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» Impact of the NFL's Kickoff Rule Change

After three NFL seasons of kicking off from the 35-yard line, what has been the impact on touchbacks, returns, field position, scoring and injuries? Also, is this rule responsible for a record number of big comebacks?

05 Jul 2005

Four Downs: AFC West

by Mike Tanier

Also check out the previous edition of Four Downs: AFC West.

Denver Broncos

Rarified Air

The all-time record for punting average in a season is held by Sammy Baugh, who averaged 51.3 yards per kick in 1940. The post-merger mark is held by Todd Sauerbrun, who averaged 47.5 yards per punt in 2001.

This comes up because Sauerbrun is now in Denver, and while Baugh's record is probably out of reach, Sauerbrun's unofficial "modern" mark is toast.

Most football fans assume that punts travel farther in the high altitudes of Denver, but a book that will be released in August proves that the Mile High effect is very significant. In Pro Football Prospectus 2005 (a Football Outsiders joint, executive producer Aaron Schatz), Aaron reveals that there are predictable park effects on punts and kickoffs in domed stadiums, in fair-weather locales like Carolina, in cold-weather towns like Buffalo, and in Denver, where the typical kickoff travels about four yards further than average and punts can be counted on to travel about two yards further.

The Mile High effect has concealed mediocre play on the part of the Broncos punters for several years. Like Rockies outfielders, they produce pretty good stats in ideal home conditions, then grade out as well below average on the road. But Sauerbrun is an excellent punter, and with eight home games in high altitude, the people at Sirius are wondering if they can just put some of their satellite radio transmitters on footballs, wait until 4th-and-10, and let Sauerbrun do the rest. (By the way, order Sirius through the link on our site and not only do you get radio broadcasts from every NFL team, we get a bit of the money.)

Sauerbrun has played three games in Denver in his pro career. He punted 12 times in those games, averaging a whopping 48.9 yards per attempt. Yes, yes: small data sample. Looking at it another way, Sauerbrun has averaged 45.3 yards per punt since leaving the Windy City. Tack on a yard or two for the Mile High effect, and Sauerbrun could have an average season by his standards and still ride the park effect train up the all-time leaderboard.

Broncos News Briefs

Numbers Crunch: When is a retired number not retired? When it's "not used as a courtesy for a long time." That's how Broncos public relations rep Jim Saccomano described the situation with Broncos legend Frank Tripuka's #18. While several sources listed the number as retired, Saccomano could find no official announcement or ceremony that prohibited the team from issuing the former QB's number. So when Jerry Rice came aboard, Rice became #19 and the immortal Grant Mattos became #18. The only officially retired Broncos jerseys are now John Elway's #7 and Floyd Little's #44; even Shannon Sharpe's #84 is now on the back of rookie Wesley Duke. I suggest a compromise to preserve Tribuka's memory: Mattos can wear #18, but he has to wear the classic brown Broncos uniform with the striped socks.

Show of Support: Several Broncos cheered on the Arena League's Colorado Crush as they hosted an AFL conference championship. Jake Plummer was in attendance, as were several of the Brown-cos: Courtney Brown, Gerald Warren, and the other defensive linemen imported from Cleveland. It was the first chance the displaced Browns had to watch minor league caliber football since their own Week 17 game films. Sorry, that joke was obvious.

Belgian Waffle: As if all those ex-Browns weren't enough, the Broncos signed Belgian DT Patrice Majondo-Mwamba to their practice squad. If the Browns/Majondo-Mwamba experiment succeeds, Mike Shanahan will look into replacing the linebacking corps with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Puffy Pieces: During and after minicamp, the local press is often flooded with positive articles about how good the rookies looked and how enthusiastic the veterans were. Getting the positive spin treatment in Denver were 1) Quentin Griffin, on the mend from an ACL tear (Shanahan: "He's made some big strides") 2) Gerald Warren (Shanahan: "Warren has done an excellent job") and 3) Backup QB Bradlee Van Pelt (Coach again: "I definitely think he has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback").

Kansas City Chiefs

Revolving Door Receivers

Az Hakim! Freddie Mitchell! It's a cavalcade of mediocrity! But that's only appropriate, as the Chiefs were simply trying to replace the utterly mediocre Johnnie Morton.

Hakim performed the best shake 'n' bake of his career when he verbally agreed to a deal with the Chiefs, spent a day in Chiefs camp, then turned around and signed with the Saints. A few days later, The People's Champ was in camp, wearing the same uniform number 80 that Hakim was issued. Dick Vermeil should have considered #86 instead, as in "86 these rejects!"

