Wednesday Musings: Closing the QB controversy, defensive aggression and BLloyd’s take

You guys handled this very well and deserve credit for it. The QB controversy got (rightfully) boring to many because the statements were mostly the same, with mildly reworded statements and a lot of capital letters on the side of the QB that some fans didn’t like. Many of the folks who complained that no one on the other side will admit to a middle ground won’t, under any circumstances, accept that there’s a middle ground. That’s all faded into Let’s Go Broncos and I’m proud of that. It’s nice to see folks getting past that other issue and pulling together behind the team. It says a lot of good about the Broncos Country community and it makes me proud to be part of it. Nice going, folks.

There have been several media reports in the past week, including on Twitter, that suggested Denver's players have rallied behind Orton as ‘their’ starter. Every coach knows to treat that carefully, but to listen to his players as well. I don’t know the validity of the rumor - it’s a rumor. Worth keeping an eye on, but hardly convincing by itself. When the coaches say so, that’s different. Since Denver has now designated Kyle Orton as the QB for the Sep. 12 season opener, the questions are moot for the moment, but the chances that the locker room are comfortable appear high. Comments like those made by Brandon Lloyd are worth considering - more below.

Orton’s won at the NFL level already. He did it in 2005 for 10 games, in 2007 for three games and in 2008 for nine games. He did it for the first six games of 2009. He’s done it with a fairly simply approach, too. What’s most interesting is that it’s pretty much the same one that the John Fox Group is working towards: it mostly consists of having a tough, aggressive defense, a multi-talented running game, a tough, rugged OL and an outlet guy or two. It’s not a small order, but a winning football team has to have them - they’re basic pieces for any system to mold, regardless of specific personnel.

Denver already has excellent receivers - they are among the best in the league (might be the best, as a group). They are developing a running game that uses a lot of swing pass screens as well as some zone blocking for the running game, which OL coach Dave Magazu has been teaching them to perfection. Every lineman loves to be set loose on run blocking and these guys are no different. Every QB needs an OL and a running game that includes an outlet guy or even two. For the first time in Denver, Orton now has them. The defense looks like it’s come a long way, too. There are a lot or reasons to be excited.

What’s Good?

The good news is that it appears the locker room does favor Orton, the head coach wants him, and so does the OC and the front office. You’re got an uncontroversial QB for the most part - people just want to see Denver win, and we all agree on that - and the front office is actively working on improving the areas of the team that are weak. I like the progress there. A lot of those areas affect Orton’s situation directly, and they’re getting serious upgrades. No one’s given him a good running game and a successful front line along with a decent defense since back when he was stumbling into a situation that was somewhat over his head at the time in 2005.  A middle-of-the-pack defense this year would be a nice step up - these guys might even be better than that, but we’ll see when it counts. All of those pieces are things that have to happen to create a contender, no matter who’s the QB. Denver is starting to look like a real team. We’ll see quickly - Oakland is no patsy and they’ve had Denver’s number recently.

I’ve trained in an art where you get thrown through the air at very high speeds. I enjoyed it, and I can tell you something - no matter how hard and carefully you train, you’re going to get injured at times, If people are tackling you (or hitting or kicking or throwing you), it’s just part of life. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a major rib injury - I did, three weeks before I had to live with and train 10 hours per day with the founder of a Japanese healing and martial arts system. I was the youngest of the candidates, and therefore would be used as ‘uke’ which is sort of Japanese for ‘tackling dummy’. I used a very strong bone healing liniment, and was finally pain free after a few weeks, and then used a whole lot more of it while he was here. Those weeks were proof of Einstein’s theory of relativity - getting though them felt like it was at least three years long. You really can’t breathe or move without pain.  It’s a long way of saying that I could identify with Orton’s situation last year. He was a tackling dummy too often. You get hurt that way.

The goal this year will be to run more and use that to protect him, which is a sensible approach no matter who’s your QB. So was Orton’s gaining of 12 lb of muscle in the offseason. To show that he was healed this season, Orton rolled out well in the preseason opener at Dallas - no one was open, but he did the right thing with the ball. He rolled out twice on Saturday against Buffalo and was successful. He needs to keep his muscle weight up, no question. That work and the plyometrics - which I strongly support - may help with the injury bug. There’s no doubt that a better performance from the OL would be a big help. It’s hard to throw when you’re looking at the defensive team photo just after the snap, after all. Considering that Orton’s injuries have come when the line breaks down, it’s reasonable to be open to the possibility that a good line and better physical training may help or end the injuries, although you’ll always see some in football.

