It's a regular season Football Tuesday, friends. What could be better? Welcome to another edition of ST&NO. I didn't watch a lot of Week 4 preseason football this week, because, let's face it, most of those games feature very little play by regulars. I did get into college football though, and I did put together some thoughts toward a season preview. Without further ado, let's jump right into it. Ready......... BEGIN!!!
1. You have to love the MSM echo chamber. A couple of these guys get to saying something, and next thing you know, the (mostly uneducated) opinion of a few becomes FACT. The funniest example to me was the 2006 Draft. The evening before the big day, the Texans, who had been assumed by everybody in the media to be preparing to draft Reggie Bush first overall, announced that they had agreed to terms with Mario Williams, and would be picking the Defensive End first the next day.
The Texans got brutally hammered by the instant analysis, as you'd expect. This must be about money, the punditry said. Charley Casserly must be cheap and/or out of his mind. Why would Bob McNair even let him run this draft, when he knew he was being let go? Was Casserly trying to sabotage the team on his way out?
After one year, it was ACCEPTED FACT that the Texans had screwed up. Williams struggled a bit, like young defensive linemen usually do, and Bush showed some flashes, especially in a playoff game against the Bears. The Texans screwed up, and they should serve as a lesson to other teams who are blessed have the first overall pick, and who don't want to screw it up themselves.
A funny thing happened in 2007, though. Mario Williams turned into (and continues to be) the best Defensive End in the NFL, and Reggie Bush proved to to be an injury-prone, part-time player. You haven't heard any mea culpas from Len Pasquarelli or John Clayton, in the aftermath of this. They were sure, and they had it DEAD WRONG, and there's no acknowledgment of that fact, whatsoever. I personally think that makes them cowards, and I remember it as an example of how not to behave, when I get something wrong, which I do from time to time (but far less often than they do.)
Remember when Bill Belichick stuck with Tom Brady for the playoffs, even when Drew Bledsoe got healthy back in 2001? He got killed, until Brady won their first Super Bowl against the mighty St. Louis Rams. This happens all the time.
Fast-forward to 2009. Clayton projects that the Broncos will go 3-13 this season, and be the second worst team in the NFL, behind Detroit. Unless a New York Mets-like spate of injuries befalls the team, he is DEAD WRONG. If I am wrong, and he is right, I will man up to it publically, like I always do, but that's not going to happen. The 2009 Denver Broncos are a competitive football team, I am sure of it.
I fancy myself, among other things, to be something of a football philosopher. The following beliefs dominate my thinking about the game.
a. The most important determinant in winning or losing football games is turnovers. The second most important determinant is field position. (Turnovers get the edge, because they usually afford the opponent excellent field position, in addiiton to the ball.)
b. Successful offensive teams must be able to pass the ball in the first half to get leads in games, and run the ball in the second half to protect leads. The ability to throw is of foremost importance, though.
c. Successful defensive teams must understand item b. and be prepared to act accordingly.
d. Scoring area offense and defense are always the difference between average teams and excellent teams. At the end of the day, your offense needs to score more points than your defense allows.
This 2009 Denver Broncos team has been put together brilliantly, and it adheres very closely to the philosophy which I just laid out. Consider the following facts about the Broncos, as presently constructed:
a. Kyle Orton has a pretty good history of protecting the football, where the previous Quarterback had a history of giving the ball to the defense a lot.
b. The Broncos, in the preseason, at least, showed better punt and kick coverage outcomes than we've seen in years, the one long Devin Hester return notwithstanding.
c. Alphonso Smith didn't get to return a lot of kicks, but he looked explosive every time he touched the ball, and that's something to be excited about. We know Eddie Royal can make plays in the return game, as well.
d. This team will pass the ball very well, regardless of who is doing the throwing. The offensive line is outstanding in pass protection, and there is no better group of players catching the ball (between WR, TE, and RB) in the NFL. Trust me, the ball is going to move through the air, and a lot of teams who rely heavily on rushing the passer are going to struggle to contain the Broncos, when their guys don't get close to Orton.
e. I believe the Broncos are going to run the ball very effectively as well. We didn't get to see Knowshon Moreno much in the preseason, but he looked tremendous when we did. Peyton Hillis and Correll Buckhalter are also capable runners, and Lamont Jordan at least used to be one.
f. The defense, which was one of the worst in NFL history last season, is much improved, against both run and pass. I particularly like the physicality I see from the front 5 in the running game, and Elvis Dumervil's ability to get pressure off the offense's left edge. Robert Ayers has been steadily improving too, and it won't be long before he starts on the left side of the defense. The secondary is older, obviously, but has shown a very nice ability to cover on the outside. If we see a lot of Wesley Woodyard in for Andra Davis in second-and-long situations, this can be an above-average defense, against both run and pass.
g. The scoring-area performance is the wild card. This is an 8-8 team with average performance there, and a better team with better performance. I believe that scoring area defense will be excellent, and that scoring area offense will be above average, and improve as the season goes on.
