So, what do you say when the Super Bowl Champs kick your tail all the way down the street? When you’re playing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers right now, you say hello to all the company you’re in - Green Bay is playing like the champions that they are. Continuing on what they showed last season, they put up 42 points on the New Orleans Saints, won two on the road and then destroyed Denver at home. They’re headed to Atlanta this weekend, and if anyone wants to take the Falcons, I’m open. I’m not a betting guy, and there’s always the ‘on any given Sunday’ fact, but betting against Rodgers and Company right now is just a bad, bad idea.
Sure, there were things that Denver did to themselves, too. Kyle Orton had a couple of pretty bad interceptions. That’s something that’s new this year - like, love or hate him, Orton had always taken care of the ball. The fumbles (two) and INTs (six) are a concern as much because they are so unlike him with regard to the game that he’s always played. Denver could have had a couple of more TDs and Green Bay one less and the Broncos would still have lost, so it was a whole lot more than Orton, who also made some very nice throws, but the ball issues bother me.
I hate to write this, but Brian Dawkins has become a liability that hurts to watch. I recall this stage of a great career with John Lynch - he wanted to start, but Denver had given him at least one more season than he’d earned with his play and so he left. He quickly found that no one else was going to start him either, and few wanted him at all. Dawkins is early in that process - he’s a force in the locker room and he’s a brilliant mentor to the young guys that Denver has (and that’s quite a few), just as Lynch was. I will never forget some of the plays I’ve seen Dawk make and I’m grateful that he came to finish his career in Denver, but he can’t recover fast enough anymore to handle the game. When he cheats up, they can throw past him. When he hangs back, they have a gap to run the ball and run routes through. What Denver may not have is someone who’s better, but they have guys who will be in a couple of years, and Dawk, much as it pains me, won’t be around unless he’s coaching. It will soon be time to let the young guys play, but there’s also a danger of teaching them what it’s like to play on a losing team. I’ve read enough football books to know that coaches go back and forth about that frequently, and I can’t add much to what they say. It’s a danger, and it’s a potential benefit. You make your best-guess choices based on what you see, and you hope they’re right.
Would Champ Bailey have helped? Sure - having your best guys healthy always helps. Marcus Thomas might have helped, too. Champ’s still got his skills, and he’s still one of the best corners in the league. I’d like to see him become one of the best safeties as soon as possible, but Denver will need to fill in cornerback to achieve that. I saw the Packers send a running play right at Andre’ Goodman, knowing that he can’t tackle. It worked fine, too - Goodman has been a big improvement over his predecessors at corner, but watching him flail on tackles has gotten too old an experience, and the rest of the league obviously knows about it too. It’s time to replace the top corners with guys who have some experience and talent but aren’t on the downside of their careers. Teams do it all the time - Denver is going to have to. They won’t this season, of course. I suppose that we’re still in the Luck-ery, the NFL’s version of the Lottery. Stink up the league and win a top QB. It only costs the pain of watching another season like this.
There were good things, and although Orton had a couple of bad picks, he also did a lot of very good things, which is pretty much the knock on Orton in short. He probably could have had the game of his life on Sunday - it really wouldn’t have mattered. Denver couldn’t stop the pass or the run. Von Miller proved that Rodgers is only human, but Elvis Dumervil doesn’t seem like he’s all the way back, although he’s a stud for coming out and trying. I’m going to look at Brodrick Bunkley more this week - I’d like to see how he did. I had a good impression initially.
More good things - two-for-two in goal-to-go situations. That’s a very good thing that Denver hasn’t been able to manage very often. Red zone efficiency overall was 67%, which is okay, too. Orton usually had plenty of time, and that’s a nice change to see. McGahee had another 100-yard game. The other side? Kyle outran both Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno - all three had two carries, but Moreno had four total yards, Ball had five and Orton had seven, including a first down. When Kyle Orton outruns you, you had a very bad day. Ted’s right, though - the things that Moreno did right, he did very well and they weren’t the kinds of things that get much attention. No one is giving McGahee any competition, though, and Denver still doesn’t have a real #2 RB in carries; even if Moreno is very good at blocking, faking and playing receiver, he’s still not running the ball. Did he try to come back too early? Hard to say, but he’s looking worse, not better.
There is one thing that’s well worth dealing with the beating that the Broncos took. A true champion deals with teams like Denver just the way that Green Bay did. You don’t get to see all that many teams like Green Bay - they do have a weakness in the secondary, but it’s a small target to aim at when so many aspects of their team are so very good. Rodgers at his best may remake a few of the record books if his health holds up - certainly not much else will stop him. He’s got excellent peripheral vision, a quick diagnosis and a quick release; he knows the game extremely well, has very good mobility, some of the better footwork that I’ve seen, and his accuracy is preternatural. I love to see the game played that well by men that talented. Only a small number of teams ever get to that place. Denver was once one of them, and time doesn’t diminish that fact for me. I don’t like losing, but the game actually reminded me of better times.
