Tag:Denver Broncos
Posted on: January 10, 2013 1:44 pm
 

NFL '13 Divisional Picks

Aerial Artists vs. Mercury Men

Why two Conferences in the NFL? The simple answer: two places from which to draw our Super Bowl combatants.

Another might be is that they serve as good starting-point for League schedulers.

But what you may not realize it that the Conference alignment is a quaint reminder of the NFL’s tumultuous past when lucky fans in the 1960s enjoyed something called competition, i.e., AFL v NFL.

Even after the merger was complete (’70) each Conference retained its own distinct philosophy on how the game should be played, a variation that lasted well into the 1980s.

Thanks to football innovator Sid Gilman (SD ‘60-71), the AFL / AFC offered it’s fans a more wide-open game where QBs often aired-it-out and “matriculat(ed)” like nobody’s business, as opposed to the NFL / NFC who would still operate largely by the ‘3 yards & a cloud of dust’ modus operandi until Don “Air” Coryell landed in St. Louis.

I thought the homogenization process was complete but then I took a gander at this weekend’s slate of Divisional match-ups and spotted something I hadn’t seen for years, something that harkens back to those days of choice.

In this round of Division play the AFC displays a plethora of pocket-passers with Schaub & Brady, Flacco & Peyton calling the signals. No fear-flight tendency from these guys. They’ll hang tough, work their progression, read defenses, make mobile to avoid pressure, take hits on late release and avoid downfield pops by handing the ball off to rostered muscle-men who get paid to run up field.

Over in the NFC it’s a different animal where the full spectrum of mercurial quarterback play is offered up for fans to feast upon.

Matt Ryan: stand-tall, pocket passer with forward mobility but the good team-sense to slide when he gets a nice chunk (141 YDS on 34 ATT, 1-2 runs per game (RPG) );

Aaron Rodgers: pocket passer extraordinaire who likes the occasional up-field scamper to satisfy his inner Steve Young and occasionally pays the price (259 on 54, 3-4 RPG);

Russell Wilson: latest in wave of run-QBs but shows willingness to polish pass skills and curtail the fear-flight pattern in favor of air option (489 on 94, 6 RPG / 26TD-10 / 64%);

Colin Kaepernick: typical flash-QB with big arm but rabbits quick & often, seeking to carry the load like the single-wing tailback of leather helmet days (415 on 63, 9 RPG / 10TD-3 / 5RTD).

Hail Caesar!

I love history. And you can’t be a history person without developing a healthy respect for the Roman Republic (400 BC), its successor Empire (27 BC - 476 AD) and their many accomplishments, along with some serious shortcomings (See; Ben-Hur ‘59).

I’m calling for an end to the NFL’s long-running use of Roman numerals in Super Bowl classification. Clunky and dated, at first glance they’re impossible to decipher (#47 in New Orleans (XLVII)), and what little cachet they had in the 70s is long gone. Maybe a favorite of Pete Rozelle, nonetheless, it’s time the Roman numerals fell. 

Divisional Round Picks

Baltimore Ravens (4 / 1-0) @ Denver Broncos (1) (1-12 / CBS 4:30)

It’s QBs on parade come January but this is one tussle where a defender gets equal billing. Ray Lewis brought his emotions and skill (9T) in last week’s return vs Colts. Ravens run sparkled vs IND run-D (28) but Denver stuffs it (3 / 91) and the pass too (3 /199). A big test for Flacco, too bad it’s in Denver against healthy Pey-dirt. Broncos' run-by-Cmte suffices. With ESPN gig set, Ray’s comfy and won‘t return. Thanks for the memories. Denver wins.

Green Bay Packers (3 / 1-0) @ San Francisco 49ers (2) (Fox 8:00)

Since beatdown in Jersey WK12 (10-38), GB’s song of success is building to crescendo. Must take WK1 result with salt (SF-W) though it proves SF can run with the Pack. And run they do with fleet-of-foot K’nick under center. One issue of flash QB is the effect on trad’l run-game: Can Gore establish with Kaep on the move? Packers’ O-line leaky (51) but defense-minded Niners (3) quite polite (38S). GB press + cover scheme will rattle wide-eyed CK into rabbit-mode + mistakes and Packers make NFC Title game.

