Happy Tuesday, friends, and welcome to Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations. I am writing this lead-in on Black Monday, and I'm still not in a very good mood, as you can imagine. I'm going to try to make the best of it, and drop a good column despite the bad feelings. We'll see, because I still haven't watched this infuriating game a second time yet. No guarantees. For now, let's get on with it. Ready..... BEGIN!!!!
1. So, I am not too thrilled, as you might imagine. I don't think anybody particularly is, but this game solidified a thought in my mind about the Broncos, that I've been close to, but never fully there this season. It kind of makes me feel like a fool actually, because way back, when I was the only credible analyst in the world predicting 11-5 for the Broncos, my main reason for thinking it is what I had wrong.
The Broncos offensive line is the weakness of the team, and I thought it was the strength. When I envisioned beating Baltimore and Pittsburgh, it was because I thought the Broncos would be able to block them. I've frequently observed the struggles of one guy or another, but the real conclusion we need to reach is that this group leaves a lot to be desired. Nice Thing to Say About Jay Cutler Alert: I think we all underestimated how much his quick release, mobility, and pocket awareness helped prevent sacks last year.
This year, they've given up sacks at key times, often when it's been obvious that they had to throw the ball. That has been the minor part of the problem. The major part is that they've struggled to drive-block all season, and lately, they've struggled to effectively zone-block, too. Russ Hochstein is terrible, and really hasn't been any kind of improvement over Ben Hamilton. Casey Wiegmann has regressed this year from his previously high standard and gets pushed backward too much. I haven't been too thrilled with the play of Chris Kuper over the last month either, and Tyler Polumbus has proven to be just a backup and special teams player.
I think this season turned when Ryan Harris got hurt. He's one of the best RTs in the NFL, and between he, Kuper, and often Daniel Graham, the Broncos had a good ability to open holes in the running game to the right, outside. Now, the Broncos get pushed backward too much, and are very susceptible to run blitzing against their zone schemes. In the short term, they can help themselves with plays like backside smoke screens off outside play action, inviting/exploiting the run blitzing. In the long term, though, they interior of the line badly needs to be upgraded, because the Broncos will always struggle against physical fronts if it doesn't.
Now, the Broncos do still control their own destiny, even after losing two in a row. They can beat Philadelphia too, if they can protect Kyle Orton, and run the ball effectively. I really think that the Eagles' tendencies toward throwing the ball a lot play to the Broncos' strength on defense. Like Kima Greggs said, sometime things gotta play hard. The Broncos wiped the field with the Giants, who are very similar to the Eagles, so let's not lose hope that they can do it again. Remember, every game is an independent event, and what happened last week is irrelevant to what may happen this week. Go Broncos!
2. Information From My Eyes, Raiders at Broncos-
a. This is kind of information from my ears, but I can't stand Gus Johnson. I know a lot of people like him, but to me, he sounds like he learned his technique from the WWE's Jim Ross (whose name I had to look up, in case you're wondering). Can't you just picture Gus wearing a cowboy hat and yelling "He hit him with a steel chair?!"
b. While I am dogging CBS announcer team guys, Steve Tasker sucks pretty bad, too. He lacks a command of the rules, and it just doesn't seem like he prepares very hard. He makes blanket statements like, "The Broncos have lost 5 of 7 since Kyle Orton's finger got healthy, and they started throwing more." No reasonable person in the world would blame those losses on Kyle Orton, but there goes Tasker, joining the Peter King train.
PK: In six of the past eight weeks, Kyle Orton hasn't put up more than 17 points on the board. Yikes.