Hakim's brief tenure in Kansas City was truly odd. Vermeil was hardly gushing with enthusiasm about his new receiver after Hakim attended team meetings. When asked whether Hakim was penciled in to replaced Dante Hall as the team's #3 receiver, Vermeil said: "First, Az has to make the football team. He knows the situation. We've got a lot of good young receivers who are competing. He's going to be very competitive; there's no question about it. But we're not giving him a position to play." Soon after that ringing endorsement, Hakim was history.

So who does that leave at wideout in Kansas City besides Eddie Kennison? Round up the unusual suspects:

Samie Parker: Parker is currently the #2 wideout. He had a good game against the Broncos in Week 15 last season and is shifty in the open field. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, he's not a huge receiver, but he's not a smurf, either.

Freddie Mitchell: For all of the negative press he generates, Mitchell isn't a terrible third receiver. He has good hands, comes back for the ball, runs fairly well and can block a little. But he's a bad route runner, gets jammed too easily, takes himself out of the game with concentration lapses, is useless on special teams, and is about 1/10th as good as he thinks he is.

Dante Hall: Hall is the best return man in the league and is useful on trick plays, but he's not a reliable receiver, and too much work on offense seems to have a negative impact on his returns.

Marc Boerigter: Boerigter tore his ACL and missed all of last season, but he has been running routes in minicamps. He's more of a tight end who can't block than a receiver, but he fits a system that is built around passing to bigger targets over the middle.

Craphonso Thorpe: Thorpe has been making progress throughout the offseason but has a lot of learning to do.

John Booth, Jeris McIntyre, and Richard Smith: These three practice squad players are competing for time, and Booth and McIntyre played well in NFL Europe. Booth, a converted QB from mighty Mid-American Nazerene College, performed well at the World Bowl. There's no truth to the rumor that he was seen hanging around outside Carl Peterson's office mumbling "Sic Temper Tyrannus."

Snoop Minnis and J.J Birden: Just kidding.

Chiefs News Briefs

Grumpy Old Men: The retirement talk is over: Will Shields was in uniform at the Chiefs' most recent minicamp. Shields didn't practice with the team, as he is undergoing a treatment for arthritis in his knees. Left tackle Willie Roaf also missed many of the team's offseason workouts, but he hobbled through three days of practices in mid-June and should be ready for the regular season. Wilford Brimley complained about gout and a touch of lombego, but he said he'd be ready if Vermeil needs him.

Lost Battle: Third-year CB Julian Battle, who had overtaken Eric Warfield and Dexter McCleon as the starter opposite Patrick Surtain, blew out his Achilles tendon and is lost for the year. Warfield will take over as the starter, but Warfield faces a possible suspension from the league because of multiple DUI offenses. In an effort to keep the average age of the starting lineup over 40, the team worked out DeWayne Washington (32 years old), Aaron Beasley (31), Ashley Ambrose (34), and Terrance Shaw (32), finally settling on Ambrose. "Finally, a new bridge and shuffleboard partner," Brimley said.

Puffy Pieces: Here are some players getting the positive spin treatment in Kansas City: 1) Kris Wilson, the H-back who missed all of last season with a broken leg. (Trent Green: "It seems like every week and every practice he gets more and more confidence.") 2) Undrafted rookie RB Sam Gado, a native of Nigeria who idolized Christian Okoye as a young man. (Al Saunders: "He has exceeded our expectations in every area. He's just a ball of energy.") 3) Punter Dustin Colquitt, a lefty whose high kicks are reportedly impossible to catch cleanly. (Special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr.: "Any time you see a ball up that high and there's any kind of wind at all, it's going to do some pretty funny things.")

Oakland Raiders

Multiplicity

If you want to speak like an NFL defensive coordinator, remember these lines:

"We won't strictly play a 3-4 or a 4-3. We want to be multiple on defense and use a variety of fronts."

When it comes to the 3-4 alignment, most coaches and coordinators are like confirmed bachelors: afraid of commitment. And while Norv Turner swears that Ron Ryan isn't scrapping his 3-4 set after a miserable year that saw the Raiders generate 25 sacks and allow 125 rushing yards per game, Turner did confirm that the Raiders defense would often sport more of a 4-3 look.

Newly acquired DE Derrick Burgess, for example, will be used exclusively at end. As a 265-pound pass rusher, Burgess can only play end in a 4-3 system; in the 3-4, he would have to play outside linebacker. And the departure of Napoleon Harris, coupled with Travian Smith's nagging injuries, has left the Raiders with a shortage of linebackers.

Still, the team worked on their 3-4 schemes in their June minicamp. That is, they worked on them as much as possible. "The 3-4's harder to practice in sweats," Turner told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We really need to go to camp and get back to work in the run defense part of the 3-4, getting the nose man and the ends playing the run and everybody understanding the assignments."

