Friday, August 22, 2008

Your Ultimate Broncos-Packers Preseason Pregame Preview

That's actually a blatant lie, this post has zero to do with tonight's exhibition spectacle at Invesco. Although feel free to tune in to get your fill of Darrell Hackney highlights. No, this is just Cecil and I having a few beers and talkin' football. Lots and lots and lots of Denver Broncos football. Join in, if you dare...

Old No. 7: As we're midway through the preseason and rapidly approaching the Broncos' season opener, it's probably time to discuss this team. Normally at this point of the summer, I'm the homer optimist and you're the gloomy pessimist. Yet when we last convened over pints, your forecast for '08 was much rosier than mine. Why do you think this team can finish with a winning record?

Cecil: It's tough to suss out, really, because it's not like I have a legitimate reason to be--so I guess I have to fall back on the "well, it would be tough for them to be any worse" argument.

Which is, of course, not true. It wouldn't really be that tough. All they'd need would be to get hit with injuries again, have the young linemen continue to fail to develop, give up a ton of rushing yards and sacks and fall behind early in what should be a more competitive AFC West. Last year they were pretty fortunate to finish 7-9 instead of 5-11.

But that, right there, is the germ of my hope--last year was bad. Really, really fucking stinky. Probably the worst Bronco team I've watched, ever, including the 1990 squad that only won 5 games, including the milquetoast product that Wade Phillips put on the field his last year here. They were a lottery team. But I've managed to convince myself that the clouds are parting.

Here's how the justification goes: last year was the inevitable shitty season that comes from rebuilding. And since we're all honest men around here, except when it comes to letting our wives know exactly how much we've had to drink, we know that what the Broncos are doing is just that. None of this "re-tooling" or "re-loading" nonsense. Nope, they are in a full-blown youth movement, aka a rebuild, and '07 was the year the rubber of suck met the road of season. They had a ton of injuries on the offensive line, they had the T-Hen drama, they had a pair of expensive kickers who were either incompetent drunks or mysteriously beloved "young earth" creationists who couldn't kick off to the 30 (I was glad to see Elam leave--whatever good he did in short range was more than topped by the terrible field position he inflicted upon us every time he kicked to the other team). But above all else, they installed Jim Bates' crazy scheme.

I can't overstate how fucked that was. We signed Sam Adams to be an anchor in the middle, right after he left a starting job at probably the worst run defense in the NFL--whose idea was that? Smells like Bates to me. How about starting undrafted Amon Gordon next to him? Same guy that they cut weeks later? How about moving a potential Pro Bowl weakside 'backer in D.J. Williams to the fucking middle--and putting the natural middle, Nate Webster, on the strong side? How about leaving the overrated Lynch on the field in passing situations? Was Bates even watching the goddamn games?

When players don't know what to do, when there's confusion, it shows. Our defense had been a perennial Top 10 for most of the decade, and suddenly...pfft. Some of that was losing Al Wilson, sure; I think a lot more of it was getting away from what the players we had on our team did well, i.e. play a speed-based 4-3 with plenty of zone looks in the secondary.

So the defense, to my mind, almost can't help but be better. I'm not saying they'll be great, because I doubt they will--especially on the defensive line--but not 30th in the league against the run bad. There's just no way. Well, there is, but I don't want to think about it.

Offensively, we were actually grinding it out at the end of last year--other than in the red zone, where we've had problems for a while--and I think this squad has the makings of a flippin' dynamic offensive side. You doubted my love of Eddie Royal, but I think he's going to turn out to be a stud, and it's pretty obvious that Brandon Marshall has All-Pro written all over him, assuming he can stop whackin' his gals around. Andre Hall looks to me to be the better of the Young-Hall combo--dig his inside running against the Cowboys' first team defense last Saturday. And Tony Scheffler is finally healthy.

Old No. 7:
We'll get to the other areas, but I must first admit--my initial reaction to Eddie Royal was dead flippin' wrong. I had heard of the kid only as a return specialist and thought we could get him much later in the draft. I saw his diminutive stature and wrote him off as a serious every-down receiver (as if there aren't plenty of excellent sub-6-foot WRs these days). Clearly he's got something special and Cutler loves him, and with Marshall's two-game suspension he's a big key to the early part of the season. So hats off to you, sir, and your unwavering faith in Eddie Royal.

