Happy Tuesday, friends. Welcome to what will probably be a somewhat shorter-than-usual version of ST&NO. The first week of every month, accountants get to close the books for the recently ended prior month. As I start writing this opening section, it is 7:17 PM on Monday night, so my day job has unfortunately gotten in the way of my primary goal on a Monday, which is to write this column. (A today-specific secondary goal is to correctly punctuate all text in parentheses, because I am all about continuous performance improvement). I'll be switching back and forth between this and that, probably for the next 5 hours or so. So, the moral of the story is that there's no time to waste. Ready.... BEGIN!!!!
1. I can't remember the last time I felt so good about a Broncos team and its total team performance over a stretch of games, as I do now. I don't think I ever did in 2005, and I know I haven't since then. There's a guy who I was in the Navy with, and knew a little bit, (we mess-cranked together, for anybody who knows what that means). Now, we're Facebook friends. Well, he's from Oakland, and he seems to think that each of these 4 Broncos wins has been 100% luck. Even the Raiders, because, he says they are in a rebuilding
What makes me feel so good is knowing that the 4-0 start has absolutely nothing to do with luck, not even the Brandon Stokley miracle play against Cincinnati. That play, in and of itself, was lucky, but being in the position to have a break win you a game was not luck. (I actually feel the same way about the Hochuli Game, incidentally. The Broncos still had to score on 4th down, and win on a 2-point conversion. The blown Hochuli call was not a 39-point play, and if San Diego had won on a fluke play like that, the luck just would have gone in the preconceived-notion-confirming direction). But I digress.
The Broncos are playing well in all phases of the football game, and it's translating into victories, just like they tell you it will in Pop Warner. The formula they are following is time-honored and uncomplicated. Block, tackle, don't throw into coverage, run north and south, catch the ball, and hold onto it when you get it. I'm a simple man with simple tastes, like Floyd Gondolli in Boogie Nights. (Well, not just like him, but you understand what I am getting at).
I am almost troubled by how good I feel. An even bigger worry is how much confidence I have in Josh McDaniels. This is going to sound blasphemous, but I have more confidence in him than I think I ever did in Mike Shanahan. McDaniels put up with all of that criticism and stuck to his program. I have total confidence that he has a plan and that this team will be a consistent winner because of that plan. I always thought the Broncos would be good because Shanahan was such a great offensive coach, but it's been a long time since I felt there was a great, holistic, 1-53, all-phases unified team concept in place with him. There was almost an arrogance that his brilliance on offense would be enough to overcome some other areas which got less focus.
Winners win, and we have one as our coach. Shanahan was a winner too - don't get me wrong, but I like the total approach I am seeing from the "kid from Ohio," as Gil Whiteley derisively called him. (I'd never heard of Gil until Monday, but it's quite apparent that I wasn't missing much). Nobody wins a championship after only 4 games, but you sure can get some naysayers in your own fan base to understand your plan. You can definitely get your players to buy in, even the skeptical ones, like some Broncos have admitted to being. And you can absolutely make some myopic pundits shut up and/or take a seat on the bandwagon. Well done.
2. I absolutely loved this comment from Josh McDaniels:
"What other people thought about our team, what other people who are less educated than the ones inside the building thought about our team doesn't really provide us any reason to feel anything. It doesn't really matter. We know we've won four games and four games will never qualify us for the playoffs, four games will never win our division, and four games won't really get us much of anything, so, we're happy to be four and 0, but we're certainly far from satisfied and we've got a lot of improvements to make. We can play better, we can coach better, and that's what we are after."
According to JeffG, it particularly had the aforementioned Whiteley up in arms, which sounds like a good thing to me, judging from his "writing." We are all less educated than the people in the building, even those of us who are a lot more educated than others. The Broncos' team personnel know what they are trying to do, and we're all trying to understand what they are trying to do. It was a subtle way of sticking it to the information leeches, who enjoyed greater access in the past and rewarded Shanahan and others with mostly-favorable coverage. McDaniels, like Bill Belichick, realizes that if you win, it doesn't matter who likes you personally. I'll tell you one thing: It's really good to be in the sector of the Broncos media which doesn't particularly need access. Nothing has changed for us, and business is booming.
