Decisions coming for quarterbacks and coaches in Denver

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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.

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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.

Time to bench Maty Mauk?

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Maty Mauk went 6-for-18 with 20 yards and an interception yesterday against Florida. He was 9-for-21 with 97 yards and four picks against Georgia. He was 12-for-34 for 132 yards and (by the grace of God) zero interceptions against South Carolina. That’s three putrid games in a row. With Mizzou’s style of offense, a 50 percent completion rate is not too much to ask for.

Now the Tigers won two of those games against South Carolina and Florida. Pretty much everyone else was stellar against UF yesterday, but you cannot expect to get two defensive touchdowns and two return touchdowns every week.

It’s weird. In the NFL, where you get to keep your players for as long as you’re willing to pay them, I think Mauk would have been benched already. In college there is more thought put into ruining a guy’s confidence because Mauk might be our best option next year. He’s only a redshirt sophomore. Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin all went through growing pains when they went to full-time duty (Gabbert a little less so but he threw slants and screens all-day long to Danario Alexander, who was a monster that season).

Then again Mizzou has an outside chance of winning the SEC east. The Tigers need Georgia to lose to someone, Florida on Nov. 1 would be perfect but unlikely (because Florida’s offense was even more of a train wreck than Mizzou’s yesterday). Tennessee in Knoxville, Texas A&M in College Station, Kentucky at home and Arkansas at home are all winnable games — Vandy at home is an absolute must win. But winning any of those games is a dubious proposition if Mauk can’t complete passes.

Mizzou’s other options at QB are Corbin Berkstresser and Eddie Printz. After seeing Berkstresser flub multiple games during Franklin’s injury woes two years ago, I’m not enthused about seeing the redshirt junior back in action, but he’s big — 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds — and has experience. Printz is a redshirt freshman but just a little bit smaller than Berkstresser — 6-foot-2 and 215 — and he was highly touted recruit.

The book is out on Mauk. It reads, rush him up the middle, watch him flee the pocket and then wait for an ill-advised pass on the run. If Printz is the eventual answer, next week against an over-matched Vanderbilt team may not be a bad time for his first start.

Ways to Improve Announcing

In today’s sports world, there’s really only two types of fans: the people that know a lot about the sport and people who are barely watching the event. Which group of people is television announcing for? As a knowledgeable fan, announcers become something to make fun of or a source of continuing frustration. I don’t think casual fans pay any attention to them.

There has to be a few things that can be done to spice things up, right?

Why are we slaves to the straight guy and color guy format?

al_michaels

(Voice from the heavens) “This is the way it has always been.” NBC has Al Michaels and Bob Costas. Michaels calls the games and Costas is relegated to this extremely part time segway role between Dan Patrick in the studio and the action on the field. I think we can all agree Michaels and Costas are the two best announcers NBC has. At this point Michaels knows just as much about football as Chris Collinsworth (even though Collinsworth is the only football color guy I like). Why not put them together? They can switch off who does play by play by quarter.

Is it just me or are there zero interracial booths?

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Even with basketball, a sport with many black announcers, there are few that end up working with a white counterpart. Len Elmore gets paired with Verne Lundquist from time to time. Mike Breen worked with Mark Jackson except they had to put Jeff Van Gundy in between like a white buffer zone. Reggie Miller works with corresponding white play-by-play dudes except that he’s part of a three-man team most of the time (although that’s because he’s terrible).

The most egregious example of this is Gus Johnson. Johnson is one of the very few black play-by-play announcers (like unicorn, cyclops, midget-riding a unicycle level rare) and he always gets paired with a black guy. Even when he does soccer! He called Premier League game with a guy who’s cockney accent was so thick that he was incomprehensible. Gus Johnson can’t work with Steve McManaman?

Again, another easy example from NBC. NBC has Tony Dungy, an extremely articulate former black coach (actually the first in league history dating all the way back to the dark ages … 1996). Why not put him in the booth with Al Michaels?

Contradicting my last point, how about a different type of athlete?

