Prime Cuts

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Barnwell: Broncos should avoid black cats, walking under ladders

NFL Halftime Report: The Numbers Game
www.grantland.com

The unluckiest team in the league is one you’ll see come up once or twice in this column as a team of extremes. The Broncos saw their luck seemingly bounce back in the second half of their game versus the Chargers, but they still rate out as the most fumble-unlucky team in the league, having recovered just five of the 22 pigskins up for grabs in their games (22.7 percent).

Another team with a notable strength-of-schedule split are those pesky Broncos, who had the league’s toughest projected schedule heading into the season. After going up against the league’s seventh-most-difficult schedule through this past week, no team in the league has an easier slate over the final nine weeks than Peyton Manning’s boys.

Barnwell says Denver is among the league's most fortunate in terms of defensive scores for and against, but have had bad luck relative to their opponents making field goals. Of course, Denver's altitude must factor into that.

Dual-threat formations, no-huddle have Broncos offense humming

Peyton Manning deftly directs explosive Denver Broncos offense
www.nfl.com

After attempting to utilize a conventional approach during the first few games of the season, the Broncos have exclusively featured the no-huddle offense in recent weeks…I believe the switch was intended to make Manning more comfortable as the leader of the offense. By operating at a quicker pace, the Broncos are able to limit defensive substitutions, resulting in fewer exotic schemes and pass-rush packages…

The move to the no-huddle offense also discourages defensive coordinators from blitzing; they’re reluctant to call pressures against hurry-up teams for fear of a cornerback or safety failing to hear the play call and blowing their assignment. This allows Manning to attack a static defense without the threat of a heavy rush. For a pinpoint passer with extraordinary anticipation and awareness, the game transforms into a 7-on-7 contest, with all of the odds tipping in the offense’s favor.

Finally, the Broncos’ utilization of the no-huddle allows Manning to take control of the game at the line of scrimmage. The veteran will step to the line, read the alignment of the defensive front and the coverage and get the Broncos into the proper call to exploit the look. Given Manning’s experience and exceptional football IQ, the Broncos are rarely in a bad play, which leads to fewer negative plays for the offense.

Not to go overboard on tonight's we told you so theme, but for weeks, we'd been calling for John Fox and Mike McCoy to unleash Peyton's no-huddle attack earlier within games, and were thrilled to see them do just that against New Orleans. And, like we'd also stressed, doing so did not swing the pass/run balance in favor of the air attack; as Brooks notes in his excellent piece, Manning is not all about passing - he's about getting his team into the right play call at the LOS.

Denver Peyton > Indy Peyton

Is 2012 Peyton Manning's Best Season Since 2004?
www.advancednflstats.com

Despite one clunker—the Week 2 loss to Atlanta featuring three early interceptions—Manning has been near or above his pre-2012 career averages all year long. He has been excellent with both efficiency and volume, with at least four above average games in all six statistics shown in the above visualization.

At this point, Manning is on pace for 3.29 WPA, 176.3 EPA, 4,848 passing yards, 39 touchdowns and nine intreceptions. The stellar play of Denver’s defense will keep Manning’s WPA below what it was in Indianapolis, when Manning’s play was required to win the inevitable shootouts created by a defense often resembling cheeses from central Europe. But his projected EPA would rank only behind his 2004, 2006 (Super Bowl championship season) and 2009 seasons; his AYPA only behind 2004.

None of us could have expected Peyton to perform at the level he's already reached so far in Denver. As for the reasoning (better talent than he had in Indy), well, we've been telling you about that since before the team even signed Manning.

With that in mind, now would be as good a time as any to revisit Ted's excellent series on the Manning offense. Now that we've all been intently watching Peyton do his thing play after play, week after week, everything Ted discussed there will make even more sense.

Manning not set in his ways

Morning Rush: Peyton Manning as early MVP favorite? Broncos' QB not buying it
sports.yahoo.com

“I really enjoy working with the young receivers,” Manning said. “We’re learning each other and I’m still feeling my way out, but they’re buying in.”

Exhibit A: Manning’s one-yard touchdown pass to Thomas with 9:30 left in the third quarter, which gave the Broncos a 24-7 lead. The play was installed weeks ago by Manning in practice: Thomas, lined up to the left, begins what appears to be a fade route, then abruptly breaks it off and runs a quick out to the side of the end zone.

“When we first ran it in practice, it was against [future Hall of Fame cornerback] Champ Bailey,” Thomas recalled. “He said, ‘Man, that’s an unstoppable route.’ When I hear Champ Bailey say that, it gets my attention.”  Unsurprisingly, Saints cornerback Johnny Patrick couldn’t stop it.

“Hey,” Thomas said, “we had one play that worked that [Manning] put in [during] this game.”

"Hey guys, do you think this is a good play?"

"I don't know. Let's see if Champ can stop it."

"He can't."

"Well, well, well, look what we've got here."

Fullback of the Opera

Singer makes journey from fullback to Figaro
www.khou.com

It began almost by chance in 1994, while still at Colorado, when he took his girlfriend to see a traveling production of the Broadway musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” He was so enthralled that tears rolled down his face. He bought a CD and learned the songs.

Then he got some real opera recordings, singing along in his bass-baritone voice, “kind of like karaoke.”

...In 2001, he was in Fargo, N.D., training for a workout with the Denver Broncos, when he saw a flier announcing an open opera audition for the Pine Mountain Music Festival in Michigan.
On a whim, he showed up.