Turner said that the team's comfort level with the 3-4 system has increased since last year, but he suggested that many of his defenders prefer a 4-3 alignment. With talented youngsters like Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands backing up Warren Sapp and Ted Washington, the Raiders are deep at defensive tackle. Tyler Brayton is a converted end who never looked comfortable at linebacker; Williams, a king-sized DE/OLB tweener, spent much of the season with his finger on the ground in a three-point stance as a pure pass rusher. Danny Clark is the team's best inside linebacker, though veteran free agent Jay Foreman is experienced in the 3-4 and rookie Kirk Morrison could be ready for a role right away.

So while Turner and Ryan may talk about a "multiple" defense, don't be surprised if the 3-4 look becomes little more than a wrinkle.

Raiders News Briefs

Law and Order: In mid-June, the California State Supreme Court agreed to grant the Raiders a hearing to determine whether they can appeal a lower-court ruling denying a trial judge's finding of juror misconduct in the NFL's 2001 victory in the team's suit alleging that the league conspired to force the team out of Los Angeles. And if you understood any of that, you must be a lawyer. No hearing date has been set; it may have to wait until Al Davis settles his "Paul Tagliabue put a finger in my chili" suit.

Cap Manipulations: The Raiders found themselves just $73,995 dollars under the salary cap in early June, leaving them with just enough money to by a new Lexus but not to sign draft picks. Cap relief will come when Rich Gannon officially retires and (as is expected) becomes the team's assistant quarterback coach. Warren Sapp also accepted a deal to lower his salary to the league veteran minimum, meaning that his price tag and production will finally match.

Puffy Pieces: Here's who is getting the positive spin treatment in Oakland: 1) Randy Moss (Nancy Gay of the Chronicle reports that he "appeared as happy and motivated as any of the rookies"). 2) LB DeLawrence Grant (Turner: "He's really dedicated himself to being better.") 3) The defense in general (Danny Clark: "It's going to be team defense," he said. "You are going to see bumblebees after somebody knocks the nest down. Guys will be flying everywhere.")

San Diego Chargers

The Tale of Two No-Shows

When the Chargers held their mandatory minicamp in mid-June, only two healthy players missed the first day: rookie Shawne Merriman and guard Toniu Fonoti.

Merriman refuses to work out with the team until he is under contract, citing language in the team's policy that only guarantees his eventual salary if he is critically injured before signing with the team, not any possible signing bonuses. Merriman's agents (the infamous Poston brothers) went so far as to suggest that Merriman would attend team meetings but not work out. The team understandably passed on that compromise.

Fonoti, meanwhile, remains a 360-plus pound man in need of a functioning alarm clock. He missed all of the team's workouts last season, then missed the first day of training camp. When Chargers GM A.J. Smith tried to contact Fonoti on the first day of camp, he reached the guard's wife. Sure enough, Fonoti was on a plane to San Diego. Fonoti cited "personal business", apologized to teammates, and revealed that a sore ankle would limit him to the meeting room.

And as for that 360-plus pound figure, the emphasis is clearly on the "plus".

Fonoti was the best offensive guard in the nation when the Chargers drafted him in the second round in 2002, but he was heavy and slow-footed as a rookie and spent all of 2003 on injured reserve. Watching him play in 2002, he looked like a true bust: he couldn't block defenders a step to his left or right, let alone pull on a sweep or slip out to block a screen pass. He rebounded to have an excellent 2004 campaign after spending the offseason in a Houston conditioning program. But while Smith will live with Fonoti skipping team workouts to get in shape in Houston, minicamp is mandatory.

Smith suggested that he was "taking notes" regarding Fonoti's frequent absences, but the exec shifted gears when speaking to Fonoti at camp. When asked if he accepted the guard's reason for being late, Smith said: "Absolutely. That's it. Go to work."

Chargers News Briefs

Rookie Mistakes: A crowd of 3,000 spectators attended Chargers minicamp sessions, and they were apparently delighted when Marty Schottenheimer chewed out rookie Vincent Jackson for taking his eyes off a potential touchdown grab to see whether he was inbounds. What the crowd really wanted was to be in a room with Smith, Merriman, and the Postons.

Time to Change Careers: Carlos Polk, who missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, will miss all of these season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Polk has a degree in sociology from Nebraska. Just throwing that out there.

All Purpose Back: Darren Sproles was very impressive in camp. The team will deploy the rookie not just as a kick returner, but also as a slot receiver. Essentially, he'll be filling Tim Dwight's role, which means that he will be injured by Week 3.

