Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to another edition of Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. Here we are again, with another loss to contend with. This one is worse than the last two, because this one looked like a sure victory when we were marking off W's and L's on the schedule. Of course, if Kyle Orton didn't get hurt, it probably is a W, and the Broncos are still sitting on a 1-game lead over the Chargers. Since that's not the way it played out, we have to do the other thing.
We'll get into the details, from soup to chocolate cake, and make some sense of all this, because that's what we do here. We'll explore what happened, we'll find some things to feel positive about, and we'll have some fun. Out of the echo chamber, and into the fire, y'all. Ready..... BEGIN!!!!
1. There's a certain interconnectedness to a football game, and its outcome, among all phases of the game, and all 45 active players. I've talked about this many times before, and John Bena called the loss a team effort in his postgame writeup. I would call this a team effort whose final score is mostly attributable to the poor second half play of the offense, and mostly, of Chris Simms.
What I mean by that is this. Over the first 6 games of the season, the Broncos led the league in scoring defense. They were especially strong defensively in the second half of games. That trend has been turned on its head the last 3 weeks. The last two weeks, especially, I believe that the main reason why the defense struggled in the second half was that they were on the field for too many plays, due to the struggles of the offense. Each side of the ball needs to help the other. The Broncos have been getting shut down on offense, and worn down on defense, and it's been difficult to watch.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were going on and on Sunday night about how the Colts led the NFL in scoring defense heading into this week. If you've watched the Colts, they don't even have a particularly good defense, if there is any chance you can run the ball against them. They have allowed so few points because they deliberately shorten the game when they're on offense, and because once they get a lead, the strength of their defense comes to the fore. They rush the passer well with four men, and drop 7 men into cover-2. If you stay out of situations that are favorable to Indianapolis, you can gash their defense.
This is what has been happening to the Broncos as well. Remember - in the first 6 games, the offense did its best work in the second half of games. They possessed the ball, they took their time, and they methodically controlled the games. When the defense was on the field, they were fresh, they substituted frequently, and they made plays to get off the field quickly.
Kyle Orton played great in the first half Sunday, just as he'd played very well in the first half of the Pittsburgh game, (outside the one interception). For all the hollering that went on about his lack of deep throwing, he threw a couple very nice deep balls for TDs to Brandon Marshall, and he just barely missed another to Eddie Royal. That opened the field vertically. He also did a very nice job on a few bootleg throws to Tony Scheffler, and a crossing pattern to Marshall. Those plays stretched the field horizontally.
The Broncos had Washington where they wanted them. Remember, they moved the ball on the possession where Correll Buckhalter fumbled, and they had the 17-play drive at the end of the first half, to take the 3-point lead. The Orton injury changed the entire complexion of the game. Simms simply couldn't complete a pass, and didn't seem to know where to go with the ball, and a lot of good work by Knowshon Moreno was wasted.
Most teams will struggle when they lose their starting QB. That's a function of the fact that there aren't 32 good QBs in the NFL, let alone 64 of them. I came into this game thinking that the Broncos are in good shape with Simms, if they needed to use him. I hope that he shows better if he has to play against San Diego, after a week of first-team reps. I still do tend to think that Simms can play.
You hate to have a game get away from you because your backup QB couldn't cut it. The only thing worse would be if two games got away for that reason. I expect that Josh McDaniels will have Simms ready to go next week, and that the gameplan will play to his strengths, if they need to use him.
You have to be careful not to let one game unduly affect an evaluation of a team. All the time, teams lay eggs in games, and lose (or nearly lose) to teams they should blow out. Look no further than New Orleans on Sunday, who seemingly tried to lose to St. Louis. Not to say that Dallas should have blown out Green Bay, but they shouldn't have gotten dominated like they did, either.
