Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tradition Tuesday: Bye Week Blues

Every NFL team gets a week off during the season. If you're the 1-6 Chiefs this is a welcome respite. If you're their 6-0 division rivals from Denver, you'd rather keep playing while you're hot. As these two clubs take turns depriving their home fans of Sunday football, we check in on the season so far.

In case you're new to the House, or you've forgotten how things work around here, I'm the Broncos fan and Bank is the Chiefs fan. Carry on...

Old No. 7: I haven't watched much of the Chiefs yet this season, but I caught quite a bit of Sunday's San Diego game. The offense looked rough, and Matt Cassel was sloppy and erratic (many dropped passes didn't help). How does the offensive product on the field compare to what Todd Haley advertised in the offseason?

Bankmeister: Honestly, I don't think Todd Haley advertised anything in the off-season. There was nothing but talk of finding the right 53 guys, and installing a system that would eventually produce championship football teams.

Old No. 7: There was no talk, to your knowledge, about what kind of offense Haley was going to install? How he was going to use Larry Johnson, the run/pass mix, the new tight ends? Maybe not, a lot of coaches are secretive.

Bankmeister: None whatsoever. There was talk of clean slates across the board, open, fair competition at every position, and a system that would generate wins. The secretiveness with which Pialey has operated, I would argue, is on a CIA sort of level.

Old No. 7: Is Cassel showing any progress?

Bankmeister: Cassel has shown some progress, but I feel like what he can ultimately deliver still remains an unknown. As you already know, prior to last year, he hadn't really played an significant football since high school. I thought he looked downright atrocious in week two's home-opening loss to Oakland, half the quarterback that Brodie Croyle was the previous week in Baltimore. So, weeks three through six he looked much better, but I can offer zero explanation to his miserly performance yesterday other than the repeated sacks have gotten to him mentally.

Old No. 7: What would the record be if Croyle had started all year?

Bankmeister: Three and four. We easily beat Oakland, and have more points on the board versus Dallas as the fourth quarter wraps up, thus negating overtime. We still lose yesterday, but it's a much, much closer game.

Old No. 7: I still think that's nuts, but again I don't watch this team as much as you do.

Bankmeister: You're not alone. The artist formerly known as the Lone Reader thinks I'm insane, too.

Old No. 7: Why is the line so ineffective--aren't there some high draft picks down there?

Bankmeister: The line is terrible for two reasons: 1) There was next to no noteworthy effort to build it in the Edwards regime. They drafted a couple tackles but Pialey have discarded (at least half) of all of the picks made my Herm and Carl. Some feel that Branden Albert shouldn't be at left tackle as he played guard in college. Brian Waters is usually stellar, but he's in this weird, unprecedented (for him) penalty-acquiring phase. Cutting Casey Wiegmann two years ago was crippling, especially considering where he ended up, and the right side of the line has never recovered from the John Tait trade/Will Shields retirement. It is abysmal, and Haley doesn't appear to believe in giving a line time to gel and play together for consecutive weeks as it's more important to him to cut/sign the weakest 10 roster spots every damn week.

Old No. 7: And now Larry Johnson is calling out his coach on Twitter, a gutless move but indicative of serious trust issues between labor and management. Do you think Haley has lost this team? If so, do you think he's capable of putting this locomotive back on the tracks anytime soon?

Bankmeister: The concept of losing a team is largely over-analyzed in my opinion. People discuss it with such confidence and frequency that it's irritating. I think it's way too early to even speculate on such a notion, and I think most of the personnel would say that Haley knows what he's doing. I recognize the building blocks in place. At least I think I do: team first, establish an aggressive, balanced offensive attack, and stick to the fundamentals. Any guys that're left over are probably still adjusting to the player's-coach approach, which I deem as soft and bereft of responsibilty.

Old No. 7: Do you think that Jim Zorn, Jack Del Rio, Dick Jauron or Tom Cable have lost the respect of the men that play for them? Do you think that the players on their teams give maximum effort and focus every week? I don't--I think those coaches are dead men walking. I think it's pretty obvious in any given NFL game if a team is prepared and motivated to play. I guess my question is if you see that preparation and motivation--signs of good coaching--or if Johnson's blatant insubordination is more widespread.

