Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to another edition of ST&NO, this time with actual football to talk about. We'll start with some thoughts about Friday night's game, we'll reflect briefly on Jay Cutler's Chicago debut, and we'll move into some other topics also. Get excited, because it's going to be a lot of fun. Ready.... BEGIN!!!
1. Friday night thoughts follow, with an effort not to beat the same drums as others have been. (The Tuesday AM time slot doesn't look so great, when the game was played on Friday night.)
a. I was very, very pleased with what I saw of the first-team front 7. To me, that was the best sign of the game. They were active, they tackled well, and they played physically up front. The OLBs did a nice job, and played like standup ends mostly, mirroring the 5-2 look a few of us speculated we'd see.
b. Kyle Orton needs to improve, obviously. He could start by realizing that he has a fantastic O-Line in front of him, and settling his feet down. His arm is strong enough to make every throw, but he needs to have his feet set, like most QBs. There aren't many Jay Cutler's, who can be lazy in their lower half, and still usually power the ball to the general area they're going to. I've come to think of that as a vice, more than a virtue, really. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have to get their feet set EVERY time, so they do it just about EVERY time. Orton's third INT was particularly an example of bad footwork leading to a weak throw.
c. Chris Baker may start at NT by Week 4. He looked like a beast, and got a sack. I think the Broncos are really onto something with him.
d. Alphonso Smith is going to be a top-notch player in the NFL for a long time. His pass breakup when he got his feet tangled on the play was a thing of beauty, and he looked explosive (like always) returning kicks. I've been saying it since before the draft, so I'll keep saying it. The Broncos are never going to regret trading for the pick they used to take him.
e. I thought the offensive play-calling wasn't great, particularly with Orton on the field. I think a little more balance would have helped, and challenging the deep part of the field also would have been useful.
f. I can't figure out why Vernon Fox is on the roster. He was awful last season, and should have been part of the purge. That terrible long TD by the 49ers' Brit Miller was clearly Fox's responsibility.
g. If Orton continues to struggle, I am comfortable with Chris Simms. Truthfully, I could care less which one is the starter. Neither one is my son, you know? I think they can both play well, and help the Broncos win.
h. I did a fair bit of tweeting during the game, @TedBartlett905. I may continue to do so, in future games. Follow me, if you like my work.
i. I generally liked how physical the team looked. They've never been a quote-unquote physical team, for as long as I can remember. This was something I was really watching for, and I was pleased with the results.
j. I thought the TEs were very under-utilized in the passing game. I realize that the offensive coaches have an extensive toolbox to work with, but a lot of matchup problems can be created with those guys. I hope to see Tony Scheffler running deep soon, because he's unstoppable downfield, with his size and speed.
2. I watched the beginning of the Bears-Bills game on Saturday, and Pro Bowl QB Jay Cutler looked like he hasn't improved at all. He still threw flat-footed, he still made bad decisions, and he still made a couple of big-time throws, to remind you that he can, especially one he put ON Desmond Clark down the seam.
It was kind of like seeing an ex-girlfriend at a party, if our members who don't date ladies will momentarily forgive the simile (not metaphor). For a minute, you think she looks hot, and you remember what it was like when you used to date, and she did all those wild things, when it was time for doing wild things. Man, she was a lot of fun. Then she drinks too much, and she's doing keg stands, and then she throws up in a potted plant, and is hanging all over the chump who was just holding her hair back. He evidently doesn't care that she threw up, a little vomit doesn't bother him, because now he's making out with her anyway. You're vividly reminded why you broke up with her, right?
Jay can still fire the ball, but he still locks onto receivers, and he seems to be learning that Devin Hester is no Brandon Marshall. He's not even a Brandon Stokley, actually, and has a long way to go before he can even be called a good receiver. Six of Jay's ten throws went to Hester, which is very problematic, and then he threw Hester under the bus for the interception (You stay classy, Jay). The Bears' O-line struggled against the Bills too, which was a bad sign, and Jay showed happier feet than I have seen since the Seattle game, his rookie year. Jay threw one interception, had another easy one dropped by Reggie Corner, and had a 3rd-down throw into quadruple coverage in the end zone batted down. His passer rating of 30.8 even managed to make Kyle Orton's 32.6 look a little better. I'm not saying, I'm just saying....