Now, how's the rest of the receiving corps going to acquit themselves? Will Darrell Jackson start in the absence of Marshall? Will Samie Parker contribute? Is Brandon Stokley going to remain exclusively in the slot (as opposed to last season, when he was forced to play way too much flanker)?

Cecil: Tough to say. While I had you on Royal, you had me times two on Colbert--he's freaking useless and will be lucky to make the team. I thought hey, second round pick who starred at a big school with a big passing game, wastes some time in a prehistoric offense in Carolina with below-average passers who are all scared to throw to anyone but Steve Smith...why not give him a chance? The reason why, as it happens, was because he is not good at playing football and has been passed on the depth chart by Cliff Russell. Who, it should be mentioned, played in college with Steve Smith.

I see Darrell Jackson starting opposite Royal until Marshall gets back. When you look at the guy's career, he's been hella productive (threw that out there for all our East Bay readers, WHAT) with the exception of last year in San Francisco, and who wouldn't have struggled there? He's also only 29. I think he catches 50 balls this year. Stokley, like cognac and cigars, is best in small doses; when he's working out of the slot he's a huge mismatch against a linebacker, when he's at flanker that advantage is completely gone because corners can run with him and knock him off his routes. I don't see any way they move him back to flanker unless they get absolutely savaged by injuries.

And as much as I'd love Samie Parker to contribute--really, it would chub me out--have you heard a word about him all training camp? He's gonna get cut before the season.

Old No. 7:
As for the gentleman getting those receivers the damn ball, Jay Cutler has been really impressive thus far. Perhaps Magic Johnson helped him find Jesus, thus curing him of diabetes. You know, the same way that Magic is HIV-free. My theory on this season has been that these rebuilding Broncos can be really good only if Cutler is great. That's my idea. But then the Denver Post ripped me off on Monday: "

Anyway, what's Jay Cutler's ceiling? Slowly but surely the QB Class of 2006 is falling apart. No one trusts Vince Young or Tavaris Jackson. Matt Leinart and Kellen Clemens are stuck behind senior citizens. Cutler had the finest raw tools of any of those guys, can he take it to the upper echelon of NFL signal-callers this season?

Cecil: I think he can, and yes, I think it's entirely going to be due to the Sweet Baby Jesus. He can heal you, if only you let him into your heart.

The magical "third year in the system" idea can get a bit overblown--just a tad--but I think this year is really going to be Cutler's NFL quinceaƱera. Except that he's not going to turn fifteen.

With the receiving corps they have--especially with Scheffler healthy all year--I think he could throw 30 scores. That's obviously dependent on the run game to an extent, but I look for them to throw more in the red area and in opponents' halves of the field this year anyway.

Old No. 7: Ah, the red area: Joe Theismann's lasting contribution to the football lexicon. Let's get to that running game, and specifically the personnel in the backfield. I was crestfallen when Ryan Torain broke his elbow--he was the guy I pinned my hopes on this season. Andre Hall has, as you mentioned, been very effective in games that don't count, and Selvin Young gives them a bit of experience. And then there's Anthony Alridge, who's hurt, and Michael Pittman, who likes to hit people with his car. Are any of these guys capable on their own or in tandem to be dynamic producers? More to the point, who can get three yards via their own merits, when this patchwork line doesn't open a lane?

Cecil: That's the question--if not the $64,000 dollar version, at least in the $50-$75 range.

I have my doubts about all of them. Selvin is, I think, a great change-of-pace back, but can he gut it up the middle? He sure didn't last year. Of course, last year he was running behind Erik Pears and Chris Meyers. (Speaking of, why did anyone complain when that guy left? He was flipping terrible. He almost got his quarterback murdered in that Detroit game.) Hall can, I think, but I have no empirical data on which to base that opinion beyond my own orange-goggled fandom. Pittman looked old and slow against the Cowboys and, as you mentioned, hates babies and pregnant women. Alridge is intriguing--he led every player in Division 1 in plays over 40 yards last year--but slender and probably prone to damage. So there are questions aplenty.