Bankmeister: I don't either. That is, I agree with you on all accounts except for Del Rio. Something's just not right there, and I hang more of that on the players. Zorn and Cable were probably never cut out for the job. Jauron is one of those guys that was either meant to be a coordinator or the game has passed him by. I think something's awry in Jacksonville beyond coaching, and Del Rio will find work elsewhere. I do see it. I see it every week. Guys are just heading into Sunday not knowing if they're going to be starting or what, which means that the message that you better give 110 percent on every snap in practice and in the game hasn't resonated yet. The actions and words of Larry Johnson go no further than #27. They never have. They never will.

Old No. 7: So what I'm pulling out of this is that you're less than pleased with Haley's personnel decisions (starting/sitting/playing time) but you're OK with the direction he's taking the team in and play-calling? Is that fair?

Bankmeister: I don't know where you're getting the first part of that. I'm mostly fine with everything he's done. I do feel, however, that I've, for a number of years, heard that the five guys up front need to work together to gel as a unit. If that's 100 percent true all the time, then he needs to incorporate that into his gameplan.

Old No. 7: On numerous occasions--both here and earlier in the season--you've pointed out that Haley jerks guys around, benches them, cuts them, and indicated that you thought this made it harder to build team cohesion.

But let's be perfectly clear here. You think Haley has done a good job this far, despite a 1-6 record. You also think Trey Hillman bears zero responsibility for the Royals losing 97 games this year. In both cases you place blame for losing solely on the GMs and the poorly built teams. Is this accurate, or an overstatement?

Bankmeister: The cohesion point applies to the offensive line only. Anywhere else I think a good case can be made for play up to your potential, and in a fashion the coach wants, or be prepared to sit. The only incongruence in the application of the philosophy has come in the form of the quarterback and the running back. I don't think it's time to give up on Cassel, but there have been situation in which I thought Brodie would've performed better. As far as Larry Johnson (who has issued an apology via his agent and been asked by the team to refrain from practicing and participating in team activities) is concerned, it's a tough situation: His numbers show that he's the worst starting back in football, but he plays behind a mostly terrible line. You can't increase your YPC if you're getting hit in the backfield on a significant number of your carries. If we lose to Jacksonville in two weeks, I'll be looking to see a Croyle/Charles combo in week 10.

Yes. Let's be perfectly clear: No one, no how, gets a good-job star on their homework at 1-6. I like the direction he's going, the foundation he appears to be attempting to instill. Say what you will about Haley and Hillman. This isn't the first time we've differed on opinions and it sure as hell won't be the last. Let's just say you chuckle at the notion of trusting the process, while I, at least for now, trust it.

Old No. 7: Are these games selling out? Any threat of a blackout this year? How's the civic football mood compare to last season?

Bankmeister: They are. I don't think the house has been at capacity for any game yet, but the latest report I had was that the sellout streak is likely safe until December. I can't say much about the mood as far as changes. Losing blows. There's little talent on this team, and when you lose, people examine everything -- who you're starting, how you're managing the game, the plays you're calling, the things you own, and especially those you don't. I read the papers, I listen to the TalkRadios, I discuss with my fellow citizens. Last year was miserable and very little has changed save the approach and the faces that are responsible for it.

What about your Broncos? You've mentioned that you were prepared to write about losing and losing only. Heading into the off-season, and then heading into the pre-season, I think most people would've projected for the current records of the Chiefs and the Broncos to be the reverse of what they are.

Old No. 7: Most people projected the Chiefs to be 6-0?

Bankmeister: No. What I meant to say was current directions.

Why has everything worked so well for Joshy-poo? Was there simply more talent to begin with? Were the free-agent acquisitions that huge? I know Mayor McVesco has all three inches of his manhood rock hard for "B-Dawk" as he likes to call him, but what's the deal?

Old No. 7: The cupboard was not empty for Josh McDaniels. This was a team, after all, that was 8-5 following a December win against your Chiefs last year. They had that infamous three-game division lead with three games to play. They were by no means a horrible team.

Neither was the maligned defense completely barren. The Broncos' best defensive player is Champ Bailey, who was injured in 2008. Even if they had not fired Shanahan, even if they had stuck with the same defensive strategy that they've employed for a decade, it was inevitable that the results would improve with a healthy Champ.

