Happy Tuesday, friends. This is the week where we start preseason football, and I’m very excited to get my first look at what’s going on. As a Broncos expatriate in Cleveland, I’ll be listening to the game on 850KOA.com on Thursday night, and then I just realized that I won’t get to see the game until probably Sunday, which is pretty lame. I’ll have to listen super-intently, I guess.
This is the incredible (hopefully once-in-a-lifetime) “2 Weddings in 2 States in 2 Days” weekend, which I may or may not have mentioned in this space. If I did, picture me smirking for my critics who don’t like me talking about anything but football. If I didn’t, it’s pretty much the same picture. Funny how that works. The moral of the story, as always, is that I do what I want, and bitching about it only makes me more defiant.
Anyway, on Friday morning, I leave at the crack of dawn to fly to Providence, RI. I’ll drive across from there to my hometown of Norwich, CT for the wedding of one of my oldest friends, Tony Orsini, to his lovely fiancée Anastasia Barber. Saturday morning, I’m flying back to Cleveland to attend the wedding of my fraternity brother Drew Saum (you know him as the guy who rigged the Madden 12 election) to the equally lovely Molly Watson. It should be lots of fun, and I congratulate both couples.
So, yeah, Sunday for the visual game experience. I think it will be the first time in about 4 years that I’ve had to miss seeing Broncos football game for a significant amount of time after the game has played, and I’m not going to make a habit of it. I hope that everybody who can see the game before me is paying attention, and is applying the stuff that we talk about here, and I’ll catch up with y’all when I can. For now, let’s get to current football events. Ready…. BEGIN!!
1. I was interested to peruse the Broncos' initial depth chart yesterday, and I considered commenting on it when it was fresh, but I had a bunch of conference calls yesterday, and I couldn’t find the time. Here are some thoughts on it, which I’ve had some time to consider:
a. I’m a Broncos fan, and I don’t have any particular allegiance to any specific player. I think it’s possible to rationally be an avid fan of specific players, but more often than not, in my experience, people take it too far, and it hurts their ability to enjoy the game if their man-crush turns out not to have the goods.
I’m going to co-sign Doc’s piece from Sunday that booing one player during a scrimmage because you prefer another is not a value-adding exercise for anybody. I prefer Tim Tebow as the starter, too, of course, and I’ve been saying that he’ll be an NFL star as long as I’ve been writing about football, but I’m not going to root against the Broncos or against Kyle Orton, if he’s the starter. That’s irrational, and I think it’s frankly being a bad fan. It’s up there with wanting to tank games to get a higher Draft pick.
Anyway, that digression aside, does anybody remember Carlton Powell? I don’t blame you if you don’t, but everybody at MHR was convinced (for some indiscernible reason) that he was the next Merlin Olsen when the Broncos picked him in the fifth round of the 2008 Draft. People couldn’t stop talking about this dude, and some people were HOT when the Broncos cut him in 2009. This was a huge misevaluation of a huge talent! Of course, Powell’s still never played a down in the NFL, through two stints with the Broncos, one with the Browns, and some time with the Bucs in camp last year. He’s now in camp with the Jets, and I see him as a big longshot. This guy fell so far from the expectations of 2008/2009’s MHR readers that I got to seeing Tweets from @Who_Iz_He and I couldn’t figure out who the hell he was, or why I was following him until he eventually put his given name on his profile.
I remind everybody of this because I want you to be careful before you get too attached to anybody on that depth chart. A fan favorite like Syd’Quan Thompson could easily find himself gone if he doesn’t have a good few weeks. I like his activity and his ball skills, so I hope that’s not the case, but if the coaches have him as a third-team guy, he’s squarely in cutdown territory.
The lesson of Carlton Powell is never to convince yourself that a fringe guy is going to be a key player until you see the guy actually start doing it in NFL games. I recently saw it starting to happen again with Mario Fannin, and like Powell, he’s now going to miss his rookie year with an injury. Fannin has his talents, no doubt, but he’s much less likely to make it in the NFL than he is likely to make it.
I get the attraction to wanting to be on the bandwagon before anybody else was, but you can miss a lot of times. It happens often with bands. I saw The Verve Pipe live as the opening act for Seven Mary Three in Orlando, Florida way back in 1996. They were getting some indie cred, and they had that one annoying song about being merely freshmen, but it turned out that was all they had. I was one of the first to see a hyped band that ended up sucking! How exciting! I’m just glad I didn’t buy a t-shirt. Last week, I saw a sucky/up-and-coming hipster band called The Joy Formidable at a free concert at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for my buddy's birthday, and you can bet that I'll never be claiming I was on that bandwagon early.