Thing is, Torain can still be a starter later in the season. Since it's an arm injury, he can still keep up with conditioning. If the three-or-four-headed backfield can grind it out until midseason, help might be on the way.

Old No. 7:
Chris Myers was a bum, but you can only expect so much from third-stringers. I have high hopes for this O-line down the road, even if this year is a little bumpy. I loved the selection of Ryan Clady, it was the right direction for this franchise. I'm very happy to see Ryan Harris in the mix. Now I know that Tom Nalen is old, beat-up and a question mark, but what's with Ben Hamilton? Is he back in the game?

Also, I was pissed off when Indy took all the centers in the April draft. That's just not cool. Any chance they cut one of 'em loose? I'd still love to see Steve Justice out here.

Cecil: The goddamn Colts really did raid the centers this year, didn't they? If anyone gets cut loose, it'd be Justice, and only because he'd be sent to the practice squad. Kinda like how we lost sudden hero Domenik Hixon.

Justice, along with Mike Pollak, was my pick to be chosen by the Broncos. We knew they'd take a center, this draft was heavy with 'em, and they grabbed...Kory Lichtensteiger?

He went to the University of Bowling Green. My family narrowly escaped living in Bowling Green when my father got turned down for a job at the University. I hear it's not a bad town but it's still in Kentucky.

That said, he was rated as the second best prospect at the position by most of the sources I saw. He's supposedly better at anchoring versus massive tackles, plays the scheme well, and above all has a filthy streak. He'll fit in just fine, be blowing out Chef knees before we know it.

Old No. 7: Let's slide on over to the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. New DC Bob Slowik inherits what has become a suicide assignment for coaches. What are the odds he'll be more than one and done?

When I first heard about the promotion I wasn't surprised, because his name had been popping up in connection with the job for years. Shanahan evidently loves the guy, so I have a feeling he won't get canned immediately--unless they reprise last year's Apocalypse of Suck, and in that case the whole coaching staff should be put in the gibbet.

I really don't think they will, though, at least when it comes to run defense. I mean, they won't be great, but at least they'll be playing what promises to be a more user-friendly scheme that fits the personnel...although I don't understand why Shanny fired Coyer in the first place, only to end up with a dude who coaches nearly the exact same style: 8 in the box to stop the run, blitzing aplenty, etc. Maybe he just likes to fucking fire guys.

Seriously, Coyer lasted how long? And he was the only one I can recall since the Super Bowl years who kept the job for more than two seasons.

Tempering my enthusiasm, such as it barely is, would be the fact that Slowik has been a coordinator before. Twice. And both times his defenses were largely terrible.

Old No. 7:
We'll get back to the D in a minute, but allow me a quick aside. What's Shanahan's job status? I always hear a standard amount of grumbling that it's time for him to go, he's lost it, etc. But my feeling is and has been that Pat Bowlen will never fire him, unless he is involved in a Nazi sex scandal or something. If anything he'll just quit if the losing persists. I think he was very close to doing just that a few years ago, but the challenge presented by developing Cutler has kept him around.

Whatever his flaws, and there are many, I still think that Mike Shanahan is among the game's best coaches, at least when it comes to strategy/X's and O's. He's next to impossible to replace, because he is the franchise at every level. You're not going to give his authority to anyone outside of Bill Belichick, so you'd have to completely restructure every aspect of the organization. How long do you see him in Denver?

Cecil: I agree with you--who would we replace him with that's better?

Whatever his faults as a personnel guy, and we're all still in the dark over how much actual sway he chose to exert over the process--with the notable exception of Travis McGriff, a waste of a third round pick a few years back that was evidently a decree from Shanny--as a game day manager he's awesome. I look at teams like KC, whose fans are all just praying that Herm doesn't screw up the clock management at the end or take two timeouts in a row, and realize that we have an automatic advantage on our end.