The free agent signings have all been home runs, which doesn't hurt. My concern at the time was their collective age--Brian Dawkins is 36, Vonnie Holliday 33, Andre Goodman 31, Renaldo Hill 30, Andra Davis 30, Ron Fields 28, Darrell Reid 27. Outside of a few minor dings, this team has (jinx alert!) yet to absorb a single injury. That remarkable fact is the single biggest reason they've yet to lose a game. Injuries are inevitable, especially with a defense that's heavily reliant on graybeards. I worry that these guys are going to start getting hurt, and that the depth chart won't be able to sustain this level of shutdownery...

I'm particularly pessimistic about Dawkins, an opinion that places me in a minuscule minority of Bronco Nation... It's inconceivable to me that a man my age, who plays such a physically brutal style of football, could make it an entire NFL season without some down time. While he plays, however, he's remarkable. The guy excels in every aspect of the game, and his leadership qualities were not overestimated. Guys love lining up with him.

Bankmeister: You claimed that the appointment of Colonel Xanders was borderline absurd, and of course there's the 46 running backs that collected checks from Pat Bowlen in 2008, the elitest of most now not on the roster all thanks to the play of If You Don't Knowshon.

Old No. 7: What's become clear to me this year is that I don't know a fucking thing about general managers in the NFL. There are some that stand out for being awful (Matt Millen) or self-promoting (A.J. Smith, Carl Peterson, Jerry Jones) or exceptional (Bill Polian). But by and large these guys are like baseball umpires--you should only notice them when they screw up badly. I don't have any idea how much Xanders is pulling the trigger on these decisions versus McDaniels, and I don't really care. Don't tell me about the delivery, just show me the baby.

Knowshon seems like the real deal, and I love how polished he is as a receiver and blocker. I wish he'd hit his holes a little harder, but I've also had my eyes trained by years of zone-blocking schemes to believe that Bronco running lanes are only open for the blink of an eye. This is a different coaching staff, and a bigger line that's capable of sustaining blocks longer. It seems like the old Bronco cut-blocking ways are--Oh Noes!--a thing of the past, Bank. Although I'm sure you'll find ways to fill out your Denver cheating conspiracy theories.

Bankmeister: Nah. My tank's empty, dude. When things were closer in the big-picture department, it was much easier to holler conspiracy. After six wins in 32 games, and a start where my team's 1-6 and yours is 6-0, my mental health has suffered extreme wounds. I'm considering therapy in an effort to distance myself from this game. My guts, my brains, and my emotions are so maimed that poking fun of Denver beyond the in-game texts sends me down the path of becoming a caricature of myself. My caveat, though, is that if we get good again, and I'm not in a round padded room with a white jacket on, I'll be back with my bull horn to scream "home cookin'."

You take McDaniel's alleged quarterback preference in Cassel, and you see his second choice in Orton outperforming the former. Then you take two similar malcontents like B-Marsh and LJ and one's now hugging his coach in post-game pressers and the other's calling out his coach for never having played the game. What's the difference between these two clowns? Is winning the restaurant equivalent to good sales in that it cures all ails?

Old No. 7: There are two major differences between Marshall and LJ. One is that Marshall can still play, he's capable of separating from defenders and impacting games. The other is that Marshall has yet to receive his big payday, so there is incentive for him to get with the program.

As for QBs, I think we're seeing yet again how vital good coaching is at that position. Cassel was terrific under McDaniels last year, not so much under Haley (is Dick Curl still in the mix?).

Bankmeister: Well there you go. No. Father Time, thank God, was sent packing. The bad side of that is that the QB coach is one of the three -- that, HCIC, OC -- hats that Haley is wearing.

Old No. 7: Jay Cutler played better under Shanahan than the complete hacks who now tutor him, Ron Turner and Lovie Smith. Kyle Orton, having escaped the Turner-Lovie hellhole, is flourishing under McDaniels. Time will tell if Doogie is a great or even good NFL coach. A lot of guys win right out of the gates and then fade. This team is jacked up and playing very hard as a team, hopefully they can sustain that level of intensity. But what's not in question is McDaniels' ability to coach up a signal-caller.

