Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to another edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. I had a fairly selfish weekend, leaving Cleveland on Friday and traveling to South Bend, Indiana, for the Notre Dame-USC game on Saturday afternoon. My friend Ramona has a brother who is a graduate student at Notre Dame, and he was able to get us pretty good tickets. I didn't get home until about 5 PM on Sunday, so I missed all of the early NFL games, and only got to see the second quarter on of a few late ones. I recorded the Short Cuts of the 3 most interesting early games, with a plan of watching them Monday evening, after work and before the Broncos-Chargers game. I apologize if this is a slightly thinner ST&NO than usual, but I don't ever want to be the guy who comments on football I didn't see, scanning the box scores for some stats which may or may not be meaningful. You know who I mean, all of them. Without further ado, let's get this thing moving, ST&NO style. Ready..... BEGIN!!!
1. So, I am writing this at 12:16 AM ET on Tuesday morning, with the rest of the column basically already in the can. Such is life when you have a Tuesday morning time slot, and a back-and-forth, hotly contested Monday night game. I've only gotten to see the game once, obviously, and we're in a compressed time situation, but I'm going to try hard to manage the clock well, and come with some thunder on the short track.
This is a great feeling, isn't it? Frankly, even if I had a lot of time to write, there isn't much to say that I haven't been saying all season. I've covered most "isn't this great" angles, right? It kind of makes writing a column like this difficult, when it comes to finding new material for the Donny Deutsch Big Idea. I can't even really play the disrespect card anymore.
Luckily, I have two weeks to think of new ideas, until the Broncos take on the Baltimore Ravens. I have a feeling that I'll be talking about the 7-0 Broncos after that game, because the Ravens can't defend the Broncos, and the Broncos defense actually matches up very favorably with the Baltimore offense. Until then, let's enjoy this win, this place in the standings, and the feeling we're all feeling right now. I remember this feeling, from the late 1990s. It's the one where your team is a legitimate contender to win the Super Bowl.
ZOMG! That was a new angle in Donny Deutschland, and it just kind of slipped out, didn't it? I knew something was right on the tip of my tongue (err... fingertips). But, yes, I said it, and yes, I mean it. Let's forget about Kool-Aid, and start thinking about Lombardi Trophies. Remember, I'm the crazy man who had the Broncos on 11-5 before the season started, which would now only require playing .500 football the rest of the way. Consider this an enhancement to my original forecast.
2. Information From My Eyes, Broncos at Chargers:
a. The Broncos initially really missed Brian Dawkins when he went out in the second quarter, but they eventually settled down and performed respectably on the back end, until he returned.
b. On the huge Elvis Dumervil strip/sack late in the 3rd quarter, the play was supposed to go to Antonio Gates, who was split out wide to the left, and running a vertical route, which I expect would have been a back-shoulder fade on the sideline. Josh Barrett had him man-to-man, and engaged him with great position and technique off the line. Philip Rivers had to hold the ball on his 3-step drop, and that was what caused the sack. Barrett is the best Safety I have seen in the NFL at covering the top TEs man-to-man.
c. While I am at it, Barrett had Gates blanketed on Dumervil's second sack too, (with Dawkins over the top, for good measure), early in the 4th quarter, and it was clear he was again Rivers' first read on the play. If Barrett could do nothing else well, he'd be worth having around to cover guys like Gates in obvious passing situations, like that 3rd-and-14 was.
d. They got to that 3rd-and-14 by finally blowing up a screen pass. The linemen disengaged, and slid laterally like they knew the screen was coming, and Mario Haggan tackled LaDanian Tomlinson for the 4-yard loss. This was an enormous play.
e. The right side of the Chargers line, Louis Vazquez and Jeromey Clary, aren't nearly good enough to be starters on a winning team. Clary gave up two sacks, and Vazquez got pushed around a LOT by Marcus Thomas and Ronald Fields. I actually thought their replacement Center, Scott Mruczkowski, played very well in the game, considering the low expectations I had for him from seeing the last few games.
f. The Broncos consistently got pressure in the second half, and mixed it with terrific coverage in the back end. This has been a recurring theme this season. Robert Ayers was a beast, and would have gotten about 3 sacks against lesser QBs than Rivers.
g. Only getting to see the game once, in live action, I can't really do much of a Between The Lines feature, but the Broncos offensive line was dominant in pass protection. The only sack they gave up was for 2 yards, and it was well blocked, with Orton running into the sack after a long time holding the ball.