His teams are always going to be prepared, he's legendary for the work he puts into his game plans and he's displayed recently that he's not afraid of delegating some responsibility.

As far as what his final exit will be, I share your opinion that the only way he'd leave would be to quit. Bowlen isn't a coach-firer. Assuming Cutler keeps developing, and the wins come along with it, I could honestly see Shanahan coaching until he's in his late sixties.

And if that's the case, I think by the time it all winds down we'll be looking at an almost Don Shula-esque tenure.

Old No. 7: OK then, let's get back to these tackling dummies posing as the Orange Crush. I've seen no evidence that a significant pass rush is coming soon to an Invesco near you. Elvis Dumervil is effective but not a consistently feared game-changer. Jarvis Moss had a lost season in '07 and seems a little dainty for my taste. The rest of the ends, John Engleberger et al, are grinders. I know Marcus Thomas can shoot the gap from time to time. Can this team put a QB on his ass this season, or are we doomed to witness more stress and strain inflicted on the pass coverage?

Cecil: The pass rush, or lack thereof, will be our undoing this year.

Speculation on the talking radio box was that Jarvis Moss was the pick because he was a favorite of, you guessed it, Jim Bates. Whether or not that's true I have no idea, but it makes sense--Bates liked tall, rangy ends, ala Jason Taylor in Miami. Well, Moss is definitely tall and undeniably rangy as a motherfucker, but was he worth the 17th overall pick? And a trade-up to get him? Early signs point to no, since he's evidently unable to move past 245 pounds and has displayed exactly nothing in preseason or training camp.

While I like to repeat the old saw that it takes three years to judge a lineman accurately, I have a feeling that ol' Jarv is another 1st round bust. Fuck. Me.

Crowder had some moments last year but has evidently regressed--although Bill Johnson (the line coach, not the columnist at the Rocky) mentioned that he had been "flashing big time" in the paper yesterday. Honestly, I don't want to hear about what he does in his free time and that's kind of gross.

The rest of 'em, yeesh. Engelberger is, to my mind, a waste of space. He does nothing. Ever. I don't know why he's on the team, much less starting. Dumervil would be twice the player he is now if he wasn't forced into the starting rotation and Ekuban is evidently becoming a tackle. The remainder--Larry Birdine, Paul Carrington, etc.--are just dudes.

So it may not matter that we have a better run D, if in fact we end up having one. If every stooge in the league can stand back there, clip his toenails, browse the morning paper, drop a deuce and then throw to the tight end, we'll end up getting killed.

It's the thing that could drop my prediction for the season, and we'll get to that soon, back into lottery-land.

Old No. 7: I am afflicted with a curse, wherein anytime I purchase the jersey of an athlete that athlete is immediately injured, indicted or traded. So I quit buying jerseys of current players (Rod Smith is now open season). I really wanted a custom No. 24 shirt with "Champ" on the nameplate instead of "Bailey," but I couldn't tinker with the curse. As a means of dodging its fury, I bought Champ 24 for my wife last year.

Now Boss Bailey is on the team. And I want a bookend Boss 97 badly. Should I tempt the curse? He's already hurt, and it's not like he's a Hall of Famer anyway. How do you feel about the rest of the linebacking staff? I like moving D.J. Williams back outside, I like Niko in the middle, and I like guys such as Nate Webster, Louis Green and Jamie Winborn on the bench and on special teams. Your take?

Cecil: Boss 97 would be the shizz. I say tempt it--not like he can get hurt any more than he has to this point, right? Don't answer that.

As much as the D-line and the pass rush are weaknesses, I think linebacker is a strength. Ian Gold, his snarly attitude and bad tackling are gone, thank God, and D.J. is finally playing his natural position. I think either Niko or Nate would be fine in the middle, though I lean toward Niko because he keeps his helmet buckled on. Winborn, some forget, was a playmaking demon when he was with San Francisco, and will make a super sub. Louis Green is a good backup and special teamer, and we have depth at just about every slot.

Which is good, because they'll have to make a lot of tackles this year after opposing teams double Elvis and run right at us.

