Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Matriculating Toward Mile High

As you know, it's Tradition Week here at the HoG, and we're preparing for Sunday's Chiefs-Broncos showdown at Invesco. Cecil is furiously hiding the porn in his guest room, while Banky and I pack our toothbrushes and brass knuckles to travel to Denver this weekend.

In between loads of laundry, Bank and I launched a discussion on the state of the rivalry. This is said discussion:

Bankmeister: As much as I'd like to dive right in and discuss how gay your football club is while reminding you that mine is still awesome, we must first chat about this flippin' division. One of our recent guests said that it's simply the AFC West's turn to stink this year. I imagine he's right, but it irks me like bad drivers. If I had to tie a ribbon around a theme, it might read something like "winning games you're not supposed to, and losing contests you shouldn't." I think to a degree, this applies to all four West clubs, with Oakland being, as usual, the biggest exception.

Denver, for example, beats Tampa, New Orleans, and Atlanta, but drops games against Oakland and Kansas City. The Chiefs had a stretch of games from late October through mid-November where they, as underdogs, could've beaten all four opponents but didn't. And San Diego is darn near impossible to figure out. Tell us, if you would, your thoughts on the state of the division.

Is Denver simply trying to establish an identity? Will the re-building program in KC pan out? Does the mystery of the Chargers get hung solely on Norv Turner? What about Oakland? Can you see any chance that Tom Cable gets the interim tag removed?

Old No. 7: This division is truly awful, but I think it's just a victim of timing. Oakland and KC are in full lottery rebuild mode (actually, Oakland is in Waiting-For-Al-To-Die mode) and are hoping they can retool through the draft. Those efforts have yielded some sharp young players, but any real success is several seasons in the future, with new coaches. Cable is nothing more than a linebacker coach who's keeping the seat warm, but no real coach in their right mind would sign on for that gig. And while the Bill Cohwer Mirage is really played out, an actual NFL coach could turn your Chiefs into a contender pretty quickly.

Denver is, for the first time in Shanahan's tenure, actually rebuilding with youth, but a funny thing happened on the way to 6-10. Two funny things, to be exact. One, the gang of kids they brought in turned out to occasionally act like old hands--someone needs to carbon-date Eddie Royal's DNA and make sure he's not actually a genetically reengineered Keenan McCardell. And two, the window of opportunity slammed shut on San Diego, for reasons I'll get into in just a few short sentences. Do the Broncos still lose plenty of games they ought to win? Of course, they're young, inexperienced and prone to making dumb mistakes. But at the same time that inexperience means they can walk into the Meadowlands against a bunch of graybeards and kick their old asses soundly. They have no fear.

As for your would-be division standard-bearers out there in San Diego, a few nefarious trends are working against them. Norv is indeed spectacularly ill-equipped to run this or any other NFL franchise. His players don't respect him, which leads to a breakdown in discipline. But beyond that, the foundation is crumbling. Injuries have slowed onetime megastars like LT, Merriman and Gates. Many of the role players, the Michael Turners and Marlon McCrees, have moved on to get paid. And Phil Rivers is not the transcendent leader that, say, Eli Manning is. How's that for ironic? And beyond all that, the Chargers just don't do the little things an elite football team needs to do. They commit stupid penalties, they don't exploit matchups, and they give a lot of games away to team they should beat.

B: Fair enough. Let's stick with Denver for a second. After Installment One of this year's Tradition, we took our precious time vacating the lot, enjoyed some beverages, and listened to your thesis on how Jay Cutler needs to be excellent every Sunday in order for this team to win. You added, with admirable accuracy, that this team is a high-powered, finesse offense that has, to some degree, gone away from the smash-mouth, run-it-down-your-throat approach to football. Right now the numbers agree with you: The Broncos are third in the league in overall offensive yards, second in passing, and 19th in rushing. Some might argue, however, that this team needs to find more of a balance in order to have success beyond the crappiness of our division; be it this year or next, they've got to incorporate more yards on the ground. Obviously, it's been an awful year for your backfield injury-wise, but who's gonna be the man? Will it be Torain, or will Selvin Young eventually return to the stage of flashiness that he occasionally showed last year?

Also, how has the Denver defense progressed -- if at all -- since the season's beginning? Are they a smidge better? Worse? Stayed the same?

