A Hobo Disciple To Replace The Rat Fink

AP/Stephan Saviola

AP/Stephan Saviola

I’m not sure it’s necessarily fair to tar Josh McDaniels with the brush of the failures of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, or Charlie Weis.  Crennel and Mangini were defensive people, and so is Bill Belichick by training, thus, it’s easy to wonder how much control they had over their side of the ball. Weis’ trouble is that his arrogance didn’t work well with a college program — along with his poor play calling and planning.

But let’s just say that hiring McDaniels to run the show and bringing in Dom Capers to run the defense doesn’t really strike this Broncos fan as the best of ideas.  Capers is a very good coordinator, but I was a supporter of trying to get Rex Ryan in for an interview. Someone has to make the defensive side of the ball shape up again.  Then again, the only defensive minded coach the franchise ever hired was Wade Phillips, and look how that turned out.

Any choice Bowlen made wasn’t going to be better as a coach than Mike Shanahan. I think I and every other Broncos fan had accepted that. However, since Shanahan was so responsible for personnel, the failure on the defensive end was so much more connected to hiim because he drafted and signed those guys.

McDaniels is a blank slate. We don’t know what he’ll do with a team. What will be more important is to evaluate that hire in combination with the GM and other personnel folk that Bowlen brings in to work with him.

A Necessary Bloodletting

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

So long, and thanks for the Super Bowl titles.

If the Rocky Mountain News is to be believed, the firing of Mike Shanahan after 14 years and back-to-back Super Bowls came down to an ultimatum over Broncos’ D-coordinator Bob Slowik. Owner Pat Bowlen wanted him out; the Rat Fink wouldn’t fire him, even after this horrendous defensive season. So, out goes the coach that helped John Elway and Terrell Davis take Denver to the Promised Land.

Truth is, it probably should have happened a couple of years ago. Maybe not the firing, but at least a reduction in the Fink’s authority; a removal of the exec VP of football ops title he held — with an Isiah-style plan, rebuild in one or two years or you’re done. The trends in the NFL have changed again; coaches who hold final personnel say are an endangered species. Only Coach Hobo continues to wield this power in New England; someone will give Bill Cowher similar power to return to the ranks, but that’s it.

When Shanahan fired GM Ted Sundquist last year (and I say Shanahan did it rather than Bowlen for a reason), all the focus went on him and a very visible inability to identify defensive talent and the right coaches to bring them along. Elvis Dumervil and D.J. Williams were the only two recent draft picks on defense that turned out ot be anything decent.  (Verdict’s still out on Marcus Thomas; Spencer Larsen could be really good.)

You never want to be the person pulling for the coach who won two titles to get fired, but I had come to that conclusion after watching seasons where the Fink blew through DCs every year with no defensive improvement; at the very least, he needed a GM to check and balance.

Shanahan wanted all the responsibility, accepted it, and did well with legendary talent. Now, he has to accept the loss of his job for sustained mediocrity. Such is life in the NFL, and maybe, just maybe, the Broncos needed to cut losses now and start over, because no matter how promising that offense looked with Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, and Tony Scheffler, the defense would have let them down — and after so many DCs, that goes straight to the man who wanted all that authority and responsibility.

So, thanks for the titles and the aggressive play-calling, Coach, but the franchise needs to go somewhere you can’t take it any more. It happens. Nothing can last forever when you go 1-4 in the playoffs in the 10 seasons after the glory years.

Epic Degrees of FAIL: The AFC

Chronicling just what killed each of the 10 AFC teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and how devastating that failure was in the end, from the least to the most.

The Break Heard ‘Round The World

New England Patriots — Now staying home despite an 11-5 record and recovering in a way no one expected after Tom Brady’s knee ligaments snapped in the opening game.  Done in due to losses acquired during adjustment period to Matt Cassel and an aging defense that gave in to division rivals, particularly Miami, once too often. Are low on the list because this was still Coach Hobo’s best work in the duress of losing his leader and star.

Bad Start Followed By Peaking Too Late

Houston Texans — Effectively destroyed thanks to Sage Rosenfels’ propensity to turn the ball over when it matters most.  Matt Schaub wasn’t doing great to start out, but Rosenfels handing a game to the Colts and having to rotate in and out while Schaub tried to find his groove ensured Houston would be a late bloomer.  Four game losing streak capped by that loss in Indy killed any hope in a division where the winner had a 10-game winning streak and the second place team enters the playoffs with a nine-game streak. At least you’re not finishing under .500 again, and you have a feature back in Steve Slaton.

