Thoughts on a Broncos loss

I’m sort of an instant football analyst, which has its pros and cons.  Often, I’m way ahead of other observers in noticing things, and pointing them out, which is a pro.  Sometimes, I see JaMarcus Russell look really good in a preseason game, and it leads me to opine that he’s turning the corner as an NFL QB, which can end up being a con.  For me, it works out more often than not, because I’m a very sophisticated observer of the game, and because I’m always accountable for thoughts that turn out to be wrong.  Not to be immodest, but I know vastly more football than the average person, so I don’t mind admitting a mistake when I was almost always the first to the party saying anything.

A lot of average persons, and no doubt, some below average ones, have been providing some “instant analysis” on Twitter about yesterday’s Colts-Broncos game.  I was going to take a screenshot of some of the foolishness, but I decided that I didn’t want to put anybody specific’s name on the lines of thinking that I am about to completely eviscerate.

First, I’ll give you a paragraph or two of my own high-level analysis.  The Broncos lost yesterday against a good football team with an excellent QB and overall program.  I’m not surprised  in the least, and in fact, I thought it was 75-80% likely that that would be the outcome before the game ever started.  I think most other reasonable people probably did, too.  The Broncos are building a nascent program, and the Colts are running a mature one.  Both teams were missing some key players, which essentially added up to a moderate quality deficit for the Broncos.  (If you read the “storylines” from a lot of the Target booksellers today, you’d think it’s only the Colts who had any injury problems.  Goodman, Moreno, and Harris > Garcon and Charlie Johnson.)

I would have loved for the Broncos to get a win yesterday, but I’m satisfied with the good showing that they put forward.  They proved that they are a good enough team to beat Indianapolis if they execute well.  Their quality is now good enough, and their scheming is absolutely good enough.  Their execution was about 85% good enough, but that 15% was enough to make them fall short against a team that was essentially undefeated until the Super Bowl last season.  That’s what I take away from yesterday’s game.  It’s a loss, but it’s the kind of loss that had evident progress to it, and it’s the kind of loss that winners build on.

The Broncos game plan, both offense and defense, was just outstanding yesterday.  On offense, they ran a lot of play action with max protection, and it stretched the Colts’ Cover-2 vertically, which really stressed them.  Forget the fact that the Broncos were ineffective running the ball; they tried enough, and pretended to try enough to get a lot of value out of it.  They realized, and now the whole NFL is going to realize, that the Colts are extremely worried about their ability to stop the run with 7 players.  Because of that, they put an eighth guy in the box every time they saw a run look, which is what  opened up so many routes downfield.  The Broncos got a ton of one-on-one matchups with their scheme.

Speaking of the passing scheme, I’ve been wondering who was going to be second to the party in talking about its value, and I was glad to see that Phil Simms, a very smart football guy, was on it.  He didn’t get into a lot of depth, but it was clear that he is impressed with how it all comes together.  Their pass protection was better schemed and executed yesterday than it has been all season, as well.  I’m telling you, the McDaniels bandwagon is the one to be on.  I’m not the only one who thinks so, either:

The scheme was 100% on point Sunday, on both sides of the ball.  The game came down to execution, which is pretty much a zero-sum game.  By that, I mean that outcomes on a given play are either positive or negative, and one team has a positive, the other a negative.  In some key situations, the Colts won the battle to execute.  Think of the Laurence Maroney run on 4th and goal, for example.  He failed to get the ball into his upfield arm, so he couldn’t reach the goal line when he was wrapped up perfectly.  A player (and team) won that play, another lost that play.  There were a ton of plays Sunday where the Broncos won, more than the Colts.  The Colts were just better at maximizing the effect of their wins, and that’s something the Broncos will get better at.  They already are better at it than they were last year, if you ask me, but it’s a process that takes time.

I had a guy tell me yesterday on Twitter that Kyle Orton lacks killer instinct, and that the Broncos will lose games because of it.  I literally started laughing out loud.  (When you text LOL, were you generally REALLY Laughing Out Loud?  Me neither; generally, I’m in a meeting or something, trying not to get noticed that I was texting, and keeping a poker face on.)  Seriously?  Killer instinct?  Isn’t that a WWE-coined term?  Can a football fan presume to know a player’s instincts?  When Orton converted 14 of his first 17 third downs against Seattle, there was nothing wrong with his “killer instinct.”  (Let’s just all agree not to use that term, mmmkay?  Nobody is killing anybody.)