Next week: AFC East by Aaron Schatz.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 05 Jul 2005

38 comments, Last at 20 Jul 2005, 12:17pm by chiefzilla

Comments

1
by Tatum Bell (not verified) :: Tue, 07/05/2005 - 11:55pm

Soon I will be dominating fantasy leagues all across America.

2
by Theo (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 7:30am

Aaron,
I think there are 2 elements about a punt(er).
1 = distance
2 = hangtime
(you can make arguments about accuracy, release time and trick play value... but uhm)

When you look at Sauerbrun, do you somehow take a look at hangtime or do you not have the data to do so?

3
by MDS (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 10:52am

I don't really see Boerigter as a tight end-type at all. I think he's got the kind of speed that you want from a deep threat. I also think he could become a very good kick returner if the Chiefs didn't already have Dante Hall. The problem I see with Boerigter is that he doesn't run very good routes on the intermediate stuff. Of course, we're dealing with a very small sample size because he's hardly played, but that's my reaction based on the few times I've seen him.

Great line about the 4-3/3-4 D-coordinators. I think D-coordinators think it makes them sound sophisticated to say they use a variety of formations.

"Cap relief will come when Rich Gannon officially retires and (as is expected) becomes the team’s assistant quarterback coach"

This brings up an interesting point. Could some team evade the salary cap by stashing an old veteran on the team as an assistant coach, then bring him out of retirement if the starter at his position gets hurt?

4
by B (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 10:59am

MDS, I beleive they could do that, but the injured player would have to go on IR, or else they wouldn't have enough salary cap room to un-retire the vetran.

5
by malene, cph, dk (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 10:59am

good stuff mike;

one nitpick; shouldn't the Chiefs CB be ERIC Warfield? - although Paul Warfield sure would have helped that crappy group of receivers...

6
by Aaron (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 12:03pm

To answer Theo's question, at this time we cannot analyze hang time, no. It is listed in the pbp in some stadiums but not in others. (Different official scorers list different items.) That's why when we rate punters we do look at both gross and net.

7
by Goldbach (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 12:18pm

What about getting around the cap by promising a player "Sign with us, and we'll hire you as a vastly overpaid assistant coach / scout / waterboy at $5 million / year for 10 years"?

8
by Goldbach (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 12:19pm

... I meant to add that this would be after said player retired, of course.

9
by J (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 12:32pm

As far as the salary cap, here is a copied section of the NFLPA...

ARTICLE XXV

ENFORCEMENT OF THE SALARY

CAP AND ENTERING PLAYER POOL

Section 1. Undisclosed Terms: A Club (or a Club Affiliate) and a player (or a Player Affiliate or player agent) may not, at any time, enter into undisclosed agreements of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind: (a) involving consideration of any kind to be paid, furnished or made available or guaranteed to the player, or Player Affiliate, by the Club or Club Affiliate either prior to, during, or after the term of the Player Contract; and/or (b) concerning the terms of any renegotiation and/or extension of any Player Contract by a player subject to a Franchise Player or Transition Player designation.

* Amendment Agreement 12/4/00

Section 2. Circumvention: Neither the parties hereto, nor any Club or player shall enter into any agreement, Player Contract, Offer Sheet or other transaction which includes any terms that are designed to serve the purpose of defeating or circumventing the intention of the parties as reflected by (a) the provisions of this Agreement with respect to Defined Gross Revenues, Salary Cap, Entering Player Pool, and Minimum Team Salary, and (b) any other term and provision of this Agreement. However, any conduct permitted by this Agreement shall not be considered to be a violation of this provision.

..............
It seems, althought I am not a lawyer, that none of the previously posted suggestions should happen.

As far as IR, a player on IR still counts toward the cap. FOr example, last year, Charlie Batch was placed on IR in training camp, his cap value, according to USA Today, was $1,238,600.

10
by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 3:10pm

Actually, Ladysmith Black Mambazo would probably make good pass rushers... except for the old guy. I just saw their show last Saturday, and they are pretty in shape. Dancing around like crazy...

11
by G (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 4:09pm

How well founded were the steroid accusations against Sauerbrun? I'm surprised you didn't bring that up in the article. It could significantly affect success this season.

12
by Israel (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 5:09pm

Re Hangtime - Does the ball fall faster in the thinner air?

13
by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Wed, 07/06/2005 - 9:48pm

re Coaches coming back to play

A couple of years ago when Denver was punished at the QB pos, Gary Kubiak (the team's OC for those that don't know) was working out with the scout team. It turns out that they didn't need him to suit up but it would have been really fun to see happen.

