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15 Feb 2010

Four Downs: AFC West

by Bill Barnwell

Denver: What went wrong in the second half?

The Broncos' 2-8 collapse after a 6-0 start cost them what appeared to be a guaranteed playoff spot; teams that start 6-0 have historically made the playoffs more than 96 percent of the time. The 2003 Vikings were the only team since 1990 to also start 6-0 and proceed to miss the playoffs. So what changed, and what do the Broncos need to do in 2010 to play more like the first half version?

You can start with something Denver can't control: Injuries. Denver starters missed only three games from Weeks 1-9, an absurdly low total. From Week 10 on, they missed 10; that's still way below league average, but not a historically-low total like the first half figure was. Unfortunately, injury levels almost always regress to the mean on a year-to-year basis, and the Broncos are all but guaranteed to see more injuries, not fewer, in 2010.

On the field, the biggest difference for Denver across the two halves was their rush defense. Through Week 9, Football Outsiders' advanced DVOA metric (explained here) rated the Denver run defense with -18.2% DVOA against the run, the second-best figure in football. After Week 9, though, the Broncos were miserable: their 11.3% DVOA was the second-worst in football over the final eight weeks. Teams were able to get into manageable situations by running the ball on first down, averaging 4.95 yards per first-down carry during Weeks 10-17. That's way up from 4.13 yards per first-down carry in the first two months.

So, how to fix it? Denver's already made one move, allowing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to leave for Miami. (That's not necessarily a good move.) If you're in the camp that chalks up the second-half decline to a worn-down defensive line, the Broncos would be wise to add more big bodies up front that fit their 3-4 scheme. One spot in particular would be at nose tackle, where Ronald Fields is a situational player stretched as a starter. If the Broncos target one player in free agency, it should be 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, who would be the perfect fit for their needs and scheme.

Who Might Leave?

Wide receiver Brandon Marshall seems poised to depart; although he's a restricted free agent, Marshall is likely to be traded before the draft for picks, although it's hard to find a team that hasn't outwardly rejected the possibility of acquiring Marshall. Chicago needs a wide receiver, but doesn't have a first- or second-round pick, while mooted targets like San Francisco and Seattle don't make sense.

Elvis Dumervil and Kyle Orton are also restricted free agents, but the likelihood of either departing is roughly nil. On the unrestricted front, guards Ben Hamilton and Russ Hochstein are both free to leave, as is center Casey Wiegmann. The three combined for 34 starts this year up front.

Who Could They Add?

The aforementioned Franklin would be the perfect addition, but if he's not franchised by the 49ers, he might follow Nolan to Miami. If Franklin isn't available, assuming that Vince Wilfork remains off the market, the team could splurge for Steelers NT Casey Hampton or the Packers' Ryan Pickett. The unrestricted market for guards is thin, so unless Denver finds a palatable option in restricted free agency, there's not much to be done there. With Tony Scheffler an RFA, McDaniels could make a move for his former tight end in New England, Benjamin Watson, who's unrestricted.

Kansas City: Can the Chiefs actually run the 3-4?

When Patriots general manager Scott Pioli arrived in Kansas City and hired then-Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be his head coach, Haley brought in deposed Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast to serve in the same capacity for Kansas City. As part of the move, the Chiefs moved from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-4 front, and added prototypical 3-4 end Tyson Jackson in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

A year later? Pendergrast has been fired and replaced by another old crony, ex-Browns head coach and Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. And although it's unfair to fully judge players after one year, Jackson made absolutely no impact as a rookie.

An even bigger concern is what happened to the rest of the roster. While former end Tamba Hali had a great under-the-radar season as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, the players with star potential in the old unit have seen their roles diminished and skills marginalized. Former "can't miss" defensive tackle prospect Glenn Dorsey is too small to play nose tackle and too slow to play defensive end in the 3-4, sparking trade rumors. Former outside linebacker Derrick Johnson, the unit's best player in 2008, was benched for the marginal Demorrio Williams after the Chiefs moved him inside. Johnson never regained his spot, requested a trade that didn't come, and could depart this offseason as a restricted free agent. Strong safety Bernard Pollard was cut in camp and revitalized Houston's defense as a run-stopper, while the Chiefs were stuck with over-the-hill Mike Brown and overmatched Jon McGraw in his place.

With Crennel's arrival confirming the Chiefs' intentions to stay with the 3-4, Pioli needs to acquire more talent that fits the scheme, and jettison players that don't. While a mid-round pick might be a huge disappointment as a return for former first-round picks, if Dorsey and Johnson aren't able to contribute in Kansas City's scheme, Pioli needs to cut bait.

