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October 18, 2006 12:01 AM

Hail to the Redskins?

Chris Len in Washington, D.C., leads things off with a look ahead . . .

Q: Right now Denver is 4-1 and Washington is 2-4. If the season were to end, today would the teams switch No. 1 picks? Please explain the T.J. Duckett trade to me, so that I'll know whether to root for Washington to keep losing so (the Broncos) get a high No. 1 or whether I should root for them to win so we don't just get a (third-round pick).

A: Chris was the first of five people who asked about this trade this week -- the Redskins loss to the Titans must have spurred the interest.

This is in reference to the three-team deal the Broncos were a part of that sent Ashley Lelie to Atlanta, Duckett to Washington and draft considerations to Denver. It is a complex set of scenarios based on a points system that absolutely will not be official until both teams have completed their seasons.

And contrary to what you've seen elsewhere, there is only one scenario where the Broncos get only one of Washington's draft picks in that deal. The rest of the scenarios call for the Broncos to receive two picks.

The best scenario, in the Broncos minds, would be if -- again this is just a general approximation at this point -- Denver finished as one of the Super Bowl teams in the draft order (Nos. 31 or 32 in the first round) and Washington was the last team to make the playoffs (No. 20 in the first round).

In the deal, that kind of finish would mean the Broncos and Redskins would simply flip-flop No. 1 picks. That approximately 12-slot move up in the first round would be a coup for the Broncos since Lelie had made it clear he wasn't going to report to the Broncos anyway and Duckett isn't getting much playing time in Washington.

But if the Broncos finish too far in front of the Redskins in terms of record, the Broncos get Washington's third-round pick in the 2007 draft and fourth in '08 (the Redskins don't have a four in the '07 draft, so that's why the second pick is in '08).

Those are the two picks the Broncos would also get if they finish too close to the Redskins as well -- likely within two or three draft positions.

There are also a few scenarios where the Broncos and Redskins flip-flop their No. 1 picks and in addition the Broncos get Washington's third-round in the '07 draft OR Washington's fourth-round pick in '08.

Again, there have been a lot of reports out there the Broncos would only get the third-round pick in some scenarios. That simply isn't true. The only scenario where the Broncos get one draft pick in the deal is if they move up as far as the deal allows in the first round. Then the two teams flip-flop the No. 1 picks, and the deal is done.

But overall, the deal, which was put together by Broncos management, is certainly creative. It was a new enough approach that the league did a double take with it before eventually approving it.

So, in short, fans hoping for the biggest move in the first round for the Broncos should want the Broncos in the Super Bowl and the Redskins to just sneak into the playoffs.

And in a landslide not seen in this blog even at the height of the Cutler-for-Plummer e-mail barrage in training camp, there was a mountain of e-mail wondering about the Broncos offense thus far . . . Here are just few:

Russell Dillard in Richmond, Va., showed a little more optimism than most . . .

Q: While it seems (Broncos coach Mike) Shanahan is being conservative in his play calling, the opposing defense can affect what plays are called -- even a team as bad as the Raiders . . . This offense is close to putting up some better points. I have seen a lot of dropped passes that would have continued drives . . . As far as play calling, is (Shanahan) taking what the defense is giving or is he avoiding showing his full hand, knowing the schedule that is ahead?

Then there was Geoff Smith . . .

Q: After five starts showing very little offensive strength, do you feel that the Broncos have much of a chance for the postseason? With a team like San Diego facing the Broncos in the AFC West and upcoming games against Indianapolis and a resurgent Steelers team, what have you seen in the Bronco offense that would give you hope for a turnaround?

And Jake Thompson in Des Moines, Iowa . . .

Q: I keep thinking I'm in some bad dream or the Broncos offense is the cornerstone of some bad joke. It's so surreal, it just can't be happening. I keep thinking it's going to get better, and it only seems to get worse. Opposing teams are just out-and-out baiting Denver to try and throw against them. It appears Denver can't even throw a Frisbee into the wind right now . . . How can it be this bad? Could it be that defenses have figured this offense out, and Denver is stubbornly unwilling to make adjustments?