Seattle Seahawks (5 / 1-0) @ Atlanta Falcons (1) (1-13 / Fox 1:00)

A benefit of having top D (SEA / 4) is you can stop bleeding fast, which not only keeps your offense hopeful but secures momentum the other side may not get back (Skins). It may come in handy versus quick-strike Falcons. Hawks’ so-so QB-press (36S) can ill afford Clemons loss (12S), making Chancellor & Sherman’s jobs that much harder. Keys: guarded Ryan (69% / 28S) with bevy of top targets vs. Lynch (132 @ DC). QB League, Falcons win.

Houston Texans (3 / 1-0) @ New England Patriots (2) (CBS 4:30)

“That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (Nietzsche).” Might tack that one above the doorway in Texans’ locker-room. Whatever helps. Out of the blocks fast (5-0), Houston never fully adapted to loss of LB stalwart Cushing. First a shellacking at home WK6 vs GB (24-42) and then 1-3 closing stretch that began with Texas-sized beating at NE (14-42). Patriots cauterized vs Niners (34-41) then grooved on cupcakes (JAC / MIA). Texans look banged-up until you see Pats' roster: quasi-MASH unit. Fool me once. New England prevails.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: November 29, 2012 1:08 am
 

NFL '12 Cherry Picks Wk-13

They Made Me a Criminal

“Illegal.” It’s a word that was popping up with odd frequency this past weekend in major media descriptions of Detroit Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz and his now infamous challenge-flag faux pas on Thanksgiving Day. I’m no legal expert but am not aware of the existence of any State of Michigan or federal criminal, regulatory or like provision that such an on-field miscue would violate.

No harm, no foul? Sure, why not. But c’mon production people, get on the ball and give these guys a break.

But there is something that happened in Detroit, a misdeed I hope lawmakers address soon and pass legislation making its occurrence punishable by fine, community service and required viewings of the ‘97 version of the movie “Titanic:” the ‘prevent defense.’

Lions didn’t lose on turkey day because Schwartz’ impulsive flag toss, nor did they lose because place-kicker J. Hanson boinked a late 47-yarder off the cross-bar. They lost because they permitted the Houston Texans to run-off 15 plays and drive 97 yards for the game-tying TD by employing what seemed to be that time-honored concession to fear & doubt, the dreaded PD.

“I do not choose to run”

Those words stunned a nation in 1927 when America’s popular laissez faire President Calvin Coolidge announced he’d not seek a 2nd full-term as Chief Executive. Cal didn’t exactly brim over with personality, nor was he what you might call an economic visionary (the Depression), but his famous statement is surprisingly apropos when the subject of discussion is Redskins’ rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin.

Bob’s put together a couple of gems his last two games against woeful division rivals Philly & Dallas, tossing four TDs in both walkover wins. In a conference (and League) where top teams are in short supply in 2012, the Skins are still players for the post-season at 5-6.

With today’s flash-QB, run-attempts are a key stat. In Dallas Bob kept it down to six. If he stays around that number week in, week out, win or lose, he’ll make it in this League because it means he can take the hits while learning to read defense and find receivers. Mike Vick never got the message, or if he did, couldn’t make the adjustment.

Run-QB is the biggest thing to hit football since the 300-yard passer made RBs just so much icing on the cake. They’re reminiscent of a by-gone era when the single-wing tail-back was expected to do pretty much everything (pass, run, block) but load-up the bus.

Run-Johnny-run is all the rage on college campus where Coach knows the next Cam or Timbo is his ticket to glory. Just make sure you have a back-up plan when he goes pro (Chizik). But for now anyway, the sit-tite, stand-tall pocket passer rules the NFL roost and he has the hardware & blindside bruises to prove it.

So when you feel your mobility turning into flight, best heed Cal’s words Bob and take your lumps. It’s called the long-view, something Mr. Coolidge ($) couldn’t see.

Cherry Picks Week 13

New Orleans Saints (5-6) @ Atlanta Falcons (10-1) (11-29 / NFLN 8:20)

A must win for Falcons? Already a lock for PS, a win here goes a long way exercising demons of doubt from recent playoff flame-outs and earlier loss to their regional nemesis (11-11). On other side, still a flicker of hope for Saints as Vikes & Hawks fade fast while RG3’s got Skins believing. Kaep Krusader & the Niners gave NO a dose of reality and banged-up A-birds will hammer home the point but with “more feeling.” Atlanta wins.

