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Published on 11/19/2010 at Fri Nov 19 15:26.
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Chargers vs BroncosThe Denver Broncos are 3-6 and, miraculously, not dead in the division. Dead last, but not dead. Ok, perhaps miraculous is not the correct word. We can blame this on the general ineptitude of the rest of the division. The Chiefs came out looking strong, but they are flawed and those flaws can, it would appear, be exploited. The Raiders came out looking terrible, but they demolished us. Plus, they’re on a three game winning streak. And a bye. A bye counts as a fourth win, right? Right?

The Chargers. Well, predictions about how the Chargers future would go when they hired Norv Turner are pretty much right on schedule. A very solid team that gave Marty Schottenheimer the boot replaced him with an offensive genius who simply is out of his element as head coach. And it shows.

The Broncos? Oh, the Broncos. While other websites might be wearing orange and blue colored glasses, I’m sitting over here in the corner. While Jim Saccomano is telling us that the critics aren’t really part of the family after all, I’m reserving judgement. And while rumors of the Broncos’ death may be premature, I’m not sure how to feel about the team currently sitting in the ICU, getting metaphorical fluids through an IV while we listen to the heart monitor go beep beep beep.

Oh don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Saccomano was intending to call out the critics directly, he was trying to uplift the supporters. But some choice quotes I’ve seen from that article without the full context have had the opposite effect, at least on me. As a fan who is feeling somewhat despondent that the Broncos are one of the worst teams in the league, I’m left wondering why I’m the one feeling attacked. The Broncos got crushed by the Raiders in glorious technicolor and somehow it’s the fans who are angry and critical who are wrong? I’ve dealt with a lot of negativity and name-calling in my time with BroncoTalk and this is the first time I’ve felt truly on the other side of that.

But enough of that. My real point is that I want to tell you what to expect on Monday night.

Only I have no earthly idea.

Look at it this way: out of three wins, two of those wins had the team thoroughly dominating their opponent. The Seattle Seahawks and the Kansis City Chiefs were both trampled and trampled hard.

Out of six losses, four of those losses had the team thoroughly dominated by their opponent. Jacksonville, of all teams, made us look inept in week one. Against Indianapolis, I felt we had a chance throughout most of the game, but the team really beat itself in every phase of the game and let Indy come away with a win. Similarly with the Jets — rarely have I ever felt as good about a loss as I did against New York. But against the Baltimore Ravens, the final score of 17 to 31 looks a lot closer than it really was. The Ravens destroyed us. Oh, and then there was Oakland. I would prefer not to remember that game. I haven’t had enough to drink yet to forget it, though.

NFL/

An official yawns as he watches the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Denver Broncos during their NFL football game at Wembley Stadium in London October 31, 2010. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

Also, how on Earth we lose to San Francisco?

At the same time, San Diego has had its share of lopsided games as well. Seattle, who we demolished, pulled out a win. Arizona, on the other hand, was completely inept against them in the same way that Kansas City was against us. And they demolished Jacksonville, who also demolished us. It’s like trying to analyze a game of rock, scissors paper. Rock beats scissors and scissors beats paper, so how is rock going to fare against a bolt of lightning and a pack of cigarettes?

San Diego is a team in disarray this season. Big name holdouts, no true replacement for Ladanian Tomlinson, and a lot of locker room unrest. There were people throwing blame at Tomlinson, as though somehow the team’s malaise the last couple of seasons have all been his fault, that his falling stardom meant other people couldn’t play the game through his contrail. And when players talk like that, you can just tell how they’re going to play the game.

Which is to say, inconsistently.

Rivers and Orton are currently the top two passers in the league right now. I think everybody expects to see Rivers up in the top 5 on a regular basis. Nobody expects to see Orton up there. Maybe not even Orton. But both teams have one thing in common: a running game in total shambles, and that sure leads to a lot more opportunities for the quarterback.