Bankmeister: Let's assume this club runs away with the division. What happens in the post-season? Do they take sweet revenge on Peyton and company? If this success carries into next year and Mike Shanahan gets a job in the AFC (or elsewhere), what're your feelings regarding a potential Shanny return to InVesCo? Do you wish him and his team the best in every game except that one?

Old No. 7: The 2009 Denver Broncos have the classic look of a team that wins 11, 12 or 13 regular season games and then flames out in their first playoff game to a more experienced squad. I do not think they can exorcise their postseason Colts demons this year. But hey, this bunch has surprised me all season long, maybe they have something special in reserve for January (assuming they get there, you jinx-encouraging son of a bitch). All those old-timers on defense turn from a liability to a strength come playoff time.

I think Mike Shanahan is a great coach who had a great run here, and I'll always love him for getting the Broncos over the top. But if he takes another job, he's just another coach. I wouldn't feel any differently about him than I do about Tomlin or Belichick or Coughlin. I would certainly not cheer for his team--I didn't cheer for the Ravens when Shannon Sharpe went to Baltimore or the Jets when Steve Atwater ended up in Jersey.

Bankmeister: Yeah. But you still love Shannon and I know you and Cecil both still rub out your morning wood to Atwater. Well, maybe Cec' feeds the Kleenex to his Randy Gradishar FatBoy, but whatever. The point is that Shanny, more than anyone else on any of those teams, is the one that got you your two rings. I think that I'd have a soft spot for him, especially if he wound up in say Buffalo. If Jerry Jones hires him, he can get lost.

Talk about The Suit. What sort of respect, if any, did you have for him prior to the hiring? This defense was pretty darn bad for several consecutive seasons, which implies that there was a mix of bad coordinating and personnel. What level of accolades are you giving him for this top-ranked squad?

Old No. 7: Mike Nolan is awesome, I want to kiss him on the mouth with tongue and an ass-grope. Again, it's still early and things could always fall apart, but thus far the schemes he's instilling are working. I'm always leery about blitzing all the time, because of course it leaves you vulnerable to big plays. The Broncos have yielded numerous long strikes to talented QBs like Tom Brady and Phil Rivers, but they've also deposited both of those gentlemen on their asses and rattled them. I'm beyond stoked to see what they can do to Peyton on Dec. 13, and I have never been excited to play Indy since he arrived there.

Nolan will get a lot of buzz as a head coaching candidate in the offseason, but to me he seems like Dick LeBeau, Buddy Ryan or Norv Turner--infinitely better as a coordinator than the top dog. He failed in San Francisco, and that head coaching failure constituted the bulk of my impression of Nolan entering the year. Selfishly, I hope he stays at DC in Denver. I'd even be willing to let him get to third base to make it happen.

Bankmeister: You're a sick fuck. Would you let him fondle your "top dog" while Buddy Ryan Tom Cabled you in the back of your noggin? I know a guy who can run video if you're looking to be a star.

Finally, the schedule. The consensus is that things get really rough for you guys coming out of the bye week, especially starting off with Baltimore on the road. You feeling pretty confident about continued success?

Old No. 7: I can't see how the schedule is now getting any tougher than it's been the last three weeks. Sure, the next five games are at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, San Diego and the Giants. None of those clubs are pushovers save for the Skins. But all of those teams have shown weaknesses that can be exploited.

I'm not confident that this team is going to win every game from here on out, but I am confident that this is a good team with the pieces necessary to be competitive each week. What I like about the schedule is that with a 6-0 start, they only need to win four more games to be virtually assured of a playoff spot--and they have four eminently winnable games left with Washington, Oakland and Kansas City twice. If they can take three or four of those, they need only win a couple games against these better clubs to get into the 11-12 win range necessary to secure a bye (I'm conceding the No. 1 seed and home field to Indianapolis right now).

Bankmeister: That's too bad. I still think we sweep you this year. You know, 'cause we "dominated" Washington in our lone win.

Old No. 7: I'll make sure that prediction is saved for later this season.

Bankmeister: You do that. Save it. Copy and paste it. Put it in a non-Wiki'd Excel spreadsheet. I, as the saying goes, don't give a fuck!


Dylan said...

I can see it now:
7: Hey big Mike, if you want to hit a triple in this park, you gotta take off that sportcoat.
MN: Coat stays ON!
7: Oooooh....

Screenwriter for hire.