dawkins, of course).  With Fox on board, this means the Broncos will likely spend their first 3 or 4 picks addressing this side of the ball.  If this means more low-scoring affairs in the future, you'll get no complaining from me.  Watching a 13-10 slugfest is a perfect way to spend any Sunday afternoon.

Second, when the Broncos hired Josh McDaniels two years ago, I had really wanted to them to go after Bill Cowher or Marty Schottenheimer.  Both coaches were older guys who could motivate, experienced teachers, and their players loved them immensely.  They believed in ball control, aggressive defenses, and the value of field position.  This allowed them to average 9 or 10 wins per season over their careers with a variety of quarterbacks.  After researching Fox, I realized that if I cast aside his results from 2010, a year which even the biggest Fox detractor would admit was a throwaway season for the Panthers from the very first game, this was exactly the kind of coach Fox was.  While one may look at that as .500 football, I actually think it shows consistency.  Outside of the Steelers, Patriots, and Eagles, rare is the team that can sustain that kind of success over an 8-year period.  The Raiders do it the other way, but that's a subject for another time.  In short, averaging 9 wins a year means you are just a few big plays away from being a playoff team each year.  Once you're in the playoffs, it's a crapshoot.

Third, I think Fox's philosophy fits Tim Tebow's style of play well.  The Broncos should be in almost every game they play under the more conservative approach of Fox.  As Tebow develops, he won't be asked to be Peyton Manning.  But he will be expected to make plays on critical 3rd downs and in the 4th quarter.  This plays to Tebow's strength--he's at his best when the pocket breaks down. 

2) The potential hiring of Sean McDermott (PLEASE) is double-A-gap okay with me.  I love watching teams blitz--on every down (call it a fault of mine).  So I couldn't have been more pleased when the Eagles fired Jim Johnson's protégé.  It appears as if the Eagles' front office overruled Andy Reid in a vote of confidence on McDermott.  This is quite possibly the luckiest break the Broncos could have caught in the offseason.  McDermott is a hyper-aggressive blitzer; he will bring pressure from anywhere on the field.  And I do mean anywhere.  I popped in footage of the Eagles' first game of the season last night, and within 3 plays, McDermott had shown Aaron Rodgers a delayed double-linebacker and safety blitz.  On the very next play, he brought out a look that featured a single nose tackle at the line of scrimmage.  However, by the time the ball was snapped this morphed into a six-man front with an overload blitz to the weak side of the formation.  If you can't tell, I'm a little jacked up at the prospect of Philip Rivers facing this twice a year.




The Eagles let McDermott go for a reason--they allowed a lot of points and were brutal in the red zone (McDermott's schemes tend to get more complex as the offense gets closer to scoring) for two years in a row.  Moreover, McDermott was criticized for putting too complex of a defensive scheme on his rookies.  However, given all of the injuries and the youth McDermott had to work with, his defense still generated 34 takeaways (the Broncos had 18) and was ranked 12th overall in yardage.  I'll take this defense any day of the week over one that was ranked dead last like the Broncos.  Andy Reid said himself a week ago of McDermott:

You’re dealing with a guy that’s a tremendous worker and is a very smart individual.  And so I look at it a little bit different than what you do in that I’ve seen him work with young guys, I’ve seen him work through injuries, I’ve seen him stay positive through those situations and still put us in a position to win football games.

The Eagles are going to regret letting McDermott go.  But by that time, it will be too late.  McDermott will have put the Broncos' defense back into the top half of the league.

In the coming weeks, if McDermott is hired, I plan on watching all of his calls from 2010 and bringing you a lot more The Playbook Abides posts.  By the time the lockout rolls around, Fat Man readers should be experts on what they won't actually get to see.

3) I like the Broncos' options with the second-overall pick in the draft.  With the imminent hiring of McDermott (we hope), the rumored move to a 40 front would become fact.  This puts more defensive picks in play at #2.  Nick Fairley, Da'Quan Bowers, and Patrick Peterson are all options.  If there were a willing partner, the Broncos could even trade back and snag a guy like Marcell Dareus, who, although not as beastly as Fairley was in his bowl game, was quite disruptive nonetheless.