“I figured, what the heck!” he says, his voice rippling into a low laugh that echoes his rich singing bass.
He performed the only aria he knew, from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” To his surprise, he got the job, plus four other offers…

...He has now sung with the Washington National Opera, the Seattle Opera, and other companies across the country and in Italy, England and Canada, plus the New York Philharmonic and at Carnegie Hall.

Who was that shape in the backfield shadows? Whose is that face in the face mask?

Porter missed time due to pre-seizure symptoms

Broncos' Tracy Porter missing time after summer seizure; hopeful vs. Saints
www.denverpost.com

Tracy Porter has been sidelined in recent days because of precautionary measures the team’s medical staff is taking after the Broncos’ cornerback suffered a seizure in August.

Last Sunday, before the Broncos were to leave for San Diego for a game against the Chargers, Porter was experiencing light-headedness and his heart was racing — symptoms that occurred before he had a seizure in August. “I had never had one before, 26 years I’ve been living,” Porter said Thursday…

...Porter returned to practice this week. He missed the workout Thursday because of a doctor’s appointment where he hoped to get cleared to play Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints, his former team.

As of Thursday afternoon, Porter still was hoping to get cleared by a doctor.
...

Good move by the Broncos on this one--both in holding Porter out and getting in front of this story.  There had been too much speculation in the last few days as to what was wrong with Porter.

When it comes to the health of players you can never be too cautious.

Former Broncos QBs not faring well at the polls

SI poll: Tim Tebow most overrated
espn.go.com

Five months after being named one of the top 100 players in the NFL, the New York Jets’ backup quarterback was voted the most overrated player in the league—in a landslide—based on a Sports Illustrated poll released this week.

A total of 180 players voted in the survey, with 34 percent naming Tebow. How’s this for a twist? Jets starter Mark Sanchez finished tied for second, receiving eight percent of the votes. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo also got eight percent.

It's been a rough week at the ballot box for ex-Denver signal callers -  Neilsen found Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn among the least popular players in the league, while current Broncos QB Peyton Manning has one of the highest fan approval ratings.

One has to wonder why Orton and Quinn, who would seem to inspire apathy more than love or hate, are on this list. With that in mind, we had our expert pollster, TJ, formulate a questionnaire to help probe the bottom of this mystery:

Benoit: Expect Brees to target Porter and Moore, Manning to go after Harper

Film Room: Falcons-Eagles
www.footballoutsiders.com

It’s hard to imagine veteran Champ Bailey getting fooled too often by Brees’ body language. Porter, on the other hand, is an aggressive plant-and-drive gambler. Of course, even more enticing than Porter is Rahim Moore. If Jimmy Graham can return from an ankle injury, expect New Orleans to create inside matchups for him against the young safety.

Peyton Manning will be looking for one man when he steps to the line of scrimmage Sunday night: Roman Harper. If he sees the seventh-year strong safety in the box, he’ll pass. If he sees him out of the box, he’ll run. Or maybe pass some more, as Harper out of the box equals Harper in coverage, and Harper in coverage equals a very exploitable weak spot in the Saints defense.

FWIW, PFF has graded Porter at -2.0 (only Joe Mays has fared worse among Broncos), and Moore at +3.3 (best on the team) in pass coverage. Harper gets a -1.6 grade, while secondary mates Patrick Robinson (-3.2), Malcolm Jenkins (-6.2), and Corey White (-8.3) have been even worse.

Of course, Brees and Manning tend to make most secondaries look rather poor, and the continuing questions surrounding Porter's health mean the Saints QB may not have his former teammate to pick on come Sunday night.

Top of Broncos’ 2011 draft paying dividends

4 Analysts, 4 Questions – The 2011 Draft Class
www.profootballfocus.com

Khaled: We’ve gone a long way into this piece without mentioning our 2011 rookie of the year, but in me choosing the Denver Broncos, that’s all about to change. Of course this class has a big leg up on the competition by having the (at this time) most dominant player from the entire class in it. Von Miller has been nothing short of sensational, and looks to be getting better the more he plays. When you add in a solid starting safety like Rahim Moore, and an underrated right tackle like Orlando Franklin you’ve done your job and then some. The rest of the class is still a little of a work in progress, but they nailed their top three picks.

Just like it was too early to call Moore and Franklin busts after their rookie seasons, it's not yet time to view their sophomore campaigns as having acquitted the job done by John Elway & Co. And there's still the matter of Nate Irving and Julius Thomas, who have significantly underwhelmed. But atop the Broncos' 2011 draft class, so far, so good.

D.J. Williams gets 30 days of house arrest

Broncos' D.J. Williams to serve 30 days in-home detention — but after Super Bowl
www.denverpost.com

A Denver County Court judge on Wednesday sentenced Broncos linebacker Genos “D.J.” Williams to 30 days of in-home detention for his most recent DWAI conviction but delayed the penalty’s start date until Feb. 7 — just after the Super Bowl.
Prosecutors sought a month in jail, saying it was Williams’ second ability-impaired driving conviction in just over five years. He also faces two years of mandatory probation.

If D.J. has any trouble killing his newly-found free time, we've got a few suggestions:

  • Work on becoming a better secret keeper
  • Purchase a Whizzinator, learn how to use it.
  • Store up some drug-free urine to save for testing, so he doesn't have to use non-human piss anymore.
  • Program the telephone numbers of some Denver-area car services into his phone, and add them to his Faves