14
by Stiller Fan in Cle (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 12:11am

Re #12

The ball would fall faster, but it would also fly higher because of less drag force. However, the question is whether the drag force is signifigant when compared with gravity. According to a paper from Wooster Univ. (arch rivals of my school of Case Western) that says that while drag is needed for calculating distance, it's relatively negligible for calculating hangtime. This makes sense because gravitational pull is a relatively strong force (9.8 m/s^2) but acts ONLY in the y-axis. So, hangtime is relatively unaffected by air pressure.

15
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 4:00am

Re #2: I don't know about hangtime, but I do know that Sauerbraun has never had a kick blocked in his entire career.

Re #13: Do you know how crazy it would drive defenses to have the offensive coordinator taking the snaps? I think he could secure permission to audible to any play in the entire book. Heck, he could just make up plays during the huddle. I think that's what made Gannon so good during his MVP season- he was just like an offensive coordinator taking the snaps.

Re Sauerbraun: I know he has ridiculous gross yardage numbers, but historically, how do his net yardage numbers stack up? Is he one of those guys who just boots it as far as he can every time and leads the league in touchbacks every year in an effort to pad his stats?

16
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:27am

This is a tough division, but I'm surprised the Raiders aren't getting a bit more respect. Everyone seems to agree the offense should be very good. How bad can their defense be?

17
by PerlStalker (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 11:45am

Well, the Raiders have a defense which is more than I could say about the Chiefs. I don't think it's good enough to hold up against offenses like Denver or San Diego. The games with KC could end up looking like Arena League games if the Raiders O is half as good as the hype.

18
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 3:44pm

Man. I have to say that the AFC West is easily shaping up to be one of (if not the) hardest division in the league. There's not one team you could write off. The Raiders have made too many steps to be simply written off, and all the other teams were legitimately strong teams.

I don't think the problem is people not giving the Raiders respect. It's just that everyone else in the division is strong (and was strong last year - yes, even KC) so you have to be a little cautious when predicting an underdog. Even an underdog with Randy Moss.

19
by Bright Blue Shorts (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 6:11pm

I said it elsewhere, but I think the AFC West has become the punting capital of the NFL. With Lechler and Sauerbrun being two of the top guys, the Chiefs just drafted the top guy - Colquitt - out of college this year; and Scifres is no slouch for the Chargers having been ranked 7th in gross average last year.

As to whether Sauerbrun will break the gross average record ... it depends on the Denver offense. Last year, Lechler was averaging over 50 yds per kick through the first 4 games. Reason: the Raiders offense was so damn awful they were hardly getting outside of their own 20 and he could kick the rock as far as he wanted. Likewise the Panthers have hardly set the league alight with offense over the years, and Sauerbrun got to kick some yards.

For him to break the record the Denver offense must average failing to get past their own 49-yd line whenever Sauerbrun has to punt.

BBS :)

20
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/07/2005 - 7:37pm

Good point by BBS. For all of Denver's red zone woes, they were one of the, if not THE, best offense between the 20s last season.

Re #18: I've said every year since the re-alignment that the AFC West and AFC East look like the two toughest divisions in football, and I'm not changing my mind now. The AFC East has been the gold standard for defenses, and the AFC West has been the gold standard for offenses.

It's been a good period to be an AFC West fan.

21
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Fri, 07/08/2005 - 7:28pm

Kibbles: you think that has anything to do with having the "best deep threat in the league" Lelie around? Like, between the 20's he stretches the field, so add in Denver's run game and a mobile QB, and you have a very solid offence. In the red zone, not only do you lose your deep threat, but then of course there are rammifications.

22
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 12:02am

I think part of it has to do not just with Lelie, but with Jeb Putzier, who is one of the best deep threats in the league from the TE position (higher ypc than any TE in the league but Crumpler, better DVOA than any TE in the league but Crumpler and Gates). Lelie stays on the field in the red zone, but suddenly all of his routes are intermediates, which he's bad at, or short routes, which he's abysmal at. Putzier doesn't even stay on the field, because he's not a good enough blocker yet and it gets harder to run in the red zone (so Shanny opts to put in better blockers to help alleviate this problem). Suddenly Denver loses its two biggest playmakers on offense, leaving it with no one but the ever-reliable Rod Smith. Other teams simply doubled Rod, and there was no one else on the field for Plummer to go to. Watts was a rookie and had a very minor case of the dropsies, besides. The 4th WR and beyond are pretty much nonexistant. Dwayne Carswell and Patrick Hape, the other TEs, both have extremely good hands, but Carswell is so big he moonlights as an offensive tackle, and neither really has good speed, so both are really only effective inside the 5 yard line- and historically, Hape does the majority of his scoring from the 1 yard line.

Letting Weaver and Chamberlain go last season, in retrospect, probably hurt the team more than they thought it would. I don't think they realized how often they'd be taking Putzier off in the red zone, and how much they'd be hurting for a reciever in those situations.

