NFL Wild Card Thoughts and Ramblings
I loved everything about Wild Card weekend. I loved watching Drew Brees dominate the Lions with complete control of nearly every play. I loved the way the Lions fought hard to keep the game close and didn’t seem to be affected by the Superdome. Detroit did unravel in the end because the Saints kept the pressure on them with their offense. But Detroit proved that as long as Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford are on the field they will be a challenge for any team to stop. While New Orleans proved you will need to be nearly perfect to beat them. I loved how Marvin Lewis made everyone who picked the Bengals instantly regret their decision with that awful challenge almost exactly one hour into the game. The game was close at that point but did anyone really believe the Bengals were going to pull it out after that display, along with the second horrendous challenge before the half was out? Coaches do matter and picking Marvin Lewis on the road in the playoffs is never wise.
I loved how Atlanta definitively proved they are not on the level of the top teams in the NFC and they must make drastic changes if their want to seriously contend for a Super Bowl. I also loved how the Giants played just well enough to make everyone pause and say “maybe there is a chance they can hang with Green Bay next weekend.” It will be an interesting game. Most of all I loved how Tim Tebow took over the Pittsburgh game in and made big plays all day long. I loved this because it is exciting to watch Denver compete week to week and win vastly different ways. I loved it because it I like unconventional players who challenge the rhetoric that odd schemes cannot work in the NFL. Tebow won with passing but it was because of the threat of run his passing was so successful. Those who dismiss Tebow’s style of play are often those demanding that other non-contemporary designs cannot work. I loved it because John Fox succeeded while moving outside of his comfort zone and trying something that just might work, and this might lead to more coaches trying outside of the box ideas in the future. But mostly I loved it because for next year the question has shifted from “What are the Broncos going to do at Quarterback?” to “How are the Broncos going to build their offense around Tim Tebow?” Because there is no choice at QB now, it should not have taken a playoff win but this solidified his position. Tebow is the leader of the Denver Broncos, John Fox and company have to do all they can to surround him with the best players possible to complement his style. What kind of players should they try to get?
I think they have to continue to build the offense and turn it into a strength. They might be tempted to continue to build the defense and try to win more low scoring games with Tebow but I think their offense needs to be tailored to his strengths immediately. The Broncos are not where they need to be on defense but they do have some play-makers already. Von Miller was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. He has been injured and not quite as effective lately but he is a dynamic pass rusher. He lines up opposite Elvis Dumervil another talented pass rusher. This is on top of two other recent high rounds picks DB – Rahim Moore and LB – Robert Ayers. They also start perennial pro-bowl hopefuls DJ Williams at LB and Champ Baily at CB. With the dynamic pass rush they currently feature everything on defense is made easier. The secondary does not have to cover as long and you do not need great players to look good in coverage. They should add to the defense where they can but the pass rush should allow them to get by no matter who is added. The draft should be used to improve the offense.
Several high picks have already been used recently on the offense. In fact their entire starting Oline has been drafted by the team in the last four years with the exception of guard Chris Kuper. The line has performed well this year and every starter is under 30 so it is doubtful they need to add anyone high in the draft. If left tackle Ryan Clady can return to his pre-injury form the line could really take off. There have also been several picks made at wide receiver. Demaryious Thomas was a first round pick ahead of Tim Tebow in 2010. Shifty WR Eric Decker was also added in through the draft and Eddie Royal although he is now a four-year vet is still only 25. The don’t lack much at receiver now but they could use a speedy deep threat who is able to stretch the field and can make a play on the ball in traffic. If this sounds a lot like Brandon Lloyd then you are right, I don’t understand why they dumped a player with such potential. Outside of this need they should continue to add tall wide receivers and could benefit from adding a massive pure possesion receiver with great hands. Tebow is often inaccurate on short and intermediate throws so having a player like this who can catach anything in his area code could really benefit the team, especially on 3rd downs.
So what are the Broncos lacking? They don’t feature the tight end much in the offense, no tight end caught even 20 passes all season, this needs to be corrected. The top offenses in football all feature dynamic tight ends; Jermichael Finley in Green Bay, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. And for the Broncos the tight end position should be critically important, and they should be looking for more than just one. Having a multiple tight end set with pass catching tight ends allows an offense the ability to pass and run effectively from the same sets. It keeps the defense off-balance, and for the Broncos who will be looking to feature the run it would be a huge advantage. Right now when the Broncos bring the tight ends on the field the defense know’s that only the one WR in the route can hurt them because the TE’s won’t be catching anything deep. If the Broncos can change this then they can spread the field, be more effective in play action and also open up the running game.
It is the running game that needs to be the focus of the Broncos draft. They already have young wide receivers to grow with Tebow. They need an explosive back who can carry the bulk of the load in the offense. I know the Broncos already have injured high round pick Knowshon Moreno and he had some success this year but I have never been sold on him. He is indecisive and lacks power, I am not sure he is a great fit for all the inside run’s the Broncos feature. However I do think he can have a roll on the team as a 3rd down back because he is a terrific pass catcher. Fortunately for the Broncos running backs often slip down the board on draft day and sometimes they are virtually ignored in the first round. In 2011 only one running back went in the first round, in 2010 and 2009 three each were taken. You also don’t need to take a back in the first round to find a good one. Very good running backs can be had in the later rounds. The Broncos must identify a back who runs with power, who doesn’t mind cutting up field and smashing into the first tackler he sees. This player must also have speed so the Broncos can create big plays on the ground as well.
They should not stop with one back. They should aim to have entire backfield of different style runners who can be called upon in different situations. Think like the Patriots of Saints. The Saints have Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Corey Ivory and Darren Sproles. Ingram gets the bulk of the carries (when healthy), Thomas and Corey are straight ahead runners, Sproles is the quick back who can make anyone miss. Because all four can play all four remain fresh all game. This would be another advantage for the Broncos who play in the mile-high air and have been able to wear teams down at home this season. I think it is important for them to find a small explosive player in the mold of Darren Sproles. Having a player like this will add an instant big play element to their offense. The key to finding a player like this is not to find the fastest or most elusive player but to find the elusive player who can also has enough core power to run straight ahead when needed. You’re only move as a runner cannot also be to try to go around the defender. A full set of quick running backs to call upon could make the Broncos running attack deadly and allow the deep ball to open up even more.
I look forward to watching the Broncos search for players to add to their offense. Tebow has been effective this year and has clearly captured the Broncos locker room. I cannot wait to see how effective he can be in an offense with play-makers tailored to his strengths.