Sunday morning thoughts

Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway?

I wanted to put up a brief blurb of thanks to Titans DC Chuck Cecil for sharing the digitus impudecus with the refs and the crowd - including the kids both there at the game and on TV. Note to Coach Cecil - All the families with children want to thank you for sharing that teaching moment. I understand that it’s a loss of control during a very high stress situation, but you know where you play and about those big things called cameras. I think that the $40,000 was just about right. You earned every penny of that fine. It’s pretty hard to come down on players for acting out on the field when your coordinators are making obscene gestures on the sidelines. When you show that you don’t have any control, you do a pretty good job of suggesting that your players take the cheap shots when they do, just as they were accused of. Things like that start - and can stop - at the top.

Brandon Lloyd

Last week, in addition to Eddie Royal’s 113 yards gained, it’s Brandon Lloyd leaping for a pass, and snatching it out of the air just at the apex of their only possible interaction.  The replay caught it from an even better angle, and I watched it more three times. That was sheer poetry, and I admit that I love watching this guy. Everything that’s within a leap with his body laid out in the air, something that’s barely close to reach is his. For a time, he was famous for this on one series, and next series taking plays off - for a long time, in his career. I remember cjfarls, whose opinions I’ve learned to respect, talking about the problem of Lloyd being a machine in training camp, and sloppy as a mud wallow on the field afterward.

After Brandon’s deep discussions with Orton earlier this year, the issue of taking plays off, and the other things that happen when you’re not taking care of your business of the field and in your life were all, from their own reports, talked through. Brandon was tired of that part of himself, and he wanted to make a change. Big props to Lloyd for having the inner courage to accept his own weakness and the fortitude to do something about it. Most people go through their whole lives without a single moment like that. Folks brag that ‘I am who I am and nothing can change that’. While it’s true the minute that you believe it to be true about yourself, it’s danged sad.

Kudos to Orton for being there for him, too. Somehow, you’d have to say that this relates to what happens in the locker room and on the field. When you watch the two of them, there’s a palpable connection. It’s professional, but it’s also strongly personal. It’s been my experience that other players respond to seeing the QB help someone find themselves as people, and therefore in finding their game. It gives them an even stronger sense of trust with the QB, and that comes out on the field. If they need to talk to their QB about something that is bothering them, they know that they can.

Wide Receivers

Brandon Lloyd, unleashed, is a force. Who’s next behind him on the depth chart? Demaryius Thomas, who is becoming a force in his own right. Lloyd catches enough long receptions to need to come out and get his wind back, so DT will be getting plenty of reps - when he’s not catching kickoffs. Right now, no one is stopping Eddie Royal. Good players are trying, but between the greatly enhanced physique, his innate speed and his quickness, Royal is catching with his hands again and like Lloyd, he’s snatching the ball out of the air and going straight up the field when it’s open. Jabar Gaffney has long been an underrated player who is there when you need him - like on third down, to keep a drive going, and that’s a quality that you just don’t find enough.
What fun it will be as they will be to try and stop this group - and I include Eric Decker and Mathew Willis - and what a corps it is. Take Lloyd out of the play pattern and Royal burns you. Find the personnel for both of them and the veteran Gaffney takes it on third down - man, I love that in a player. Demaryius is unbelievably fast for someone of his size, and you just don’t get balls away from him. By the way, on his receptions made he’s running just over 72.0% for 1st downs. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but a rookie making 1st downs on 72 percent his passes over three games? I’m probably just ignorant on this on, but it seems pretty unusual. 
One thing on Royal - there’s been scuttlebutt around the league about who the next Wes Welker will be. I don’t know who the media will try and anoint, but it shouldn’t be Eddie Royal. Both play the slot and they are of similar physical characteristics, but Eddie Royal is a name all by himself, and he proved it last Sunday against Tennessee with 8 catches for 113 yards. It would do both men a disservice to try and claim that one is the same as the other.  Welker has, over time, established himself as a unique player who has been a game-changer of Herculean proportions. Eddie is much earlier in his career and is starting to show himself as a player who may be quieter about it, given the small horde of excellent WRs around him. Let Welker be Welker - Royal doesn’t need to live up to anyone but himself. From what we’ve already seen, that’s plenty all by itself.
I also look forward to the probably infrequent chances for a while to see Willis and Decker. That’s not going to be easy, and they are talented players, especially Decker (although Willis made a heck of a block on DT’s 65-yard runback). Depth is a wonderful thing - Decker seems to me (and I’m open to other interpretations, of course) to be behind Royal more than anyone. The depth chart says the same thing. DT is behind Brandon Lloyd, Willis is behind Gaffney. That’s a fine, fine group. This has meant new players on special teams, once again, and once again, STs aren’t where they need to be. McDaniels promised that they would spend this past week between beating the Titans and playing the Ravens revamping the STs. I don’t recall them being this much of a problem in a long time, although I’m pretty happy with our kickers. But escorting the kick receiver and stopping the one coming at them - that’s where Denver needs a big solution. Demaryius Thomas obviously brings a new aspect to the game - the big young man may well be the big solution Denver needs on the return end. Now, if they can stop the kick receivers from running rough-shod over them, they will be in good shape.