7: Right off the bat, allow me to submit a big fat mea culpa for being a giant moron. I completely whiffed on pretty much every aspect of this season, with the exception of Jay Cutler's indispensability. I thought the Broncos had a very average draft, when in actuality it may turn out to be the finest in franchise history (actually, don't click that link, I beg you--it's the most ignorant thing that's ever appeared in this space and that's saying a lot). I bought the conventional wisdom that Ryan Clady was a Wonderlic dummy, yet he looks like a perennial All-Pro. I was mortified by the idea of drafting Eddie Royal in the second round, and he's currently my favorite human being on the planet. Even bigger, I saw this team at the outset of the season as a complete bust that would finish well south of .500. I've been loudly and deservedly mocked for these pronouncements, which is the danger in posting my thoughts on such a prestigious and widely read publication as the House of Georges.

I'll say it loudly and proudly: I fucking LOVE the 2008 Denver Broncos. You call them gay, you heartless homophobe, but I'll admit in public that I am gay for this team in sick and twisted ways.... It may go down as one of my favorite Bronco clubs of all time, but not because they're excellent or anything. In the immortal words of Jim Mora, we might not win another game. Playoffs? You kiddin' me? No, I love these guys because they play with fire and they've so wildly exceeded my expectations.

As to your specific questions, there's no doubt this offense needs more balance. I'd like to think that the young Bronco O-line is currently more adept at pass protection than the ancient dark arts of zone blocking, and that by next season the old running attack will return. That may be myopic optimism on my part, though. It may be closer to the truth that we'll see a simple, straightforward drive-blocking offense that requires an actual stud tailback, not the dozens of retreads and castoffs that have platooned together gaudy rushing stats under Shanahan. From your standpoint, that would be a travesty, as it would disarm one of your trusty old chestnuts--that the Broncos only win because they are cheating cut blockers.

Regardless of the scheme, Ryan Torain clearly seems like the best candidate for success. He also seems to suffer gruesome injuries at the mere sight of a football field, unfortunately. I like Selvin, but I doubt he could carry the load on his own, which is by no means a criticism. Both the old-school football fan and the fantasy geek in me love the idea of a single dominant rusher, but I don't care how many RBs rotate--a yard is a yard.

I've quit trying to prognosticate what might remedy the Broncos' maddening defense. I really don't know if Bob Slowik is a genius for coping with myriad injuries and personnel changes or a dope who'll get canned like every other DC to pass through Dove Valley. I know that Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams are legitimate monsters who dominate when healthy, but the rest of these suckers baffle me. Is Elvis Dumervil a legitimate NFL defensive end or a circus freak? Beats me, he plays under a different system every season and faces a constant double team. He could be great, or he could be a bum, and neither would surprise me.

The one thing I'm sure of is that Denver needs someone to play safety with competence. They missed out on Gibril Wilson and Madieu Williams during the free agency period, but neither of those dudes is necessarily lighting it up. Draft the position early and often, preferably choosing gentlemen represented by neither Drew Rosenhaus nor the National Rifle Association.

Now let me ask you, sir: What's the scoop on Tyler Thigpen? Will he be your starter for the 2009 season opener?

B: As much as it saddens me to answer your questions -- I thusly miss out on opportunities to be called a white supremacist, a homophobe, a misogynist, and the like -- I will do it. I can see why you find yourself in the throes of a bro-mance with all 53+ Denver Broncos of the 2008 variety only because they are a new variety of Denver football, and indeed have exceeded your expectations. Mine, on the other hand, are still in tact, as I predicted these boys to go 10-6, San Diego winning the division notwithstanding.

Tyler Bobby-Yancy Thigpen, however, is a bird of a different feather. I can't really say that there's a scoop to be had on him. He looked miserly and mentally crippled when I watched him stumble around on your television, and he then saw his replacements who he replaced get mowed down in front of a firing squad, which handed him the job. He had that month of great football, and some of that credit goes to the Inverted Vagina Symbol for getting himself benched for said four weeks; it forced the Chiefs to move away from run-run-run-punt and see what this Coastal Carolina kid really had. The other goes to Chan Gailey for developing an offense for these Chiefs, one in which he knew Thigpen had experience. And I'll note that it is here that I totally whiffed in thinking that Gailey was yet another re-tread, another excuse for HermBall to continue to redefine terrible, and strengthen the stock of Chief Laughingness.