It's like the rest of the team is just McNulty's breathing machine. Tasker played the game for a long time, as a spunky, high-effort, overrated special-teams gunner. He should know that a lot is going on on the field that has nothing to do with the QB, and he should be the first person making that point. Hell, there are people who think he belongs in the Hall of Fame (PK evidently being among them, unlike his take on Floyd Little). Tasker should be the "look at the little things" guy, and instead, just mostly stays quiet as Gus Johnson announces the next elbow drop from the top rope, only opening his mouth to mention correlations where there's no causation.
c. Mitch Berger's punt at the end of the first quarter may have been the ugliest in NFL history. It was just atrocious, for those who didn't see the game.
d. Casey Wiegmann had his worst game as a Bronco on Sunday, in my opinion. He was on roller skates all day, going backward. I appeciate the guy's durability and smarts, but I don't think the coaching staff will want to go into next season with him as the starter.
e. The officials let Chris Johnson get away with a clear pass-interference penalty on a key 3rd down in the 3rd quarter. He facegaurded Jabar Gaffney downfield, and rode him out of bounds with his body. Let Tasker tell it, it was a perfectly legal play. He didn't remember the 5-yard chuck rule, I guess. This play was egregious.
f. Andra Davis played great on Sunday, especially on the goal-line stand. He was all over the field all day, and made a bunch of plays.
g. Mario Henderson played better than I've ever seen him play for the Raiders, especially in the running game. He was downfield driving Broncos defenders backward. He also held up very well in pass protection, but was helped by Charlie Frye's focus on getting the ball out quickly.
h. Vonnie Holliday was very good in the pass-rushing game for the Broncos, and Robert Ayers had good moments, too. The only really good rush Elvis Dumervil had, he got called for roughing the passer.
i. Don't let me see anybody blaming Alphonso Smith for the winning TD. He was picked, clear as day, by #86 for the Raiders. In a poorly officiated game, it was another obvious penalty that wasn't called. It was offensive pass interference all the way, and he was out of position for the tackle, making it very difficult. It's true that Smith has struggled as the season has gone on, but that play wasn't his fault.
j. Finally, a word about JaMarcus Russell. He can make every throw a QB ever has to make. When he came into the game Sunday, I was actually worried about it, because he has much more physical ability than Charlie Frye. I'm not ready to say he turned a corner, but I'm sure he engendered some additional belief in his coaches and teammates than he'd been previously seeing. He got it done, given the circumstances, so all you can do is tip your hat to the guy.
3. Information From My Eyes, Other Games-
a. I continue not to care whether the Colts go 16-0, and I didn't get to see much of the game, due to a 10:30 PM ET conference call with some guys who work for me in Pune, India on Thursday. Ho hum, the Colts won.
I was all over the Cowboys beating the Saints, though, and I did watch that game. The Cowboys had to be tired of hearing all this stuff about how they can't win in December, and the Saints had been trying to give away a game for about a month. The Saints had a really hard time protecting Drew Brees, especially LT Jermon Bushrod. For the guy who shares a hometown with him, the jury is in for me. He's an RTO playing out of position on the left side. I think the Saints were too greedy, and didn't do enough to help him with DeMarcus Ware.
b. I made some Cowboys fan mad back in October when I proclaimed Anthony Spencer to be just a guy. Cowboys fans need to be told when their players aren't as good as the hype around them - because the hype is so strong, most of them believe it. Anyway, Spencer was fantastic on Saturday night. He was setting the edge in the running game, and he got Drew Brees 3 times, losing one to a questionable penalty in the secondary. It was the best I'd ever seen Spencer play in the NFL, and if he can keep playing like that, the Cowboys are suddenly really difficult to handle in the playoffs.
c. I was very impressed with Tony Romo's play Saturday, and it's nothing new lately. He's been playing terrific football, with 8 TDs and 0 interceptions in his last 4 games. Lazy, uninsightful MSM idiots who fixate on meaningless trends were falling over themselves to say that Romo couldn't win in December. To most of these people, the other 52 guys on a team are like garnish on the side of the plate. It's obscene how stupid that all is.
d. The Cowboys did the right thing, cutting the cord with Nick Folk. He's been terrible this season, and when you can't count on your kicker to make a 27-yard field goal, you have big problems. Of course, the guy they replaced him with, Shaun Suisham, lost his last job for missing a 20-something-yard FG against New Orleans, to put the game away, too. Kicker seems to be an issue for Dallas every year, and they really need to address it on a going-forward basis.