Short Run/Short Pass?

Dave Krieger at the Denver Post had a suggestion on Thursday:

Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison said this week, “The Colts’ short passing game to Joseph Addai is their running game.”

That was something that was often true of the 49ers in the early 1980s. Bill Walsh was open about commenting that he was comfortable using the short pass as his short run game. That’s currently true of the Broncos, and I wonder how many other top ten teams do that? Might be worth a thought - Who are the run teams? Pitt runs well, but has a balanced attack, Jacksonville mostly runs, with MJD toting the ball for them so well and David Garrard playing hot and cold.  Baltimore has really made an effort to bolster Flacco’s skills with Ray Rice’s running power and a greatly improved group of WRs.  San Fran wanted to go that way with Frank Gore and Alex Smith, but it hasn’t really worked. I’m not sure that Mike Singletary’s middle linebacker coaching approach will work as well as a head coach, and it pains me to say that about one of the all-time best who ever played that position. On the other hand, I hope that he fixes it on the plane ride back from London, rather than before. I appreciate the man, but we play his team in London, and I hope to see Orton picking them apart and Moreno and whoever - the dark horse is Andre Brown, who has to learn the system in order to contribute - running behind a far more established OL. Time will tell. How does Orton like this idea of using a RB short pass as a running game?

From the same column…

Orton has been sacked 11 times in four games, six of them at Tennessee. Passing 50 times at Baltimore this weekend could produce similar results. McDaniels is no more eager to face this prospect than Orton.

“I think (lack of) balance ultimately will catch up to you,” McDaniels said. “You can play some games and kind of lean more toward the passing game than the running game, but I think over the long haul if you play a season like that you’re going to ask for trouble down the road. You’re going to get your quarterback hit and you’re certainly going to get played differently.”

Why bring it up now? Simple. First, if Denver doesn’t get its OL back together quickly, Orton could be hurt again through no fault of his own, and the team can’t afford that. 11 sacks already is too many, as everyone agrees. It’s kind of fun to see the media, which had Orton’s bags packed and a plane ticket waiting for him at this time last year, and again this spring, now understanding that he’s the best hope Denver has this year, and perhaps for some years to come: he’s one of the best in the game right now, too. The OL has been plagued with injuries and bad luck since the beginning of the year (and last year, too) and Orton has, finally, picked up a game and put it on his back. QBs aren’t called on to do that often - I hope this doesn’t come along again for quite a while. Let’s also listen to the silence from those who have in the past claimed that he couldn’t do that.

With Denver, the short pass is a necessary option. The good news is that Kyle is throwing the short, intermediate and long passes beautifully, which is keeping Denver in games that they wouldn’t have a chance in otherwise. It’s not just one player, either - it’s everyone. It’s the problems with the OL and the ways that they are getting resolved.  It’s the RBs - Buckhalter, and Maroney, who made as bad a first impression as I’ve seen a veteran make in a long time (LaMont Jordan comes to mind).  But there has to be a solution, and quickly.