The bright spot for the Broncos is that the last inconsistent game (i.e, a giant win when there is no way anyone could have predicted that) came after a bye and after several important tweaks to the game:

  1. The offensive line is finally the offensive line we expected. Ryan Clady, Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton, Chris Kuper and Ryan Harris playing at the positions they’re best and, and finally getting past some serious injuries that have held many of them back since training camp.
  2. The improvement in the offensive line meant Moreno looked like a real running back on Sunday.
  3. Moving Mario Haggan outside and promoting Joe Mays to the starters. Looks like a good move after one game.
  4. The team scripted its first 18 plays, a philosophy Shanahan espoused. It creates a kind of consistency and certainly improved execution.

Execution.

Execution starts at the line

Detail of the ball during a game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

That’s a great word here. The Broncos, more or less, can blame every single loss, save the Raiders, on execution. Or rather, the lack of it. In the chess match that is football, there are a lot of reasons why a particular play may or may not work, and scoring is about stringing together a set of plays that work. A lot of the time it means establishing things in the first part of the game and using what you’ve established later in the game to confuse the defense. Sometimes it means intentionally letting drives stall using plays you expect to fail so you can convince the opposing defense they know what you’re going to do, and then surprise them. Football, on a strategic level, is about confusing your opponent on one hand, and correctly predicting your opponent on the other hand. Most of the time, the team that is better about predicting the opponent and confusing the opponent will win.

Most of the Broncos’ games have not been won or lost because of strategy. Most of the Broncos’ games have been won or lost because of a lack of execution. Often this was lack of discipline — taking ugly penalties due to lack of focus and concentration — and often this was players simply not having the timing down perfectly.

What does this tell us about Monday night?

Not a bloody thing.

Why? Because on Sunday, the Broncos executed perfectly. But why? Was it the scripting? Scripting allows a team to rehearse in such a way that the thinking should be gone. That first set of plays? You do what you’ve programmed yourself to do. Things should just work. Was that why the Broncos executed well?

Was it because the team looked back on the first eight games, recognized that their real problem was a lack of execution, worked on it and actually corrected the problem?

Was it because the team was angry after back to back losses to the Bay Area teams, and was able to channel that anger into emotion. They physically dominated the Chiefs completely. But as much as anything, that domination can come when the emotion of the game is unbalanced. Sometimes there’s an early shocking blitzkrief and the opposing team never recovers and fails to play the way the team normally plays.

Was it because John Elway gave them a talking to, and all of the players looked deep within themselves and found what they needed to stay focused?

Was it because many injured players are back, and many players who’d been playing injured are healthier now?

Was it just because a week off gave them a little time to let go and get back to basics?

The answer is probably some combination of all of these things, honestly. What we can’t tell is how well this will carry forward, because any statistician will tell you that small sample sizes make your analyses worthless. And we have either a sample size of 9, which tells us the Broncos are doomed, or a sample size of 3, which tells us that the Broncos are probably doomed, or a sample size of 1 which suggests that the Broncos are going to win 73-27. Roughly.

Chargers Broncos Football

San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner, right, chats with Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels after their NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, in Denver. (Associated Press)

I personally find it hard to believe that one bye week and one game equate to the team fixing the problems that are plaguing it since the middle of the 2009 season. It’s not impossible mind you, but I’m a show-me kind of guy on this one. And no, my hesitation here does not mean that I won’t be sitting in my living room on Monday night, wearing orange, rooting for my team to defeat a division rival. But do I feel confident going into the game? No. Do I want them to win? Yes. Do I have any bloody clue what’s going to happen?

Well, kind of. I predict it will be a blowout. I just can’t predict which team will blow the other out. But to me, the most surprising result will be if the game is still close in the fourth quarter. So let’s call the final score 39-17, but I won’t pick which team scores which number.

One thing is for sure, though: Whichever team loses is probably pretty much dead in the division. Though San Diego might still have a shot if they lose.

  • Decision

    What a jerk you are Mr. “E Halsey Miles”…

    you wrote:

    “Jacksonville, of all teams, made us look inept in week one.”

    ………

    - FIRST: NO-ONE MADE THE BRONCOS LOOK INEPT…

    The broncos did that ALL ON THEIR OWN…

    - SECOND: how rude, and uninformed, of you to state that “JACKSONVILLE, OF ALL TEAMS”…..!!!!….????