e. The Lions are still playing hard, I'm sure try to secure jobs for next season. They really gave Arizona a run for their money on Sunday, but came up short, to the disappointment of my buddy Chris Dillon, who was in attendance. I was pretty impressed with the play of Maurice Morris, but I've seen him flash like this a lot of times in his career, and then do nothing a week later. The guy I always like the look of is Drew Stanton, who was a second-round pick, but never got a chance to play for some reason. He had some good moments Sunday, and looked more useful than Daunte Culpepper.
f. The Cardinals can't be blowing double-figure leads if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. I was telling my brother the other day that I thought the NFC Champion would once again come down to Arizona against Philadelphia, but the Cardinals lacked crispness for a second week in a row. They'd do well to get their act together.
g. There were a lot of interesting things to see in the Cleveland-Kansas City game, which was surprising. I had no intention of paying any attention to it this weekend, but it ended up being the first game I watched when I got home Monday evening. First things, first. I've never been a big Jerome Harrison fan, but he obviously played out of his mind on Sunday for the Browns. I have seen a lot of him over the last few years, so I remain skeptical of him. Prior to Sunday, if I had to describe Harrison in a sentence this would have been it: "He's a third-down back who lacks much power, speed, or explosiveness, and shouldn't particularly scare anybody." I think his career day was equal parts the best day of his life and the significant inflation factor that comes from running against the Chiefs.
h. The Chiefs had to feel pretty good about most of their offense's performance Sunday. Matt Cassel looked outstanding, and was hurt by about 10 drops by his receivers. Dwayne Bowe was particularly feeling in touch with his inner dropsies. Maybe it was rust from his steroid vacation? Anyway, Cassel was a positive sign again, after a couple bad weeks, and the good things he did had the look of things that would work against good teams, too.
i. If you'd asked me six weeks ago about Jamaal Charles, I'd have questioned his size and power, and also his running instincts. I always saw him as a guy who missed creases and ran into tackles. The coaching he's presumably been getting seems to have clicked lately, because he's making tacklers miss more than I've ever seen. He looks really good running out of the shotgun, which he did a lot of in college at the University of Texas. He's not a bell-cow RB, but teams aren't looking for those so much anymore. He can be a very effective 50-50 tandem guy, especially if the Chiefs could find a Michael Bush-type player to complement him.
j. You know how you can look at somebody and tell when they seem to be physically uncomfortable? That's how Mark Sanchez looked to me on Sunday, in the cold of New York, kind of like a woman looks when she's constipated. I thought his ball traveled a bit better through the wind than it did a month or so ago, when he played in his first bad weather, but his clear lack of physical comfort worries me, and should worry the Jets. Sometimes, a guy who grew up in warm weather embraces the cold, and has success in it. Brett Favre immediately comes to mind. If Sanchez goes back to SoCal in the offseason to chill out, that will be a bad sign in my mind. He ought to stay in New York, and get used to the weather. You may think I am overstating this, but he's going to have to play a ton of games in the cold throughout his career if he's going to be a 10-year Jet.
k. The Shallow Thoughts fantasy team continues to save its best work for the playoffs in the Official MHR League, and was dominant Sunday, led by Aaron Rodgers' huge day. I'm now one game from a championship. Not bad for a guy who doesn't like fantasy football, and a team which was counting on Larry Johnson and Derrick Ward to be stud RBs. I've gotten solid work from both Laurence Maroney and Jason Snelling at times, which has helped. I thought of Snelling, because I have really come to like his game on the real field. He runs hard, catches the ball well, and picks up the blitz. He's a good backup to Michael Turner, and when they're both healthy, they can really alternate physically pounding a defense.
l. I'll tell you right now, Falcons FS Thomas DeCoud is going to be on the All-ST&NO Favorites team I'll be releasing next week. He ought to be in the Pro Bowl for the NFC, but that's almost certainly not going to happen. He's very mobile and smart, and he always is in great position. What sets him apart from other good safeties, though, is that he can catch the football, and he did once again on Sunday, with his third interception of the season. I like matchup safeties, and I'm a big fan of DeCoud, going back to the 2008 Draft.