h. Darcel McBath did a great job filling in for Brian Dawkins, and made every key special teams tackle.
i. The Broncos would not be 6-0 without Kyle Orton as their QB. With the exception of the bonehead sack he took late in Week 1, he has completely avoided making the game-losing plays that all post-Elway QBs have made for the Broncos.
j. Did anybody notice that Darren Sproles did absolutely nothing for the Chargers on offense? That was a big key to the game.
k. I already mentioned the overall protection, but Ryan Clady owned Shawne Merriman, and the lights stayed on all night. I loved Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter mocking Merriman's stupid dance on ESPN, too. Rare value from the Worldwide Leader.
3. Information From My Eyes, Other Games:
a. I remember that last season when the Broncos went into the Meadowlands and beat the Jets, Michael Lombardi of the National Football Post was positively ebullient in his praise of Jay Cutler. Not everybody likes Lombardi, but I consider him to be very rare, as a guy who primarily shares his thoughts about football in the written space, and actually knows what he is talking about. (Most former participants who know interesting things can't write, and most writers don't know anything beyond the surface level).
Anyway, Lombardi was excited by the way Cutler threw the ball on a really cold and windy day. We know about Cutler's exceptional arm strength, and Lombardi's point was that on a bad-weather day like you get in New York, that characteristic was extremely valuable, and the difference between winning and losing.
If I were Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan, I'd be more than a little worried about Mark Sanchez. He looked terrible Sunday, on every throw he attempted. The five interceptions and 14 other incompletions were mostly not a function of bad decisions, they were a function of the mind being willing, and the body not being able. I know how to dunk a basketball, but I can't jump close to high enough to do it on a 10-foot rim. Sanchez lacked the zip to get his ball downfield effectively, and the weather was only pretty bad, not as bad as it can get in northern New Jersey. Sanchez did tell the CBS announcer crew that he had never played or practiced in temperatures below about 55 degrees, so I don't want to go overboard on making pronouncements yet, with just a one-game sample size. This is a big deal, though, and it will bear watching as the season goes on.
b. He never has the stats to back this up, but stats are merely convenient indicators; Lee Evans is one of the five best WRs in the NFL. If he ever had a good QB throwing him the ball, and an offensive scheme which featured his talents, the stats would be there, believe me.
c. I was asked recently by a reader if I still thought that Bills rookie LG Andy Levitre looked like he couldn't play in the NFL. The answer is, at least in the second half and overtime on Sunday, he looked league-average. When I originally criticized Levitre's play, he got dominated in the preseason by Tennessee's Tony Brown and Jason Jones, who are both Pro Bowl-caliber DTs. Kris Jenkins had already gotten hurt by the time I was watching Sunday, but Levitre was a slight positive in the run game, and a slight negative in pass protection. I still do doubt if he can anchor effectively against a good bull rush.
d. Wow, the Tennessee Titans had an unspeakably terrible Sunday. The Patriots completed 38 out of 45 throws, and the Titans completed 2 of 14. Those two completions were a 15-yard gain by their FB Ahmard Hall, and a 22-yard loss by WR Nate Washington, for a net of (-7) passing yards.
Those stats tell the story of the Titans this season. They were outstanding in coverage the past few years, and they're terrible this year, due to some injuries and shocking regressions by a couple players like Michael Griffin and Cortland Finnegan (who is currently hurt.) They also got good play from Kerry Collins in 2008, and they've gotten extremely lousy play from him this year. He's getting pretty solid protection, but he isn't hitting open men (when men do manage to get open). I don't think Vince Young is the answer, but it's time to make him the starter for the rest of the season, to see for sure.
e. Former first-rounder Jamaal Anderson looked much better for the Falcons at DT than he ever has at DE. He was part of a sack of Jay Cutler late in the 4th quarter, after only having 2 in 2-plus years as an end. He lacked the suddenness to beat a Tackle, but really got off the ball well against the Bears' Guards. He also was in coverage in the zone blitz the Falcons ran on 4th down, and caused Cutler's throw to be offline. The Falcons may be on to something.
f. ST&NO Favorite Thomas DeCoud has been playing at a Pro Bowl level for the Falcons all season, and he intercepted Cutler twice on Sunday night. He gets no recognition yet, but he is very instinctive and has a great feel for zone coverage.