This is an 11-5 football team, and it's one that is only going to improve as it adds more quality talent in the next few years. I put my money where my mouth is too, donating $11 to the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure, on John Bena's wife's behalf. Please do the same thing, if you can, by donating $1 for every win you think the Broncos will get this season. Things have to break right for that to happen, sure, but I think they will. Forget last season, this is a totally different thing.
"Professor" John Clayton thinks that so much roster turnover is bad, but when you were terrible on one side of the ball, it's actually really good. I personally like having 8 new starters on defense, from last season. And remember, there's only 1-2 new starters on offense, depending on how RB works out. And, by the way, Clayton couldn't be a professor at The College of Wig Design and Basket Weaving. Knowledge doesn't come with looking like a complete nerd, I'm sorry. He is going to be proven wrong again, and all anybody in the MSM will say is "They came out of nowhere. Who could have possibly seen it coming?"
2. Wow, 11-5, huh? I actually went through the entire NFL schedule, and picked it game by game for all teams. It satsified my accountant's need to have the total wins equal the total losses, and it seemed more scientific than just throwing a high-level WAG (accountant-speak for Wild-Ass Guess) at each record. The following is my prediction for team records.
As I indicated, I did this game-by-game, with no thought given to what final records should end up being. For example, I thought Green Bay might have the best record in the NFC, but their schedule played out to 11-5, the way I figured it. I feel like I have the Jets, Bengals, and 49ers somewhat too low, but that's how it came out.
By the way, the Broncos five losses are to the Patriots, Giants, and Raiders at home, and the Chargers and Eagles on the road. I know a lot of people will groan at the thought of losing to Oakland at home, but let's face it, the Broncos annually lose a game they have no business losing, and I had a feeling that that would be the one. I think they can beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh, because they protect the QB, and will be strong defensively against the run. It's about matchups, in those cases. Really, I believe that the Broncos can beat any team on their schedule if they execute, and consistently do the things you need to do to win football games.
At a league-wide level, give me Pittsburgh and Indianapolis as AFC Wild Cards, and Philadelphia and Minnesota in the NFC. I'll take the Eagles to beat the Titans in the Super Bowl, as things stand today. Of course, I speculated all of this, but I think I put more time into it than most MSMers did, and I feel pretty good about the results, for the most part.
3. Some random college football thoughts, from the opening weekend:
a. Notre Dame is a lot better than I thought they were. They have a lot of speed on defense, now, and I think they're primed for a big season. Of course, as we know, anybody who ever worked under Bill Belichick is doomed to failure, but expect Charlie Weis' seat to cool considerably, because the Irish should be in a BCS bowl game this year.
b. How about BYU, beating Oklahoma? People will point to the Bradford injury, and they have a point, but the Cougar defense was fast and physical, and they won the game. BYU may have a shot to play in the National Championship game, if you look at their fairly-strong schedule, and consider the credibility that Utah gave the Mountain West Conference last season.
c. Greg Paulus is a good QB for Syracuse. He may even emerge as a decent NFL prospect, though I am not ready to call him that yet. Remember, the Packers looked at him this offseason, before he decided to go to grad school at Syracuse.
d. Florida is still definitely the team to beat, and only Alabama looks like they have a chance of doing it, in the SEC. They wouldn't see each other until the SEC Championship game, which would be a rematch of a pretty tense, close game from last December, if it happened.
e. I'd like to see USC's restocked defense against a real team. Since there aren't any on their schedule until they play California the first weeknd in October, and there are none after that, Ohio State will have to do, this weekend.
f. Big up the Naval Academy for going toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes in Columbus, which is a really tough place to play. I expect the Midshipmen to have a nice year, and play in a solid bowl game. Their QB, Ricky Dobbs, might be the best one they've ever had.
g. I don't mind beating up on ESPN from time to time, but I do give them a lot of credit for being progressive with gender roles on their broadcast teams. I watched a lot of the Syracuse-Minnesota game on Saturday, because I was curious about Paulus, and Pam Ward did a fantastic job on play-by-play. She and Ray Bentley make a very nice team, and really, they should be on some better games, instead of the terrible Mike Patrick and the just-OK Craig James.