3. Information From My Eyes, Cowboys at Broncos:
a. Due to the wonders of HDTV, I know that Terence Newman is a liar. He claimed that Brandon Marshall grabbed his jersey to get open. That's a bunch of BS. Newman got a weak jam on Marshall in the 5-yard zone, and Marshall hit Newman's outside (left) shoulder with his open, outside (right) hand in getting off the jam. Marshall then got about 2 yards of separation. Newman recovered pretty well, but by the time he caught up, Marshall's hands were up over his head, and he was jumping to catch the pass. No jersey-grabbing whatsoever on that play. You got beat, just admit you got beat.
b. David Bruton is getting so close to blocking a punt - I'm telling you, he's going to get one very soon and change the complexion of a game.
c. The pass interference penalty in the second half on Andre' Goodman was not even close to being legitimate. It was a textbook play on the ball.
d. Jack Williams had a great game filling in for Alphonso Smith as the nickelback. His best play was his sure tackle on Patrick Crayton at the 2 after the Dallas First and Goal, inside of a minute to go. Tony Romo spiked the ball on Second down, and then went after Champ Bailey twice in a row after that. JMFW had a nice breakup on 3rd and 3 earlier in the same drive, right before Romo hit Sam Hurd on that crazy broken play.
e. Speaking of Champ Bailey, he is being asked to do some different things scheme-wise than he has in recent years, but he definitely has not lost a step. The trouble is, Goodman is really tough to beat on the other side too, so where do you really want to go? Teams have to be really reluctant to challenge the outside, and then, that puts you in the business of contending with Brian Dawkins, Renaldo Hill, and others inside, and running the distinct risk of getting your receivers blown up. Ask Roy Williams about that.
f. I really like the way that Wesley Woodyard is being used, and how he is playing. He has mostly been on the field in long-yardage situations, and he's done really well in coverage. On Sunday, he got a free run at Tony Romo on a delayed blitz, and knocked the bejesus out of him, right as he threw the ball wildly incomplete, in going 3 and out.
g. Brett Kern and Matt Prater have been tremendously valuable to the Broncos in winning the field position battle this season. Even when Kern shanks a punt, like his first one on Sunday, he is getting some nice rolls.
h. Kyle Orton played pretty well, once again. His accuracy could have been better in a few spots, particularly that wide-open throw to Jabar Gaffney against zero coverage, but he did a very nice job of taking care of business, and not making mistakes, once again. I could get really used to this.
4. Information From My Eyes. Other Games:
a. The Titans are a mess, and have to be getting close to writing off this season and looking at Vince Young again. The obvious speculation for a reason they're 0-4 would be that they greatly miss Albert Haynesworth, but I don't think that's the case. Their defensive line is the strength of their team, and they're getting excellent play from Jason Jones and Tony Brown. Rather, their back 7 has failed them this season - especially Nick Harper and Chris Hope in the secondary, and their LBs other than Keith Bulluck. Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin have under-performed their star reputations, too (although Finnegan did miss the debacle against Jacksonville).
b. I am Wes Welker's biggest non-fan. I've always thought that he's just a guy playing a well-designed, high-volume role. He kind of reminds me of old friend Mike Anderson in that way. Julian Edelman did just fine in the same role the last two weeks, and the only thing that was particularly lost was Welker's above-average blocking ability. If I were Bill Belichick, I would give some serious thought to selling high on Welker next offseason, like he recently did with Richard Seymour.
c. On Sunday, the quintessential Derek Anderson was on display. Yes, he challenges defenses down the field more than Brady Quinn does, but he also tends to throw the ball to the other team a lot and take a bunch of sacks. Whereas I think Quinn can be a winning player with good talent around him, I think Anderson will always do too many losing things to ever really be that.
d. Brian Cushing continues to be a very good player for the Texans, amid a morass of below-averageness and mismatched skill-sets on defense. In a few weeks, maybe Week 8 or so, we'll review the list of guys I went on record as liking prior to the Draft, and let's just say for now that it's looking really good for my credibility as a talent evaluator.
e. A guy who I didn't like that much, who has done very well so far, is Rey Maualuga for the Bengals. He's playing strongside LB in the 4-3, which seems to be a great position for him. I'm impressed with his play, and the way he's being used. My qualms with him were his reputation for being immature and his lack of range in pass coverage, and as a SLB, he has been off the field in sub packages.