Minnesota Vikings (6-5) @ Green Bay Packers (7-4) (12-2 / Fox 1:00)

There is history (Bears / GB), and there is rivalry. The later, that’s this, the Midwest’s biggest grudge match. Makes Yanks / Red Sox feud seem kinda’ quaint. And it would have been a barn-burner this year ‘cept Vikes lost their way. MIN didn’t just get beat in their two mettle games (TB / CHI), they barely showed up, Mr. Frazier. And if GB can’t protect Rodgers (37S), they won’t beat Titans WK16, but Pack beats purple pretenders.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) @ Denver Broncos (8-3) (Fox 4:05)

Difference between a win & loss can be miniscule (v ATL) but TB takes comfort knowing they’re headed in the right direction (5-2). It’s telling, about the NFL, when you stuff the run (TB 1/ 82) and still rank 30th overall (D). WTW: Both O-lines stout (16S) but Denver brings it big (37S / TB-18S) and Josh will be tested. Martin runs big but can get stuffed (SD / ATL / DEN 8R), while Peyton likes the opportunity (TB 32P). Denver prevails.

New York Giants (7-4) @ Washington Redskins (5-6) (12-3 / ESPN 8:30)

In talking of GB’s woes this week, Hoge & Jaworski (ESPN) hit on this: QBs need time to work their “progression.” No matter the skill-set (Rodgers), if rushed, mistakes follow. Giants D (30S) plans same press on RG3. But as the young lad has no progression as yet, Rob’s make-it-up-on-the-go approach just might thwart the blitz. Better still, Skins have a real run game in Mr. Morris (4.7 / 982). Eli & Company are back in rhythm, having found that self-confidence that seems to energize late-season runs. Giants win at FedEx.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: September 20, 2012 12:27 am
 

NFL Cherry Picks WK-3

False starts.  That's been the common thread so far running through analysis of NFL 2012.

Green Bay was suppose to be in trouble after their WK1 lose to the 49ers while da’ Bears were finally a burgeoning power. “Maybe no” to both, as "Furio Giunta" would say (The Sopranos).

The Patriots were suppose to be unbeatable, then the mighty Cardinals flew into town.

Peyton was suppose to be back in form after a nice start. That’s a work-in-progress.

Giants were suppose to be defending champs and then loose right outta’ the gate, at home, to a Dallas squad that in WK2 proceeds to get beat-up in, of all places, Seattle.

And some folks thought the wildcat would work wonders in Jetsland.  It's still early.

One common take that’s so far proving wise is the confidence many had in draft dandies Misters Luck and Griffin. But hedge your bets accordingly. While Andy’s schedule befits a team deep in rebuilding mode, Rob’s slate of games gets a tad wicked as the season matures.

Biggest win to date in NFL 2012

It’s the 49ers 30-22 take-down at Lambeau opening weekend. While they came in as slight underdogs after coming within a hair’s breadth of SB46, strong-arming the Pack in GB is always a feather in your cap. And with the Giants returning to their enigmatic, post-SB form, this win could set the tone for all 2012 with San Fran the team to beat in the NFC.

The NFL schedulers might know what they’re doing after all.

Biggest surprise through WK-2

Arizona Cardinals topping the lordly New England Patriots last Sunday in Foxborough, no less (20-18). The fact the game was decided by a late, missed field goal attempt by a normally reliable Steve Gostkowski doesn’t detract one iota from its significance as the Cards and Kev Kolb were in control most of the way.

Biggest bore in September

That would have to be all the cry-babies on the substitute referees. Once the regular zebras and NFL packed up their negotiation-tents and the replacement refs were signed-on, you knew the whining would come fast & furious. “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, that’s what I wanta’ know (Tony Soprano)!?"

Cherry Picks WK-3:

New York Giants (1-1) @ Carolina Panthers (1-1) (9-20 / NFLN / 8:20)

The G-men are defending NFL champs but you might not know it. Getting outplayed by equally enigmatic Dallas in WK1 and barely outlasting the lots-to-prove Buccaneers, the Giants like to keep us guessing. I’d guess victory in Charlotte as NYG defenders flush-out run-rabbit-run Cam Newton who’s back to his college-ways with double-digit scampers (13 v NO). Cam might be trying to carry the run-game that was as nowhere-to-be-found in Tampa as the mysterious lost colony of Roanoke (NC) in 1587. Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (2-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-1) (9-23 / Fox / 1:00)

An early season test-game of Coach Leslie Frazier’s retention value. Niners come in with former Viking, Mr. Ipecac, Randy Moss, as NFL’s top-ranked club. It should provide slow-outta-the-gate Jared Allen reason to revive and Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf a good measure of his team’s progress. Are Vikes respectable rankings (O16 / D12) and QB numbers (Ponder / 76% / 2TD / 0-INT) sign they’ve turned the corner, or merely mirage of a program on the wrong track? 49ers win, exacting revenge for Favre & Lewis ‘09.