Who Might Leave?

Besides the players above, every one of the Chiefs' wide receivers besides Dwayne Bowe is a free agent, as is starting center Rudy Niswanger (RFA) and utility lineman Ryan O'Callaghan. O'Callaghan's likely to return, but Niswanger's as good as gone. Veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel has said he'd like to return to Kansas City, but the feeling might not be mutual.

Who Could They Add?

Kansas City's still several parts away from contention, but Scott Pioli could choose to make some moves in free agency. With three prominent ex-Patriots potentially on the market in Watson, Wilfork, and Raiders end Richard Seymour, Pioli could choose to raid his old stomping grounds while acquiring players that would fill massive holes. A cheaper option could be a fourth ex-Patriot, Jarvis Green. With huge holes at safety, they could upgrade their run defense by adding Bengals unrestricted free agent Roy Williams.

Oakland: Can anyone here play quarterback?

It's apparent to everyone that JaMarcus Russell simply is not an NFL quarterback. That's backed up by the numbers: Russell's -57.2% DVOA rating in 2009 was the ninth-worst figure since 1994 among quarterbacks with 100 passes or more. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the quarterback with the tenth-worst figure is also on the roster: J.P. Losman, when he played for the Bills in 2008.

Neither of the other two Raiders passers should inspire much confidence either. Charlie Frye had a -23.1% DVOA in 94 attempts; six more targets and he would have finished 36th in the league amongst DVOA qualifiers. Bruce Gradkowski was the best quarterback of the four, with a merely mediocre -3.6% DVOA, but he threw three interceptions in 150 attempts after throwing three in 21 the previous season; he's not likely to keep up a 2.0 percent interception rate in 2010.

So what's a horribly mismanaged franchise to do? With an uncapped season, freeing themselves of the more than $19 million owed Russell is an obvious place to start, although the Raiders might not avail themselves of the opportunity in the hopes that new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can work wonders. (Spoiler: He won't.) Losman is an unrestricted free agent; Gradkowski and Frye are restricted free agents, and shouldn't cost more than $4 million or so combined to lock up for 2010.

While the Raiders could use another first-round pick on a quarterback like Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen, they're likely to go dumpster diving in the free agent market. The only prominent unrestricted free agent is Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, who is ill-fit for Al Davis's desired downfield passing scheme. Another go-around with Daunte Culpepper or Kerry Collins? Jon Kitna? A trade for restricted free agent Troy Smith? The possibilities aren't exactly appealing, which is why Russell might get one more shot at the worst quarterback DVOA record in 2010.

Who Could Leave?

Nnamdi Asomugha joked at the Pro Bowl about leaving for New York to play across from Darrelle Revis, but the closest link between the Raiders and legitimacy isn't going anywhere. Richard Seymour is an unrestricted free agent, and while the Raiders could slap the franchise tag on him, it's likely to start a war they don't want to fight. Javon Walker is likely to retire or be released, while running back Justin Fargas is another candidate for early dismissal.

Who Could They Add?

If Al Davis is willing to spend -- or sell enough shares in the franchise to get the money to spend -- there are enough disgruntled free agents out there to justify his money. Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens are unrestricted free agents at wide receiver. Julius Peppers could play across from Seymour and give the team a dominant pass rusher, if Davis can convince him to come to Oakland and play end in the 4-3 instead of moving to a 3-4. Corner Dunta Robinson could supplant Chris Johnson across from Asomugha, or they could overpay for Darren Sharper. Hey, the section isn't entitled "Who Should Arrive".

San Diego: What's happening at running back?

Faced with a choice between Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and playoff star Darren Sproles this time last year, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith chose to defer. He convinced Tomlinson to renegotiate his deal, while Sproles was designated as the team's franchise player. In all, the Chargers spent more than $13 million on their one-two punch at running back in 2009, more than any other team in football.

And in return, what did they get? The worst rushing offense in football. Although San Diego had a historically great passing offense that led the league in DVOA, their -11.2% DVOA when running the ball was dead last. They were the worst team in the league running in short-yardage power situations, 31st in second-level yards, and again worst in open field yards. (An explanation of those statistics can be found here.) They barely combined to run for 1,000 yards as a unit.