There's a lot of Chicken Little stuff going on here, and the one thing that will stop it is a victory against San Diego next week. Yes, I know that the Chargers are on a winning streak and the Broncos are on a losing streak. Remember when the Broncos had won 6 in a row, and the Ravens had lost 3 in a row? The Broncos can beat San Diego, which we know, because they already have this season. If they win that game, they'll re-take command of the division, with a one-game lead, and a sweeping of the head-to-head matchup.
2. In the big-time matchup of the week, the Colts got a win against the Patriots, and on Monday, Bill Belichick is being blamed by everybody who doesn't like him personally (AKA just about everyone). The fact is, Belichick has never curried favor with the media, and reporters tend to be critical of you every chance they get, if you don't pay them their due deference.
Joe Biden could tell you all about how that works. He never trusted the media after their treatment of the death of his first wife and daughter in 1972, and it always hurt him later, particularly in his two Presidential bids. John McCain and Barack Obama both have very deft touches with the media, and longstanding strategies of providing them a lot of access, and it was no accident that both were the nominees of their parties in 2008. If you're going to be a public figure, there's a clear benefit to cultivating relationships with reporters. The thing is, not everybody has the stomach for it, and Belichick is one of those guys who doesn't. Brett Favre benefits immensely from his relationship-building efforts, to the point of it being sickening most of the time. I heard somewhere recently that Favre spends hours with the TV guys on Saturday afternoons, as long as they want to hang out, and they really can't help but love on him.
Back to the lecture at hand, I would have done exactly the same thing as Belichick in that game situation, in going for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28. Why did he do it? Because he was pretty close to certain that he would lose the game if he punted, that's why.
Let's say you go by the book, and punt. Over all 2,293 punts in the NFL in 2008, the average net change in field position was 39.53 yards. The right call, if you ask Peter King, or others, was to punt, and give Manning the ball at his own 32, with about 2 minutes, and all 3 timeouts left. I say that that is choosing to lose the game in a way that will leave the coach blameless, as far as the idiot media is concerned. Well, he trusted his defense, and he played the percentages; it's not the coach's fault. Except he didn't play the percentages.
First of all, let's get this nonsense about trusting your defense dispensed with. You should always trust your defense. Former defensive players like Tedy Bruschi, Matt Bowen, and old friend Tom Jackson love this line of thinking, but it's utter horse (manure). You should only trust your defense if you think they are likely to make the stop, and win you the game. If you think they aren't, then it's a fool's errand to trust them. You say to them, hey, realistically, you guys probably weren't going to stop Peyton Manning, which really doesn't make you much different from any other team's defense. There is no room for blind machismo, or making a statement, or worrying about hurt feelings; this is about winning football games, nothing more.
I didn't spend a great deal of time on it, but I took a look at every game recap for the Colts since 2005. (I think 4 ½ seasons is a reasonable sample size.) Since then, including the postseason, Manning has had the ball late in the game, trailing, on 19 occasions which I counted. He came through to either tie or take the lead 15 times, which is a 79% success rate. (In 2007, he was 1-for-4, which was pretty aberrant for this sample. Two of those misses were against the strong 2007 Chargers, whom the Colts struggled to pass-protect against.)
Here's the deal. Statistically, you have a 60% chance of picking up 4th and 2, but that probability is almost certainly greater, due to the fact that you have an outstanding offense, and the Colts have an average-at-best defense. If I were Belichick, I would have put my conversion probability at 70% for that play. That same source says that an average team returning a punt, given those field position- and time parameters, scores 53% of the time. We already know Manning succeeds 79% of the time, because he's one of the greatest QBs ever.
You can choose to probably win, or you can choose to probably lose, in one moment. What do you choose?
Belichick chose to probably win, and came up on the side where the probable outcome wasn't the actual outcome. Serious poker players know exactly what I am talking about here. Sometimes, you play the hand correctly, and you go all-in with the best cards, but you lose anyway. It's a fact of life. You accept it, and you don't complain about it, because you know you made the right call, regardless of the outcome. The next time you're faced with the same situation, you do the same thing, again, because it was the right call.
