Friday, September 28, 2007

Week 4 prediction

Before last week, I thought the Broncos had a chance at the upset in Indianapolis. But it’s too tough to go on the road and beat a team like the Colts when you can’t stop the run.

The Colts’ passing offense gets all the attention, but they have always been able to run the ball, from Edgerrin James to Dominic Rhodes and now with Joseph Addai. Addai has 271 yards in three games and he should get plenty of carries against Denver’s struggling run defense. So even if the Broncos’ cornerback duo of Champ Bailey and Dre Bly is finally the answer to Denver’s problems stopping Peyton Manning, it might not matter if Addai has a big game.

The Broncos have the offense to compete, unlike their last two playoff debacles at Indianapolis. At some point, the Broncos will put up a bunch of points. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this is the week Denver’s offense breaks out, and it’s still not enough to beat the defending champs.

Prediction: Indianapolis 34, Denver 28

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Toughest matchup

The Indianapolis Colts won’t necessarily force the ball to their star receivers, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, if there’s a better matchup. One matchup problem for the Broncos on Sunday might be tight end Dallas Clark.

The Colts like to use Clark, an athletic and fast tight end, in the role usually reserved for a third receiver. Indianapolis’ true third receiver is rookie Anthony Gonzalez, who has only 88 yards in three games.

Clark will line up between the outside receiver and the offensive line, in the “slot.” It’s the position that Brandon Stokley often plays for the Broncos, and used to play for the Colts.

Clark has 13 catches for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games. A cornerback is usually too small for him, and Clark can outrun many safeties. The Broncos have Domonique Foxworth and Curome Cox, who have each played cornerback and safety in the NFL, to defend Clark. That matchup could be very important for both teams.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Scouting the Colts

The Colts counter punch better than anyone in the NFL. Try one tactic against their offense, and they seem to immediately recognize it. They’re willing and able to adjust.

Teams have tried to back up and take away the pass by putting more people in coverage. The Colts are good enough to run the ball repeatedly against that strategy. Blitz Peyton Manning? Indianapolis doesn’t mind. Manning’s stats against the blitz are staggering. From 2004 through his great game against the Broncos’ defense in Denver’s seventh game last season he had a streak of 336 attempts against the blitz with 39 touchdowns and no interceptions.

So what is a team to do? The best answer seems to be to get a pass rush with the defensive line and hope the cornerbacks can hold up in coverage. The Broncos seem capable of doing both. Stopping running back Joseph Addai seems to be the biggest problem for Denver’s struggling run defense.

Indianapolis’ defense seems improved, using last year’s startling playoff success as a springboard to this year. The Colts shut down the Saints in the season opener and are fifth in the NFL in yards allowed through three games. They are good at rushing the quarterback, especially on the turf at the RCA Dome, and are decent against the run, allowing less than 4 yards per game.

The Broncos will need a great game plan to figure out how to exploit Indianapolis’ weaknesses on offense and defense.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not so fast

Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman is an interesting case. Through 10 games last season, Grossman had 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, seven of which he picked up in two bad games. He was leading the Bears to the top seed in the NFC, and eventually the Super Bowl. Not perfect, but not bad for a quarterback who had 17 career starts.

Three games into this season, he is a villain in Chicago, a quarterback who can’t make a good decision to save himself. Bears fans will never forgive him for, in their opinion, blowing the Super Bowl against Indianapolis. They were chanting for Brian Griese on Sunday night, which should be pretty rich to Broncos fans.

Don’t forget, Griese had some decent seasons for the Broncos before he was run out of town. For all his faults, Jake Plummer was not a terrible quarterback his first three seasons in Denver. He was bad in his fourth season, but that was after fans and coaches lost faith in him. Remember, Plummer led Denver to an AFC Championship Game and had a solid season in 2005. In 2006 he quickly fell out of favor and was replaced. Sounds pretty similar to Grossman, doesn’t it?

