Decisions coming for quarterbacks and coaches in Denver

peyton_manning_funny

I’ll come out and say it … Peyton Manning should retire.

A lot of people seem to be tiptoeing around this while talking about his disastrous first-round performance against the Colts. I think the torn quadriceps injury is indicative of the fact that he can’t physically handle the rigors of playing quarterback in the league. He’s 38 years old and he’s played a lot of games.

Here’s some things he can do when his playing days are over:

  • Be a full-time pitchman. Imagine how many more commercials Papa John’s, Buick and Nationwide could squeeze if they had all fall and winter too.
  • Make a billion dollars as a quarterback guru. You see these quarterback whisperers pop up all over the place — none of them are Peyton Manning.

A scenario to consider: the Patriots win the Super Bowl and Tom Brady and Peyton Brady retire in the same off-season. After another disappointing year, Drew Brees retires the next off-season.

The NFL front office might poop a brick if this actually happens.

I did a ranking of the league’s dependable quarterbacks. Here’s how that list would look (in order of dependability) with those three guys off of it:

  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Andrew Luck
  • Ben Roethlisberger
  • Matt Ryan
  • Russell Wilson
  • Joe Flacco (I put him up here on the strength of another good playoff showing)
  • Eli Manning (I’ll move up Manning too, although the last two years have been a disaster)

And for good measure the 50 percent of the time dependable quarterbacks:

  • Cam Newton (he’s the closest)
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Andy Dalton
  • Alex Smith
  • Jay Cutler
  • Ryan Tannehill
  • Colin Kaepernick (but I think he might be bad)
  • Teddy Bridgewater (somewhat shaky)
  • Carson Palmer (if he ever plays again)

With both lists, and there are big question marks on that second list, that’s 16 quarterbacks. If you’re keeping track, the NFL has 32 teams. Anyway, the reason I think it’s good if Brady, Peyton and Brees all retire, all in tier one by the way, is because it will lower the bar of NFL quarterbacking.

Right now, every young guy gets judged against Brady and Manning and I don’t know why that’s fair. Think about it, what does everybody say about quarterbacks — you’ve got to study film until your eyes bleed, you’ve got to stay after practice and work the receivers and you’ve got to be the first one in the building and the last to leave. Brady and Manning are exceptionally good at reading defenses and making adjustments — like on a supernatural level. People think that if you’re smart and you work hard you can just do that and that’s not really true as Kurt Warner pointed out yesterday on Mike&Mike.

Let’s take Cam Newton for example. I think the perception of Cam changes if the bar gets lowered a little. People will see the things he can do — throw deep, pick up first downs with his legs and be durable — more than the things he can’t — run a 4-wide offense like Peyton Manning.

john_fox

I think part of the reason people might convince Manning to stick around is his 2013 performance: 68 percent completions, 5,477 yards, 55 touchdowns, only 10 interceptions and 8.3 yards per pass. But I think we should take into account: Peyton was playing with by far the best set of skill position players he’s ever had and the scheme, with lots of short throws, helped compensate for a loss of arm strength.

It’s a good thing one of the purveyors of that scheme, head coach John Fox, is still around … Hold on … Wait, you’re telling me the Broncos fired John Fox?

What the Hell is going on out here?

Seriously, the Broncos are out of their collective horse minds if they think they can find a better coach than John Fox.

Here’s the active coaches who have coached in a Super Bowl:

  • Bill Bilechick (3-2)
  • Tom Coughlin (win, win)
  • Mike Tomlin (win, loss)
  • John Harbaugh (win)
  • Pete Carroll (win)
  • Mike McCarthy (win)
  • Sean Payton (win)
  • Jeff Fisher (loss)
  • Jim Caldwell (loss)
  • Andy Reid (loss)
  • Lovie Smith (loss)

So John Fox is one of four active coaches, because he’s already got a job with the Bears, who’s coached two Super Bowls. All the rest of those guys are happily married with their current teams. Jim Harbaugh (loss) would have been an interesting candidate but he’s stuck with the Michigan job for now.

Now there are some other guys floating around. I think I’ll break them down one-by-one.

Mike Shanahan

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3's knee explode.

I like to think this is what he looked like when he watched RG3’s knee explode.

  • Won two Super Bowls
  • Best team: 1998 Broncos, 14-2 and Super Bowl champs
  • Improbable playoff run: 2000 Broncos at the helm of Brian Griese
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 1996 Broncos that lost to the expansion Jaguars
  • Playoff record with John Elway: 7-1
  • Playoff record with anyone else: 1-5
  • Ruined RG3’s career

This would be beyond crazy, so let’s move on.

Bill Cowher

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  • Won a Super Bowl with 2005 Steelers
  • Lost Super Bowl to great Cowboys team with 1994 Steelers
  • 149-90 regular season record in 15 seasons all with Steelers
  • 12-9 postseason record
  • Won division eight times
  • Best team: 2005 Steelers, 11-5, won super bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2002 Steelers with Tommy Maddox at the helm
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Steelers, lost to Patriots in AFC title game (if there was a year to beat the Patriots it would have been that one)

If Cowher is seriously considered, people need to realize that he has not coached for nine years. That’s a long time.

