He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Bronco - Week 10

Sunday’s game made the opportunity to choose the two top Heavies, and brought with it the impossibility of choosing only one from each side of the ball. Both the renewed offensive line and the play on the defensive line were absolutely top drawer. Kyle Orton barely got a grass stain on his uni, while Matt Cassel was sacked 4 times and hurries and knockdowns came with clockwork regularity - a fitting outcome to the Broncos cleaning his clock, and those of the team around him.

KC just wasn’t ready for Denver. It might have been the expectation that a 2-6 team with multiple problems wouldn’t be much of a challenge. It might have been that Josh McDaniels just plain out-coached Todd Haley, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. The Chiefs fans that I’ve talked to have in great part blamed their injuries, particularly in their defensive secondary and the need to bring Shaun Smith to the DL, but given what Denver has dealt with this season, their cries have fallen on deaf ears in my case. I’m sorry to not be buying, but Denver is still missing Elvis Dumervil, Robert Ayers, and Andre' Goodman. At this point in the season, it’s a rare - and usually winning - team that hasn’t suffered some major injury difficulties. Some of them have greater depth than Denver or KC, some just have been fortunate in this area.

But there’s one thing that’s for certain - no one is likely to be sympathetic. During the second half of the season, every player has some degree of dings and injuries, and most are capable of playing through them safely. Almost every team is putting out on the field a group of men who take enormous pride in playing hurt, in not giving up regardless of their pain levels. KC has had the benefit of a lot of high draft choices, and Tyson Jackson missing most of the games hasn’t concerned me. Eric Berry may be their best secondary player, and he was out there doing his thing, and usually doing it well. Most of their team was out there, and their OL was essentially intact, including having Casey Wiegmann starting at center, and certainly desirous of showing Denver what a mistake they made in letting him go. 

Put gently, it didn’t go that way. The rotation of the nose tackles for Denver - usually Jamal Williams and Ron Fields, with Marcus Thomas taking snaps all along the line - proved too much for Wiegmann. The Denver DL required double teams, and that always opens the holes for the LBs to flash to the QB or the RB. Mario Haggan had three sacks and Jason Hunter added a fourth and took a fumble - caused by a perfect Haggan Hammer on Cassel - and returned it to the Chiefs' end zone for a quick 6. I thought for quite a while about the fact that these are two of the players that fit the Denver LB mold, the oversized LBs that McDaniels prizes (Haggan is listed at 267 and Hunter at 271) and about a recent discussion I had with a fan who claimed that they are too big to handle coverage, too slow to react to plays. They are, in their way, also Heavies, and I thought about handing this week’s prize to one of them.

Wiegmann’s hopes of knocking off his old team also took a hit through the play of JD Walton. It was certainly Walton’s best game of his young career. The return and play of the entire offensive line for Denver was everything that Broncos Country has been waiting for, hoping for, and wishing for. It may have been worth the wait, and I also considered handing the weekly Offensive Heavy Award to the line in totem. But in the end, I didn’t do either.

The He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Bronco on the defensive side of the ball is going to Justin Bannan this week. After admitting that the Oakland game was the most embarrassing and upsetting loss he’s ever been involved with, Bannan was a man mountain on a mission. It’s still true that more often than not, 3-4 defensive lineman (or 5-2, although Denver played less of that this past weekend) are not there to rack up gaudy stats or to make headlines. If they do deserve a headline, it tends to be negative more often than not. But by the end of my fourth viewing of the game, it was clear that Bannan had been a monstrous thorn in KC’s (strong) side throughout the entire game. His hit on Cassel that hurried a throw and created an incompletion - the ball wasn’t anywhere near a white jersey - also left a Cassel-sized dent in the Mile High turf. It was a single play, and as I’ve said - that’s not a big deal in and of itself. It was Bannan’s relentless harassment of the RT and the RG that left the holes which Joe Mays used to repeatedly introduce himself to Jamaal Charles. 