And Brad Jahn in Bend, Ore. . . .

Q: . . . I point out that while it's one thing to not execute well, it is a completely different thing to not even try. Eighteen pass attempts? (Broncos quarterback Jake) Plummer started (the Raiders) game extremely well, and then Shanahan just quit. No looks downfield, almost no throws at all in the second half unless it was third-and-long.

And Bill Hemmert in Wichita, Kan. . . .

Q: Again I see that Denver has no real offense. Denver has played teams that primarily have weak offenses through Week 6. If the Broncos play up against high-scoring offenses like they have played the weaker offenses, there is no way the defense is going to win that game for them. And the schedule only gets tougher. Do you believe the rhetoric that coach Shanahan uses when he says he is being "conservative" with the offense, or do you think it is a coverup for an offensive system that is weak and has a difficult time scoring?

And finally Rob Ridley in Grand Junction, a regular, said . . .

Q: After watching Arizona blowing the game against the Bears with . . . conservative play calling, it reminded me of (the Broncos) offense. It looked to me like Arizona started trying to run out the clock with almost the entire second half yet to play. If Shanahan doesn’t watch it, we’ll be “protecting? a slim lead and something like a fumble or interception will put us behind. With all of the politically correct coach-speak that doesn’t explain anything, can you give us some insight as to what is really being said around Dove Valley by both the players and coaches? Is this really Shanahan’s plan?

A: I've always felt, when the idea of doing this blog was being kicked around among my editors, it would be important for me to admit what I think and why.

And that said, I am, always have been and always will be, a defensive guy. I like defensive football, I think teams should strive for it, and I believe it has been proven over the long haul defensive football wins more important games than it loses.

But I also know I'm not on the hook for season tickets for what seems to be a bigger hit on the credit card each season.

And lots of people, including some of the league's coaches and personnel guys who are long-time friends of mine, say that makes me some kind of football relic who refuses to change with the times. I then show them piles of stats proving my point and often they just shrug their shoulders just before signing five more receivers.

So I'm only being honest that after over two decades of breaking down NFL video, I don't look on the Broncos current offensive struggles in the same way as a lot of people. I see a defensive team that has proven against two first-place teams over the last three games it can win that way.

And I will always contend there are far more teams that have lost a chance at the Super Bowl because they couldn't defend the run than teams that made it to the big game because they could throw deep.

I also understand there are Broncos fans who have watched this team for a long time and are simply used to points being scored at much quicker pace than this team is scoring them.

But enough of my grind-it-out ramblings . . . having spoken to plenty of folks about it both inside and outside of the Broncos complex, and having looked at all the video several times, the Broncos offense has put together just five touchdown drives this year because:

-- In the span of their last three games, they have faced two of the top seven scoring defenses in the league -- Baltimore and New England -- and faced two of the league's top eight defenses in terms of yards allowed per game -- Oakland and Baltimore

Oakland's defensive numbers are surprisingly good despite the fact their offense is offering the Raiders very little help in terms of field position and in-game momentum.

-- Two of the four people in the pass pattern much of the time -- wide receiver Javon Walker and tight end Tony Scheffler -- weren't with the team last season. Quarterbacks are creatures of habit, Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer more than some others I've been around.

Plummer likes familiarity on the field. Walker didn't participate fully in the offseason because he was coming off knee surgery, and Scheffler, despite his potential, is finding getting open is a lot more difficult in the NFL than it was in college.

Scheffler can run by almost any defender he faces, but the defenders know it, too. And they're getting physical with him, and he's going to have to push back some.

But he'll adapt, he's too good not to.

Overall, though, it doesn't take much to be out of synch in the passing game -- just a stride or two -- once the regular season starts, and it takes even less to get knocked off kilter in the playoffs. And the Broncos' timing is a little off.