    Jacksonville has routinely wiped the floor with the Broncos since 1995…

    If you have any questions about this, i refer you to your fellow writer “Woody Hayes”… Ask him about the “JAGWADS” article that he wrote… You know, the one that cost the Broncos a trip to the Superbowl…

  • Danno

    To me, on defense, it comes down to how much and how often Rivers has time to exploit Cox at corner, and Nate Jones in the nickel. On offense, it is again which offensive line will shows up…My guess is Cox and Jones will get worked, but our offensive line will show up again making it a good old fashion AFC West shoot-out…If we win by a nose, look for Orten to gain some much need respect from the mainstream media.

  • crazykid

    Woody Hayes was the Ohio State coach. You mean Woody Paige

  • http://ehalseymiles.com E. Halsey Miles

    History isn't terribly relevant. Except the history this season. And the history this season is that Jacksonville tends to lose big when they lose. All four of their losses this season have been by more than 20 points.

    Though I am forced to agree with you that the Broncos did that all on their own.

  • herc_rock

    Holy crap! A jacksonville fan!

  • AKfan

    Agreed, fantasy football dream game is likely coming. Orton should be able to gain respect even in a loss if he can keep it close throughout and have a good 4th quarter. Sure would be helpful if Antonio Gates is watching on Monday night.

  • herc_rock

    This is very well done, E. My only problem is with this sentence:

    Sometimes it means intentionally letting drives stall using plays you expect to fail so you can convince the opposing defense they know what you’re going to do, and then surprise them.

    Never intentionally let a drive stall…ever.

  • Igner Ant

    I'm confused. We played Oakland once already this year? Hmm. I seem to have no memory of that event.

    Otherwise, I agree completely– who the hell knows what will happen Monday? I only have one prediction: is isn't going to be close, one way or the other. One team is going to get humiliated, but which one?

  • http://ehalseymiles.com E. Halsey Miles

    Oh, then you have a better memory than I do. So to speak.

  • http://ehalseymiles.com E. Halsey Miles

    In a perfect world, every play you run will work. See Sunday.

    In most worlds, some drives stall, and sometimes they stall because you're trying to set things up for later on. That's what strategy is about, and it's too easy to lose the strategy in favor of the tactics.

  • http://ehalseymiles.com E. Halsey Miles

    I will admit I phrased that wrongly. When I say 'know will fail' I really mean 'have a higher chance of failure than other plays'. i.e, there is no single play that is technically a high percentage chance of succeeding, and that's because repetition makes plays fail more often. Add into that that the structure of some plays tends to make them much more boom and bust than other plays, and the idea is that you play boom and bust plays that are 75% likely to bust in order to improve the percentage chance of some other play or set of plays down the road. So 'know will fail' is wrong, but 'know is more likely to fail than not' is more accurate.

  • areferee

    …and a misinformed one, at that…not that they are mutually exclusive, evidently! :-)

  • areferee

    No. That's the problem. We HAVEN”T played the Raiders once this year. We SHOULD have…but we didn't.

    Would that I could forget!

  • http://ehalseymiles.com E. Halsey Miles

    Pity I can only “Like” this comment once.

  • areferee

    There. I did an extra one for you.

  • LevonZevon

    E. Halsey Miles may have been inarticulate. But the best example of the big-picture wisdom of what he wrote is the four deep balls we uncharacteristically threw against the Chiefs on the game's first series.

    It reminded the Chiefs Safeties that there could be a price to pay if they wandered from their areas of responsibility to cheat up against the run and try taking away the slants and digs that Denver likes to throw to Lloyd and the other WR's.

    Since we don't have a TE to believably run post patterns, this has been a critical problem before K.C. ran into the orange-clad Broncos.

    So, although only one of the four passes connected, I believe the opening up of running-lanes would have occurred nonetheless (even if Brandon Lloyd hadn't corralled that 37-yard pass on his fingertips in between long incompletions to Gaffney and Gronkowski).

    On the all-important, tone-setting first series against the Jets, Orton misfired on a long ball to the deep middle to Lloyd and the running game also sputtered to life (or, until the second-half when Rex Ryan belatedly realized that Leonhard and Coleman needn't worry about a recurrence of this tactic by the high-percentage-pass-favoring McDaniels).