f. The Cleveland Browns' biggest problem has been a lack of anybody for defenses to be scared of, beyond Braylon Edwards. For that reason, the emergence of Mohammed Massaquoi has a chance to save their season, and help them win 4-5 games, if it continues. There has to be somebody who can beat single coverage, and Josh Cribbs lacks the technique as a WR to do so. I wasn't that big a Massaquoi fan in his Georgia days, but he showed me something Sunday.
g. I actually watched a lot of the Browns-Bengals game, and felt like Jerome Harrison looked really lousy. Imagine my surprise to read the box score and see he carried 29 times for 121 yards in the game. He did lose a fumble, which I saw live. I was really sure that he played badly, but he avoids the harsh criticism I had for him, by performing better when I was on other channels.
h. Carson Palmer looked pretty bad for most of the game on Sunday, but talked Marvin Lewis into going for it on 4th down in overtime, rather than playing for a tie - and then running faster than I thought he possibly could to pick it up, leading to the Bengals' winning field goal. It was like in baseball, when a star pitcher wins without his best stuff.
i. The Bengals' special teams performance was abysmal, with bad kick and punt coverage, a fumble by (ST&NO favorite) Andre Caldwell returning a kickoff, and the blocked extra point on what should have been the game-winning TD. Add to that that the eventual winning field goal was only good by inches, and the Bengals deserved to lose, just based on bad play in the kicking game.
j. I've been thinking this all season, and I am picking a pretty unlikely time to say it, maybe on purpose. Matt Forte is a completely average running back, who fits in really well with all of the widespread averageness on the offensive side of the ball for Chicago. He's not really quick or fast, and he runs really upright. I know he misses all the checkdown throws he got from Kyle Orton, and I have to wonder how often Kyle checked into a better running play than what was called in the huddle for him.
k. The NBC crew was talking about how great the Steelers offensive line has suddenly started playing, but the correct observation would be that the Chargers are suddenly really vulnerable on their defensive line, with the exception of Luis Castillo. Even he had his bad moments Sunday night.
l. I'm not the biggest Ike Taylor fan in the world, but he had a nice game on Sunday night, particularly on a couple of deep balls that Philip Rivers normally makes his living completing. On the other side, Antonio Cromartie had a pretty tough night. Taylor isn't that talented but has good technique. Cromartie is extremely talented, but is sloppy and lazy with his technique a lot of times.
m. If I were a Detroit Lions fan (like my friend Chris Dillon), I would feel pretty good about the direction my Lions were going in. With Matthew Stafford, Kevin Smith, Calvin Johnson, and Brandon Pettigrew, they have the kind of talent at those positions that could someday rival the Aikman-Smith-Irvin-Novacek group the Cowboys had in the 90s. Of course, those Cowboys had a lot of talent on defense, and the offensive line too, and the Lions don't yet. With Jim Schwartz as their head coach, I expect them to target building up both lines, and really take a leap next season.
n. Jay Cutler looked good on Sunday.
His only interception was on a hail-mary play prior to halftime. (I saw the play live, but it must have been overturned. Good catch, tfrabotta)
o. I only caught a little of the yawner between Indianapolis and Seattle, but Robert Mathis got two of his three sacks while I was watching. He's really dangerous one-on-one for most RTs in the NFL. Getting down a couple scores is bad, bad news against the Colts, because then Mathis and Dwight Freeney can just come around the corner after your QB, and the back 7 can set up in cover 2. The time-honored way to beat them is to keep the score close and exploit their edges with your running game.
p. If JaMarcus Russell never gets his act together, I'll tell you who should be the next Raiders QB. Jason Campbell needs to play in a vertical passing scheme, and he can be very effective in one. Soon-to-be-former Redskins coach Jim Zorn is married to his West Coast principles and puts his QB in a position to consistently fail, by asking him to be something he's not. Campbell will almost certainly be cut loose after this season, and if I wanted to be a vertical team, I know I could do a lot worse in a buy-low situation.
q. Aaron Rodgers is a great player, but he took a hellacious beating from the Vikings on Monday night. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Packers offensive line is terrible. I'll also disagree with Jon Gruden's assessment that Chad Clifton is "excellent." He is no such thing, but I'll grant that he's better than the alternatives, Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang .
r. I'm way over Brett Favre, like roughly 100% of MHR community members, but he did look excellent Monday night.
s. I don't really like the way the Packers are using Charles Woodson. They mostly have him covering inside players, with Tramon Williams outside. I think it somewhat wastes Woodson's still-excellent coverage skills, to use him on mostly lesser players.