Icarus Is Not A Model To Follow Here

Buffalo Bills – A 5-1 start against what turned out to be lamentably bad competition (of the teams they beat, only the Chargers made the playoffs), followed by a precipitous fall in which they lost 8 of their final 10, forgot Marshawn Lynch existed for the most part, and had to go to J.P. Losman in games that they stood a chance of winning thanks to Trent Edwards’ fragile constitution.

Cincinnati Bengals – No communication between Carson Palmer and his receivers when he was playing, he gets knocked out, team continues to suffer until its tie of the Eagles and belated discovery that Cedric Benson still has rushing skills. Oddly enough, defense not responsible for sucking more this year.  Continued fall back to reality from Wild Card finish two years ago complete.

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Horses At Heel


I’m skipping this week’s general rundown of NFL games because I feel like I need to focus on the morass the Broncos are in and I haven’t written specifically on them in some time.

It’s bad enough that I tend towards the pessimistic with this team for the past few years.  Watching Mike Shanahan burn through offensive philosophies and, as of late, coordinators, will do that.  I fully expect Bob Slowik to be fired after the season is over; I’m surprised he wasn’t canned before Ted Cottrell. (Of course, there is the whole “Cottrell’s defense actually cost the Chargers wins” thing, but the same deal kind of applies. It only happened more often to San Diego.)

What I saw out of the higlights and limited, pirated-TV action from Mile High when the Dolphins came to town was a team that didn’t have the personnel to play defense, let alone know how to tackle properly.  Of course, it does not help when the current young and talented quarterback at the helm of the offense has somehow managed to make me wonder if Jake Plummer ever really left the team.  Belief that you can make any throw is a great thing, but belief doesn’t necessarily make it so — three picks will prove that real easy.

And Brandon Marshall is already getting his T.O. on — he’s more right that we’d admit, but it’s not probably the best thing to say on mike:

“When the quarterback sees 1-high or cover-1 (coverage), he’s got to be on the same page as me and get the ball to me,” Marshall said. “But it’s a team game, and oh, well.”

Eh.  Offensive problems aside, the whole defense, with no Champ Bailey, no D.J. Williams, that doesn’t matters. Michael Pittman and Andre Hall are now on IR — so that’s a hit to the Tailback Factory, and where else do we go from here?

If it weren’t Norv Turner in charge of the Chargers, I would say that we were dead in the water. And we probably are dead in the water, depending on whether Ron Rivera can make hay with a 3-4 defense now. However, the Broncos right now are falling apart at the worst time — when they could take advantage of their crappy division.

Bob Slowik Will Be Looking For A Job Next Year

Patriots 41, Broncos 7 – Dear God, it will be nice to not care about this Denver team for a week.  The bye is a relief after watching Jay Cutler throw two interceptions, watching several fumbles (if any team has as bad a case of fumbleitis in the league, I’d like to see them), and the leaky, horrific defense let Matt Cassel throw three touchdown passes, two to Randy Moss, and Sammy Morris rush for 138 yards on a defense that can’t stop the run to save its life. Of course, it only got worse when the Brothers Bailey, Champ and Boss, left due to injury.  It looked horrible from the moemnt when Cutler hit his thumb on Vince Wilfork’s helmet.

Bob Slowik, the Broncos D-coordinator, should be ready to schlep his resume somewhere else, and again, barring some bizarre turnaround after the bye, he will get that offer when Mike Shanahan issues him his walking papers come the end of the season.  There’s not enough of a pass rush, even with six sacks of Cassel. The linebacking crops is probably undersized, Bailey and Dre’ Bly are getting beat regularly, and the team has safeties that don’t help well, paricualarly if the play goes deep. If it comes to pass, that will make three defensive coordinators in the past three years (technically, Slowik held the position in 2007, but Jim Bates was in charge of the defense as associate head coach/defense after Larry Coyer was let go in 2006.)