    So, good point Mr. Miles.

    I only blanched when reading the now-inevitable, jinx-inducing dismissal of Norv Turner's Wade Phillips-like leadership (that always seems to occur just before San Diego's late-season push).

    Let's hope this year will be different.

    Oh, and thanks for informing me about the 18 scripted plays (which I didn't previously learn about elsewhere).

    Maybe Bowlen asked McDaniels to take his ego out of the game-plan and try borrowing any tactic that could help us win. After all, he was pacing the sideline, we were in orange a second-time, we were blitzing more than usual and we were opening the game with deep-passes to keep the Safeties honest.

    Something tells me that the old store-minding Canuck wasn't as cut off from fan feedback as some of us feared. If so, lets hope it augurs more of the “cut it loose” philosophy that teams like Cleveland, the Jets, The Eagles and even the Buccaneers– home of the once blitz-averse Tampa-2– are now embracing.

    In fact, Al Davis' once-permanent “Just Win Baby” banners were replaced by ones now emblazoned with “Cut It Loose” (in recognition of how the previously-indecisive QB Jason Campbell– who was overly fretting about past interceptions– took to heart those very bold words from Coach Cable).

  • broncofreak

    I'm just hoping that we saw glimpses of what this team is possible of against KC. I'm hoping that the present OL configuration is going to continue to click. If this team can just run the ball respectably, they become extremely dangerous. You open up the entire playbook with 2nd and 6 or better. I love our WR corps. My Lord, Brandon Lloyd has made 3-4 of the most insane catches the last 2 games. DT is only going to get better. I don't think there is anybody in the league that can cover Eddie Royal in the slot. Every time I begin to think Gaffney is the weak link, he comes up with a big play.

    That first half of the Chiefs game was the best offensive half I have seen from a Bronco's team in 12 years. More of the same please.

    Oh yeah, I'm a hopeless optimist….Broncos over San Diego.

  • crazykid

    Is this Perrish Cox on Broncotalk?

  • anthony33

    I had a bad feeling going into the Ravens game and I was right. So far, so good.

    I had a good feeling against the Jets and was close (that was a back breaker loss).

    I had a great feeling heading into the raiders game… uh yeah.

    Didn't know what to expect against SF, but thought it would be close because SF was a mess too.

    And last week was strange, I thought the Bronx were going to get hammered and I was at a point where I didn't really care because I was expecting it. Then BAM… best game in a long, long time.

    This week… I have hope again, but still think we are in trouble. SD is pulling their ususal late season run and they are coming off a bye week.

  • Decision

    You're right… it was Woody Paige… my apologies…

    I am getting old…

  • Decision

    “NOT TERRIBLY RELEVANT”…????

    The POINT is that the Jaguars “DIDN'T LOSE BY 20 POINTS TO THE BRONCOS”…………

    They beat the Broncos….

    And so have many others…

    That is ABSOLUTELY RELEVANT….

    It is YOUR ARTICLE that is “not terribly relevant”…..!!!!

  • Decision

    LOL…

    yep… we exist….

  • Decision

    Dear “A (biased) REFEREE”:

    I'm very well informed thank you…

    Say hello to Timmy for me…

    We miss him down here…

    And congrats on your last game….

    …..

    You know, a long time ago, the BRONCOS were formidable…

    You had the number one QB, and a squad of killers to protect him…

    He was the GOD of the clock…

    ………

    But that was long ago….

    Now, if you could get another excellent QB who can “control the clock” like your old guy, and find another gang of thugs to protect him, you might be back on top…

  • Broncos59

    Ditto on the WR Brandon makes the most fantastic catches watched NFL network top ten plays last week where were Brandons catches the toe tap in the end zone tp three. Defense has got to do something to get Rivers off balance a good clean knockout would work and some running game and we win

  • areferee

    …and when I need to recall a clear example of judgmental bias, I will fondly recall your post…but it won't be soon.

  • areferee

    Keep the faith “Threes”…

    Remember Lazarus, the loaves and fishes, and the 1980 U. S. Olympic Hockey Team!