ESPN also has Doris Burke as an analyst for men's college and pro basketball, which is even more progressive. She does a great job too, and she really knows the game, having been a coach in the past. Despite the sort of chauvinistic slant of sports media over the years, it's good to see women who have something to contribute being given the chance to do so. Here at MHR, we get outstanding contributions from women like Colorado Kitten, mhrsgirl, batgirl, Silverblood, and others, and it's great to see that happening in the broadcast media, as well.
h. I'm with SI.com's Stewart Mandel on one thing at least:
Only one weekend in, and I already want to pound my head into a wall every time I hear that Kenny Chesney snippet. Why, ESPN? Why?
I think Kenny Chesney totally sucks anyway, but usually I can just choose not to listen to him. Now, ESPN/ABC is forcing him on me. I hate this song already, like Bill Simmons quickly came to hate "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon over a recent weekend in Vegas. You see that, Kenny? I compared your awful song to the vacuous, peppy nonsense they play in casinos to keep people smiling and playing. I'll just need to have a steady supply of minimal-damage things on hand to throw on Saturdays, I guess. Sigh. Why can't these producer types just let football be FOOTBALL? I tell you, the best telecasts are the standard Sunday afternoon NFL games on CBS, where they just have a football game.
4. Having watched a bunch of college football on Saturday, I had occasion to see several future professional QBs play. It got me thinking that there were a lot of guys playing college football right now who can be first or second round picks in the NFL Draft, and challenge for starting jobs. You always hear that all of the spread-out schemes that are being used nowadays dilute the ranks, but I really disagree. I think that kids are getting better coaching at younger ages, and it's resulting in a lot of them maximizing their natural ability. Consider the following list:
a. Sam Bradford Oklahoma Junior 2010 Draft - The leader in the clubhouse right now to be the first pick in the 2010 Draft, if his shoulder injury isn't too serious. (As of Monday night, it sounds like it isn't, in the long-term sense.) Bradford is tall and very accurate, and has an average NFL arm. I like him, but don't love him, personally.
b. Jevan Snead Ole Miss 4th year Junior 2010 Draft - Snead flashes outstanding ability as a passer, and is a pretty good athlete. He's not as experienced as the other big name guys, because this will only be his second season as a starter. (He backed up Colt McCoy at Texas as a freshman.) Snead has all the tools you look for, and somebody will draft him very high. He looked rusty on Sunday, but you can see the nice ball he throws.
c. Tim Tebow Florida Senior 2010 Draft - Tim Tebow is almost certainly going to finish up his career being known as the greatest player in college football history. A lot of MSMers say he can't play QB in the NFL. They are wrong, and I am 100% sure that time is going to prove me right. Unlike most unconventional QBs who think they're going to change the QB position in the NFL, (think Vince Young or Michael Vick,) Tebow is humble enough to let the QB position in the NFL change him. Tebow has better arm strength than any of these 2010 guys, except Snead, and he's a huge threat on the ground, as everybody knows. He is the best short yardage runner I have ever seen, and is just different than any other QB to play the game in the modern era. The downside of Tebow is a slowness in his delivery, but that's coachable, and it's being worked on by his new QB coach, Scott Loeffler. Scouts are going to come around to this, and realize that Tebow is very similar to Donovan McNabb, when he was coming out of Syracuse 10 years ago. He is from a college-only system, and needs NFL coaching, but has all the tools. The MSM will still say that he should be an H-Back, which nobody even uses in the NFL, but they're wrong. Tebow is going to be a first round pick, and he'll win championships in the NFL, because a winner is a winner.
d. Jimmy Clausen Notre Dame Junior 2010 Draft - It's kind of hard to imagine a Notre Dame QB who was a top recruit being under-the-radar, but Clausen really fits that description, due to the Irish being down in recent years. He is poised for a huge junior season, having gotten started Saturday against Nevada (15-18, 315 yards, 4 TDs.) Clausen has been coached by a pro coach, (don't forget that Charlie Weis is excellent as a QB coach) and he is the most ready to run a pro system of any of these guys. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if Clausen ends up actually being the first pick in 2010, if he measures OK at the combine. He'll leave, and Weis won't try to stop him, because he has a really good backup in Dayne Crist, waiting for his own chance.