And according to Charles Robinson at Yahoo! “he’s doing it largely with wideouts who likely wouldn’t be considered even in the top 20 of the NFL’s best.” That’s a stunningly badly researched statement. Brandon Lloyd is ranked second in yards behind Reggie Wayne, with 454 to Wayne’s 456, but Lloyd also has 4.4 yards per catch more than Wayne does - 18.2 to 13.8. Lloyd’s 1st-down percentage is 88% - that’s not a typo - to Wayne’s 72.3. Eddie Royal ranks 13th with 299 yards receiving, 60% 1st downs and 12.0 YPC. Lloyd and Royal are tied for 9th-best with 25 receptions each. That old saying, it ain’t bragging if you can do it, should be changed - he’s a top-20 receiver if he’s ranked 13th by yards and 9th by receptions. The sloppy approach to sports writing can get as much boring as frustrating. If Brandon Lloyd ranks 2nd in terms of yardage, but 1st in several categories, why could he not be a top 20 receiver? The statement defies logic.

As far as the OL goes:  Let’s hope that’s behind the Broncos and that Ryan Clady, Stanley Daniels or Zane Beadles (whoever emerges with the LG slot), JD Walton, Chris Kuper and Ryan Harris. That, by itself, would be a lot of help. And, right now there’s a perfect example of the alternative playing itself out in Chicago.

Pass the Block

The Chicago Bears, at 3-1,  have run the ball the least of all of the winning teams in the NFL. Certainly, there are multiple reasons. They expected a lot more out of the pairing of Chester Taylor and Matt Forte in terms of protecting Cutler.  Taylor isn’t on the injury report - I had to look to make sure - but he’s not protecting his QB well enough either. When you’ve received 9 sacks in a half, you’re not doing your jobs.  Investment supreme Julius Peppers is holding up his end of the bargain with Chicago, however. He’s a player who reminds me of that quality in Brian Dawkins - the radiating, sheer joy of playing the game is something that makes each game worth watching.

Mike Martz has a long-term reputation for getting his QBs injured, and so far, Cutler is moving down that slide quickly. He was on the receiving end of nine sacks in one half, ending with a final tackle that bounced his head off the turf like an oversized racquetball and left him with a concussion. He won’t start this week. I know the OL has problems, but this is really more of an issue of how you do - and don’t - build a team and build an offense. Start with a LT, a QB and your CBs.  Add them to a functioning OL and your RBs. Some would do receivers first or at the same time - I’d have no argument with that. But Chicago doesn’t really have a LT or a quality OL, and they’ve been touting Chris Williams for a while now. He’s been injured, but he also hasn’t looked like the kind of LT that Martz needs and Frank Omiyale wasn’t good at guard, and isn’t good at tackle. He wasn’t in Carolina, either. If Cutler is going to use 5- and 7-step drops to throw the long ball, he needs time. Right now, he doesn’t have it. If you don’t have the OL for it, you need to use Taylor and Forte in a pro set and max protect with those talented TEs that you have. Otherwise, you’re in deep trouble. If the defense can still come up the middle, you’re in even worse trouble. These are among the concerns that informed fans, pundits and players were talking about when Martz took the reins of the offense in Chicago.

This is what Charles Robinson had to say about it:

“What Sunday’s half of football reminded me of is actually far more frightening. It reminded me of Kurt Warner(notes) talking about his head not being entirely right after suffering so many hits in the system of Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Go back to 2002 and 2003 and look at the film of Warner getting constantly decked. Years later, Warner would look back with a strong feeling that those hits, and some of the resulting concussions, accounted for the five-year donut hole in his career, when he inexplicably played like a middling journeyman. (Emphasis mine).

It wasn’t until 2006 that Warner felt completely healthy and simply “all there” again. And the result was him returning to his Hall of Fame-worthy form. It’s worth thinking about in terms of Cutler. Anyone who watched him for his first 3½ games this season knows that despite the early success, he has already taken a significant amount of punishment. At first, it seemed admirable. But after seeing him look so physically odd in the second quarter against the Giants, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it’s just plain dangerous.”

