Happy Friday, friends. With Game 2 of the preseason happening tomorrow night, I decided to share some thoughts on what I’ll be looking for in the game. I think we learned some stuff in Game 1, at least at a cursory level, and that we’ll have a good opportunity to learn and evaluate more tomorrow.
1. Does personnel grouping on offense still seem to follow the QB? Last week, Kyle Orton played with a lot of 21 and 22 personnel, while Tim Tebow had a lot of 11 personnel, and Brady Quinn had a lot of 12 personnel. It will be interesting to see if those concepts continue.
The implications are that when Orton is on the field, the offensive staff sees itself as a running/play action operation, and that to some extent, Quinn follows that. Tebow’s typical package places more of a premium on spreading out the defense with the formation, ostensibly to create running lanes for Tebow, and angles for the kinds of throws that he makes the best.
Tebow has a different skill-set than Orton or Quinn, so it’s no surprise that they’d have different play-calling. I wonder if this recent media push to claim that Quinn is #2 stems from thinking within the coaching staff that any in-game change at the position is best handled by a player who is more well-suited to running the same game plan as the starter. In that case, I could still see Tebow getting some snaps in games using specialty packages, even as the nominal #3 QB, while Quinn sits behind Orton, waiting for an injury or ineffectiveness in a game.
By the way, I’m not freaking out about Tebow’s place on the depth chart, for what it’s worth, because it’s not like anything is Facebook-official yet. It may come to pass that this Broncos management regime thinks that Orton and Quinn best fit the way they want to play football. I’ll disagree, but it’s their job to decide, and my job to write about it, so we’ll each fulfill our roles and move on.
The religious zealots would be super upset, of course, and some heads might explode. I see that as the silver lining to what I'd consider to be a personnel mistake. Religion has nothing to do with football, and being influenced by it in your football evaluations is a lot like sleeping with your secretary, if there were such a thing as secretaries anymore. You like football, and you like religion, but they’re best left in their own compartmentalized areas of your life, just like sex and work are. Otherwise, you just end up looking like a confused fool when the thing doesn’t work out, and nobody can take you seriously anymore. Think of it like this: quality football evaluation is based upon an educated analysis of objective, observable reality. Religion is based upon faith that you place in written and oral accounts of history, and what others in your particular sect tell you. There's absolutely no overlap in how people get to their answers about either thing.
2. How are the receivers employed? With Eddie Royal coming back, I’ll be interested to see if he’s primarily playing outside, with Eric Decker primarily playing inside. As I mentioned Tuesday, I think that’s the optimal plan for using receivers.
3. How does Julius Thomas do in the blocking game? He had a rough go of it last week, and I’ll be curious to see if there’s some improvement in his performance. I’d also like to see him flash the receiving skills that he’s reputed to be showing in camp.
4. Does the offensive line win the physical battle? The first-team group definitely won against Dallas last week, and that was the most encouraging sign of the whole game to me. Buffalo starts a couple of beasts up front, with NT Kyle Williams and LDE Marcell Dareus. Williams is quietly one of the best players in the NFL, and he represents a huge challenge for J.D. Walton. I’m really excited to see Walton measure himself against such a great player. Dareus is a rookie, obviously, but he’ll also be a good challenge for Orlando Franklin and Chris Kuper. Dwan Edwards at RDE is just a guy, and I’m pretty sure that Zane Beadles and Ryan Clady will handle him just fine.
5. How does the defensive line hold up, minus Marcus Thomas and Ty Warren? I don’t think this Bills team offers the greatest test, but it will have to do for now. Bills LG Andy Levitre and C Eric Wood are both average at best, but more like below average, and they’re the best players on the Bills’ line. The other guys are LT Demetrius Bell, RG Kraig Urbik, and RT (old friend) Erik Pears. This is one of the worst groups in the NFL. Every one of them has negative ratings in 2010 from Pro Football Focus, except for Urbik, who had one game that they rated very highly, and not much other playing time to dilute it.
I’m going to want to see the Broncos' front four guys consistently dominate their physical matchups against the Buffalo offensive line, and I’ll consider anything less to be a disappointment. I’ll be interested to see who steps up from the Ryan McBean/Mitch Unrein/Ronnell Brown part of the roster to claim a spot on the team.
6. How does the roster battle at LB continue to play out? I think LB is the most competitive position group on this whole team, and it’s quite clear that some good (or potentially good) players aren’t going to make the team. A base 4-3 team generally keeps 6-7 LBs, and I’d call Von Miller, D.J. Williams and Wesley Woodyard absolute locks. Near-certain locks are Joe Mays and Nate Irving. That leaves Mario Haggan, Mike Mohamed, Lee Robinson, Deron Mayo, and Braxton Kelley fighting for one or two spots on the roster. If I had to rank them from their performance in last week’s game, this would be the order:
Kelley played really well last week, and he has a great chance to make this team if he keeps it up. He was consistently finding the football, getting downhill quickly, and making tackles. Haggan played well too, and his position versatility and special teams prowess are huge pluses. Robinson and Mohamed look like NFL players, even if they don’t make this team, and Mayo is pretty marginal to me.
7. Retired for John Elway
8. How does the CB rotation look? Champ Bailey and Andre’ Goodman are clearly the starters, but does Perrish Cox or Cassius Vaughn play as the primary nickel guy? Does Bailey continue to move into the slot in nickel situations? If the Broncos keep five CBs, and the current top four are in place, is the fifth guy Syd’Quan Thompson or Nate Jones?
I thought that Cox looked good and Vaughn looked uneven against Dallas, and that Jones looked terrible throughout the game. I’ll be looking for some more clarity in this position grouping Saturday night. And no, before you ask, I’m not of the thinking that Cox should be cut because some allegations were made against him. In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty, even when you’re a young black professional football player, and frankly, from 30,000 feet, that case looks like it would be pretty easy to find some reasonable doubt there.
9. Does the SS continue to be in the box so much, and does the FS get into the game more this time? Against Dallas, Brian Dawkins, Kyle McCarthy, and Quinton Carter were consistently in the box, blitzing and supporting against the run. All three players looked really active and made plays - especially McCarthy.
The three guys who played FS - Rahim Moore, David Bruton, and Darcel McBath were barely noticeable, because not that much happened in the deep middle of the passing game. McBath got busted on the 76-yard TD pass from Stephen McGee to Dwayne Harris in the 4th Quarter; he took a bad angle to tackle a short pass, and Harris ran by him. I’d like to see these three play as well as the other three on Saturday night.
10. Is the punt coverage as good as it was in the first game? I thought the Broncos looked outstanding on punt coverage, and I’m excited to see if they can keep it up.
I’m out of time for today, friends. What’s on your football minds? Is there anything that you’re looking for in tomorrow night’s game?