3. Thoughts and Observations on other games:
a. Aaron Rodgers looked terrific for the Packers, and the Browns first-team defense looked completely abysmal. The Browns had no pass rush, no coverage, and ill-timed penalties, like a defensive holding on 4th and 6.
b. Due to a preference for soundness and consistency, I am predisposed to prefer Brady Quinn to Derek Anderson, but Quinn looked a lot better, again. He led the Browns to a pretty good early drive, which saw a made field goal get disallowed by a Hank Fraley penalty, and turn into a missed field goal. At the end of the first half, Braylon Edwards dropped a sure TD on him, one play before Quinn threw a pick while getting hit. Quinn, as usual, looked decisive and fundamentally sound. Anderson looked ragged, and threw a bad interception against tight coverage.
c. I like the Bills' use of the no-huddle in mid-game situations. It gave them some matchup advantages against Chicago, and they looked improved with it, over the previous week in Canton.
d. The Bears had Henry Melton as a kickoff returner, which was a sight to behold. Melton is a Defensive End, who wears uniform number 69. He's 6-4 and 269 pounds, and he did play some running back at Texas (132-625-16 in his career, not bad). He actually looked pretty nimble, and had a 20-yard return, which he fielded nicely on a bounce, in the third quarter.
e. The Bears had better hope Cutler doesn't get hurt. Brett Basanez and Caleb Hanie are not good - especially Basanez, a Northwestern grad, who ought to be thinking about where he wants to go to graduate school. Maybe the 5 Commodores on the team can put in a good word for him at Vanderbilt.
f. Ellis Lankster, another CB I really liked in the draft, got 2 interceptions off of Basanez. Lankster played at West Virginia, and I saw a lot of him last fall, when I was dating a big Mountaineers fan. He's a guy who plays a lot better than he times, and he looks like a steal as a 7th rounder. The Bills are very deep at CB, but Lankster is going to make the team, as a seventh-rounder.
g. Matthew Stafford looked pretty good for the Lions, except for a back-foot interception which he got returned for a TD. The guy I really was pretty impressed with was Drew Stanton. He led the Lions to the win at the end of the game. For a guy who was a second-round pick, you have to wonder why he never got a chance to play, especially during an 0-16 season. I wonder if he didn't just get caught up in the Marinelli/Millen shuffle.
h. #36 for the Bears, Josh Bullocks, threw one of the body-rockingest blocks you'll ever see on a punt return. He lit some poor Buffalo Bill up, and got his returner 10 extra yards.
i. Local Philly MSMer Bob Brookover said that Jason Peters looked good against the Patriots, and the NFP reposted the article with the headline Peters Paying Dividends. I beg to differ. I watched him get beat repeatedly, and I thought he looked really fat and slow. Winston Justice, who played on the right side, is a terrible player, and he was also repeatedly abused. It's time to give up on the Justice-has-potential meme.
j. A Browns player who jumped out at me was rookie CB Coye Francies. He looks really active, and smashed a Packers RB on a play where he looked like he had some daylight. He also had an interception of the totally inept-looking Brian Brohm. Remember when Brohm was going to be the #1 pick in the 2007 Draft, after his junior season? Matt Flynn is a lot better than him, and was picked 5 rounds later.
k. For being new to zone blocking, the Seahawks looked pretty good at it. Julius Jones is a good RB for that kind of scheme, because he gets downhill quickly, and he had pretty solid success against the Chargers.
l. I think the Chargers defense still looked vulnerable. The Seahawks were able to throw and run against them. Shawne Merriman mostly stayed blocked, and had no impact on the game, although Shaun Phillips looked active and quick.
m. Matt Cassel struggled mightily for the Chiefs, showing happy feet, inaccurate passing, and a fumbled exchange (though, to be fair, it was raining). Chiefs fans shouldn't panic, though, just like we shouldn't panic.
n. A guy who looked very good for the Chiefs was Tamba Hali. He seems to be making a good transition from DE to 3-4 OLB, and he was very active, playing the whole first half. He had some rushes against Eric Winston, a good RT, where he got good pressure.
o. Matt Schaub looked really sharp for the Texans, completing all 7 of his throws for 70 yards. I've always liked Schaub, and I think if he can stay healthy, he'll have a big year. The Texans offense, as we all know, gets guys open on a lot of crossing stuff, and creates high-percentage opportunities.
p. Old friend Jim Bates' Buccaneers defense looked quick and sound, especially Stylez G. White (formerly Greg White). He had a sack and a really impressive interception of Kerry Collins. Sabby Piscitelli looked like he is putting his game together to match his talent, and he also picked off Collins, in the end zone.
q. Another old friend, John Lynch, did the color commentary for the Bucs, and he seemed very natural at it.
r. Byron Leftwich is the same as ever. He throws the ball really well, but needs to elaborately wind up to do it, and has no pocket mobility. He did make a really nice throw for a TD, to another old friend, Brian Clark. Clark also forced a safety on a punt, by getting himself held in the end zone, with a really impresisve rush.
s. I've been critical of Vince Young, but he played well Saturday. He had a couple of nice throws in the second quarter, especially a deep ball to Kenny Britt, and later hit Britt with a 37-yard TD pass. Britt looked like the real deal, and I was kind of indifferent to him, coming out of Rutgers.
t. Titans backup Center Fernando Velasco did a repeatedly horrible job with the shotgun snap. There was inadequate velocity on his snaps, and he grounded one to Young on a 3rd down near the end of the first half. Young stupidly/wildly lateraled the ball over LenDale White's head, and White smartly kicked the ball out of bounds, once he caught up to it.