5. Between The Lines will run separately as a FanPost Tuesday night, due to the aforementioned day-job related time constraints.
6. The key defensive sequence in the Broncos-Cowboys game was one which went unnoticed, (or at least unmentioned) by the football cognoscenti. (HAHA cognoscenti.... I crack myself up.) Anyway, after the Broncos tied the game with a Matt Prater field goal, the Cowboys got the ball back with 5:58 to play. This is a dangerous spot, because a (Bill Williamson Memorial) decent scoring drive can easily kill that whole clock.
1st and 10 at DAL 20
T.Romo pass short left to T.Choice pushed ob at DAL 26 for 6 yards (A.Davis).
2nd and 4 at DAL 26 T.Choice up the middle to DAL 32 for 6 yards (K.Peterson).
1st and 10 at DAL 32
T.Romo pass short middle to R.Williams to DAL 47 for 15 yards (C.Bailey).
Things are suddenly looking bad, and I have to tell you, it's reminding me of every Broncos team since 1999. They've often been unable to come up with a key defensive play.
1st and 10 at DAL 47 T.Choice left end to DAL 44 for -3 yards (M.Haggan).
This is the key defensive play. The play was a naked flip with Romo under center. Ryan McBean and Mario Haggan each got a great read, and resulting penetration, and McBean's presence inside forced Choice to run right into Haggan. 2nd and 13 from midfield.
2nd and 13 at DAL 44 (Shotgun) T.Romo sacked at DAL 40 for -4 yards (V.Holliday).
Another key defensive play, obviously. Holliday beats Flozell "The Turnstile" Adams, Adams' third sack allowed of the game, and sets up a really difficult 3rd and 17. There was good front-side pressure from Le Kevin Smith and Robert Ayers as well.
3rd and 17 at DAL 40 (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete deep middle to M.Austin.
Austin was well covered by Brian Dawkins in a cover-3 zone concept, but Romo could have hit him with a good throw. Smith had pressure again.
After Mat McBriar punted, came this sequence:
1st and 10 at DEN 27
(Shotgun) K.Orton pass short right to B.Marshall to DEN 35 for 8 yards (T.Newman).
2nd and 2 at DEN 35 (Shotgun) K.Moreno up the middle to DEN 49 for 14 yards (K.Hamlin).
1st and 10 at DEN 49 (Shotgun) K.Orton pass deep right to B.Marshall for 51 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
That defensive sequence was where this game really turned, friends.
7. Retired for John Elway.
8. Funny stuff from SI.com's Andrew Perloff here. He calls his feature Against The Grain, which tells you he's probably reaching for contrarian stuff. I love this bit here, his equivalent to item 1, if he were writing ST&NO.
1. Congrats to the Broncos for the 4-0 start. And condolences in advance to Denver fans for your team's 4-4 record at the midway point (Their next games are New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore and Pittsburgh). A home win over the Cowboys is supposed to be the crowning win that convinces us all they're for real?
This was the conventional wisdom last week, and now, by being a week late to the party, and as the John Clayton's just left, this is how Perloff brandishes his contrarian-ness? He's still not alone on the Broncos Are Pretenders Train, of course. Adam Schein and Jamie Dukes need somebody to chat with.
Another "pearl" from the same article, focusing on my the Browns:
8. The Browns probably chose Brady Quinn to start this season because he was a first-round pick, even though Derek Anderson looks like a much better quarterback. Now they have to turn their eyes toward another position. Would Braylon Edwards be on the field if he wasn't a high first-round pick?
Of course Edwards would be on the field. He's the Browns' best offensive player, even a little better than Joe Thomas. He has just faced constant double coverage this season, because defenses aren't worried about anybody else. He drops a few passes, but he's their only playmaker on offense. Who should be playing ahead of him? Mike Furrey? Josh Cribbs? Brian Robiskie? Maybe they ought to dust off Webster Slaughter.
9. <Alec> And to answer your question, pal, I'da thunk it. I'm on record with it, in fact. John Bena got beat up for my 11-5 preseason prediction, but it's looking pretty good at this point.
That's all I have time to write this time, friends. Remember to look for Between The Lines on Tuesday night (as a FanPost,) and Lighting Up The Scoreboard on Saturday. Have a great week, and Go Broncos!