Here’s the lesson – even though Jay Cutler is on top right now, is a favorite of Broncos coach Mike Shanahan and hasn’t endured a fraction of the post-Elway scorn of his predecessors, things can change very quickly. Especially for a NFL quarterback.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Icing the kicker

Even the biggest Raiders basher had to chuckle at how Oakland beat Cleveland on Sunday. Raiders coach Lane Kiffin was obviously paying attention in Week 2 when Broncos coach Mike Shanahan called a timeout just before Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yard field goal in overtime. Janikowski missed on the re-try and Denver won the game. Kiffin did the same thing to the Browns on Sunday. The first attempt was good, but voided because of the timeout, and the second attempt was blocked.

There’s nothing in the rules that says a coach can’t call a timeout at the last instant, which basically forces the kicker to attempt the field goal twice. To use an example from another sport, a runner stealing second base on a 3-2 pitch can’t look back and see if the pitch is a ball or strike. He has to keep running. A kicker can’t assume the whistle is going to blow – he has to kick it.

That seems a bit unfair, but unless the competition committee comes up with a solution this offseason to avoid last-second timeouts, there will be more of it in the NFL. Coaches like stealing ideas from other coaches, and this one has worked twice already.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Week 3 prediction

The consensus seems to be this week’s game will be close, but it probably shouldn’t be.

Jacksonville played two mediocre to bad teams at home. Tennessee beat it, with 175 yards on the ground from Chris Brown. Brown had 34 yards on 12 carries last week. Then the Jaguars, thanks to two missed field goals by Atlanta, squeaked out a 13-7 win over an Atlanta team that won’t win more than a few games this year.

Denver has been painted as a lucky 2-0 team. Indeed, the Broncos were very close to being 0-2. But they’re leading the league in yards, and allowing very few. Their 437-yard differential is astounding. That is a pretty good indicator of how good a team will be in the long run. One way Denver could lose is if its rushing defense is gashed by Jacksonville running backs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, but the Jaguars’ rushing offense hasn’t done well in two games this season.

There is some concern that the Broncos didn’t put away either Buffalo or Oakland – two other teams that probably won’t win more than a few games this season. But at home, the Broncos should control the game against the Jaguars.

Prediction: Broncos 20, Jaguars 10

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Scouting the Jaguars

Jacksonville’s first-week loss was strange, its second-week win was closer than expected. Even though the Jaguars are 1-1, they’re not coming to Denver with much steam.

They were upset by Tennessee on opening day, when Chris Brown ran for 175 yards. Last week they beat a dismal Atlanta team 13-7, keeping it close to the end.

“We like the fact that we were able to get our first victory under our belt – we would have preferred it happened in Week 1,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’ve been in a couple of close ballgames and we split them.”

The Jaguars in recent years have been built around stopping the run and running the ball. The run defense bounced back from a bad outing in Week 1. Del Rio’s explanation was simple: Jacksonville didn’t play very well in Week 1.

The problems with the rushing offense are tougher to explain. The Jaguars have two dangerous tailbacks, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, and they have 135 yards combined. Jones-Drew is averaging 3.5 yards per carry and Taylor is averaging 3.3.

Quarterback David Garrard, who was named starter when Byron Leftwich was cut just before the season started, has played well. But for the Jaguars to win at Denver, they will have to run the ball effectively. Based on how well Jacksonville ran the ball last year, they should end up near the top of the league in rushing offense.

“They’ll get back on track, hopefully not against us,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Janikowski's great miss

Normally, there aren’t any reflections on the impressiveness of a missed field goal. But there was still some buzz Monday about how far Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit a 52-yard attempt that rang off the top of the left upright on Sunday.

Janikowski nailed a 52-yard attempt in overtime, hitting it high on the net behind the goalpost. But a timeout was called before the snap and Janikowski had to kick it again. The second attempt might have gone even further had the upright not gotten in the way.

“That would have been good at 75, no question,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Cornerback Dre Bly’s rush from the edge might have thrown off Janikowski just a bit. Shanahan said he thought the kick was going to go wide left, then it came back and almost went in.

“What do you call that, a slook?” Shanahan said, combining golf terms. “It sliced initially and came back in.”

Friday, September 14, 2007

Week 2 prediction

The only way the Denver Broncos will lose Sunday is if they turn the ball over. That could happen – the Oakland Raiders have a solid defense. But Denver’s game plan should reflect their superiority over the Raiders.