m. Kerry Rhodes got benched recently, and he looks to me like he's playing with a lot more ferocity and toughness lately. Rex Ryan had him coming on a bunch of blitzes Sunday, and the Jets did a great job all day against the Atlanta offense. If they had gotten better play from Sanchez this season, the Jets would have run away with the AFC East, because that defense is real. Assuming Sanchez improves in the future, this is going to be a team to be reckoned with in the years ahead.
n. I said something nice about Jay Cutler earlier, and now I'm going to go into semi-apologist mode for him, ever so briefly. Neither of the first two interceptions he threw Sunday were really his fault. On the first, Devin Aromashadu failed to get across the face of Domonique Foxworth on a slant route, which is his job. That's 100% on the WR to execute, especially when the play called for Cutler to look right first, and come back left on time, semi-blindly. On the second pick, the RT failed to cut Jarret Johnson on a 3-step drop, and Johnson jumped up in the passing lane and made a play. I've made this point before recently, but on a 3-step drop, the DE must be cut to the ground to clear the passing lane, and the player (I think it was Kevin Shaffer, but couldn't tell for 100% sure) failed to execute. Cutler's third pick was on him, but it was a tough throw moving to his left. He threw that one right to Foxworth. If the Bears want to do a smart thing, they'll try to hire Jeremy Bates away from USC. I don't necessarily think Bates can coach Cutler out of his well-established bad habits, but he at least knows how to put him in position to be most successful.
o. It's so difficult to deal with the height of the Chargers WRs and Antonio Gates. I don't know if I really know the right answer for stopping them. I think you need to play physical with them, and try to cover them man-to-man, but that's easier said than done. It's got to be better than letting them run the sideline against cover-2 with no re-route from a CB, though. I think Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall did pretty well Sunday, and the Chargers still got the win when it counted. San Diego is overrated in some areas, but they're underrated at WR.
p. I'd be shocked if LaDainian Tomlinson is back with San Diego next season. He was obviously a great player for a long time, but he's noticeably not the same guy he used to be. When a RB starts to lose it, you can see it in his leg drive when somebody hits him. LDT is going down a lot easier than he ever did in the past. He's like Arizona Cardinals-era Emmitt Smith right now, despite having a much shorter career than Emmitt.
q. I really liked Mike Tomlin's reasoning behind his onside kick strategy Sunday. I'm taking this from Peter King's MMQB, as I'm not sure if these comments were said exclusively to him, or were something he picked up from the team's PR people.
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you, based on the way the game was going in the second half, first of all I thought with the element of surprise we had a chance to get it, but if we didn't get it and they were to score, then we would have necessary time on the clock to score or match their score. Plan A didn't work, we got the ball but we were illegal, that was the correct call, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it.
"We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them, we also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That's why we took the risk when we did. We were just trying to win the football game. There was time left in that game that had we kicked that ball away and the half had gone the way that it'd gone, they were converting third downs. They would have moved the ball down the field on us, we wouldn't have had necessary time to respond. I'm just being honest, but it starts with feeling pretty good about the element of surprise and having a good chance to get that ball, but that part of it didn't work out.''
That makes sense, right? Even if you don't get the ball, you're cutting down the amount of time the Packers will take to score, and leave your own team enough time to answer. I generally can't stand the Steelers or their highly-ignorant fan base, but I have Tomlin's back on this one. After all, it played out exactly like he thought it would, if they didn't recover the kick. Nothing proves you right like being right, right?
But then PK chimes in with his commentary:
How the mighty defense has fallen. Wow. Mike Tomlin throwing his D to the wolves.