-- They've dropped too many passes. A ball on the ground is not a first down. Not enough first downs means the Broncos don't have enough touchdowns.

One theory is, and two personnel folks I asked this week agree, that the receivers are pressing some because they each want badly to be one to make something happen so they are snapping their heads around a little too quickly before they have secured the ball.

Scheffler has struggled some with that even since training camp, but that's to be expected with a younger player. It's a good thing they want to succeed so badly, but the group may just need to relax a bit, settle down and take things as they come a little more.

Just make the catch, and eventually a big play or two will follow.

-- Plummer hasn't always delivered the ball in frame so the receiver can go with it. And chart his passes for the season, and he has roughly the same number of incompletions -- within a handful -- to both the left and right sides of the field.

That tells me the timing is just a little off across the board. And he may be aiming the ball a little too much as well at times as they all have had to answer for the offensive struggles even as the team has won the last four games.

-- Shanahan knows what kind of team he has.

If a defense is going to play like the Broncos' defense is playing right now, taking unnecessary risks isn't going to be on his docket.

Again defense, if you can play it, is all day. It is one of the great football constants. Offense needs a lot of things to fall into place to hum all the time.

It's only natural to dial it back some if ball control will get you a win. The Broncos have won three games by 10 points. In a league where the vast majority of games are decided by seven points or less, that is a significant item.

-- They have reaped what they sowed.

The Broncos have spent so much time pounding away at Plummer about not making mistakes, the passing game has shortened itself because of it.

He is, by direction from above, usually going to take the best chance for a completion, not the best chance for a touchdown. The Broncos have consistently talked about not making errors or being careless with the ball.

It is at least part of the reason they have only seven completions this season of 24 or more yards, just three of more than 31 yards. They have preached control, and that's exactly what they've gotten.

If you're Plummer and you're going to get hammered both inside and outside of the building if you pass up the sure thing at 8 yards and throw an interception trying to go 45 down the hash, you're most likely going to take the short pass and huddle up again.

And that's no matter how thick you believe your skin is.

Sometimes I think the people who want Plummer just to fire away deep are the same ones who want him on the bench if that goes bad.

Lots of folks talk about John Elway when they say what they want the Broncos offense to do. Well, Elway is retired and in the Hall of Fame. His standing in the offense, in the town and in the game was largely in place when Shanahan arrived as a head coach.

That stature even grew when Shanahan and Elway won two championships together.

It was a different situation entirely for Elway not to put the ball exactly where Shanahan, or even Dan Reeves for that matter, wanted it to go. He could let it rip a little more because he was Elway.

He could simply take more chances, his resume usually meant he received more benefit of the doubt both on the sideline and in the community. At least after people stopped saying Gary Kubiak should play instead.

That's a far different situation for a guy like Plummer, who was signed by Shanahan after spending six years struggling in Arizona. But that's how it goes.

Plummer simply can't be held to that standard because nobody else should be held to that standard here.

-- The rollout game.

Two of Plummer's three interceptions against the Rams in the season opener came on rollout plays. The Broncos have run fewer since -- they had a few against the Raiders when Oakland was in a nickel package much of the time with just two linebackers -- on their own as well as the fact teams have been more aggressive against it.

Teams have fired defenders off the edge when they believed the situation called for a rollout. Eventually, should the Broncos continue to run the ball effectively, there will be a little more room to work on the perimeter.

Defenses can't take away everything. If the Broncos can continue to pound away in the middle, defenses will eventually have to commit another of those edge defenders into the center of the field.

For the rollout to come back, the Broncos will have to run the ball as they have thus far and maybe even a little better to get the reaction they want.

That’s it, and thanks.


  • October 18, 2006

    5:26 AM

    MB writes:

    It's interesting reading your analysis on the skins / broncos / falcons trade.