Barkely

I like Charles Barkley when he is the color guy for TNT. I know he’s not that good but I know that because he doesn’t care enough to want to be good. But, he speaks his mind and he has a different perspective than somebody like Reggie Miller. Each sport needs to use it’s natural personality resources. With basketball, there are guys with strong opinions. I would like to see someone like Allen Iverson or Kevin Garnett be a color guy. With baseball, football and hockey use the crazy people. I love Lance Berkman A. because he has one of the biggest hits in Cardinal history and B. because he once ranked the top bubblegum cities in the U.S. AJ Pierzynski is another guy. He’s pretty good on air and he’s a little crazy.

Football has maniacs more like Ray Lewis; guys who are very intense (and possibly murderers). No reason Ray Lewis can’t yell all game next Mike Tirico (I just realized Tirico works with Jon Gruden as an interracial announcing team).

Can we try a comedian again?

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It was a disastrous, failed experiment to try Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football in the early 2000s. But, I don’t think Dennis Miller was the right choice. I don’t want somebody being snarky when I’m watching football — screw that guy. I want someone like Bill Burr — a down to Earth guy who knows sports and will make fun of everyone. The other problem with Miller is that they stuck Dan Fouts in there too, who hated Miller and would talk over him every chance he got. You would need to pair Burr with a play-by-play announcer amenable to the situation. ESPN also kind of tried this with Tony Kornheiser. I think Kornheiser would have worked if he would have ever gotten comfortable.

Thoughts on Mizzou’s Victory Yesterday

NCAA Football: Missouri at Toledo

Encouraging:

1. We beat a ranked SEC team on the road. So far, in our short history in the SEC, we’ve done that once and it was an over-confidant, injury-riddled Georgia team last year.

2. It was really nice to have a heartbreaking loss go the other way for once. South Carolina’s defense was dominant the whole way and it took was two drives for us to take the lead. It was good revenge considering how the Gamecocks beat us in Como last year. On second thought, not quite on the same scale. That game was in overtime. Mizzou had a 17-0 lead going into overtime … alright that’s enough no need to relive it further.

3. The Mizzou defense looked great. I would go as far as to say Mizzou outplayed SC on d, considering how much more often the Tigers were on the field. It’s really difficult to block Makcus Golden and Shane Ray on the same play and we really missed Golden last week against Indiana. Our linebackers — Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer in particular — were very good, wrapped up runners very quickly. Even the somewhat maligned secondary played excellent with the exception of a few wide open receivers.

4. I hope Indiana upsets someone in the Big 10. They play Michigan State for homecoming Oct. 18 (fingers crossed). Still, Mizzou’s inability to stop the run last week was in part because Indiana’s quarterback was a good runner (not many of those on the east side of the SEC) and that they ran a very good blocking scheme.

5. It sounds like both Jimmie Hunt and Darius White should be back for the Oct. 11 game against Georgia. I think they are both better receivers than Bud Sasser and their return would have to help the offense.

6. If Mizzou can beat Georgia (a big if), the Tigers will be in the driver’s seat in the SEC east.

7. By the transitive property, Mizzou should be able to beat Georgia in Como considering the Bulldogs lost at Columbia, SC.

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Discouraging:

1. So the Tigers did a great job stopping the run yesterday, but what are they going to do against Todd Gurley, who is really in a league of his own as far as a Heisman candidate. Our salvation might be how boring Georgia is running the ball; the Bulldogs use very little misdirection. We’d be lucky to hold Gurley to 100 yards rushing.

2. Maty Mauk’s stench kind of threw off the fact that Dylan Thompson was pretty terrible yesterday. Can we expect Hutson Mason to be equally awful? Georgia’s receivers will be better than South Carolina’s. I think it’s fair to say, even though they were ranked, that South Carolina is worse than anybody expected.

3. Wow was the offense bad yesterday. I think you can point to Mauk for a lot of the struggles; I think his completion percentage was like 20 percent (it was actually 35 percent). He needs to stay in the pocket longer. Most of the time we had decent pass protection that Mauk ran out of. Mizzou started to click when South Carolina stopped blitzing (I have no idea why they did that and I doubt Georgia’s D coordinator would make that type of mistake). I do think play calling was a factor as well. It took us way too long to figure out we need to attack with long passes.