Old No. 7: And now we arrive deep in the defensive backfield, which has been ridded of your boy John Lynch. The corner tandem of Champ and D're' B'ly" is wise and capable, and adding dirty ol' Marlon McCree to Hamza Abdullah seems like a respectable safety duo. Dominique Foxworth mans nickel duty, and rookie safety Josh Barrett seems like a nice pickup. I like the secondary but the depth worries me--can this unit make it through the year?

Cecil: We shall see--I'm not crazy about the depth at safety, because it drops off fast after the starters, but I'm pretty confident in our corners.

That said, I loved the Josh Barrett pick in the 7th round. He's a size-speed guy (meaning big and fast for all of our readers in the KC area) who can actually play, unlike some similar specimens--cough cough Willie Middlebrooks cough--we've drafted merely on potential. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him compete for playing time as the year goes by, and he'll definitely make some plays on special teams. Kinda reminds me of how San Diego drafted a guy last year in the same round (Brandon Siler, linebacker from Florida) that, like Barrett, was rated much higher by most scouts and somehow slipped. Siler's gonna eventually start there and I expect the same of Barrett.

I think Marquand Manuel, assuming he keeps up the level of play he's displayed so far, was one of our most important signings of the offseason. He received almost no pub, but he's been a starter in the league and he's most definitely an upgrade over John "I'd Really Just Like to Be A Super Bowl Remora" Lynch. I liked Hamza and he still has a place on this team, but this isn't junior high school. You get hurt, you can't play, someone can take your spot. It ain't fair, but neither is the tax code. Just ask Blanche AnachroFeverlist.

Old No. 7: Slippin' in a little shot at the House's token conservative--Bill Parcells would call that a Jap move. No disprespect. Did you hear that Banky hired Blanche as staff writer? Word is it's conditional on his taking an oath of allegiance to Clark Hunt.

Cecil: I'm like Admiral fucking Tojo over here, except without the ritual suicide and fancy uniform.

Old No. 7: Folks say that special teams are a third of the game, yet in Denver they've been a hundred per cent of shitty for years. The big flush finally happened--Jason Elam was shown the door, Todd Sauerbrun is no more, and the motley band of kick returners was booted in favor of Eddie Royal. Except Eddie Royal is suddenly so valuable as a receiver he may not take back kickoffs--Christ Jesus. Tell me what you know about these kids, the Matt Praters and the Sam Paulescus of Dove Valley.

Cecil: I know this: neither Paulescu nor Kern has ever proved a damned thing on an NFL field. Does that mean that they'll suck? Not necessarily--but it definitely means there will be those pains which some associate with growth.

The story is that Paulescu, who was in Dallas' training camp last year but couldn't beat out Mat McBriar--who is a Pro Bowler, and whom we cut a few years back--is better at the directional stuff while Kern, who some people had rated as the second best punter in the draft after Durant Brooks, has the stronger leg. Is there a way we can combine the two? Knit them together? Paulesckern? If I had to pick one to make the squad, I'd take...ah, fuck, who knows? We'll just say Paulescu.

As for Prater, well, I say they let him at it and give him a bit of time to develop. Elam was vastly overrated the last few seasons, as I mentioned above--I keep hearing the fossils on 104.3 The Fan talk about how he singlehandedly won the Buffalo game, but they conveniently forget that he missed a short kick earlier in that very contest--and Prater can boot it out of the end zone, which will finally provide us with an advantage we haven't had in years. It's easy for a team to drive the field on your defense if they catch every kickoff at the 35. So what if he misses a few? All kickers do, even Saint Elam.

The return game is a mystery to me. We obviously can't risk Eddie Royal's health putting him back on kickoffs, and Andre Hall is too valuable with Torain gone, so who does that leave us? Glenn Martinez again? That's awfully meh. Punts, I think Royal will stick with, and he should--he'll have more space to work with and guys won't rip his arms off like they would on kick returns.

That should do it, we need to commence sniffin' glue before this game starts. We'll be back soon with shockingly detailed predictions that are wildly wrong--those are our specialty. Have a great weekend folks!


bankmeister said...