The truth of the game is that on the day after the Super Bowl, you start preparing to go after the next one. Green Bay will probably be in that hunt for a long time - they’ve got great coaching, excellent talent with good stability and player development and in my opinion, the best QB who’s currently in the game. That’s an ongoing argument in football circles, but right now Rodgers makes a lot of tough arguments to beat. They’ve drafted well, obtained some good free agents, and patched a few things that fell in their favor, like some undrafted players who’ve shone in their organization. I admire what they’ve done. I remember what it was like in 1998 when the Broncos were wrecking their way through the schedule and you never really didn’t believe that they were in the game. Green Bay is like that right now.
It’s a heck of a feeling. Some team communities have never experienced that. Green Bay is one of the great centers of that experience in the NFL, and I’ve long attributed that to the ownership of the team by the community itself, as well as the early brilliance of Vince Lombardi. But one of the facts of life is that when you’ve experienced that kind of peak, more often than not, you’ll eventually find yourself on the other side of the field, struggling to get back to the pack instead of leading it. But I like a lot of what’s being done, unpopular as that feeling is. There’s a long way to go, but they are a better team than they were, and they understand what the stakes and the process are.
When I was learning Oriental Medicine, I found that in cultures all around the world, everyone looks at the same kinds of various diseases; some of them are local and some of which have troubled human kind in every village, nation and continent. The template for categorization in the East was a division of the universe around us into five distinct ‘elements’ - which weren’t elements as we use the term in the West, but effective divisions of phenomena. I learned that all life follows a certain path - birth, growth, maturity, decline and death. You can vary the terms to match other phenomena, including sports, and the idea is pretty much the same: Things go in cycles. They have.
In football, the Super Bowl Champion of this decade is likely to have the same kind of experience that nearly all teams do - you lose the winning quarterback, the genius coach, times change and systems fall in and out of effectiveness. You go through a black time, and it’s hard to remember that the cycle turns ‘round again. But it will, as certain as the movement of the tides and the burst of color in the high country over the early season; as the snows that come later. No one likes the early stages, and I tend to note that Bill Walsh went 2-14 and then 6-10. I’m not sure he would have lasted in today’s climate, but then he started winning playoff games and Super Bowls. Most teams have to go through hard times before they get back - SF has, and Denver currently is. There’s no need to call it any different.
You don’t see a player like Von Miller very often. They are literally going to have to build, in some part, the franchise around him because he’s something very unique. He’s talented in a way that doesn’t come around all that frequently, he’s a heck of a role model with his sirs and ma’ams, and it would be a disservice to him not to continue to add good players. They do have some who are clearly talented - Bunkley comes to mind, as well as Doom, Bailey, and some of the others. Cassius Vaughn got a great lesson on Sunday, and I hope he learns from it - he’s talented. Rahim Moore looks like a very good rookie free safety. Miller looked incredible, and Doom looked like he tried to come back a week early off his injury. Syd’Quan Thompson looked good for a young player before his jaunt to the IR. He’ll be back.
I will say this - despite the beating they took, this is a better group of players than those who were on the field last year. They’re not ready to face the champion teams right now, and the best of those teams will make hamburger of lesser squads. Even so - there were some very good aspects of the game, and it would be a mistake to miss those because the other parts were pretty painful.
The OL actually looked effective - I haven’t had enough time to finish breaking it down, but the overall impression was that they generally protected Orton much more effectively and they got a nice overall average on run carries (5.2 yards). The Broncos moved the ball well and they scored some points, pulling within 21-17 before the shootout became the blowout. When you’re essentially one dimensional on offense and your defense is struggling, it can get ugly fast. The latter part of the game was like that. So were the three quick strikes early on, yet Denver fought back before succumbing.
But you get back off the turf, you wipe off the sweat and the blood and then you take a day off. They got together to review the film of the game on Monday. You unwind, let it replay a few times to deal with it, talk about it as a team and then you put it aside and start getting ready for the next game. San Diego hasn’t looked like the powerhouse that they have been and Denver needs to steal a win at home. Some teams have a bad game and blow up. Others use it as a way to focus on the need to get better and the things that they’ll have to do to achieve that. This is a new, young locker room and they are going to need to circle the wagons. It’s not going to be an easy year, not that any of them really are.
Let’s hope they use it as motivation. I’m going to be looking at some offensive line tape, and I’ll let you know what I find.