I got the impression that Charles was somewhat shocked that his power and speed - which are impressive, without question - didn’t knock Mays backward. On several plays, it looked like Charles had run straight into a cinder block wall - Mays stood him up, and tossed him back down.  Without Bannan’s play on the offensive right side, Mays - who usually lined up at LILB during the game, although he seemed to be handling the LOLB at other times - couldn’t have had those straight passages to the KC backfield and LOS. Bannan’s work is remarkable - his technique is excellent, and his power undeniable. He’s a classic lineman - laconic, quiet around reporters, speaking simply when he speaks at all, and does his serious talking on the playing field. He Ain’t Heavy - He’s Our Bronco. But don’t try telling KC that he ain’t heavy - that’s 310 lb+ of mean out there at LDE, and all of it was on his best game when KC came to town. 

On the offensive side of the ball, the Heavy was equally tough to choose. JD Walton, as mentioned, showed all and sundry exactly why he was drafted by Denver and why keeping and playing Wiegmann wouldn’t have been in Denver’s best interest. The professor who taught me martial arts liked to say that old age and treachery will conquer youth and skill. Not this time. Not at all. Walton had a great game, and the connection between the OL and the running game has rarely been more apparent. With holes the size of mountain passes, Moreno galloped to his first 100-plus yard game. 

Playing next to Walton in a regular season game for the first time, Zane Beadles showed that any flaw that might have created struggles for him at right tackle was immaterial once he was settled at left guard. In Beadles' place at right tackle, Ryan Harris (another option for this week’s Heavy) reminded KC that he was an All-Pro before his series of injuries, while to Beadles' left, Ryan Clady moved laterally better than I’ve seen from him all year. Beadles responded by moving more people than Van Line Movers. If they were his assignment, Beadles gave them a warm, hearty welcome and drove them out of his - and Knowshon Moreno’s - way, and then frequently pounded his way into the second level, looking for more people to hit. 

It was a very difficult choice, but this week’s offensive Heavy goes to Zane Beadles, with my congratulations for finding what I hope will be his home for the next 10 or more years. Any concerns that Broncos Country may have had about the two rookies playing next to each other in the center of the line should have been laid to rest by this performance. Beadles is the one who has had to constantly work on his skills at right tackle. He generally played left tackle in college at Utah - of his 50 starts, 38 came as the left bookend, while the other 12 were at left guard. 

Beadles was also the first of the rookie linemen to say that he was studying - on his own, with no coach’s request - all of the positions, so that he’d know what his position mates were doing on every down and to increase his versatility, a comment that had to warm Josh McDaniels’ heart. And he did have to move to a position that he’d never played and for which he was not well-suited. He never complained, he fought hard even though it wasn’t his appropriate position, and when he was finally moved back to where he started college, and where he started training camp, it was immediately obvious that he was a heck of a draft pick, and a heck of a player. He’s earned this week’s Heavy.

Congratulations to these two players on winning this week’s awards. There is a tough game coming up this Monday, and every one of those mentioned today (as well as a whole lot of other players) will have to have equally good games just to earn the chance to beat the Bolts. KC had the best running game in the NFL - which does you little good when you’re down by 25 points at the half. San Diego has the best passing game in the NFL, and Philip Rivers is the best QB against the blitz in the league. It doesn’t let up, and playing the best is how you become the best. Denver showed how well they understand that last Sunday, and they’re going to have to do it again next week. Somehow, I have the impression that if they play equally well, they have a chance to steal one in SD. Norv Turner’s Lightning Lads haven’t lost a game in November or December since his tenure started. He was taught the intricacies of the Don Coryell system in Dallas as an offensive coordinator, and then returned to SD to put it into place in the home in which it began. Denver isn’t supposed to have a chance. 

But they said that when KC came to town. Somehow, Denver just didn’t get the memo. I’m hoping that they’re equally effective against the Chargers. There’s a division title that no one has claimed yet this year. It’s possible that Denver could yet come back and take it. 

Go Broncos!

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

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