Here is how much the defense allows in offensive yardage by its opponents, week to week:

  • Oakland: 317
  • San Diego: 486 (Denver had 30 fewer, won only due to Ed Hochuli)
  • New Orleans: 502
  • Kansas City: 370 (outgained by Denver, still won — with 200 of those yards belonging to Larry Johnson)
  • Tampa Bay: 307
  • Jacksonville: 417
  • New England: 404

You just can’t gunsling your way out of that, especially with the fumbling propensity evident on this team.  As for the Patriots? We still really know nothing. They get beat by San Diego, they beat up on Denver — who can tell what’s the real version of this team with Cassel under center?

The Red Zone: Insane Finishes

Falcons 22, Bears 20 – Qualifying for the bizarre in the end.  Kyle Orton is officially a good QB to me now, having led the Bears on an incredible drive for the go-ahead score, and finishing it with a perfect fade throw to Rashied Davis, putting it where only his guy could get it. But then, the Chicago coaching staff decided to squib kick, and those ten extra yards wound up mattering: Matt Ryan, finishing off a 300+ yard day (first of his career), hit Michael Jenkins at the 34 of Chicago with one second left. Jason Elam then redeemed himself from 48 out after missing one that might have iced the game for the Falcons earlier.

Cardinals 30, Cowboys 24 – We all saw the punt block in OT that won the game (nice play.)  But there are concerns now to addressa bout Dallas’ D, which not only couldn’t get any pressure on Kurt Warner (who hit Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston all day), but looked like a colleciton of talent more than a squad. The same went on offense, where Tony Romo fumbled as much as he threw for touchdowns.

Rams 19, Redskins 17 – So, after beating Dallas and Philly on the road and getting a good jump start on the season, Washington gives up five turnovers en route to allowing St. Louis its first iwn on the season. What  a letdown.

Eagles 40, 49ers 26 – Thankfully, Donovan McNabb led a comeback, because this didn’t look good Philly at the end of hte first half, after San Francisco returned a blocked FG for a score and took a 26-17 lead in the third. The Eagles’ defense got into turnover mode, though, creating short fields and reminding the NIners that they are, well, the Niners.

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The Red Zone: He’s Having So Much Fun Out There

Jets 56, Cardinals 35 – Loath to imagine the superlatives that sportswriters will ladel on Brett Favre following a 24-34 day passing with six TD passes (three to Laveranues Coles). Most of this was enabled by five turnovers by Kurt Warner, resulting in 34 2nd quarter points for the faux-NY Titans, one fewer than Arizona was able to scrape up in the 2nd half.

Chiefs 33, Broncos 19 – Larry Johnson runs all over the weak Denver D for 198 yards on the day, but this is the day where living dangerously via the play action pass can bite you in the butt: thrwoing picks, losing fumbles to a clearly talent-inferior team, yet one that gets revved up every time you come to town.  Mike Shanahan is now 3-14 when playing in Arrowhead Stadium; it is never a place where Denver can go an win easily, ever. (And if Kansas City were actually coordinated as a team, the score would have been that much more lopsided. There were three drives that KC should have scored touchdowns on; the first quasrter could and should have ended 21-0 or 24-0.)

Saints 31, 49ers 17 – The return of Deuce McAllister only makes Drew Brees more dangerous: Brees threw for 363 yards and three more touchdowns, torching the San Francisco secondary.

Panthers 24, Falcons 9 – Um, yeah. Like I said, Matt Ryan, meet a real defense, again.  Jake Delhomme hit Steve Smith for two TD passes and Muhsin Muhammad for one in the 4th to really ice it.

Jaguars 30, Texans 27 – Jacknsoville digs in when down 24-20, getting a score to go ahead and then kicker Josh Scobee pulls it out again after Houston forces overtime.

Browns 20, Bengals 12 – The less said about this game, the better, probably. It looked like a Cleveland win as soon as everyone shockingly discovered that Carson Palmer wasn’t playing in this cripple fight.

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Context Is Everything

Obviously, over the past couple of days, you’ve likely heard or read plenty about Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to go for two at the end of the Chargers’ game. Much of it revolves around the testicular fortitude necessary to make such a call (true, because Les Miles thinks that was ballsy) and the rest is about the supposed “offensive genius” of the Rat Fink (which I would argue, went out when John Elway retired.)