    These sorts of deals have been pretty common place in european football (soccer) for quite a while - it is normally based on teams qualifying for the Champions League or winning trophies or a player making international appearances. For instance: Manchester United would have got more money off Real Madrid for David Beckham if they'd won the Champions League.

    But of course they throw up the ethical issues of "If the Broncos had qualified for the playoffs and if they lost their last game Washington got into the playoffs......" Although that situation is as unlikely as Lelie getting thrown a pass from Michael Vick.

  • October 18, 2006

    10:34 AM

    John writes:

    Like everyone else, I am frustrated watching a mediocre offensive effort by the Broncos. The talent appears to be there, but the play calling and play making are not. Although I want things to change now, I also have learned to trust Shanahan, and he does not appear to be very concerned about his offense. He is calling that conservative game plan, and has proven (over these last 10 years) that he knows his profession as well or better than most. His team is winning without having to risk much. By doing this he is keeping the pressure off his QB & offense, allowing the team the most amount of time as possible to "get their act together". He knows the schedule, and knows that the Patton Manning show comes to Mile High next week. It is in that game that I expect to see the ball in the air more often, more risk taken, more agressive play calling. Why, because it will be needed then, Now, it has not. Hopefully I am right, and after all is said and done, Shanahan will once again have confirmed why he has the job as long as he wants it.

  • October 19, 2006

    12:47 AM

    Jon writes:

    Jeff –

    As usual, you’ve written another excellent discourse on the Broncos in replying to Rob Ridley’s question.

    I would like to point out that any concern that the Broncos offense (or defense) might have any similarity to the Cards is simply groundless.

    While individually talented, the Cards offensive line is extremely dysfunctional and has always underperformed far below their abilities; some of their problems lies with playing Leonard Davis at tackle where he is much too slow to handle speed rushes and not agile enough to handle cuts to the inside. Why the Cards continue to play him out of position when he had excelled at guard earlier in his career is a mystery to everyone except Denny Green. This lack of expertise in evaluating offensive linemen was demonstrated by their acquisition of right tackle Oliver Ross who ignored his recent assignment to block the defensive end, thus allowing Leinart to be blindsided and stripped of the football for a pivotal TD in their recent loss to the Bears.

    While the Cards cannot successfully run the ball to win a game, the Broncos can and have done so. The offensive line, along with the defense, are the 2006 Broncos’ demonstrated strengths. Although the offensive line did start the season slowly in the Rams game, they’ve performed very well since then.

    When Shanahan uncorked the offense early in the Oakland game, it scored easily. For those who fret about points, we all know that there should have been another TD tacked on the scoreboard if that easy pass had not been dropped. The fact Shanahan had the offense play conservatively after that is a plus and not a problem.

    It’s a long season and playing conservatively now has its benefits. The receivers will be healthier in the second half of the season. The Bells will be more experienced. The offensive line should have less injuries zone run blocking. Plummer will be less banged up and fresher. The Broncos could end up being much healthier and fresher for the second half and the playoffs.

    With the best defense in the NFL, the Broncos are keeping their eyes on the prize of winning the Super Bowl. Remember, it’s the defense that wins playoff games.

  • October 20, 2006

    11:31 AM

    tate writes:

    In years past, Shanahan has been beat, by having his cards shown early in the season. For example , the roll out was effective all last year, but as the season progressed teams were more effective in stopping or keeping Jake contained. then the Steelers eventually stopped them cold. So, I think Shanahan is calling what he calls a "conservative game plan" (18 passes) because he is holding back, and when he needs it like for Indy and the steelers he will finally start to open the game plan. He is doing this only because he finally has the defense to support him. Shanahan's strenght has always been keeping other team guessing.
    Rod Smith and others have said, "I just work here", meaning this is all Shanahans doing, he runs the ship, and even if its not popular or exciting, I believe he wiil show his cards eventually, and hopefully it will take us to the promised land.

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