I think that this line can be developed. They’re showing signs of that already, and it’s early. The move to focusing more on the running game seems to be helping them. In a possible reference to Stephen King’s The Stand, John Fox has taken to calling J.D. Walton ‘Trashcan’ for his willingness to get down and dirty - Walton looked good defending Kyle Williams last Saturday. The Bills may be weak: Williams is not. Dave Magazu is a heck of a coach.  He believes in a certain level of legally restrained aggression. Very serious aggression. “Point of attack wins games” kinds of aggression.

This is something I like. If your lines aren’t focused on aggressively winning their individual battles, you’re not going to win many games. Talent is important, scheme is important, but in the end, you have to be winning more point-of-attack battles than the other guy or you’ll lose the game.

Defense, Aggression and the Run

Those three things have something in common. Hostility. Focus and Attitude. Standing up to anyone.

Dennis Allen noted that he wants to punish not just the QB but anyone who touches the ball. It’s a philosophy that has a lot of advantage for Denver. It’s a very new attitude, and if the team buys in, it could be very helpful. Football has a lot to do with the emotional state of the players involved - I’ve read Lombardi, Walsh, Dungy and Belichick on that, and if they all agree (and they do), I won’t say differently. I found this statement of Fox’s amusing:

Hey, everybody keeps talking about the quarterback here. Our issues are on defense.

Elvis Dumervil commented that the team had taken note of Shannon Sharpe’s introduction into the Hall of Fame in Canton:

We saw them bringing John Elway back to Canton, the replays, the video of all the proud moments of this franchise and some of that kind of got lost. I think we have to recapture that. It means something to be wearing a Broncos’ helmet. That means on defense, we’re attacking. We’re going to play physical. We’re going to stop the run.

The offensive run will also help that. It shortens the games, for one thing. Beyond that, it’s more physically aggressive than the passing game, which by its nature is passive at the point of attack on the OL (who fall back as they defend). The Broncos intend to run the ball with two and even three backs (according to Brian Xanders, anyway) and to use that to improve play action, which makes sense. The emphasis on the run game also takes advantage of a simple psychological principle: When you have a lot of people who aren’t really happy and feel like they haven’t been well treated or know where things are going (and Denver’s had that problem for a while), there are some things that you want to do organizationally.

You want a nice, calm, experienced leader - John Fox, so check. You want to get in touch with the players and connect with them personally to foster team spirit - that’s up to the position coaches at first, and it’s an experienced group of them. You want to get them doing something that they enjoy (like run blocking) and use that enjoyment to fire them up for other forms of blocking - check. You give them a top offensive line coach - like Dave Magazu. Check. You let them run block all day long, vent their hostilities and get them on board with your program - check. You give them success, which tends to lead to more success. And that helps to improve your line, which (as we have seen) affects every aspect of the offense.

Brandon Lloyd’s Take

As you may have heard, Brandon Lloyd was quoted in Michael Silver's article yesterday. I think that of all the Broncos, Lloyd’s opinion means the most to me (other than Elway) because he’s been a vocal supporter of Tebow as well as Orton (yes, you can root for both). He’s caught passes from both of them and played with them in game settings. Here’s what Lloyd had to say:

The offense can get real detailed and creative with the calls, because Kyle is so cerebral. I’m not gonna lie: When I heard about [the possible trade], I was happy for Kyle, that he’d get out of this situation where he was being doubted and unwanted and go where someone wants him. I thought, ‘Good for him.’ But when it didn’t happen, it was a sigh of relief.

That big sigh of relief should speak volumes. If anyone - ANYONE - knows the QB situation, it's Lloyd. Sure, he's also attached to Orton because Orton fed him the ball and turned him from a bench-sitting rotational player to top receiver on the Broncos - and a lot of other teams, for that matter. They - Lloyd and Orton - are one of the best tandems in pro ball right now, which gets ignored a lot. There’s a legitimate question here:  Why do you break up that kind of passing/receiving tandem just because you don't have any protection for the QB and several other non-passing problems? Why not just fix those? They’re problems that no team can survive anyway, so they have to be fixed if the team is to win.

Lloyd also knows something that most people just don't seem to get:  He really understands what Kyle Orton means to the Broncos this year. The team has to take care of Orton, and Orton needs to deliver for the team. It’s that simple. There isn’t going to be a trade unless Orton fails badly. Right now, there are a lot of reasons to give him a chance to show if he’s a winner. If the team holds up their part of the bargain, he’s got to hold up his.

Given what I’ve seen from those areas like the running game, defense, outlet passing and the offensive line/pass protections - the emphasis on the two-back, two-TE max protect as the base formation - works perfectly for Orton’s skillset, offsetting his weaknesses as best as possible and putting him in the best possible position to win. The second formation - the  212, with two backs, 1 TE, and 2 WR also gives him a lot of options. From what we’ve seen so far, he looks like the system brings out the best in him.

Let’s hope so - winning is all that matters. Go Broncos!

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

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