b. Speaking of CBs, Perrish Cox was miles better on the field than Thompson, Cassius Vaughn, or Nate Jones last season. I’ll be interested to see how they all look on the field in the preseason, because this depth chart would have us believe that Vaughn has made a huge move. The Jones-as-second-teamer business, I’ll believe it when I see it. He has some CB-to-Safety versatility, but the Broncos have plenty of quality bodies at Safety now, so I don’t see how that’s germane to much of anything.
c. I feel bad for Mario Haggan in advance, because he’s a good football player, but he’s not the greatest fit ever to play LB the way that Dennis Allen and John Fox want to play it. He’s over-big and under-fast for the position, and it’s like needing 150 yards but not having a 7-iron, a situation my buddy Craig often finds himself in. Easy 6-iron, or overswing the 8? Haggan is just in-between like that for what I expect the scheme to be. I suspect that the endgame is to try to eventually move him to a primarily odd-front team that loses a LB in the preseason. You could make a case for him as a core special-teamer, but I don’t think it’s a great case, frankly. The quality of athletes at the bottom of the Broncos' roster has steadily risen since Mike Shanahan was fired, and there’s enough guys available who play offense or defense to be strong in the kicking game.
d. I don’t think that Kevin Vickerson is ultimately going to start over Marcus Thomas. Thomas is much more talented, and I think that he is the most likely Bronco on defense to have a breakout season, and get to some attention.
e. I really think that this defense is going to be in the Top 10 in the NFL against the run. The Broncos have quietly assembled a ton of quality front-7 bodies, and if Brian Dawkins can stay healthy, they have that striker as the eighth man in the box. The real question is going to be how well does the pass defense hold up? I can make a case for it being very solid, especially if Von Miller and Rahim Moore play as well as they’ve reportedly been showing in camp. (Of course, I take those camp reports with a giant shaker's worth of salt.)
I can also make a case for Champ Bailey, Andre’ Goodman, and Brian Dawkins, or some combination thereof breaking down physically. I think it’s fairly likely that the LBs will continue to suck in coverage, which was an underrated huge problem last season. With Bailey and Goodman healthy, and even mostly with Cox playing, the Broncos covered the outside two quarters of the field pretty well, but they got shredded in the middle half all season.
If the pass rush is as good as I’m hoping it will be, that will mitigate a lot of coverage deficiencies. If not, we could find ourselves groaning every time that an opposing player beats D.J. Williams in man-to-man coverage again, and wondering if he was thinking more about the “dymes” in the club than the TE running a drag route against him
f. Looking on offense, I’m comfortable with Russ Hochstein and Eric Olsen as interior reserves, though I’m a little alarmed to see the sucktastic Stanley Daniels ahead of Olsen. Maybe Daniels has improved? My main area of concern is at Tackle. I looked through the list of available OTs, and while the pickings are fairly slim, here’s a list of definite upgrades over Chris Clark and Herb Taylor, in the order in which I value them:
Jared Gaither, Baltimore
Chester Pitts, Seattle
Mario Henderson, Oakland
Barry Sims, San Francisco
Trai Essex, Pittsburgh
I think that Gaither is waiting for a starting job to open up with an injury somewhere, and I’m hoping that he doesn’t find it in Denver. Pitts is a smart veteran with Tackle-to-Guard versatility, and I think he’s the ideal guy for this purpose. Henderson and Sims are kind of meh, but they are experienced players, and I’d trust them over the backups that the Broncos currently have. Essex has always been a Guard, but I think he’s got the size to fill in at RT. If you asked me a week ago, I’d have told you the ideal guy was Ryan Cook, but he has since re-signed with Minnesota after the team weighed Bryant McKinnie and found the latter to be at 386 pounds. And no, I don’t think McKinnie is an option. He’s always been overrated anyway, and his weight problem combined with his reputation as an attitude problem is probably going to keep him out of the NFL entirely this year.
2. I’ve been interested to see the MSM speculation around what the Patriots' defensive scheme will be this year. It’s really kind of alternating between cracking me up and annoying the bejesus out of me, to be honest with you. The Patriots' beat fools, and other MSMers, are speculating that the acquisitions of Albert Haynesworth and Andre Carter indicate that the Patriots will be going to a 4-3.
Bill Belichick was nice enough to try to educate the reporters that the team has always used multiple fronts, and that the distinction between using three down linemen or four wasn’t very important. He called the idea that there was a big difference a “media fabrication”.
Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald seemed to feel patronized that a football coach would dare to talk like that to the hahhhhhd-werkin media of Red Sawx Nation, so he posted an article where Belichick makes it extremely clear what he’s talking about over several lengthy quotes, and Rapoport then acts as if Belichick said nothing at all. Name, schmame. *Eye roll* You can’t get anything past me, Bill. I KNOW you’re playing a 4-3. (I tweeted to Rapoport that Belichick was right, and Rapoport ignored me.)