Now, he played relatively poorly against the Bills, but the team as a whole shit the bed with fire-hydrant pressure, and the experience of an army of nursing-home sphincters. Last week against the Raiders, he lofted a couple of oh-shit! balls into the air, and only one was picked, thanks to the massive ineptitude of everything that is Oakland football. What I like about him is that he's taken pretty darn good advantage of this opportunity, and wrapped a whopper of confidence around it. I didn't see that coming. At all.

What I really like is his ability to hit Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley, Jamaal Charles, the greatest tight end in NFL history, and on occasion, Devard Darling, with accuracy and minimal predictability. He has the same knack in doing so as pre-concussion Trent Green, plus he throws fewer picks, overthrows guys with less frequency, and, even if his legs were stumps like that dude on the Cleveland Brown sideline a couple of years ago, he's faster than Old No. 10.

In length, then, there is no way in the thick of all-night bars and greasy fat chicks that he is not the starter next year. Many think this upcoming draft to be thin at quarterback; those that may come out are young and allegedly non-faces of non-futures, so I think it's his job to lose, and I don't see any slingers coming in to really challenge him. I suppose there's always the occasional surprise; we've not yet seen the arm of Mike Cox under the scope, but that's an animal I doubt you want to wrestle right now.

7: Dude, that's really gross. Mike Cox is sensitive and needs a warm, moist place to hide once in a while. I'm glad you found a couple nice things to say about your ballclub, because you were starting to worry me for a while. This is football, not rocket surgery, and there are multiple ways to win games.

I'm with you with Thigpen--he's got a spark and plays hard. He could be a QB that helps lift you from the depths of Detroit Lions country, but I wouldn't get too complacent. If a quarterback is available you've got to take a shot, either drafting a college kid or nabbing a veteran like McNabb.

Before we get too deep into X's and O's, though, I have to ask: You didn't really want to win last week, right? I know you were dying for the 2-14 season that included a sweep of the Broncos. That would pretty much be the dream scenario for this blog in terms of comedic material. I love teams that suck with a little flair. Anyone can be horrible, but to be horrible AND funny is really difficult.

B: Look, dude: I want my team to win just as often as you like your pillow-biting Broncos to be on top -- all day, every day. Do I want to root for 3-13 as opposed to 2-14? No. Hell, no. But a win's a win's a win. Since prior to our first meeting in the C.U.B. at THE Fort Lewis College, I've always wanted two things, in order, out of a Chiefs campaign: 1) Win the Super Bowl, and if you can't manage that, then 2) Sweep Denver.... And by “Sweep Denver,” I have always included the secret caveat of “Please, I’m begging you to win more than two games.”

I'm literally sick, and exhaustedly tired of the never-dying talk of clubs "trying" to lose games for a better pick. It's never happened, and never will. Nobody wants to lose. Ever. If they do, then they're not right in the department of head. This, as you can at least pretend to imagine, has been the most painful, surreal experience of footballery I have ever known, ever imagined I would know. Yes, for the rough focus of this blog, that would be awesome and hilarious, and on a personal level, I would cherish it. When it comes to such a topic, however, there is the elephant in the room known as a smug, devoid-of-pride, degenerate schlep that only takes pride in, can only take pride in, the achievement of such a goal. I'm glad we beat the Raiders. That home-opening loss to them is still one of the worst games I've ever seen, and that made it consecutive years that they beat us at home. That also snapped quite a streak of victories at Arrowhead against the silver and black. So, for that, I thank thee, Herman Edwards, football genius.

On a seemingly incomparable level, how about being in a three-way tie for the worst first-place team in football? I imagine that on one level, you hate it because you want to be the best, but in the other half of the fridge, it irks you that you share common ground with the Vikings and the Cardinals. Yes? No?

7: Oh I know that, no matter how fucked the season is or how juicy the potential draft booty may be, you always win...the game. I just also know that in the midst of a tough season I try to find some levity. Perhaps I come off as smug or spoiled when I say this, but I've never dealt with what you're going through. I've seen some historically bad seasons for the Nuggets and the CSU Rams, but I live and die with the Broncos. And during my cognizant football-watching life the Broncos have always been at least moderately competitive. So I feel for you, even as I hope you lose every single game.