u. The Bucs have a lot of quality depth at RB, which people aren't mentioning much. Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams have both been 1,000-yard rushers, and Earnest Graham got 898 and 10 TDs in 2008. Behind them is Clifton Smith, who made the Pro Bowl as a return man last season, and looked good carrying the ball from scrimmage this weekend.
v. It was mostly assumed that Clint Sintim would be drafted by a 3-4 team, since he played in one of the very few collegiate 3-4's at the University of Virginia. When the Giants took him in the second round, a lot of people were surprised, but I was not one of them. The Giants 4-3 plays like a 5-2, and their SLB tends to be DE-sized, like Mathias Kiwanuka. The Jim Johnson-led Eagles have tended to do something similar, which I am sure is where Steve Spagnuolo picked it up, but the Giants are really heavy on rushing 5 big guys most of the time. Sintim looked really good on Monday night, with a sack and a forced fumble, and a couple more solid rushes.
w. The Giants' first-round pick Hakeem Nicks looks completely lost, and got nothing done on Monday night. The Panthers' top pick, second-rounder Everette Brown, looked pretty good in his opportunities, and Jon Gruden credited him with finishing well on one occasion.
4. Interesting note from Pro Football Weekly's Whispers column:
• The Broncos recently moved Marcus Thomas from nose tackle to defensive end and we hear he will challenge DE Ryan McBean for a starting spot. Sources say Thomas is the team's most talented D-lineman, but it could take him some time to learn his new position in the team's 3-4 scheme after he was used as a tackle in a 4-3 set previously. McBean, who has just one game of experience, has not impressed observers thus far.
When I first heard that Thomas was being tried on the nose, it struck me as a little strange. He's much more a quick-footed guy than a mauler. He did look good at DE in the 30-fronts the Broncos used last season, so I think this is a smart move.
McBean got a coverage sack on Friday, but generally didn't distinguish himself much in the rest of the game. I think Thomas can do very well given this chance, and I expect him to earn the starting job.
5. Fun with Peter "Mr. Light and Breezy" King
e. It won't matter what kind of play the Broncos get out of Orton or Simms if they play defense the way they played against the all-star lineup of Shaun Hill, Alex Smith and Damon Huard. I know, I know. Preseason Week 1. Who cares? Half of these guys will be gone in two weeks. But 14 of 18 passing, for a 143.5 rating? And 30 San Fran carries for a 4.5-yard average? Not good.
This is a lot like saying that the Broncos had the second-best offense in the NFL last season. At the end of the day, the defense held San Francisco to 17 points, and nothing else matters. Remember, one TD was at least partially a gift of great field position by way of Orton's 3rd INT. This team is probably going to get the ball moved on them this season, but if they can hold the opponents to field goals instead of Touchdowns, they can win a lot of games.
This is exactly what Miami did last season, in going 11-5. People remember the Wildcat, and solid play by Chad Pennington, but scoring-area defense was the hallmark of their success. It goes a long, long way. As for Mr. Light and Breezy, I am pretty sure he was in attendance for this game, so it kind of boggles my mind why he is relying on the stat sheet, rather than his own eyes. Allowing 4.5 yards per rush sounds bad, to be sure. Par for the course, I guess, though.
6. I like the Michael Vick-to-the-Eagles move. Low pressure for him, and he can get back into the swing, and probably play in some specialty packages by the end of the year. Expect him to be in high demand next offseason, if he looks good at all, and the Eagles will now have a quality tradeable asset, with one club-option year for 2010.
The dogfighting stigma is already fading, mostly thanks to Tony Dungy and the Eagles. By next year, PETA will still be trying to make hay from Vick, but they'll be the only media force who is, and even Ted the Well-Known Liberal will grant you that nobody outside of PETA really takes PETA very seriously. What they stand for is important, and worthwhile (at a high level), but their shrillness and rigidity puts them outside of the mainstream. (Before I get excoriated, I think that most everybody can generally get behind the ethical treatment of animals, but there's a variance in what that exactly means in people's minds. That's what I mean about a high level.) If Vick can behave and dedicate himself to being a good player, he can redeem his career and his life, which is a great thing for
anybody everybody who has ever made a mistake.
7. Retired for John Elway.
8. I will be in New Hampshire visiting family from Wednesday night through Sunday morning, so chances are, I won't get to see the game live on Saturday night, unless I can find a bar with NFL Network, and my brother wants to go, the night before his 5 AM flight back to L.A on Sunday. I may tweet a little from my iPhone, if I can make it work. I'm hopeful, at least.
9. How about Tom Cable apparently breaking his assistant's jaw? That's putting the fun in dysfunctional, there, Raiders-style. I remember when Buddy Ryan socked Kevin Gilbride on the sideline once in the early 90s, when they were the coordinators for the Oilers. That got a lot of notoriety, but this seems worse, considering the nature of the injury, and the fact that it was the HEAD COACH. I actually kind of feel bad for Raiders fans.
As I mentioned, I'll be out of pocket, and out in the woods at the end of the week, but I hope everybody has a great one. Until next Tuesday, I'll be keeping it Shallow and Nearsighted, like always.