This season, I predict, should be a lot better. None of Denver's offensive additions look earthshaking, but none of them had to be. Denver already had a great offense... everywhere but the red zone. This offseason, Putzier got a big contract, meaning the team is committed to him (and probably that he's learning to block). As a backup, they brought in Stephen Alexander, a very serviceable TE who can both catch and block reasonably well, which means if Putzier DOES get pulled, he'll have a decent fill-in. Darrius Watts is another year more experienced, which helps, since it's looking like he's going to be the possession guy once Rod retires (his after the catch skills are pretty special). Plus we have Jerry Rice, whose physical decline has been very well documented, but who still runs GREAT routes, and should be an asset in the short field. On the line, the loss of Dan Neil should be offset by the development of Lepsis and Foster. I really expect Denver's offense to take a big step forward and surprise people, who will scratch their heads and say "What did they add to make such a big difference last offseason?"

Also, it's worth pointing out that Denver had the worst average starting field position in the entire NFL last season. This probably contributed to their yardage offense, since they had longer to drive every time.

You have to remember what the preseason projections for Denver's offense were, too. They'd lost Portis to Washington, Sharpe and McCaffrey to retirement, their LT to free agency, and were starting a guy who had never played LT on the left and a guy who had never played tackle in the NFL on the right, meaning the two most important positions on their line were great big question marks. Tatum Bell, Garrison Hearst, and Mike Anderson, RBs 2-4 on the depth chart, all got hurt before the season started. They only went out and responded by setting records for passing yards, fewest sacks allowed, and tied the record for passing TDs in a season. And now they're returning the entire unit with one loss (Dan Niel) and several significant gains.

I think Shanahan had a very underrated offseason. I'll say he did a better job of addressing all his team needs than pretty much any other coach in the league. He added quality depth to the D-Line by signing 4 new starter-caliber players for about the same cost as the one guy they lost (and remember, Ekuban's season was almost as good as Hayward's last year), as well as resigning perennial pro-bowler Trevor Pryce. He made the aforementioned moves in an effort to strengthen his red zone offense, and to address the glaring special teams deficiency, he only drafted perhaps the best returner prospect on the boards and picked up perhaps the most powerful punter in the league. Also flying under the radar, he resigned Keith Burns, who has been a special teams standout and captain for over a decade in Denver.

Oh, and he got Ian Gold, who is a bigtime playmaker, back too, giving him one of the top 5 lb corps in the league, no question. This should help improve their last and most glaring weakness- lack of turnovers on defense.

I say should there, because they've made moves that "should have" increased their turnovers for the last two offseasons, and they haven't worked yet. I think Denver is a decent turnover ratio away from being one of those elite 3-4 teams that everyone talks about all season.

23
by G (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 12:55am

Kibbles,

You are not very smart and have a hard time thinking for yourself. Maybe you should start... thinking for yourself I mean.

24
by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 3:53am

Yeah, I really need to get off this "Jeb Putzier is the best deep threat at TE in the NFL and the Broncos red zone woes had a lot to do with him getting taken out" bandwagon.

Not to mention this "picking up 4 members of the Cleveland Browns D-Line was actually a very good move, and Shanahan should be lauded for it" bandwagon. I know it's trite, and you can't turn on a radio show in America without someone pointing out how well it shored up Denver's depth and how cheaply it was done. I should just stop regurgitating media opinions like that, huh? I mean, everybody and his brother has already written an article about how GREAT it was for Denver to grab those guys and let Hayward go. I should stop just mindlessly repeating their opinions and come up with some of my own.

Thank you for opening my eyes. I am a changed man.

25
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 6:40am

I have to agree with Kibbles on the D-line acquisitions. Even if all 4 ex-Browns only add up to one starter and 1-2 more situation players, adding that much depth at a modest cap cost is a very shrewd off-season move. Help me out here, some team or other has had some success recently, taking other teams' defensive cast-offs and using them to add depth and as situational players...

It's been fairly well established that solid defense, an effective running game, and low-risk play from the QB can get you a championship. Denver's running game has been effective; Shanahan's at least trying to build up the defense (that was already pretty good last year, well, except for that playoff game. Oof). As far as QB -- well, Crazy Jake will be Crazy Jake. Maybe Shanahan's hoping Plummer channels Plunkett for a season or two. That could work. :-)

26
by Reinhard (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 2:10pm

Hey Kibbles, Im going to keep one eye pionted in Putzier's direction next time I see 'em play... and dear lord, I can't wait for NFL play to start again... cause that means the FO preseason projections are coming out!