When I got home Monday night, all I saw and heard was TV talking heads second-guessing the decision. Stuart Scott pretty much butchered the stats, but he actually cited our friends at AdvancedNFLStats.com. The shockingly anti-intellectual Steve Young promptly claimed that the stats aren't legitimate (except they are). We got to hear from Tedy Bruschi how he'd feel as a defensive player on the Patriots, as if that's germane to anything at all. Trent Dilfer's blood boils when he hears the "other side" of the argument, AKA the correct side. Blah, blah, blah. (Sorry, brief possession by an ex-wife-like-entity again.)
Just imagine the reaction if Kevin Faulk had made the 2 yards. The stories today would have been about the stones on Belichick, and how he is such a great coach to make a risky call. It would be like Mike Shanahan going for 2 in the Hochuli Game last season. (Shanahan correctly thought that was his best chance to win. He felt he had a better-than-50 percent chance of scoring the conversion, and he knew that he had a 50% chance of winning a coin toss, and about a 98% chance that the Chargers would score in overtime, if he lost the toss.)
I'm no great defender of Belichick, the man, but when he's right, he's right. If it's an average QB, and an average offense, you might punt in that situation, but against Manning, that's always going to be the wrong call on 4th and 2. Once again, Belichick is smarter than the average bear, and smarter than every member of the football MSM.
3. Information From My Eyes - Broncos at Redskins
a. All four deep throws Orton made were good throws. Eddie Royal misjudged the one incompletion, and Brandon Marshall got out-fought by DeAngelo Hall on the second, but both were definitely well-thrown balls.
b. That fake field goal was a debacle, but I don't personally blame Mike Priefer. My goat on that play is Darrell Reid, who was telling Marcus Thomas to cover Mike Sellers, while he decided to contain the left edge of the offense, as the play flowed right. Alphonso Smith caught some initial blame, but I disagree there. He was in deep center field, and flowed with the play, like anybody would coach him to. Who knew Hunter Smith could throw back across the field?
c. Ryan Clady got beat badly once on Sunday. That doesn't happen often at all, obviously. That's the first sack he allowed that I would say was fully on him.
d. From the department of good news, Matt Prater doesn't seem to be having a second-half slump this season.
e. I was very impressed with Knowshon Moreno's vision and quickness on Sunday.
f. I've already made my evaluation of Mitch Berger, so everybody knows where I am at on that one. I saw somewhere where Frank Schwab, some beat reporter, speculated that Mitch Berger's 65-yard punt might save his job. If a kick that went about 42 yards in the air, and rolled 23 on the ground can do that, something absurd is going on.
g. I had a busy workday Monday, which set my schedule back, and is unfortunately going to preclude me from taking the time to do Between The Lines this week.
On watching the game a second time, though, it occurred to me that the bulk of Washington's success in running the ball was on zone-blocked plays. As I think about it, the Broncos haven't faced much of that this season at all; really just Oakland, who does it crappily. That's really something to work on, because the lateral movement seemed to unsettle the Broncos defensive line.
h. D.J. Williams got blocked a lot, and took a lot of bad angles. Again. This is getting to be an annoying habit.
i. Andra Davis continued to be a bright spot. He is a terrific blitzer and has a great sense of timing for delaying his rush. His missed tackle on that Devin Thomas catch and run in the 4th quarter was bad, but he otherwise graded out very well.
j. On a painful second pass watching the game, Chris Simms lacked timing with the receivers, as much as anything. Every throw was a little late. It seems like Orton may be able to play next Sunday, but if it's Simms, I hope a week's worth of reps will help him build some timing.
4. Information From My Eyes - Other Games:
a. I was really curious to see the Buffalo-Tennessee game, and I recorded the Short Cut overnight, and watched the game Monday evening. Why would I care about this game? Well, the two teams played in the Hall of Fame Game, way back when it was still warm in Cleveland, and my girlfriend at the time called at halftime to break up with me.