There will probably be plenty of Travis Henry carries, a few well-timed shots downfield in the passing game and not much gambling. The Broncos defense should put up a better effort defensively than the Lions did last week, when Detroit allowed 375 yards. Oakland is better offensively than last year, but still not good enough to go up and down the field against Denver.

Maybe when the teams meet again in Oakland on Dec. 2, the Raiders will have a clear answer at quarterback and enough confidence at home to challenge the Broncos. But it probably won’t happen at Invesco Field at Mile High this weekend.

Broncos 23, Raiders 9

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stealing signs

Tight end Daniel Graham, a member of the New England Patriots from 2002-06, has been getting grief in the Denver Broncos’ locker room this week over the sign-stealing scandal the Patriots are involved in.

“We’re giving Daniel Graham a lot of heat about it, tainted championships and calling them the ‘Big Asterisks’ and things like that,” safety John Lynch said. “Ultimately, that’s a good football team whether they’re seeing signs or not.”

Lynch said every team tries to steal signs, to some extent. Lynch said the problem with New England is that it was videotaping it, which crosses the line when it comes to cheating.

“Every team has guys on the sidelines looking for things like that,” Lynch said about stealing signs. “But I do think you cross the line when you bring that technology into the field.”

Lynch said thwarting informal attempts to steal signs is the team’s responsibility. The Broncos use multiple people on the sideline signaling in plays to the defense, but only one is making the actual call.

And Lynch said he has been in games where the opponent has cracked the code.

“I’ve played other teams where you know they’ve got your signals,” Lynch said. “You’re not showing anything, and every time you blitz they’re checking or sight adjusting, and you know they’ve got you.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scouting the Raiders

The only reason the Raiders might be better this season is because they couldn’t be much worse.

Oakland won only two games last year and earned the first overall pick. The Raiders won’t even get much help this season from that first pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell, because he just agreed to a contract this week.

Offensively, the Raiders do appear to be improved. Quarterback Josh McCown looked competent against Detroit with 313 yards, but hurt his right throwing hand. Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said McCown will be held out of Wednesday’s practice as a precaution but could practice Thursday. Daunte Culpepper would start if McCown can’t.

There are a few dangerous players on Oakland’s offense. Ronald Curry had 10 catches for 133 yards last week and running back LaMont Jordan had 159 total yards.

“Their offense is much better,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

Defensively, the Raiders didn’t allow many yards last year. They also weren’t in many close games, which kept the opponent’s statistics down. For example, at Denver last year, the Broncos took a 13-0 lead in the first half and sat on the lead. The Broncos had 35 passing yards in the final three quarters. Last week the Raiders were in a shootout against Detroit, and the Lions gained 392 yards.

“I think Detroit has some really good players on offense but it wasn’t about them, it was about us not executing and miscommunication and coverage issues,” Kiffin said. “We hope we have those corrected.”

Monday, September 10, 2007

Winning despite change

Javon Walker. Tom Nalen. Matt Lepsis. Champ Bailey. John Lynch. Nick Ferguson. Ian Gold. That’s the list of players who were in the same starting position for the season openers in 2006 and 2007.

That’s a lot of change for the Broncos, which is why every win early this season -- including Sunday’s win at Buffalo -- will be important.

Denver is still breaking in a relatively new quarterback in Jay Cutler and a new scheme on defense. But with Sunday’s comeback win, the Broncos should start the season 3-0. The Raiders, this week’s opponent, probably aren’t good enough to come to Denver and win. Denver’s third game is at home against Jacksonville. The Jaguars lost their first game to Tennessee, which has quarterback Vince Young and not much else.

Denver’s fourth and fifth games are at Indianpolis and against San Diego. Those games will be the real test of how well the Broncos have meshed early in the season.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Week 1 prediction

Recent history shouldn’t indicate a Denver Broncos win on Sunday. They’re coming off two straight regular-season opening losses and didn’t look that good this preseason, especially on defense. But a few things are working in Denver’s favor.

The Bills, which were 7-9 last year, lost a lot in the offseason. As good as rookie running back Marshawn Lynch and rookie linebacker Paul Posluszny might be, they’ll still be playing their first game at difficult positions.