Atlanta Falcons (2-0) @ San Diego Chargers (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Ryan, Rivers & Romo: 3-Rs of quarterback frustration. All hat and no cattle, meaning, playoff busts. Cowboys & Tony took a step back in Seattle, but all three signal-callers are playing with high confidence and generally pleasing their fans. San Diego stuffs the run like nobody’s business (1 / 42 ypg). Without a balancing run-game (Turner was off kilter pre-DUI) to compliment Matt Ryan’s arm, Falcons strong-suit is a capable tackling corps of Weatherspoon, Moore and Nicholas. Home-team Chargers bolt to 3-0.

Philadelphia Eagles (2-0) @ Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Fox / 4:00)

Eagles are a mixed bag: nice passing-rank (2) with a QB (Vick) who rates low (67%) and throws picks like he needs glasses (6). Defense is stout (4) but with only Nate Allen in top 50 tackles (15). So much for stat-worship. Bird Bowl turns on QB pressure and who handles it best. Eagles’ D is good-to-fair (P4 / R15) while Cards can bring the bodies (Washington / Lenon / Campbell). Michael’s gonna’ like working in Arizona, whether they retract the roof or not (U of Phoenix Stadium). Eagles by a bird-beak.

Houston Texans (2-0) @ Denver Broncos (1-1) (CBS / 4:20)

Everyone and their grandma loves the Texans. Me, I’m no Sooner but more like a Missourian (Show Me). Houston’s got the troops: field general (Schaub); run-attack (Foster / Tate); hands (Johnson / Daniels) and team-spirit (O-10 / D-1), now they’ve gotta’ act like Romans (Empire) and grab the booty. Peyton Manning is a problem-solver. If it’s broke, he’ll fix it, fast. Expect cleaner play from PM, a featured McGahee (20+RA) and D-emphasis on run-stuff. Broncos win and slow the Houston love-train.

New England Patriots (1-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (NBC / 8:20)

Both teams look for bounce after close losses. If Pats are unsure of themselves they shouldn’t be, with Brady & Ridley (196). Like Ravens, they should be 2-0. Rank wise, Ravens are in new territory: top-10 O (8P / 10R), low-10 D (25P / 20R). Joe Flacco wants better distribution and comp-% (60), while Ray Rice is a workhorse (167 / 6.4) with nice hoofs / hands (9). When you’re good, home field’s a decided edge. Ravens are good and victorious.

Steven Keys

NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: August 9, 2012 6:31 pm
 

RG3 and Decoding Shanahan

Go back to the year 1988. The Raiders are in Los Angeles, Tom Flores has been demoted upstairs by owner Al Davis and Denver assistant coach Mike Shanahan is hired by the silver & black for his first NFL head coaching job.

Now fast-forward…not too fast, just one and one-quarter seasons later. After finishing 7-9 amidst an on-going, internal clash of loyalties, a 1-3 start in ‘89 gives Davis cause to pull-the-plug on the Shanahan experiment and hand the reigns over to Raiders man Art Shell.

Not a very auspicious start to Mike’s head coaching career. But then, getting fired by Al Davis wasn’t all bad. Oddly enough, it could enhance your resume.

Well known for his hands-on style, Al’s rows with staff often put on public display traits in a coach highly-prized by GM on-lookers. Qualities like decisiveness, tenacity and just being one tough son-of-a-gun. And that’s what Mike looked like after getting the boot: a guy who could give as well as he got, and from the biggest got-guy in the NFL, Al Davis.

That’s no knock on the feisty owner. Though Al could be a thorn in your side if under his watch, for fans, excepting the City of Oakland from1982-‘94, he was a quasi-advocate, a counter-weight to the NFL’s old boy network who conduct business in golf-carts and brass-handled board rooms. And then, only Glenn Ford (Gilda), Sid Poitier (In the Heat of the Night) and Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke) were cooler than Al Davis in his early days, surveying the action from the Raiders’ sideline in those steel-rimmed sunglasses.

To Golden Gate via Colorado

Mike landed back in Denver (‘90-91) but wore out his welcome fast when he got in the middle of a Reeves - Elway rift. On the outs, he took a job with George Seifert (’92-94). Like Foxborough today, San Francisco was the place to be for coaches on the rise. As architect of 49ers’ 49-23 blowout win in SB29 (SD), Mike’s reputation grew such that he was seen around the League as a football-genius-in-the-making and then a hot commodity.