In that game, the Bills couldn't block Tennessee, and the Titans looked like a Super Bowl team. So, I wanted to watch Sunday's game, because I wanted a good sense of where these two teams are. Tennessee probably isn't going to make the playoffs, after starting 0-6, but they've righted their ship, and they'd be trouble if they did make it. Their defensive line is still nasty, and I continue to be impressed with the job William Hayes is doing in replacing Jevon Kearse.
b. On the other side, the Bills still are below average on their offensive line. Their two highly-drafted rookies, Eric Wood, and Andy Levitre, particularly struggled, as they both had in the preseason game. Levitre even ended up playing some LT, due to an injury, and he really struggled outside. Wood got pushed backwards consistently in the passing game, and he's been generally pretty good as a rookie. The Bills need to shore up their offensive line in the offseason, and I am sure their new head coach will make that a priority, if they hire a competent one.
c. I am ready to make a pronouncement. If Vince Young couldn't run, he'd be the second coming of Trent Dilfer. He really isn't much of a thrower of the ball, and he leaves too much air under his throws. You can get by with him in a run-heavy offense, which is what the Titans really are.
Because he can run, he adds a useful element, and the team is really dangerous on option plays, and QB runs. His running ability can dictate that teams play man-to-man defense, and keep a guy out of coverage to spy him. Really, the Titans are back to being the 10-6ish team they were in 2007. I think they'll ultimately decide to stick with Young for next season, and look to build up the interior of their offensive line, and their back 7 on defense.
d. It seems like forever ago, but I did watch the Chicago-San Francisco game intently last Thursday. I think my first thought that I'd like to share is that the Bears defense played like they had some pride. I think Tommie Harris playing well made a huge difference. He is really the key to their whole scheme. I ripped him, and them, last week, and I told the guy from WCG who took exception that I'd say when they played well on defense. They did.
e. I don't really feel like I should say anything about Jay Cutler, because this column aims to stay away from saying obvious things. I'll just say it must be nice to have so many apologists when you mess up. He's like the second coming of Ronald Reagan with how teflon he is.
(Tangential ST&NO story - Reagan is a member of my fraternity. When he died in June of 2004, I was a senior at CSU, and President of my chapter, and I was asked to go on local television, to talk about Reagan as a fraternity man. Our guys did a fundraiser, and jumped on a trampoline for 54 straight days in the 80s, to break a Guinness record, while Frater Ronnie was POTUS. He sent us a congratulatory letter, so I focused on that with the news chick, Angie Lau. I had nothing but nice things to say, as Ronnie was definitely a good fraternity man.)
f. Peter King is really proud of himself for naming San Francisco's Aubrayo Franklin a midseason All-Pro as a NT. When Franklin got that scoring-area INT early on last Thursday, I kind of groaned, because I knew there was going to be some crowing about it.
I never have felt like Franklin jumped out, so I watched him closely, and my review is mixed. He didn't play a lot of snaps, so I wonder about his conditioning. He did play pretty stout against the run at times, and I felt like he was a good player overall when he was on the field. I could easily name 10-12 interior defensive players who are better, though. I guess it's fun to have a guy who is your guy, though.
g. Is Marc Bulger a veteran QB? I have always thought he was, but his command of clock management seemed really bad on Sunday. The Rams had a pretty good shot to beat the Saints, and Bulger and his receivers blew it. Man, I can't tell you how much I would hate to be associated with that team, in any capacity. It's got to be so disheartening to have no talent, be almost completely uncompetitive, then have a chance to beat an undefeated team, and blow it. Can you imagine what it's like to be a fan of such a team?
h. Reggie Bush had a really big game for the Saints on Sunday, stepping up from his usual "highly-paid-decoy" role. It's interesting to speculate on how the Saints value him. Obviously, they don't think he's a full-time RB, but he's paid like he's Adrian Peterson. I'd be happy to have him as a swing player, between RB and WR, but he's a backup at both positions, and I'd only pay him backup money. We'll soon see what the Saints think, because if I recall correctly, his contract is pretty well back-loaded.
i. Josh Freeman continues to look like he's the real deal for the Buccaneers, and Raheem Morris continues to look like he's gotten his bearings as a Head Coach. Both did a nice job in Sunday's game, despite Miami's comeback victory.
j. Speaking of Miami, I want to address the "Wildcat." The Dolphins are the only team which has had a lot of success with it, and every time they have a game with limited success, somebody speculates that the "trend" has run its course.