I am not arguing that Shanahan isn’t a very good to great coach.  The majority of Super Bowl winning coaches fall in that category, particularly ones who win back to back — no matter the great talent level, coach input, motivation, and game planning must count for something. He is very good with good personnel on offense and knows how to identify it. (At this point, he looks very savvy for going after Jay Cutler when fans in 2006 were wondering why he didn’t go higher in the draft for Matt Leinart or Vince Young if he was going to trade up.)

And that call made sense. If your defense is bleeding, having given up 28 points in the second half, it’s a much smarter call to take a shot at winning the game right there and then rather than risk the capriciousness of a coin flip in overtime, where you may not get the ball. At that point, the team that wins the coin flip wins the game.  While I don’t like citing Easterbrook too much, if the percentages are so good for two-point conversions, coaches should be going for it more often.

But neither Easterbrook nor Michael Silver nor any analyst can really go into the reserve that allows Shanahan to make a call like that, because it’s not something you can call and confirm.

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The Red Zone: Eddie Guns Misfires

Broncos 39, Chargers 38 – I’m a Denver homer and even I will admit that referee Ed Hochuli completely blew it. We shouldn’t have had that chance to win that game. That said, it was smart and ballsy to go for two after Jay Cutler threw it to Eddie Royal for the touchdown because it was playing with house money and because San Diego would be reeling from getting fucked over. These teams will be fighting for the AFC West crown, because Philip Rivers and that offense know how to close and come back. They wouldn’t have gotten to the AFC championship game if they didn’t. Cutler is still learning how to finish, and there could be some shaky times. But each offense looked really good for a half.

Patriots 19, Jets 10 – The game ended with the old Brett Favre that we’ve gotten used to: a late pick-off by Brandon MeriweatherMatt Cassel threw for 165 yards, didn’t throw any TD passes, but didn’t muck it up and while he’s not going to be raging up any fantasy rosters, he might stand a chance of getting the Patriots back to the playoffs.

Titans 24, Bengals 7 – How long is Marvin Lewis for this world of NFL coaching? He’s been undermined and this looks to be the worst team he’s ever fielded in his years in Cincinnati.  Kerry Collins, relieving Vince Young, threw for one touchdown and dispensed the ball to LenDale White and Chris Johnson to eat up yardage. Tennessee’s defense got lethal, and now they are in first place in the toughest division in football.

Bills 20, Jaguars 16 – What world is this we live in, with Buffalo starting 2-0?  Trent Edwards is looking like the starting quarterback they’ve been looking for (it helps if you have Marshawn Lynch to hand off to) by throwing a fourth-quarter touchdown against a tema that was in the playoffs last year.

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Rat Fink to Cryptkeeper: “Oh No, You Didn’t!”

(Note: This post has musical accompaniment, so download this first. If anyone were to mash up the highlights from the Denver-Oakland game and put them to this particular track, it would be highly appropriate.)

Broncos 41, Raiders 14 –Your musical accompaniment provides the complete encapsulation of Mike Shanahan’s attitude whenever he leads his team against the Oakland Raiders and Al Davis, whom he still believes owes him money from his short and acrimonious tenure as Raiders head coach. Last year, I applauded the Rat Fink’s obvious douchebaggery in Week 2 by pulling the last-second time out trick on Sebastian Janikowski, and the other side of Shanny’s nasty nature towards anything in the East Bay was unleashed when the Broncos quickly jumped out to 27 unanswered points in the first three quarters. The Broncos then added two more touchdowns, and I’m sure they would have been happy to go for half a hundred, Belichick-style, if time would have permitted.

You could almost imagine Shanahan singing “I will have my vengeance; I will never end this mayhem,” as rookie wideout Eddie Royal more than made up for the absence of Brandon Marshall by catching one touchdown and racking up 146 yards receiving. Royal victimized fellow Hokie DeAngelo Hall, who clearly made All-Pro twice with his mouth rather than actual skill at cornerback. Hall chucked Royal twice for 15-yard personal foul penalties on the same drive. Jay Cutler threw with an accurate recklessness that is this close to making me give him the name “Son of Favraro,” completing 2/3 of his passes for 299 yards, and handed off to a tandem of Selvin Young and Michael Pittman, who had three sixes between them while running all over and around a supposedly revamped Oakland D (that Tommy Kelly $18 million dollar guarantee already looks like a waste.)

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