e. Colt McCoy Texas 5th-year Senior 2010 Draft - McCoy is accurate, athletic, and has had an excellent career at Texas. His arm is the weakest of this 5 man group, he's thinly built, and I personally like him the least. He will probably shake out with a Jake Plummer or Drew Brees-like grade, and be a late first or early second rounder. If he can maximize his talent, like Plummer and Brees did, some team will have something. McCoy could also easily end up being a career backup in the NFL, though, like Kellen Clemens or Patrick Ramsey.
f. Tim Hiller Western Michigan Senior 2010 Draft - I got to watch Hiller some on Saturday against Michigan, and while he is said to be well-regarded by scouts, I didn't love him, from what I saw. He has a strong arm, and good pocket awareness, but he didn't look like a playmaker to me. I will be keeping an eye on him, as the season progresses.
g. Dan Lefevour Central Michigan Senior 2010 Draft - A highly productive run-pass player from another directional Michigan school. I like his quickness, and his ability to throw the ball is solid. Lefevour may rise into the bottom of the first round, once he gets tested at the combine, because he's just behind Tebow as an athlete, and ahead of the rest of the 2010 guys.
h. Terrelle Pryor Ohio State Sophomore 2011 Draft - This guy is going to be the first pick in the 2011 Draft, and you can almost write it in ink now. He can throw it, and run it, and he's not a spread guy. He plays under center a lot at OSU, in a pro-ish scheme. There's never been a 6-6 guy who is so fast and fuid with the ball, and he can really fire it down the field, with both strength and accuracy.
i. Jake Locker Washington Junior 2011 Draft - Locker is another first round lock, if he waits until 2011. He's a junior, but he missed most of last season, so he'd probably be best served to do so. He has a fantastic arm, and excellent athleticism. He's also going to get excellent coaching from Steve Sarkisian, and I expect big things from him.
j. Ryan Mallett Arkansas Third-Year Sophomore 2011 Draft - Mallett started a lot of games as a freshman at Michigan, and transferred to Arkansas when Rich Rodriguez brought in his option offense. Mallett is 6-7 and 238 pounds, and is a prototype NFL thrower. Nobody thinks much of Bobby Petrino as a man in the NFL, but everybody remembers that he can coach the hell out of the QB position, though.
k. Matt Barkley USC Freshman 2012 Draft - Will probably be the first pick in 2012. Barkley is the first true freshman to start at QB for USC in more than 30 years, and he looks like the real deal already.
l. Dayne Crist Notre Dame Sophomore 2012 Draft - He played some snaps on Saturday, and completed both throws he attempted. He has all the ability, and will get the benefit of outstanding coaching from Weis. He's eventually a first round pick, after starting for 2 years once Clausen leaves.
m. John Brantley Florida Third-Year Sophomore 2012 Draft - Brantley is much more of a Pro-style prospect than Tebow, and he projects very well to the NFL. He'll have the same college system concerns, but he's a good-sized player who can throw the ball with strength and accuracy. After 2 years as a starter, he'll be well-regarded by NFL scouts.
That's 13 guys playing college football right now, and probably 10-11 will be first round picks in the next 3 years. Are there 13 current NFL starters who are on their way out during that time? You'd have to say the answer is yes, because the talent replenishes itself. You can make a case for some other guys emerging as prospects, like Zac Robinson, Jonathan Crompton, Jacory Harris, Christian Ponder, Greg Paulus, Greg McElroy, Kevin Riley, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Tom Savage, and Tate Forcier too. There is plenty of talent on the way in the next 3 years.
5. Welcome back, Brandon Marshall. Now, don't screw it up. Really, it's pretty simple with Marshall at this point. He needs to swallow his pride, work hard, and produce at a high level on the field, while staying out of trouble off of it. It is the only way he is going to get what he wants, be it from the Broncos or another team. Since I am not the arbiter of what is right and wrong, I am happy with him if he plays well and helps the team win. Hopefully, he can do that, because he'll be a Bronco all year, that much is clear.
6. Speaking of people who have been alleged to assault their girlfriends, we should all remember that we weren't there when whatever happened, happened, between Shawne Merriman and Tila Tequila. If he's guilty, I hope justice is done, at both the NFL level, and the judicial level. We just can't know whether he is or not, until a judge and jury say so, so please resist the temptation to gloat or moralize about it. It will work itself out, with or without any of us paying attention to it. Remember that each of us would appreciate the presumption of innocence, until proven guilty, if we were accused of a crime.