Sigh. Like they say on ESPN, C'MON MAN! You know what you are if you trust a defense that hasn't gotten it done all day? You're a moron who deserves to lose. I really think that this is the most idiotic conventional wisdom in football, that you have to trust your defense, no matter what. The Steelers got sliced up all game, and didn't deserve to be trusted. Tomlin had the pulse of the game exactly right. Hell, if I am him, I want my defense to know that I don't trust them in that moment, and step it the hell up in practice, and in the next game. Trust is earned, not freely given.
r. Here's a news flash for Peter King. Bryant McKinnie is not a very good player, especially in pass protection. You should never judge the quality of an offensive lineman on whether they get voted to the Pro Bowl, or were picked in the first round of the draft. McKinnie is solid against the run, but he's slow-footed, and he struggles to protect against good pass rushers. Julius Peppers did dominate McKinnie Sunday night, but it's less of a special feat than PK would have you believe.
s. I think the Panthers might have something with Matt Moore. He's not the most polished player, but you can tell he has some real talent. I'm not basing that on his results, per se, but more on the way the ball leaves his hand and flies through the air. If I were John Fox, Jake Delhomme wouldn't see the field again this season unless Moore got hurt.
t. Don't worry about Brett Favre arguing with Brad Childress on the sidelines. It doesn't matter, and these things happen all the time. I don't think the Vikings quite have what it takes to win a championship, but it has nothing to do with Favre and Childress not seeing eye-to-eye in one game. I think the only good player on their offensive line is Steve Hutchinson, and the rest of them are average to below-average. I also think Adrian Peterson isn't playing very well lately, and I wonder if he's banged up, because I don't see the suddenness and power I am used to from him lately.
u. The Giants really got their defensive line going Monday night. I guess it helps to play the Redskins, who can't block anybody. I was pretty surprised by the bad play of the Redskins defense, which has been tough all year. This game was so lousy, I barely paid attention to it after the first half.
v. Why couldn't the Redskins have run THAT variation of the Hunter Smith pass against the Broncos? That was a charlie foxtrot from the start.
4. For a straight single man, I'm a pretty good dresser. I figure I'm average looking, and I could stand to drop a few pounds, so I try to help myself by making smart wardrobe decisions. I have some common sense rules, I favor versatility and have a good feel for matching, and I never, ever wear trendy, overpriced crap like Ed Hardy. I'd give myself a B-plus to an A-minus.
So I am watching the NFL Network pregame show Sunday, and I can't help but notice the gear of the well-known sartorialist Michael Irvin. He had a pretty bad suit, and I remembered a draft a few years ago, maybe 2006 or 2007, when Irvin was working for ESPN. My ex-wife walked in, and saw him, and she was all about fashion. He was wearing a brown suit, with a brown shirt, and Christine says, "He looks like a big piece of poop." I couldn't help but agree.
So, horrible suit back then, pretty bad suit Sunday, funny memory. Then, the crew took off their jackets to do a technique demonstration, and I saw the worst part of Mike's gear. His shirt had epaulets!!! (I generally hate multiple exclamation points, but epaulets make it appropriate.) If you were in the military, chances are you know what epaulets are - if not, check it out here, where they spell it differently than how I learned in the Navy.
Okay, Mike? Unless you're going to a Troop Meeting, and making Eagle Scout, no epaulets, okay? There's no good reason in the world for a normal man's shirt to have them. Just say no to pretentious clothing. I wouldn't be surprised if Ed Hardy toolbag-in-chief Christian Audigier designed Irvin's shirt, too. The orange oompa loompa spray tan would look weird on Irvin, so it would be hard to carry the complete look.
I bet those guys' shirts have epaulets. By the way, I got that pic from the coolest Facebook fan page ever.
5. So there's big news that I have to share. I am retiring ST&NO. Next week, on December 29th, 2009 I will post my last one ever, at least as far as I am planning now. New Year, new ideas, new LASIK eye surgery on January 15th, so I won't be nearsighted anymore. The title just wouldn't make sense anymore, and like Russell Jones, I keeps it real. I plan to move my work in a bit of a different direction in the next year, and beyond.