This expensive failure reinforces a lesson Smith would be wise to consider moving forward: Running backs are overvalued, often fungible properties, and the money spent on them is better invested in the guys blocking for them. The Chargers' offensive line was riddled with injuries in 2009, notably center Nick Hardwick, who missed virtually the entire season. All five starters missed at least one game. That doesn't provide an excuse for Sproles and Tomlinson, but helps clarify reality: Without a good offensive line, it doesn't matter how talented the guys running the ball are.

Smith is now left with the epic problem once more. Tomlinson has publicly said that he expects to be cut, and while the team still owes him $1 million in guaranteed money, he's as good as gone. Sproles has lost much of his leverage, and because of the CBA issues, he's actually a restricted free agent this year and will make far less than the $6.6 million he made a year ago. Smith will need to find a back to split time with Sproles, and while they could spend a draft pick on a back in April, one option is already on the roster: Mike Tolbert. Tolbert had a 33.5% DVOA on 25 carries a year ago, making him the only Chargers back with a figure better than -10%. He won't re-produce that figure over 250 carries, but if the Chargers can expand his role and spend more money on depth up front, they'll be better off than they were a year ago.

Who Could Leave?

Tomlinson's about to be released, while Sproles seems likely to stick around on a smaller salary. RFAs Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill aren't going anywhere, but disappointing right tackle Jeromey Clary could depart.

Trade rumors have swirled around RFA linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was invisible this year and has no trade value. It makes more sense to keep him around on a one-year deal and hope that he regains some of his burst off the edge. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie isn't a restricted free agent, but his middling play since a breakout 2007 season has placed him on the market. No matter where he goes, he'll be close to family.

Who Could They Add?

All the prominent halfbacks on the market are restricted free agents, so the Chargers could hope for a veteran like Fargas, Larry Johnson, or Thomas Jones to become available as no-cap casualties. If the rumors about Peppers wanting to play in a 3-4 are true, he'd be a huge upgrade on Merriman and a great fit for what the Chargers need right now: An elite pass rusher.

Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 15 Feb 2010

69 comments, Last at 22 Feb 2010, 3:50pm by Don

Comments

1
by bingo762 :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:03am

Didn't one of Jim Haslett's Saints teams start off 6-0 and miss the playoffs?

3
by ammek :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:16am

No. The 2002 team started 6-1, a loss to the mighty Lions sandwiched between two three-game winning streaks.

4
by bingo762 :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:27am

Thanks

14
by mm (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 3:56pm

Jim Mora's 1993 Saints started 5-0, before collapsing to 8-8.

2
by dk240t :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:14am

The Raiders just traded a first round pick for Richard Seymour. They are NOT going to let him go. They'll franchise him in a heartbeat. I don't know what you were smoking when you wrote that they wouldn't, Bill.

13
by wr (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 3:24pm

I can think of two non-chemical reasons Bill would say that:

1. Al
2. Davis.

You made a statment assuming rationality on the part of the organization, but
from a non Raider fan perspective, there has been little correlation between
"rational" and "Al Davis" for at least the last 3-4 years.

28
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 8:42pm

what move made by A Davis was irrational aside from hirinh L Kiffin as head coach?
Then again cant blame Davis too much for kiffin hire becausse seemed like gerat move at time. Look at Kiffin now. Suck with Raiders and suck with Volumteers and still get Usc job. That's like Jay Leno sucking at 10:00 and then getting promotion to 11:30. (Analgy work better if Leno never had 11:30 job in first place).

obiosuly should have gotten more back for R Moss but can't blame Davis too much for that becausue R Moss was so crappy when playing for Raiders was starting to look like damaaged goods .

Al Davis cant coach anymore. Too old. He gets the players and it up to coaches to coach the players. Probelm was too amny bum players and a couple crapp coached (N Tunrner and L Kiffin). Probelsm in rear view mirror now. Raiders moving on up to the east side.

44
by The Human Spider :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 12:58pm

"what move made by A Davis was irrational aside from hirinh L Kiffin as head coach?"

See:
- Aaron "One-Hit Wonder" Brooks, QB

- Darrius "Falls down and breaks his crown" Heyward-Bey, first WR taken in the '09 draft

- Mike "Al, that's NOT A STEAL" Mitchell, second-round draft pick that wasn't even a top draft prospect in his POSITION

- Cutting Jeff Garcia, and handing JaMarcus Russell a starting job he didn't deserve

- Hiring Tom "The Bed-and-Breakfast Offense" Walsh as offensive cooradinator during Art Shell's tenure

- The fact that the Raiders haven't had a head coach stay for more than a year

48
by Neoplatonist Bolthead (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 7:24pm

You're forgetting Javon Walker. And DeAngelo Hall. JaMarcus Russell was less a mistake than a miss, but otherwise, there are a whole lot of Al Davis mistakes recently.