As of this morning, even Not-Professor John Clayton is on this foolishness. I’ve mentioned this before, but 4-3 is not a scheme, and neither is 3-4. Those are personnel groupings, and the meaning of the name ends exactly there. Belichick started down that path, in discussing how even fronts often use odd spacing, An even front means that there’s usually four down linemen, and odd spacing means that the players are aligned in odd-numbered gaps. You’ll maybe have a 5-technique DE, a 1-technique NT, a 3-technique DT, and a 7- or 9-technique DE.
Then you get into odd fronts with even spacing. That’ll be three linemen, aligned as something to the effect of 4T, 0T, 4T, despite the fact that MSM types incorrectly tend to call all 3-4 DEs 5-techniques. You can get into odd fronts with odd spacing, like what the Cowboys and Chargers have done under Wade Phillips, and like the Texans are likely to do this season. You can be even/even, with your DTs playing 2-technique, and your DEs playing 4T or 6T. The Ravens did a lot of that on base downs when they won their Super Bowl, and the Titans have done a bit of that over the years too. I think we’ll see the Saints play their base DTs at 2T alignment this year, since they acquired Shaun Rodgers and Aubrayo Franklin. Those two can definitely occupy three or four O-linemen inside as 2T guys. When Sedrick Ellis is in the game, he’ll probably be more of a 3T.
The point is, scheme is not the same as personnel grouping. That’s a very small part of it, and you have to remember alignment concepts, fundamental technique concepts, and then the plays that are designed with all of that in mind. There’s nothing monolithic about any of it, either, from team to team. Everybody coaches and schemes defense a little differently, most especially in the ways that fronts align and work to control gaps. (Belichick also interestingly talked about gap containment schemes in that article.)
Just like offenses mix up their groupings, alignments, and assignments, defenses do too, and it gets more common every year. I’ve seen the Patriots play with 1 DL and 4 LBs in Dime situations when they’ve felt that their quality was at LB. This year, I think that Carter and Haynesworth will mostly play one-gapping roles in even fronts with odd alignments, usually on passing downs. The fact that the Patriots just signed Shaun Ellis indicates that they’ll also probably stick to their usual odd-front stuff too on base downs.
Belichick gave a really descriptive answer, but Rapoport doesn’t have the football vocabulary or humility to either understand or learn from it. To him, this is all just Belichick filibustering rather than giving the simple answer that he’s looking for. The problem for Simple Ian is that the answer isn’t actually simple. If I were Belichick, I wouldn’t talk to the media much in any substantive way either, because I’d know from experience that they wouldn’t understand what I’m saying. I can strangely relate to Belichick, in not wanting to really dumb anything down. I have the same attitude with what I write on this website, and I figure that those who are smart enough to understand will understand, and will enjoy the content, and those who aren’t will read something else.
3. I had a Twitter question from one of our favorite readers and commenters SpaceCowboy (hook a brother up with a follow) about tips on breaking down film, and that’s a lot to answer about in 140 characters, so I decided to dedicate a couple paragraphs to it today.
When I watch a game live, I’m trying to watch the whole screen, and I’m catching a mostly-broad-strokes feeling. Certain things will jump out, but I really need to watch it a second and third time to really see the details. DirecTV cuts every game down to 30 minutes or less, so that’s a pretty easy thing for me to do on the average Monday night.
The second time I see a game, I’m charting some key information on each play, such as personnel grouping, alignment, and a description of the action. I’m wearing out the pause button on my remote pre-snap, and then one second post-snap. This is where the key analysis is being done, because understanding what both teams are trying to schematically do is enormous in evaluating the success of those efforts.
Are the receivers able to beat man coverage as easily as they get open against zone? Is Knowshon Moreno less effective when an eighth man is in the box? Conversely, are the Broncos taking advantage of the stacked box in the play-action game? What types of blitzes are being run by the Denver defense, to what areas of the offense, and how frequently are they running them? Is there a down-and-distance pattern to it? How much does field location matter to strategy? This data collection exercise leads to the development of a strong feel for what’s going on.
On the third pass with the video, I’ll already have a play-by-play results listing in front of me, along with my own notes, so I know what happened with the ball, and the overall play. I watch the lines specifically in the third pass, and I try to determine who specifically won each matchup. Secondarily, I’m looking at matchups between coverage players and receivers, as the cameras move to that part of the play.
Those are some ideas to get you started watching game video. Does anybody else have any other things they’re looking at? I’m sure SpaceCowboy and the rest of the IAOFM community would appreciate any tips that anybody has. Y'all say you don't like it when I make the odd non-football comment, and I haven't been making any lately, but if you won't comment on the pure football stuff, I might have to start getting some of you riled up again.
I’m out of time for today, friends. I’ll have a quickie article on Friday, travel plans and Thursday evening schedule willing, and once I get my eyes on the first preseason game, I’m sure I’ll have a lot to talk about next Tuesday. Have a good one.