Since I started writing ST&NO last January, I've tried to make it league-wide. Some MHR people have expressed appreciation for that, and I think some would like my work better if it was all Broncos, all the time. It's gotten more and more league-wide in nature during the course of this regular season - at first, kind of by accident. Later, I started to realize that I wanted to position myself for a more national platform, and I've gone with it more intentionally. I thank John Bena for always letting me write whatever I want, as I've been able to drop stuff that makes me happy.
In the marketplace of ideas, there's been a lot of evolution in how fans get football information. It used to be, you could watch your local market game, the Cowboys (America's Team), and a West Coast game, and then whatever was on Monday night. Now, you can watch any game you want, if you're willing to pay $400 a season for the privilege. Twenty years ago, you had your local rag newspaper, picking up some AP reporting, and having a couple Woody Paige-style columnists. I remember sitting in the front hall of my mom's house every Monday morning, reading the recaps and poring through the box scores. Now, you can go on the internet and read whoever you want. It's a brave new world, that continues to change all the time, and a guy like me has to continually evaluate my best positioning in it.
When there were just the rags, the strong written content was at the micro (team) level, mostly because it was the only particular written content, outside of a multi-sport skimmer like Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News. With the wide proliferation of the internet in the mid-90s, your average Len Pasquarelli and John Clayton emerged at ESPN.com, and the Worldwide Leader threw a ton of resources at football, taking the quality back to the macro level. In the early to mid 00s, it became much easier for people with no access to players and coaches to get information, and also to self-publish. Web 2.0 gave some people with real talent the chance to take the quality back to the micro level, where it really belongs, to a large degree.
Well, I'm a macro kind of guy who has been working at a micro level. I actually have personal friends who've told me explicitly that they won't read ST&NO because it appears on a Broncos site. It's just too much for some people to get past. You'll remember the story about the "repugnant" guy/girl from a couple weeks ago. The person's biggest burn was:
If you were as brilliant and talented as you think you are you'd be doing something other than running a niche website no one other than diehard Broncos fans gives a damn about.
As I told the critic in my response, I am very, very proud of MHR. It's the best Broncos site in the world, and I'm really proud to have been part of its rise, and call myself a member/alumnus of the site. From John, to the staff, to the community, it's really incredible what we have here, and I will always support and promote it. I'm struggling a bit to cut to the chase, which is unlike me, but you can probably tell by now that I am announcing my departure from the MHR staff.
I've decided to launch my own football site, with a stated goal of bringing MHR-style quality to the macro level. I looked at trying to convince a lousy MSM site like CBSSports.com to pay me for running my content on their site, and even went so far as to ask a friend to make an inquiry on my behalf. I've backed away from this idea, however, as I read about Bill Simmons' frustrations with ESPN's penchant for censoring his work. Everybody knows that wouldn't work for me. I'm taking the Oprah approach, instead, and owning my own outlet. I'm pretty close to being ready to launch, but not quite close enough to share details yet. Tune into next week's triumphant ST&NO finale, and you can get all the information about it.
There's such widespread suckitude at the national level, that I feel like I have to step directly into their arena, loudly and with both feet, if I really want to go after them. I'm here to tell you, I've got something for Peter King, Mike Florio, Clayton, Pasquarelli, Don Banks, Pete Prisco, and all the rest of them. Let there be no ambiguity. I am in it to win it at the national level, and I'll be applying everything I learned here at MHR, and every other resource I can muster to help make it happen. Sound the horns, because it is most definitely on.
It's Tuesday morning as I write this last part, time to post ST&NO, head to the office, and do another call with Kuldeep and Suresh in India. Have a great week, friends, and I'll see you next Tuesday for the final edition of this column. The ST&NO concept will definitely live on at my new site, but I'll be excited to have each of you with me next week, as we close this chapter of the story, and start writing the next one. Thanks for being MHR community members, and for reading my work every week. This site is going to continue to be great, and I'm just hoping to expand the universe a little faster than the reputation of the Most Interesting Man in The World, for a change. Thanks in advance for your support.