I can't speak for Cards fans or Vikings fans, but I couldn't care less what record equals a three-game division lead with four to play. That's good math. Like I said before, I expected nothing from this season other than hard knocks, and I hoped for nothing other than progression and development. To be this far free of the AFC West field is mind-boggling.

When folks talk about potential Super Bowl teams and power rankings and all that nonsense, the phrase "Denver Broncos" doesn't really come up. Nor should it. We're not a premier team, and should we happen to stumble into the playoffs I don't suspect we'll stick around long... But there's no reason we can't piss in someone else's oatmeal and knock off Indy or Tennessee or those asshole child rapists out in Pittsburgh, just for kicks. There's something to be said for flying under the radar, a la Minnesota or Arizona, and once again exceeding expectations.

Talk to me about what you expect to see on Sunday. We know how the Broncos lose, and specifically how they lost at Arrowhead. They turn the ball over, particularly in the red zone, they kick like shit, and they allow big plays on third and fourth downs. Should Denver commit those same sins, I expect the Mighty Braves of the Missouri River Valley to capture that sweep. Get creative--what other forms could a Chief win take?

B: That, my friend, is a tough, tough assignment, but one I'm willing to handle.

Top of the list is the all-out, blowout. The kind for which you have professed your undying love. The Chiefs haven't manhandled anybody in some unGodly length of time. The 44-0 win over the 49ers and the eight-touchdown destruction of Ookie and the Falcons (both at Arrowhead) are the most recent to come to mind, but those are four and five years removed. Not only are the Chiefs long overdue for delivering some good old-fashioned sodomy, they haven't done it in Denver since prior to the Louisiana Purchase. Were that to happen, it would be some ritualistic, cosmic collision of mangasm for this leg of the Iron Triangle. My wife would probably enjoy it a tad, too. Our victory over Denver in September bordered on convincing, and by "bordered," I mean the likes of the Dakotas and the Carolinas as neighbors. That, in the form of a Jamaal Charles rushing score, two TD receptions for Thigpen, and, oh, say, 227 on the ground from Johnson for a 42-3 outcome.

Or they could have a defensive-minded shootout, a game where both sides play relatively error-free, but the offenses also manage to move the chains with consistency. I'd love to see 1250 yards through the air between the teams, and about 32 replays of mouthpieces flying around due to unruly unleashings of meast-on-meast collisions.

Another option would be for this Red-Cross unit of a defense to produce four turnover, and score on at least three of them. And I'd like only one to be a pick. The other three should be Cutlerfucker fumbles that result from pressure on the quarterback, something KC hasn't done since they played at Municipal Stadium. That's creative.

What about you? How does this contest unfold in your eyes?

7: Those are all pretty weak if you ask me. I was hoping you'd conjure something along the lines of:

Herm convinces lame duck President George Bush to pardon Ron Mexico, then drives to Leavenworth and signs him up. Burning the midnight oil in the basement of an old flour mill, he devises a secret offensive strategy based entirely on the hook-and-ladder. The morning of the game in Denver, he introduces Mex to the team, unveils the game plan and cuts Thigpen. Through sheer shock and quite a bit of the old razzle-dazzle, the shenanigans work, and Herm is carried off the field under a bright red sunset while orchestral music plays...


I think it's gonna be close, low-scoring and a little chippy. Peyton Hillis won't do anything, but Matt Prater will suddenly be "on" again and nail a few long-distance bombs. Cutler squeezes in a TD to one of the recently unstoppable tight ends, Thigpen is uneven and flustered, and the Broncos keep your running game under just enough control to manage a score of, say, 20-13.

B: Yeah, well, what'd you expect when the creative guy asks the uncreative guy to "get creative?" I can barely color inside the lines, yo. There is, unfortunately, no "carried off," no "bright red sunset," and most certainly no "orchestral music" awarded to anyone -- not even the Helen Kellerest motherfucker of a coach out there -- that wins a mere two contests of American football in a season.

I do, however, think it will be a chippy affair, and I don't think it will be a contest in which Denver has success stopping the run. I just don't. But, a lot of that will hinge on Thigpen's ability to complete passes, which I don't imagine he'll be doing much of. But I can be hopeful, and that's just what I'll be. Good guys -- that's the visiting squad -- snap the seven-year stretch of glowing coals to the retina, and pull off the meaningfully meaningless win, 24-19.

7: Meaningless? But you just told me every game was, oh never mind. I'll black out by the first TV timeout anyway.