Kyle Orton is not a game manager, so let’s end that MSM-aided stupidity.  He’s a player with every talent needed to be an elite QB, with the exception of good foot speed.  He’s like a slightly less accurate version of Tom Brady, and his accuracy has improved a lot in the last two seasons from where it was in Chicago.  At this point, Orton is refining his ball placement, which is like the hidden accuracy within accuracy.  Orton’s deep ball is improving too, just as Brady’s did.  Most don’t remember this, but Brady was once called a check-it-down game manager, too.  It’s amazing what some weapons and an outstanding scheme will do for you.  I’m here to tell you, Orton looks like the long-term answer at QB to me.  I don’t have a horse in that race, really, but I think anybody is going to have a hard time beating him out, the way he’s playing.  He’s going to shred Tennessee next week; their pass coverage is really bad if you can protect your QB, which the Broncos will be able to do.

Across the #Broncos hashtag on Twitter last night, there were endless calls for Orton to be benched, and for Tim Tebow to start playing.  That is 100% absurd, and I’m a guy who really likes Tebow, and thinks he’s going to be very good someday.  (Maybe somewhere else, but somewhere, anyway.)  Quite simply, if you think Orton is the problem, you’re confused.  He’s playing at a level that is just outside the elite of the NFL, and that next step is one he can take with some more help from his teammates.  The defense the Broncos faced yesterday is expressly designed to prevent what the Broncos did to it, and it couldn’t.  I always thought of the Broncos fan base as being educated and loyal, but I think that was at least partly due to familiarity bias, since most Broncos fans who I know are both things.  There sure are a lot of idiots and alarmists (and alarmists who are also idiots) out there.

The simple truth to yesterday’s game is that the Broncos were out-executed in the scoring area, and they turned the ball over twice.  That’s the whole story.  The team that knew how to win won, and the team that’s learning how to win lost.  It was predictable, folks.

The same person who criticized Orton’s innate qualities as a professional wrestler also said that the Broncos “can’t” score inside the 20.  I would say that they didn’t do it yesterday, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t.  They’re going to need to run the ball better to force defenses out of Cover-2, and into man-to-man.  Cover-2 in the scoring area is tough to beat, because it ends up playing much more like Cover-7.  The shorter area to cover packs in the seven coverage guys, and gives them all smaller areas to be responsible for.  That’s how defenders get hands on well-thrown balls, and make them fall incomplete.  It’s not too different from how defenses cover Hail Marys in the end zone; crowds make it tough to complete passes.  When Ryan Harris returns, and the improving Zane Beadles is able to move to Left Guard, the Broncos will be able to run the ball much better, especially if Knowshon Moreno gets healthy and on a decent roll.

That improvement in the running game will cause defenders to put an eighth man in the box, and play man-to-man outside, and the Broncos will have no problems scoring Touchdowns against that kind of defense.  Saying the Broncos can’s score inside the twenty is a bit like saying current unemployment in America is structural.  It makes you sound thoughtful and nuanced to people who don’t know any better, but in the end, it’s demonstrably wrong.  (Saying that Orton throwing for 476 yards against a fast defense that’s designed to limit the passing game doesn’t matter is just too stupid for words.)  The 2010 Broncos are a work-in-progress, but I agree with TJ Johnson at that this team is better than the 2009 Broncos, and that the early-season records aren’t a true indicator of quality, year-over-year.

The Broncos need to execute a bit better, but they’re good enough to beat any team in the NFL on any given Sunday.  They’re one more talent acquisition cycle from being an elite team, but when the 2011 season begins, they’re going to be one.  This year, they’re going to compete for a playoff spot, and I think they have a good chance to get in there.  The early pains of the McDaniels program installation will have been worth it, and maybe people will even be civil to each other on the Denver Post message board.  (Probably not, but you never know.)  All the instant analysts who called for McDaniels to be fired, or for Orton to be benched will have been wrong, but unlike me with JaMarcus The Hutt, and other things I had wrong, they won’t ever admit it.

Originally posted at One Man Football

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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