Remember a few years ago when Denver's defense was tops in the league and everyone pointed to their "fastest in the league when you add all three together" LB corps... but no one talked about it after the beginning of the season. Having a solid group there along with, potentially, decent DL play should give the whole defense a boost.

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by Kibbles (not verified) :: Sat, 07/09/2005 - 4:38pm

Do keep an eye on Putzier. He runs extremely akwardly, and you wonder how fast he could possibly be. He's not at all fluid, he's a lot more of a stomper or a clunker. He runs extremely upright, and is not at all graceful. He's like a freakishly fast Frankenstein, but he sure gets the job done.

Denver's had one of the fastest LB corps in the league for quite a while. Even after Gold left, Wilson is one of the quickest MLBs in the league (possibly the quickest, although I hear Derrick Johnson gives him a run for his money), and Williams is a physical freak. It's how their defense has always been designed, especailly because the D-Coordinator is also the former LB coach. Despite Trevor Pryce and Champ Bailey, this defense has always been all about the LBs making plays.

It's also one of the reasons I'm not too horribly concerned with Cleveland's last place run defense last season. From what Warren says, they played a system much like the Bears used to play, where the line eats as many blockers as possible and leaves the LBs free to make plays. I think Wilson/Gold/Williams should be an upgrade over the Cleveland LBs, not a single one of which I can name.

P.S. For all the talk of Gerrard Warren being a huge bust, go compare his statistics to Richard Seymour's sometimes. Of course, this is another viewpoint that I just stole from the media, who's been going on and on about how Warren really wasn't that big of a bust at all. I really need to start thinking for myself.

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by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 5:07am

Marc Boerigter: Boerigter tore his ACL and missed all of last season, but he has been running routes in minicamps. He’s more of a tight end who can’t block than a receiver, but he fits a system that is built around passing to bigger targets over the middle.

----

A TE who ran a high 4.3 low 4.4 in his workouts in front of NFL teams before signing with the Chiefs while he was healthy.

He should have been starting long ago, but he also has been injury prone. Truth is though, these days a lot of surgeons will tell you that you come back stronger after surgery (similar to Tommy John).

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by Yellowknifer (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 5:24am

#11

How well founded were the steroid accusations against Sauerbrun? I’m surprised you didn’t bring that up in the article. It could significantly affect success this season.

--------------

I was thinking the very same thing.

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by jack (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 11:52am

I actually think Denver has improved from last year. Not significantly, but its a better team in terms of depth and experience at just about every position, except possibly the safeties.

This doesn't excuse a mediocre draft and the unnecesary signings of Clarett and Rice. There is nothing beneficial about having the media focused in on two guys who will be 4th at best on your depth charts.

The downside is, Kansas City and Oakland can't possibly be as bad as they were last year. Its entirely possible Kansas City gets 9 or 10 wins and if the Raiders get any kind of offence going, they could concievably win 8 games.

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by MikeT (not verified) :: Sun, 07/10/2005 - 10:09pm

Re: Sauerbrun and steroids: I had no new information when I went to press, so I didn't say anything. He could face a four-game suspension, but I can't really speculate because I know as much about that as you do.

Putzier is a good receiving threat. Doesn't have huge numbers but grades out nicely on film and has a high yds-per-catch and lots of first down receptions. DVOA loves him. Good ballplayer on the rise, I think.

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by cjfarls (not verified) :: Tue, 07/12/2005 - 6:39pm

I have to agree with Kibbles re: the Broncos' Cleveland additions. When they originally happened, and Denver was still shopping Trevor Pryce, I thought it was an amazingly stupid idea.... but by keeping Pryce they effectively:
a) swapped Heyward for Ekuban - a basic push in terms of production;
b) added a potential star (Brown if he can stay healthy);
c) added Warren, who is solid starter, if underperforming (compared to potential);
d) added a solid roleplayer Meyer to the rotation.
Seems like improvement to me, even if one or 2 of them fizzle (including Pryce who is coming back from injury), and all a for very low cap hit.

You can always think "what if", but imagine how different the Colts playoff game could've been had Pryce been healthy to collapse the pocket, and they weren't down to an undrafted free-agent as their nickelback...