As long as Travis Henry is full speed and has about 100 yards, the Broncos should be able to control the tempo of the game. That will also help the defense. It’s impossible to think Denver’s defense will be completely ready for the season opener. They’re still learning a new scheme. But Buffalo isn’t an offensive machine, and the Broncos should be able to force some turnovers with their cornerback tandem.

With a couple of interceptions by J.P. Losman, a quiet day from Lynch and an efficient day from the offense, the Broncos will reverse a trend.

Prediction: Broncos 21, Bills 17

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Captains chatter

Assuming Broncos safety John Lynch is named a team captain this season, he’ll have more responsibility and perhaps a uniform addition this season.

The NFL is putting a greater emphasis on team captains this season through an initiative by commissioner Roger Goodell. Some teams will have their captains wear a “C” patch on their jersey to recognize the captains.

“That’s usually in hockey, eh?” Lynch said.

The decision to wear the patch is optional among teams, according to a league spokesman, and it’s not known if the Broncos captains will wear it.

The initiative also suggested that captains have regular meetings with the team and coach, and also act in on-field communication with officials. Hockey captains act as the team’s representative with officials on the ice during games.

The Broncos haven’t voted on captains yet but will in the next couple of days. Lynch, who was defensive co-captain with since departed linebacker Al Wilson the past few years, is an obvious candidate. Rod Smith has been Denver’s offensive captain for years, but he will miss at least of the first five games of the season because he is on the physically unable to perform list.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Scouting the Bills

After two straight opening-day losses, the Denver Broncos aren’t going to take anyone lightly. The Bills went 7-9 but lost five games by three points or less last year, giving the coaches a way to get the players’ attention this week.

“They came on strong,” Broncos assistant head coach/defense Jim Bates said.

The offseason wasn’t as kind to the Bills. They lost four key players: running back Willis McGahee, cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers London Fletcher-Baker and Takeo Spikes. They did draft two potential impact rookies: running back Marshawn Lynch and linebacker Paul Posluszny.

Buffalo’s reason for optimism this season is quarterback J.P. Losman, who made strides last season, and receiver Lee Evans, who had 1,292 yards last season. Losman threw 13 touchdown passes in 232 attempts in Buffalo’s last nine games last year, the second best touchdown percentage in the NFL over that span.

“Last year he improved tremendously,” Bates said.

The Bills also have some of the best special teams in the NFL, which has been a weakness for the Broncos.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan doesn’t plan on an easy opener this year.

“That record is not indicative of the type of team they are,” Shanahan said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

2007 NFL predictions

A disclaimer: I’ve lost the weekly picks to David Ramsey two straight years, so take these picks with an enormous grain of salt. But for what it’s worth:

AFC division winners -- New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Diego
AFC wild cards -- Denver, Cincinnati

Thoughts: The AFC is tough, but top heavy. Denver might have a better team this year and still finish second in the division. If I have a super sleeper playoff team, it’s Houston. They’ll surprise some teams this year. All those high draft picks have to eventually pay off, right?

NFC division winners -- Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco
NFC wild cards -- Arizona, Washington

Thoughts: Finding six decent teams in the NFC was tough. And I fully expect Arizona to disappoint once again, even as I’m picking them to make the playoffs. But, once again, they look pretty good on paper. Washington’s another shaky pick, but I think Jason Campbell will be a solid quarterback and they have a great running back duo with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. I really wanted to pick someone other than Chicago to win the NFC North, because I think they’re in for a fall this year, but who else in that division would you trust?

Super Bowl -- San Diego over Dallas

Thoughts: Look, I know everyone thinks Norv Turner is a bad head coach, and his record shows it. But he can’t screw up the Chargers. They have a tremendous roster and will win the Super Bowl. This is like Barry Switzer taking over the Cowboys from Jimmy Johnson. The Chargers are winning, no matter who their coach is.

Other picks
MVP: QB Tom Brady, New England
Defensive player of the year: LB Shawne Merriman, San Diego
Offensive rookie of the year: WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit
Defensive rookie of the year: LB Paul Posluszny, Buffalo