Robinson isn’t alone in his concerns. Remember, the growth of understanding of the severity and dangers of multiple concussion syndrome have only recently reached the NFL. Like Cutler or hate him, having him lose 3-5 years out of his career to something like what Warner experienced is totally inappropriate. The issues of poor blocking will lose you a ball game - and/or a QB. Looking at how the Bears didn’t handle the Giants, and what it might mean is an ugly thing. If you tie together two concepts - good blocking and short drops - the issue of the use of the short pass as a short run has its possibilities. Opposingly, the short pass has to be just that - short. If you move into anything beyond a 3-step drop, the advantage is lost to this type of approach. You can just stand up with the ball and make the throw - a one-step drop, sometimes called a smoke route. You can use the normal 3-step drop routes and still maintain that approach. However, 5- (and 7-, when the play calls for it) step drops bring with them the issues of QB safety. Yes, historically, Martz has a reputation for getting his QBs injured. It could be overstated, and probably is at times, but when you look at games where you’re QB is taking 9 sacks and a concussion in a single half, you’re past the point of balance. Your OL isn’t good enough, your QB isn’t getting the ball out fast enough, the protection isn’t that good, the routes are taking too long to manifest and/or all of the above. It’s time to go back to designing the offense, and Martz has alluded to considering just that this week. He needs to - just as Josh McDaniels didn’t have the depth to make it through 2009 without a losing streak at the end, Martz doesn’t have the players to run his offense. It’s the GM’s job to make sure that the coaches and coordinators have the players that they need, and it’s often not a one offseason process. the problem that you run into with Martz’s system is that while you’re implementing it, you can lost your QB for a long time.

Coincidently, Josh McDaniels is in the same boat, if slightly less severely leaking. He, too, has talked about changing - but the STs, this time - mostly in terms of personnel, this week. The Broncos’ scheme seems functional, but many of the players break gap discipline when it looks like the 1st tackler(s) reach the ball carrier. That’s something that has to stop. A broken tackle, a hit from behind that the ref didn’t call or just drifting over from your lane to the next in anticipation of something that doesn’t happen will give the opposing team a quick 6.

Money for Nothing

One more ‘news story’ this week is the one describing a long-time fault with some of the big-money players. They sign the big contract, take a little time to enjoy that feeling and they take plays off. This was brought up because Randy Moss’ name was back in the media, with pundits claiming that they are quoting players who cannot be named (if you see a jersey with ‘Voldemort’ on the back we’ll know who it is) who in turn say that Moss takes plays off. He’s had that follow him for a long time. He still has players around him make the comment. Since Moss has as much natural talent as nearly anyone in the game, it’s unfortunate that he’s willing to act out or give less than full effort, assuming that these stories, which have followed him throughout his career, have some degree of truth.

It seems to me that I’d probably take some offense if I was on his side of the field when I needed a block, chip or rub to nail a completion and had my teammate lounging just a little too much. Why is it that some players with remarkable skills can’t keep giving full effort? I grant you that I’m prejudiced - I grew up with the likes of Sayers, with the likes of Dick Butkus and Walter Payton, not to mention Mike Ditka and Mike Singletary. You just didn’t coast around players like that. You had Dan Hampton in your face, you had Steve McMichaels and Richard Dent pushing to to do more, you had Walter Payton swearing that he never ran out of bounds because he could get 2-4 more yards by hammering and falling forward and daring you to do the same. You had men around you who didn’t consider taking plays off. I’m sure that, human nature what it is, there were guys out there who did malinger - Doug Plank, #46, after whom the Bears 46 defense was named, and who was also perhaps the dirtiest safety to every play the game, comes to mind. But you came away from a game, won or lost, with a feeling that they’d left it on the field. I’d hate to lose that feeling. I’m just starting to feel it again with Denver. It’s a good start. The Baltimore game will be a great way to judge their progress.

By the way, on Randy Moss? In 2006 both the Chargers and the Giants had success taking away Randy Moss using Cover-1 and sending 5 pass rushers. I doubt that Moss has lost much over the last 5 years, but this was a very successful approach when he was a little faster. It might be still.

It’s Ravens time, Broncos Fans. Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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