Jon Gruden

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  • Won a Super Bowl
  • Best Team: 2002 Buccaneers, 12-4 and won the Super Bowl
  • Took over that team after it was built by Tony Dungy
  • Record since then is 45-51
  • Made the playoffs five times
  • Had a sub .500 record three times
  • Improbable playoff run: 2005 Buccaneers who somehow went 11-5 with Brian Griese and Chris Sims
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2001 Raiders, tuck-rule game that Ray Lewis was yelling about earlier this week
  • Has gradually been becoming a real life cartoon on ESPN since 2009

Do we think players could take him seriously now? This would be like John Madden trying to coach in the 80s.

Tony Dungy

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  • Won Super Bowl
  • First black coach in NFL history
  • Built Bucs into a Super Bowl caliber team, although the Bucs’ record did get worse the final three years he coached them
  • Regular season record: 139-69
  • Made playoffs 11 times
  • Playoff record: 9-10
  • Improbably playoff run: 1999 Bucs lead by Shaun King, lost to the Rams in part because of a controversial call
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Colts, Brady was hurt this year and the Patriots missed the playoffs

Dungy is who my Broncos fan coworker wants. He should know that Dungy has a lot of examples of playoff runs that should haunt him: the Bucs were championship caliber for three seasons and lost to the Eagles in the divisional round two years in a row. The 2005 Colts were 14-2 and were the more talented team than the Steelers that year who in fairness did win a crazy game.

Let’s compare that to Fox

John Fox

  • Lost two Super Bowls
  • Took over 1-15 Panthers team and they went to the Super Bowl just two years later
  • Regular season record: 119-89
  • Playoff record: 8-7
  • Record with the Broncos: 46-18
  • Made the playoffs seven times
  • Has four sub .500 seasons including a 2-14 year that got him fired in Carolina
  • Best team: 2013 Broncos, 13-3 and lost Super Bowl
  • Improbable playoff run: 2011 Broncos, the Tim Tebow team
  • Playoff run that should haunt him: 2008 Panthers who lost to the Cardinals at home but Jake Delhomme did have six turnovers in that game
  • That same Jake Delhomme was the Panthers quarterback when they made the Super Bowl in 2003

I think the Tim Tebow year gives Fox the edge over Dungy in my opinion. Fox was willing to completely change his offense and philosophy to fit Tim Tebow’s skills.

Even if Peyton comes back and Broncos get Dungy, I think letting Fox go will come back to haunt them.

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Brady vs. Manning

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning

I will not accept Peyton Manning as the greatest quarterback ever, unless he wins the Super Bowl this year.

And that’s completely doable because the Broncos’ offense is loaded and their defense is about equally stacked. However, I think a smart team, maybe the Chargers or the Patriots, will challenge Manning to throw deep and grind out the game on offense. That’s the blueprint to beat Denver. When Manning has the ball, do not let them dink and dunk you to death and keep him off the field whenever possible because with all of their pick plays they will find a way to dink and dunk you death.

Manning’s arm has looked better at times this season. He had a pass a couple weeks ago to Emmanuel Sanders that was a bullet 30 yards down field. Eventually, the Demaryius and Julius Thomas will get open or Sanders or Wes Welker. But, this is Manning’s third year in Denver. There’s no way he avoids playing one brutally cold and possibly snowing game in the playoffs. Can he throw deep in those conditions? It’s hard to make a Super Bowl, as Manning would attest.

I don’t think Manning is the greatest quarterback of his era. I’ve made the case that Brady should be considered the greatest quarterback of all time. It went something like this: Brady won three Super Bowls with terrible wide receivers. Past his prime Corey Dillon was the best offensive player he played with until Randy Moss. The one time Brady plays with another hall-of-fame offensive player, he sets the single season yard and touchdown records, completes a 16-0 regular season and should have completed a 19-0 perfect season except for one of the craziest plays in NFL history. Quick side note, it’s amazing in the clip of the helmet catch how bored Joe Buck is. Jesus Joe you just saw perhaps the greatest play in Super Bowl history; can you get a little more excited than calling a sacrifice bunt on a Saturday afternoon?

Anyway, The Patriots can’t keep that team together because Randy Moss was a head case and got old. A few years later Brady takes his fifth team to the Super Bowl with Welker and two great tight ends. They can’t keep that team together because of the Patriots’ stubborn refusal to pay Welker (even though Brady was practically screaming at Bellichick to keep him) and Aaron Hernandez murdered a guy.

At least later in his career, Montana had Rice. Elway had Terrell Davis and Rod Smith. Manning had Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne and then went to this Denver squad, which is the most stacked either quarterback has had the privilege of guiding. Excluding Moss, has Brady played with a hall-of-fame player? I don’t think Richard Seymour is going to Canton and he’s the only guy who’s close. Maybe Gronk has a chance but he has to stay healthy, a tenuous proposition at best.