4. With two of our receivers hurt, why did we not try to throw to our running backs more? I think we need more formations where Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough (at one point yesterday Brad Nessler called him Tyler) are in the game at the same time. In general, we need to get Hansbrough the ball more. His three touchdowns were not an aberration — he was a beast all game.

5. Man does that loss to Indiana look bad now, especially because the Hoosiers got clowned by Maryland yesterday, 37-15.

Is the Tampa 2 dead?

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Two weeks ago, the Falcons just waxed the Bucs on Thursday night football, 56-14. The thinking was, when Lovie Smith took the job in the Bay, that he would immediately improve a Buccaneer defense that has very good players in place — Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Alterraun Verner (one of my favorite NFL names). He’s had numerous injuries to deal with, specifically McCoy, but it has not happened thus far.

At this point, I believe Smith is the last disciple of the cover 2 defense. Smith was the Rams D coordinator for the Sheep’s second Super Bowl in 2002. It’s my favorite style of NFL defense. It was en vogue for a while. Tony Dungy had the most success with it in Tampa but continued to use the defense with lesser players in Indianapolis, eventually winning a Super Bowl. Smith brought the defense to Chicago and the Bears ran it to perfection, particularly in 2006. I forgot they actually faced off in that Super Bowl.

Lately, the defense has not looked good. On top of Smith’s latest struggles was the debacle in Dallas last year when Monte Kiffin, Dungy’s D coordinator in Tampa, took over the Cowboys defense. Debacle in Dallas is an entertaining phrase; it will be weird if the Cowboys are ever dominant again.

The cover 2 defense stretches back to Dungy’s days as a player, when it was a dominant force for Chuck Knoll’s Steelers of the ’70s. I don’t think the defense is dead. I think fundamentally it’s principals are still sound. It’s great for stopping the run with four down lineman and three linebackers. It is meant to encourage the type of throws that are the most difficult to make — down the sideline in a window between a corner and safety. But, I think NFL personnel has changed since the mid 2000s and finding the guys who fit the system is more difficult

The ideal Tampa 2 defense with today’s players

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1. A quick defensive tackle. Warren Sapp was a hall of famer in the Tampa 2. Because you have two tackles, neither has to be a behemoth like a Star Lotulelei or Haloti Ngata (I wish I wouldn’t have picked two examples with difficult to spell names). A guy who is big and quick is perfect, Ndamukang Suh. I also think Sheldon Richardson would work.

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2. A defensive end who just destroys quarterbacks. Julius Peppers filled this role most effectively for the Bears. Simeon Rice is the prototype, wreaking havoc for the 2002 Bucs Super Bowl team. Ideally you would want this guy to be a little bit bigger, to make teams pay for running at him. Mario Williams fits the bill, although his career has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.

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3. An unequivocally great middle linebacker. This is the hardest position to fill. Because many teams, including in college, go with a 3-4, it devalues middle line backing play. You need a guy that is equally good against the run and the pass (extremely rare) and just needs to be supernaturally fast for his size. There’s a reason Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher are both hall of famers. I think Luke Kuechly might be the only guy in the NFL who fits this need.

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4. Fast, swarming outside linebackers. The Bucs actually have this partially covered because Lavonte David is one of the best in the game. I also think Sean Weatherspoon with Atlanta (and Mizzou stalwart) would be a good fit. The thing with the Tampa 2 is that you really need three good linebackers, but when you have that group it makes running the ball very difficult.

vontae_davis

5. A ballhawking corner who can also play the run. Again, talk about rare. Peanut Tillman was perfect in this job. The guy doesn’t have to be a great cover guy but he has to be able to tackle. Vontae Davis is good at bump and run. Really any corner on this list would work but you’re going to have to spend a high draft pick, or be a development wizard like Pete Carroll.

eric_weddle

6. A play making safety. This can come in different forms. John Lynch was a monster against the run (I do not condone the tackling in the last video; I think he led with the crown of his helmet at least 70 percent of the time). Bears safety Mike Brown did it more with interceptions. I like Eric Weddle in this role in my Tampa 2.