Briefs: Julius Thomas (ankle) could return for Broncos vs. Chiefs
A common gripe Broncos fans have with head coach John Fox is he leans on the conservative side. But Fox made two against-the-odds decisions on one late drive Sunday that turned the game in the Broncos’ favor…It was the final play of the third quarter, his team was down, 28-17 and facing fourth-and-2 on the Miami 41. Fox had his offense go for it rather than punt and play field position…Then after finishing the drive with a touchdown to make it 28-23, Fox went for the two-point conversion, even though there was more than 14 minutes remaining.
Going against convention (and Phil Simms) is not the same as going "against the odds." Rather, letting Peyton Manning & Co. do their thing is almost always the wise choice, and for that, we applaud John Fox.
ReFo: Dolphins @ Broncos, Week 12
After a week under the microscope, the Broncos’ offensive line responded to their criticism as they set the tone in the running game and kept Manning clean all afternoon…All five starters graded positively while backup tackle Paul Cornick played 18 snaps at tight end and posted a +1.5 grade of his own. It was an impressive effort as the line dominated from start to finish.
Signature Stat: No offensive lineman was charged with surrendering a pressure.
More than anything, the Broncos needed a solid performance from their offensive line. What they got from them was spectacular. Their reward? Heightened expectations against another killer defensive line, at Arrowhead, on national television.
While Manning always gets rid of the ball quicker than most quarterbacks, even his process is being rushed this year. And it doesn’t help that Wes Welker — his short-yardage, middle-of-the-field target from last year — has severely fallen off.
If Clady-Franklin-Montgomery-Ramirez-Vasquez is the line the Broncos are going with, is there enough time to develop the chemistry and familiarity with new positions that they'll need? Denver's next three opponents all feature terrific pass rushers, so time isn't on the Broncos' side.
"Stink" knows — Mark Schlereth says Broncos' O-line stinks
“I mean, if it’s not penetration, they’re horrible from an athletic standpoint at getting to the second level. So they lose the line of scrimmage, getting shoved in the backfield, and then at the second level, half the time three guys are shoved back a yard or two and two guys have to completely spin around because they’ve missed their guys and they’re watching the action, lantern-holding, like: ‘Be careful in there, it’s really nasty!’
Schlereth's solution: signing Richie Incognito and inserting him at left guard, moving Orlando Franklin back to right tackle, and shifting Louis Vasquez back inside.
Coyle brought over many double-A-gap concepts from Cincinnati, where he spent four of his 11 years there under Mike Zimmer, the trailblazer of modern 4-3 double-A-gap concepts. Those blitz looks—and its amoeba front cousins—often compel offenses to block a defensive end one-on-one (see “Impressive Coaching” graphics below).
Double-A-gap blitzes? One-on-one blocking outside? This reads like a recipe for another Denver disaster. Time for Adam Gase and Dave Magazu to cook up something good, and for John Fox to stop making decisions out of fear (we're not holding our breath on the latter).
Signs of decline for Peyton, Denver
He’s never had anything but a positively graded performance when blitzed. That has changed this season; he currently has a minus-6.0 grade against extra rushers. That’s 36th in the league, in the territory of Vick, Manuel, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker.
Of course, the PFF guys declared earlier in the year that Tom Brady was no longer a top-five quarterback (Insider). They seem to be offering a lot of hot takes now that they're aligned with The Worldwide Leader.
Only a few weeks ago, it was widely written (laughably) that Manning was better than ever. Now he's in decline? Peyton's overcome plenty of lackluster line play over the years, but this year's lack of continuity is something else.
Why not Shanahan as next Bears coach?
Why not Shanahan? He’s an Oak Park, Illinois native who played at Eastern Illinois. He led the Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl wins. And he somehow managed to take an inherently dysfunctional Washington franchise to the postseason in 2012.
For all of our laughs at Cutler's expense over the years, it would be pretty awesome to see these two reunite and succeed.
Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green may not catch big, new contracts
The NFL is a league that adjusts itself after a few years of data becomes evident…The first warning sign in the wide receiver market began last season when Eric Decker and DeSean Jackson, both coming off seasons close to 1,300 yards, failed to exceed $8 million per year on their new contracts.
As usual, some good points from Fitzgerald. Even if Demaryius is of a similar caliber to Calvin Johnson, doesn't mean he'll get paid comparably, especially if the league views Johnson as overpaid.
However, the salary cap figures to explode again next year, and Megatron never reached free agency, like Thomas will. What if a team with a ton of cap space like, say, the Raiders ($54.8M), makes a big run at Demaryius?
The Problem Facing Peyton Manning
The play has a target on its back, and whether through coincidence or strategy, the Broncos’ production off that and similar plays has plummeted. Last season, Denver led the league in yards after catch. This season, the Broncos are 18th in that category, and only three teams have a fewer percentage of their receiving yards coming after the catch.
Hard to say, really. The thing is, the upgrade in athleticism from Eric Decker to Emmanuel Sanders means Denver doesn't need to scheme their guys open as much as in the past. To wit, Sanders has been catching the ball significantly further downfield than Decker did for Denver. (h/t Wes)
How the Patriots kept Peyton Manning guessing
Belichick and his staff kept Peyton Manning and the Broncos guessing throughout the entirety of the Patriots’ 43-21 win. It was like six game plans within a game plan; they did a masterful job of mixing up their coverages from series to series, and even play to play.
On certain series, Revis played only the left side. Sometimes he shadowed Sanders. Sometimes he shadowed Demaryius Thomas. Sometimes Browner played deep off the ball, almost like a safety. Sometimes he played the slot. Sometimes he played press-man.
Belichick is usually a step ahead of everyone, Manning included. If these teams meet again, Denver may very well need home field advantage to pull off the win, and they'll definitely need Peyton and Adam Gase to cook up something new. (h/t Wes)