Throw all the numbers at me you want; I think the numbers that still matter are three and five, as in the Super Bowls Brady has won and played in. If Manning wins another, he’ll have two and four and all the stats that matter. But as long as Peyton has fewer rings than Eli (who, the last couple seasons, has shown he is the Frank to Peyton’s Sylvester Stallone), he can’t be the best ever. I’d still take Brady.

The Players that Will Make a Difference in NFL Title Games

Everybody has been talking about Manning versus Brady and Kaepernick versus Wilson. Unbeknownst to ESPN there are 10 other guys on the field. As entertaining as a gladiatorial contest between quarterbacks would be – I would take Kaepernick and Brady in those – I think there will be other players who will play important roles in this weekends title games.

NFC

Mike Iupati, Alex Boone and Frank Gore, San Francisco offensive guards and running back

You could call this The Frank Gore running trio. The games where I have seen San Francisco struggle in the past have been when they have not run the ball well. Seattle’s defense, especially run stopping force Michael Bennett, is excellent at exploiting the holes created by pulling lineman to get into the backfield. If the 49rs guards can get push and put San Fran in comfortable third down situations, the game leans heavily in the favor of the Bay Area.

Richard Sherman, Seattle cornerback

So NFL pundits have rushed to the Kaepernick bandwagon late in the season because of his improved play. It just so happened that Kaep improved right as Michael Crabtree returned. Crab is Kaepernick’s favorite target, but expect Sherman, who is the best corner in the NFL to take him away.

Vernon Davis, San Francisco tight end

It may just be me, but I feel like it’s been a long time since Vernon Davis has had one of those ridiculous all world games. The monstrous tight end is one of the fastest players in the league, thus one of its toughest covers. How Davis plays may dictate how well the 49rs function on offense.

Earl Thomas, Seattle safety

The figurehead of the Seahawk’s excellent corps of defensive backs, Thomas may end up covering Davis the most often. If he can shut Davis down, and make a few plays here or there in the run game, Seattle has a very good chance of winning the game.

Percy Harvin, Seattle wide receiver

If I’m the 49rs, this is the only Seahawk wide receiver that scares me. Goal number one will be shutting down Marshawn Lynch in the running game. Goal number two should be to make Harvin’s life a living Hell. If I were Seattle’s offensive coordinator, I would try all types of things to get Harvin in space: line him up in the backfield, throw him multiple screens, and run him on reverses. If Harvin does not play at all, it leaves big shoes to fill for Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate.

Justin Smith, San Francisco defensive end

Justin Smith and Aldon Smith are linked, with Justin’s ability at the line of scrimmage freeing up the swifter Aldon to get sacks and tackles for a loss. If Aldon goes off, expect that Justin has had an unseen hand in the action.

AFC

Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins, New England guards

All the credit for the Patriots running game success last weekend went to LaGarrette Blount, with a sprinkling of praise going to Tom Brady for being so unselfish letting other players shine. The Patriots running backs, with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, are all good and interchangeable. The credit for last week’s domination should go to the Patriots offensive line, specifically the guards for creating huge holes to run through. Those guys dominate again, keeping Denver from having the ball, and the Patriots win.

Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman, New England wide receivers

All of that said someone in the Patriots receiving corps is going to have to make some plays. This pack of no names should make Brady long for the days of Troy Brown and David Patten as his go-to wide outs. Regardless, they are going to need to make some tough conversions to keep Denver honest and loading up against the run.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Duke Ihenacho, Denver defensive backs

Two of the men assigned to shut down the Patriots passing attack will be Rodgers-Cromartie and Ihenacho. The corner and safety, respectively, have been two of Denver’s best players down the stretch.

Shaun Phillips, Denver defensive end

The injury to Von Miller has been the catalyst for a career renaissance for the former San Diego linebacker. If Phillips, and his defensive line mates, can routinely shed blocks and camp in the Patriot backfield, Tom Brady will have a very long day.

Aqib Talib, Patriots cornerback

Someone has to shut down Denver’s vaunted passing attack for the Patriots to win. Talib is just returning from a hip injury but is one of the best corners in the game when healthy. Likely Talib will be tasked with shutting down beastly wide out Demaryius Thomas.

Rod Ninkovich, Patriots defensive end

The other key to stopping the Broncos is creating pressure. What the Patriots have accomplished this season with this ragtag group of defenders is amazing. Ninkovich is one of the few remaining recognizable names

Eric Decker, Denver wide receiver

I feel like Decker has been the forgotten man in Denver’s record-breaking passing season. Demaryius Thomas makes flashier player, tight end Julius Thomas has had a break out season, and Wes Welker is lauded for his past success with the Patriots. For this reason, I think Decker will emerge as the big play man on Sunday, and he is more than capable.

Knowshon Moreno, Denver running back

Moreno will have to play well for Denver to win. Now, that could mean that he has a great day picking up blitzes or he picks up a couple key first downs or he scores three touchdowns – any of those efforts would be sufficient.