The same obviously goes for RIchard Quinn, who got arrested Monday, and spent the night in jail.
7. Retired for John Elway
8. Really interesting stuff going on with Offensive Coordinators getting canned lately, on the eve of the season.
a. First, Chan Gailey got whacked in Kansas City. The surprise was that Todd Haley kept him from the previous staff in the first place, not that he got fired. Haley wants to call the plays, and now, it seems that he'll get a chance to do so. It's clear that Scott Pioli is in charge in Kansas City, so the timing of the decision strikes me as a little strange.
b. Jeff Jagodzinski being canned in Tampa Bay was also interesting. Have you ever heard of an Offensive Coordinator delegating the play-calling to a position coach (RB coach Steve Logan, who was his corrdinator at Boston College)? It's bizarre, almost like Jagodzinski thought he was the head coach. It's clear that Raheem Morris didn't quite know what he was getting with Jagodzinski, and he acted decisively to correct a mistake from the past. Morris and GM Mark Domenik, two young guys, have been getting beat up in the MSM for this, but correcting a mistake is always better than living with one to avoid criticism. It shows me that Morris has strength in his convictions, an essential character trait for success as a head coach. A LOT of people, in all professions, stick with mistakes rather than admitting making them, and cutting their losses, which is always the right thing to do. Now, Morris will just have to get better at interviewing assistants, but that comes with experience. I'm not particularly high on Tampa's chances this season, but I think they and Morris have a bright future, once they get some more talent in there.
As for Jagodzinski, he might be out of work for awhile. He left Boston College, on bad terms, because he wanted to get back into the NFL. Now, the NFL found him to be lacking as a coordinator, so where does he go? He could maybe be an NFL Tight Ends coach again, like was at Green Bay. More likely, he tries to get back into the college ranks after this season, and lands somewhere less prestigious than BC.
c. The most Jerry Springer-ish divorce comes from Buffalo, where Dick Jauron let Turk Schonert go this week. Schonert claims that Jauron wanted a Pop Warner offense, and handcuffed his ability to be successful, by limiting the number of formations and plays he could use. Going public with that stuff is juicy for the fans, but may get him black-balled for awhile in the NFL. Look for Schonert to possibly re-materialize in college next season.
9. This is going to sound contrarian, but I actually like the Raiders trading for Richard Seymour. Even at Silver and Black Pride, SBNation's Raiders blog, the opinions are wildly mixed.
Only 42% like it there, so why do I? I doubt anybody in Oakland is thinking really far ahead, because if Michael Lombardi is to be believed, only Al Davis does any thinking that counts there. The long-term is why I like the move, however. To get there, I will start with the here-and-now, though.
In the last 6 years, the Raiders have selected Robert Gallery (2nd), Michael Huff (7th), JaMarcus Russell (1st), Darren McFadden (4th), and Darrius Heyward-Bey (7th.) They paid huge money for these players, and have gotten minimal Return On Investment. Their salary structure dictates that they quit making Top 10 picks, because with a salary cap, (and with the small-market economic reality of Oakland, even absent a cap,) they can't build a team full of those high-priced guys.
Seymour comes to Oakland, with a chance to help them be more competitive than they've been in recent years. That would get them out of the Top 10 business, anyway. He'll personally be motivated to produce at a high level, because he's in a contract year. The Raiders can franchise him after the season, they could overpay to keep him, or they could let him walk, and get a pretty sure 3rd round compensatory pick for him.
As for the price Oakland paid, it sounds steep, but remember that you have to discount the pick one round per year of waiting for it. That makes it worth a 3rd rounder in today's dollars, and it also prevents the Raiders from having to exercise another high pick in 2011, if their efforts to improve fail.
So, you get a chance to be better this year and for the next few years, with at least a 3rd rounder coming back, for the price of a 3rd rounder today. That makes sense to me, for the Raiders. (Admittedly, it would make less sense for the Broncos.)
I like Oakland making a move to be better now, because they've sure been terrible and irrelevant for a long time now, and what they've been doing just hasn't been working.
That's all I've got for now, but I'll be working on Lighting Up The Scoreboard, to run on Friday night, for the Bengals game. Have a great week, friends, and let's get fired up for some regular season Broncos football.