g. Cutler still throws the pass to the seam better than any QB in the NFL, and makes big plays on the run. He's exactly the same player he was in Denver last season, and I mean that exactly how it sounds. The Bears got exactly the guy they saw on film, and I hope that's what they were expecting, because if it was, you'd have to expect that they're happy. I can be happy that they're happy, right? ;)
h. I am shocked that the Raiders beat the Eagles. I didn't watch a lot of the game, because it was my local FOX late game, and crap-tastic WJW FOX 8 had a really annoying sound problem going on. Looking at the stat sheet, it jumps out that the Eagles only ran the ball 14 times, and they were fairly successful in those carries, averaging 4.8 yards. Periodically, Andy Reid's Eagles teams have gotten really unbalanced and pass-happy, and it's a recipe for getting beat, over the years. With Sunday's injury to Jason Peters, coupled with the pre-existing absence of Shawn Andrews, it's hard to imagine why you'd think you can be successful protecting Donovan McNabb, when there is no threat of the run.
i. I have alway liked Sidney Rice, dating back to his days at the University of South Carolina. He's big, physical, and fluid. Brett Favre is turning him into a possible Pro Bowl player this season, and it seems they have a great deal of chemistry. He has 23 catches for 409 yards so far this season, and his impact is growing each week.
j. I actually thought that Michael Oher did a pretty credible job against Jared Allen Sunday, for his second start at LT. The sack Allen got came when Oher and the LG were releasing to the outside, like the play was supposed to be a screen, and since nobody went out to the left to receive a pass, I can only imagine that there was a communication breakdown somewhere on that play. When it came to man-to-man blocking, Oher did pretty well, and wasn't beaten like a red-headed step-child, as Allen claimed on Monday.
k. Anybody believe me yet that Joe Flacco is a true franchise QB? He got hit a lot, but made a lot of big-time throws on Sunday, and he had his team in position to win the game (again).
l. Steve Hutchinson blew up Haloti Ngata several times on Sunday, and as good as he has been in his career, I was surprised to see him win that matchup so convincingly.
m. I hated the Giants defensive game plan on Sunday. They need to be rushing 5 men, because that's how they do their business every week. They seemed like they wanted to sit back and try to play coverage, and it didn't work at all. The Giants really miss Kenny Phillips, who is a good young safety; they were particularly vulnerable in the middle of the field against the Saints.
n. The key to the Saints' offensive success is their ability to run the football. The success they've had in that area this year is the big difference from last season. The perception seems to exist that they're a spread-out, 5-wide kind of team, but they're not. They run frequently and well, and make big yards off their play-action stuff. If the Broncos happen to see them in a Super Bowl setting, the order of the day will be neutralizing the run.
o. Remember 2 weeks ago, when I said that the Steelers' success in running the ball was a function of San Diego's interior weakness, rather than their own strength? Look no further than Sunday's game against Cleveland for proof of that. Shaun Rogers did a great job inside for the Browns, and if you take away 21 yards gained on an end-around by Mike Wallace, the Steelers had 119 rushing yards on 35 carries, a 3.4-yard average. Remember, aside from Rogers, the Browns are very non-descript up front. The Broncos averaged 5 yards against them in Week 2, for purposes of comparison.
p. Ben Roethlisberger was lights-out on Sunday, and Hines Ward played very well again. I've never been Ward's biggest fan, and I considered him to be fading as a playmaker at the end of last season. He's looked rejuvenated this whole season, though.
4. I had some technical problems with Lighting Up The Scoreboard this week, and I ran out of time before I had to leave for Indiana on Friday. I wanted to incorporate some of the graphics I had created for it into today's ST&NO, and talk about a couple things the Broncos showed against New England.
The Trap - A Different Take on an Age-Old Play
This is a standard HB trap play, a traditional staple of the running game at every level of football. There is such a thing as a Tackle trap, but usually the backside guard is going to pull, and hit the NT or DT who was allowed to come across the line. The pulling player's block serves to push the defensive lineman toward the sideline, and the RB runs behind that block, where the play-side players are out hitting somebody on the second level.
For the record, this play works better, from an angles perspective, against a 4-3 look, because instead of a zero-technique NT, you have a three-technique DT right where you want your puller to meet him. The NT's presence makes the angle more difficult. This is the quintessential man-blocked play, so Broncos fans haven't seen a lot of it over the last 15 years.