The thing is, Miami doesn't treat it like a trend. They treat it as a key part of the way they play offense, which puts their best players on the field together. They are committed to it, and they will continue to run it. They trade the disadvantage of being formationally unlikely to throw for the advantage of having 2-3 players who are good ball-carriers, who might get the ball in the running game. Other teams are finding that the direct-snap game maybe doesn't work for them. For Miami, it will continue to be an important part of their gameplan.
k. Joey Porter has had a pretty sub-par year, and he was a healthy scratch on Sunday. That raised some eyebrows, and Tony Sparano wouldn't comment on it. It actually parallels Adalius Thomas basically being shut down by the Patriots. Both teams are showing that having a big name and a big salary doesn't guarantee playing time, if you aren't producing on the field. Expect both players to be released after the season.
l. Another game I decided to watch on Monday was Jacksonville at the Jets. The Jets miss Kris Jenkins terribly, and their defense is nowhere near as good as it was when he was healthy. They are having to scheme to stop the inside run, and to keep Bart Scott and David Harris clean, and these things used to just happen. I expect New England to blow them out this coming week.
m. I can see why people like Mark Sanchez, but I continue not to be a fan. He's well-coached, and he has excellent fundamentals. I just think he's very limited as a natural thrower of the ball. I consider him to be a poor man's Matt Ryan, which is another way of calling him a middle class man's Chad Pennington.
Sanchez plays in a windy place, which I have noted before, and that's going to always be an issue. Another issue is that the offensive scheme he is playing in is very vertical, and Sanchez is a poster boy for the West Coast Offense. Rex Ryan inherited Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, but I don't think Schottenheimer and Sanchez are a very good match. I have to wonder if the Jets don't make a change in the offseason, to bring in somebody to make the passing game's design more horizontal. Mike Shanahan could do wonders with Sanchez, although he won't be going to New York.
Really, as I think about it, if Sanchez and Jason Campbell could trade offensive coaching staffs, they'd probably both be much better off. Two owners traded teams once; why couldn't this happen?
n. There was a crazy sequence in the third quarter, where Sanchez threw an interception to Quentin Groves, then Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled at the goal line, and then Braylon Edwards fumbled at the end of a 41-yard catch. It was a whole lot of ugly going on at once, like the perennially sloppy tendencies of the Jaguars were rubbing off on the Jets.
o. Torry Holt was a great player for many years, despite playing for some obscure St. Louis teams. Really, you could make a case that he was a better player than a few Hall of Famers. (How about Art Monk, Steve Largent, and Lynn Swann to name a few?) I would go so far as to say that he was better than any WR the Broncos have had in my lifetime, a little ahead of Rod Smith.
My point in giving Holt credit, is that I have to say that I think he is getting pretty close to the end of the line. He has really struggled to get any separation, in the times I have watched him this season. He had two strong games, against St. Louis (bad defense) and Seattle (garbage time in a 41-0 game), but I haven't been impressed with his recent work.
p. I loved the call by the Jaguars to have Jones-Drew take a knee and run the clock out. His apology to his fantasy owners made me cringe, though. I may be 7-3 in the official MHR league, but fantasy football is at odds with my beliefs about football, and I have a hard time reconciling the two things.
q. I couldn't talk myself into watching the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game. Sorry, I know it was a key game, but a game with zero offensive touchdowns offends my sensibilities. (Just in case you were wondering why I had nothing on this game.) I'm sure it was ugly, and I feel fine, personally, having seen the highlights. When I walk into a smelly restroom, I get out as quick as possible. No need to hang around for half an hour, to have a good idea what happened there.