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by Björn (not verified) :: Wed, 07/13/2005 - 5:33pm

While I think that Kibbles sometimes sees the league through orange coloured glasses, I agree with all of his analysis points. Last year when everyone was making fun of Jake Plummer for his "Jeb Putzier is our secret weapon" comment, I chuckled. The guy is clutch. He is perfect for Denver's bootleg, which is really a triple threat. If Plummer gets outside the end, he has three options, and one of them is always - ALWAYS - open. He can go deep to Kibbles' boy Lelie, he can float one to Jeb for an easy 20 yards, or he can take it himself for a first down. The way it breaks down is this. If the safety and corner are both on Lelie, that leaves 1 linebacker to cover Putzier and Plummer. What often happens is that the linebacker is up on Plummer, leaving Putzier open behind him. If the guy takes Putzier, Plummer just runs. If the safety comes up to help the linebacker, Lelie will be open most of the time against most cornerbacks. The only way to stop this is have a fast end who does not quit his assignment to chase the runningback. If you watched the Broncos for the last two years, you know that their offence relies on the bootleg threat. It keeps teams honest against the run, which contributes greatly to the offensive line's propensity to open up gaping holes.

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by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/14/2005 - 12:11pm

Of course I see the league through orange colored glasses. I've never made any secret of that. ;)

Anyway, breaking news is that the Broncos traded Middlebrooks for a DE. I don't know anything about the DE in quesiton (Engleberger, maybe? Someone from the Niners), so I don't know if it's a good trade or not... but I do know that it's beginning to look suspiciously like Shanahan is going overboard on the D-Line after such a pathetic showing last season. Denver now has 16 defensive linemen, when it has traditionally only kept 10 or so. Before, when training camp comes, they were going to have 2-3 really standout D-linemen, and then 13 serviceable guys, 5 of whom will have to be cut. After this Middlebrooks trade you sacrifice a nickle CB to increase the number of serviceable guys who are going to get cut by one.

I understand that Middlebrooks was a career underachiever, and that he was on the last year of his contract. Still, he played pretty solidly at the nickle last season, and with him gone, our most experienced remaining nickle CB is Roc Alexander. And Lenny Walls has an injury history, after missing extensive time last season. If he goes down, suddenly you're faced with the prospect of starting Roc Alexander and a rookie or second year guy with little to no actual game experience opposite Champ Bailey in the nickle. Yikes.

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by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 07/14/2005 - 12:22pm

Sorry for the double post, but a couple of other points needed to be made about the bootleg. First, the reason why I am so sold on Jake Plummer as Denver's QB (outside of the fact that with the exception of his first game in Denver and a 4 game stretch last season, he's been one of the top-5 QBs in the game) is because nobody in the league runs the bootleg better. Nobody. Jeff Garcia could probably run it pretty well, and McNabb and Culpepper are definitely mobile enough to learn. Still, Plummer is the best in the league at rolling right and then throwing across the field to his left, which is the most difficult throw for a QB to make. Most QBs, when they bootleg, eliminate half of their options. The defense knows the ball isn't going to the opposite side of the field, so they can shift their focus accordingly. With Plummer, they still have to defend the entire field while he's rolling, and that really makes a big difference.

The second point to be made about the bootleg is just how big of an effect it has on the game. As Bjorn said, the only way to defend it is to have a DE with a lot of discipline who will keep containment rather than chasing the RB. Unless this DE is psychic, though, keeping containment basically means hesitating pursuit EVERY SINGLE TIME the ball is handed off to the RB, out of fear it's a bootleg. Not only does the boot get a whole lot of mileage in the passing game, but it really increases the effectiveness of the running game, more even than Indy's playfake does. Most teams, if their running game is really gaining yardage, then their passing game is suffering as a result. Not the Broncos. If you look back over Shanahan's tenure, the 6 years with the best passing offense all came in years when the running attack was in the top 5 in the league. It's not a coincidence. If the passing game is working, then the running game starts working, and then the passing game starts working better, and then the running game starts working better, and then... you get the idea.

I saw a statistic once breaking down Plummer's QB rating inside and outside of the pocket. If I recall correctly, his rating in the pocket was mid-80s or so, and his rating outside the pocket was well into the 100s. That tells you a lot of what you need to know right there.

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by geoff (not verified) :: Fri, 07/15/2005 - 3:30pm

Re: 13

Steve DeBerg was a quarterbacks coach for two years before he un-retired to QB Atlanta in 1998...

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by Björn (not verified) :: Sat, 07/16/2005 - 4:32pm

Engelberger it is. Seems to me like Engelberger would be the perfect fit in a 3-4 system as a guy who can play as the Willie Mcginest type.

38
by chiefzilla (not verified) :: Wed, 07/20/2005 - 12:17pm

"Well, the Raiders have a defense which is more than I could say about the Chiefs. I don’t think it’s good enough to hold up against offenses like Denver or San Diego. The games with KC could end up looking like Arena League games if the Raiders O is half as good as the hype."
Easily the most misguided statement... ever! May I remind you that the Raiders were ranked just one spot better than the Chiefs last year. So to claim that the Raiders have a D and the Chiefs don't is like bragging to the world that the Browns are better than the 49ers.