Last week against New England, the Broncos brought in Russ Hochstein as an extra TE and pulled him. The play looked like this, and I am now showing it against San Diego's base 3-4 look:
This has a slightly different objective, which is to entice the five-technique DE, Luis Castillo (93), across the line, rather than the NT. Both Daniel Graham (89) and Ryan Clady (78) briefly engage Castillo, before releasing to the second level to hit both play-side linebackers. Castillo processes the events as being a misread zone-tandem block, where both O-Linemen thought they needed to get off the initial block to the second level. He crosses the line of scrimmage, looking for a big play, and is hit by Hochstein, who is pulling from the backside. Knowshon Moreno's angle is less severe, and he can run in the B gap, where Ben Hamilton and Casey Wiegmann have doubled the NT.
Of course, I drew and wrote all this up before the Monday Night game, and never saw this get employed against the Chargers, but we should expect to see it again this season. It worked really well a few times against New England. I am sure that, along with the Wild Horses stuff, the Broncos didn't think they needed to use it to run effectively against the Chargers.
5. Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of The Week:
Here's a thought that I think I thunk. Does Enjoyable/Aggravating mean Enjoyable AND Aggravating? Enjoyable OR Aggravating? How about Enjoyable AND/OR Aggravating? That slash leaves a lot to the imagination.
Anyway, on the heels of my Notre Dame trip, I have a wedding to go to next weekend in Dallas. I leave Cleveland Thursday evening, (already wearing my drinking shoes as I deplane, at the groom's request), and return Monday afternoon. Scott, the groom, is the tattooed guy who was enlisted in the Army once, and eventually became an officer. He's now a Blackhawk pilot, and his wife is an Apache pilot, and both just returned from a year in Iraq. Scott is my fraternity brother (we're members of Tau Kappa Epsilon - Any other Tekes out there?) and it will be good to see him and some other guys who are coming in.
This is germane to ST&NO, because I get to write about whatever I feel like, and also because it affects near-term programming. (And also, also because it allowed me to introduce some snark about Peter King, which is always fun, and good for a cheap laugh or two.) Being on the bye week anyway, expect an abbreviated ST&NO next Tuesday, probably limited to some game observations that I am hopefully able to pick up on before the wedding on Sunday night. Obviously, Lighting Up The Scoreboard won't appear this Saturday, but expect it to be back on Saturday, October 31st, in advance of the Ravens game.
6. While we're snarking it up about MMQB, y'all know I am a helpful guy, right? Well, maybe you don't know, but you could guess. Anyway, I am one of these people who gets annoyed when people misuse words, like H-Back or factoid. Ahh, yes, factoid.
Peter King insists on calling a section of his MMQB column "Factoid Of The Week Which May Only Interest Me." I sent him a message once, long before I ever had a competing column, to helpfully let him know that he was misusing the word "factoid." See what a swell guy I am?
From our friends at Webster.com:
Main Entry: fac·toid
1 : an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print
2 : a briefly stated and usually trivial fact
I actually like the Wiktionary.org definition better:
factoid (plural factoids)
1. An inaccurate statement or statistic believed to be true because of broad repetition, especially if cited in the media.
2. Usage Problem. A small insignificant fact, but still interesting. (Note: Refer above to the meaning of the suffix. It's ironic that the very definition of factoid has itself come to be a factoid.)
So, for ignoring my helpful advice a couple years ago, Peter gets an ESPN-style C'MON, MAN. By the way, his column yesterday was Bill Williamson Memorial Decent. He is still buying into this silly meme that the Broncos have an impossible schedule, which bugs me.
7. Retired for John Elway.
8. As a follow-up to last week's column, I give credit to Rick Reilly for manning up for his clownishness with all that Boy Blunder stuff. I thought he would stay unaccountable for it, but he surprised me.
9. Expect the Broncos not to do anything at the trade deadline. It's not like anybody is giving away a bigger/better Offensive Guard, and if they were, the Packers, Steelers, or Chargers would almost certainly outbid the Broncos for him. They're desperate for offensive line help, and for the Broncos, it would just be kind of nice to get bigger and stronger at LG.
That's all I have for this week, friends. Have a great one, and look for ST&NO again next Tuesday morning, where my next trick will be to make y'all think you're getting a football column, and instead, probably bring you A Wedding Story, like you were watching (a funny, masculine, fraternity guy version of) Lifetime. If you need me before that, get at me on Twitter at @TedBartlett905.