r. Jake Delhomme had a dangerously solid game on Sunday. It was the type of fool's gold performance that makes the regime think they are okay with him as their QB, and really, Jake has been having those games his whole career. The Panthers are suddenly 4-5, and back in the picture for a Wild Card spot, but I really believe that they need a better QB if they ever want to really compete for a championship.
s. Matt Ryan struggled mightily again on Sunday, and his two interceptions were a lot of the reason the Falcons lost the game. His first INT, in the second quarter, led to a TD which set the Falcons behind 21-10. The one he threw in the 4th quarter was converted 3 plays later into the TD which put the game away for Carolina.
Don't get me wrong; Ryan is mostly a good QB, but he has definite limitations, which I have highlighted in the past. He really struggles to beat tight coverage, and he's seen a lot of it lately.
t. Speaking of Hall of Fame-caliber guys who look washed up, old friend Jason Elam seems to have really lost his fastball. He's now 9 for 14, and he's only 3 for 6 between 30 and 39 yards. I would be surprised if he kicks after this season.
u. I always thought Beanie Wells was soft when he was at Ohio State, and he didn't do a lot early this season to change my mind. Lately, though, he's shown a lot better, and he's a big reason why the Cardinals are 6-3, and squarely in control of the NFC West. I've also been more impressed with the play of RT Levi Brown than ever before. He's been blowing some people off the ball in the running game.
v. The Chargers have been really tough in the scoring area lately. Of course, the Eagles helped them out by not even trying to run the ball down there. You have to make the defense think that they have to defend everything, or else they are at a distinct advantage. Only getting field goals of 18, 25, and 25 yards on visits deep into San Diego territory was the difference in that game. A defense can get shredded, as the Chargers did, and if they toughen up in the scoring area, they make up for it. A lot of Donovan McNabb's 450 yards were low-quality.
w. The Chargers sure are paying Darren Sproles a lot of money not to participate very much on offense. He's a lot like Reggie Bush, in being a highly-paid decoy who is never going to be much more than what he is.
x. Hey, Adam Schefter. From a money guy, "large" means thousand. When you say "two hundred fifty thousand large," that means $250 Million. He said that on Monday Night Countdown (Served by Applebee's... really). People misspeak all the time; I just wanted to make sure he knows what "large" means. This is coming from a helpful place.
y. I have to hand it to the Browns. They played really well on defense Monday night. Their offense is just so terrible, that it's no use. Those defensive players are playing for jobs next year, whether it be in Cleveland under a new regime, or elsewhere. Guys who show some pride and effort on bad teams will have some good film for their agents to shop them with. Guys who pack it in will be out of the league, like so many guys who played defense in Denver last season.
z. I actually like to listen to MNF nowadays, as I finish ST&NO every week. The main reason is that I actually think that both Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden are value-adding to listen to. The guys at Mickey Mouse-land spent so many years looking for a good third man, with such horrible results, and they've finally found a good 3-man booth. I actually don't like Mike Tirico, who is good at basketball, but bad at football play-by-play (much like Joe Buck is great with baseball, and abysmal with football).
5. I know the Bengals have always been willing to take on troubled players, but it's hard to imagine what they are thinking in reportedly bringing in Larry Johnson. As LJ was to be the key RB on the Shallow Thoughts team in the official MHR Fantasy League, I can tell you that his performance has been garbage this season. Some of his bad performance can certainly be attributed to bad offensive line play in Kansas City, but Johnson is clearly lacking quickness to the hole, and the leg drive he had in his prime. I just don't see what value the Bengals are going to get out of him.
I've reached midnight, and unfortunately, I need to call it a night. My company is in the process of being acquired, which has caused me to be much busier than normal at this time of the month, and I have an early morning meeting Tuesday. I hope you enjoy this edition of ST&NO, and have a great week. I'll see you all again next Tuesday, hopefully with time to give you my normal output.