4) I've got to believe a switch to a 40 front is going to increase the value of Robert Ayers to the Broncos.  While Elvis Dumervil may get a few less sacks out of a 4-3, this should easily be balanced by Ayers' productivity out of a 4-3 alignment.  Imagine a 40 front that includes Ayers, Justin Bannan, Fairley, and Dumervil.  It would be an instant upgrade--just add water and Dumervil with a chip on his shoulder.

5) The chances of Champ Bailey staying in Denver just doubled with Fox and McDermott on the defensive side of the ball.  How do I know this?  I don't.  I'm just geeked up still over the idea of McDermott pounding the Chargers with overload blitzes in 2011.

By the way, I'm guessing Brian Dawkins plays another year here as well.  He knows McDermott's system like the back of his adamantium claws.

The Negatives

1) Jay Cutler is now playing in the NFC Championship.  Look out your window.  Is the sky blackened by locusts?

If Culter does win it all, I've got the perfect bible verse for Tebow to tweet:  "Jay can do all things through Martz who strengthens him."  Of course, Mike Martz may have changed the words.

2) If Josh McDaniels goes to the Rams, does it devalue Kyle Orton's trade value?  I'm convinced after listening to Fox's presser the other day that Orton will in fact be traded.  Fox's answers when asked about Orton were short and cool. He also seemed to frame Orton in the past tense.  The Rams have Sam Bradford, so there would be no need for McDaniels to try and lobby his employer for Orton (or even for Tebow, if you believe Peter King).  Previously, I had thought Orton could fetch as high as a 2nd-round draft pick.  But I'm beginning to wonder if it's more realistic that the Broncos get a 4th.  Assuming there is a CBA in place, are the Vikings or the 49ers going to want to part with a 2nd- or 3rd-round pick?  Perhaps the Broncos, without a guy like McDaniels creating more of a market for Orton, may not even bother trading Orton at all.  

3) Although the Broncos are retaining Mike McCoy as their offensive coordinator, several of the Broncos' wide receivers will be left out in the cold.  Fox's big-picture conservative offensive philosophy will likely mean less 3- and 4-wide receiver sets from the Broncos next year.  With a roster that includes Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker, there simply won't be enough balls to go around.

4) The amount of man crushes that will drift from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers this week will be disgusting.  You may want to wear protection when listening to the radio or television this week.

5) I hate the nickname "Matty Ice."  But perhaps it's just there to describe Matt Ryan's incredibly cold playoff performances.  Here's a prediction that no one will remember, so I'll go ahead and make it: Tim Tebow wins a playoff game before Icy Matt.

The Who The Heck Knows

1) The NFL playoffs are a small sample size.  As such, they are prone to the fluky, the crazy, and the one time a year some dude plays out of his skull.  That's why fans should consider a playoff run, for the most part, a successful year.  Too many strange things can happen in a one- or two-game sample.  

Matt Hasselbeck was that guy who played out of his skull last week.  This week, however, Hasselbeck returned to earth; the Bears' defense just played with his skull yesterday.

2) Since I've spent so much time on Sean McDermott, I ought to quickly mention how much of a badass his mentor Jim Johnson was as a defensive coordinator.  And it wasn't just because he perfected the double-A gap blitz.  It's because he had an intuitive grasp of Expected Points Value (EPV).  As an offense gets closer and closer to the opponent's goal line, their EPV goes up.  Playing conservatively in the red zone simply cedes this fact.  Johnson's defenses, on the other had, blitzed even more often.  If they were going to cede points, they were going to at least try and increase the odds of a turnover.

3) What does all of this movement at Dove Valley mean for Knowshown Moreno? Your guess is as good as mine.  DeAngelo Williams, anyone?  This is a strange time for Moreno, who, just two years ago, was considered a can't-miss running back.

4) You didn't think Eric Studesville was leaving, did you?  Come on, now.  When you're the janitor that has to clean up Joe Ellis and Pat Bowlen's 23-month school project, you are going to get rewarded.  In the eleven hours that the Broncos' brass met with Fox, I can assure you that he was given a direct order to keep "Coach E," as Tebow likes to say.

5) Ben Hamilton tweeted yesterday that Josh McDaniels used to make the Broncos watch film of the Patriots in order to properly take out the other team's gunner along the sideline.  You know, the same thing the Jets were busted for doing.  With all of this Evil Josh stuff coming out now, it makes you wonder if Brian Xanders just might be telling the truth.  That still doesn't excuse Xanders for not standing up to the so-called Little Big Man, but he does get my sympathies for a few minutes.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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