Third Time Charm

Broncos just can’t kick the Shanahan habit and this time give Mike the head coach’s office. He sticks around for awhile (‘95-08), quickly makes good on his new rep, has Denver back in the big show and this time brings home Mr. Lombardi (’98-‘99). Adding to the euphoria was the fact that Denver’s SB32 win comes against fellow West Coast disciple Mike Holmgren and his history-heavy Green Bay squad (4-1).

Happy Trails Mr. Elway

The mood on Mike starts to change after Elway rides into the sunset (SB33 / Atlanta). As he never got Denver back on top, some have argued Elway was the difference-maker in their back-to-backs. Not a crazy notion given that coaches coach and players play. But keep in mind: 1) Dan Reeves was in the NFL for nearly 40 years, played or coached in five Super Bowls but was stymied in his three Denver visits with John under center; and 2) Shanahan guided post-Elway Denver to the post-season four times, including an AFC title game and averaged 9+ wins a season. Not too shabby.

Whether or not Mike Shanahan is a football genius in league with Paul Brown, Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick is debatable. At the very least he did have something special working at Mile High in the late 90s, special enough to someday get a bust in Canton.

Resurrecting Legacies

Question now is, does Shanahan still have the Midas touch, that special something that garnered two Super Bowl wins? And if he does, can he impart it to his Redskins’ team?

So far, his brief DC tenure suggests no and no. Though he gets props for parting ways with the bill-of-goods that was Al Haynesworth and the plucky but past-prime Donovan McNabb, his inability to make real progress in his two seasons in Washington might be sign he no longer translates to today’s NFL player.

No big revelation then, that his ability to facilitate draft-dandy Rob Griffin’s development is key, not just to the team’s but his own future as well. The early word in summer camp is that RG3 is a talented and willing student of the NFL game. Welcome news to Skins’ fans who are parched for victory champagne since the days of Joe Gibbs & Company.

A concern is that in his eagerness to make good and satisfy antsy fans, Mike succumbs to the trendy but flawed belief that the athletic, muscled, running QB is the quick cure-all for what ails an offense and provides the surest vehicle for getting to the promised land. The tremendous impacts of mercury men Cam Newton (6-10) and Tim Tebow (8-8) on their respective teams in 2011 have only given amplification to the theory.

Mike Shanahan has coached two of the finest QBs of the past 30 years in Steve Young and John Elway. Though both had a flair for scamper (and could cite footwork as their most famous feats (SY: 50+ dash vs Vikes (‘88) / JE: copter-run in SB32)), making it a key element in their modi operandi, both were first & foremost pocket-passers who could air it out and thread the needle whenever necessary, taking to flight as only a last resort.

As impactful as Cam and Tim were, upon closer inspection it’s easy to see why many observers believe there’s a cap on just how relevant a run-QB will be over the long term.

Tebow’s 2011 flies in the face of that tiresome phrase, ‘numbers never lie.’ In science, that may be true (excepting false-positives), but in sport, numbers can tell tall tales and in TT’s case they’re less than sincere. While his pass-stats were paltry, his fire and dedication to game-plan were triggers in Denver‘s mid-season turnaround.

But eventually those flames of emotion must be fed with stout statistics. That can mean numbers that are huge (Rodgers), first-rate (Eli) or simply smart stats (A. Smith / 17-5 ratio) that show you have the skill & savvy to manage the offense and then matriculate with regularity in all conditions (Tom, Eli & Peyton).

As for Cam, he showed a terrific capability for passing but a tendency to take-off in trouble (14TDs). That’s a tell and it’s just what defenders will eventually feast upon.

Then there’s Vick, the man who started the trend. His ‘athleticism,’ as run-QBs are cast, has made him a star but destined him to title-oblivion. Besides two big PS wins (’02 GB / ‘04 STL), Mike’s tenure is defined in two words: boredom (duel careers in GA) and frustration (injury). Only now are he and his handlers starting to see the fallacy of flash-QB: “He wants to and works really hard to overcome his instinct, when a little something goes wrong, to take off (Mudd / PI / CBS / 7-27).” Old dog, new tricks: habits do die hard.  No pun intended.

So there you have it, Mr. Shanahan. You can put Rob on the pocket-passer pathway, the only road leading to the Super Bowl, help box-up his college habits and train him to work in the business of football (NFL / CFL), or, ride his athleticism to 9 or 10 victories (someday) and watch the big game every February at home on the big-screen TV.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com