50
by dk240t :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 1:35pm

So what you are saying is, Al Davis is unpredictable. Meaning, someone shouldn't make blanket statements like "The Raiders definitely won't...", where after the ellipsis could be something like "franchise Richard Seymour."

I concur.

If they did NOT franchise him, that would be the surprise, unpredictable Al Davis move, since they JUST gave up a 1st round pick for him 20 weeks ago.

51
by dk240t :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 1:37pm

I meant to add:

Richard Seymour-DL- Raiders Feb. 17 - 12:22 pm et

"The Raiders will use the franchise tag to retain Richard Seymour if a long-term deal can't be worked out, sources tell beat writer David White.
A long-term deal appears unlikely at this point, so Seymour can prepare to earn $12.398M on a one-year contract in 2010. The former Patriot was solid but not spectacular in 2009, compiling 47 tackles ad four sacks."
Source: San Francisco Chronicle

24
by RickD :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 7:34pm

Is Richard Seymour really worth a franchise tag? He's not as good as he was five years ago. Should he really be paid the average of the top 5 defensive linemen in the NFL?

So yeah, I wouldn't be surprised to see Davis use the franchise. I'd be very surprised to see anybody else pay that level of salary.

27
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 8:34pm

correct. seymour not as good as once was . he shoudl not be paid frnahcise tag money,b ut still good player. Al Davis going to make the right call on this one.

60
by Nathan :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 6:19pm

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the Raiders will use the franchise tag on Seymour if they don't sign him to a long-term deal.

Adam Schefter of ESPN has confirmed the report.

34
by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 3:54am

I don't know. I'm certainly no one to judge (Raider games are never on TV here in the Bay Area), but PFF had him rated as the 13th best DE in the NFL. He might not be the player he once was, but it seems like he's still pretty darn good.

Considering this is going to be an uncapped year, it seems like it would definitely be worth it to overpay for him on a one-year deal rather than letting him go.

43
by Bill Barnwell :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 12:22pm

Please keep the PFF numbers out of the comment threads on my articles or I'm going to get angry and start repeating myself. Beyond the fact that player participation data is pretty spurious at best, the idea that you can grade players off of TV tape is just absurd. Absurd. As in, NFL teams don't even grade other teams' players like that, and they have coaches' film.

54
by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 5:38am

"Please keep the PFF numbers out of the comment threads on my articles or I'm going to get angry and start repeating myself."

You're kidding right? To ensure we don't invoke your rath and/or repetitive nature, are there any other websites or sources we should not site when commenting on you your articles?

"Beyond the fact that player participation data is pretty spurious at best, the idea that you can grade players off of TV tape is just absurd."

As opposed the FO Game Charting project?

"As in, NFL teams don't even grade other teams' players like that, and they have coaches' film."

Just b/c NFL teams don't grade players in that manner, doesn't make it wrong and or useless for fans.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, where did this response come from? Professional jealousy or what?

58
by Bill Barnwell :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 12:37pm

There is an absolutely enormous difference between the things that get tracked in the Game Charting Project and the idea of marking all 22 players on every play and giving them a grade for what they did. It's not in the same stratosphere.

Of course, it must be professional jealousy. Explains why I hate PFR or PFT so much. I just have no interest in extremely flawed data being used as proof of something, regardless of where it comes from. I don't know the Pro Football Focus guys; for all I know, they are extremely nice people, and I'm sure they have the right intentions. But bad data is bad data.

63
by DeltaWhiskey :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 3:45am

Where is your evidence that this is flawed data?

To dismiss the data and ask that it not be cited in response to your articles requires an answer to this question.

I've read through the PFF site. It provides an in depth description of their methodology, acknowledge the limitations of their data source (i.e. TV broadcasts), and discusses concerns about inter-rater reliability and what they do to try and control for it. Pretty transparent about what they're doing, as opposed to some of the information on this site.

To test your assertion I conducted a simple correlation analysis with the data found here: http://www.profootballfocus.com/by_team.php?tab=by_team

For the 2009 season:

Correlation of OFF DVOA w/ Overall OFF
r = 0.806, p < 0.0000001

Correlation of DEF DVOA w/ Overall DEF
r = -0.538, p < 0.0009

This is only one season worth of data, it took me about 15 minutes to gather the data and compute the correlation coefficients. Mr. Barnwell, I invite you to take 45 minutes and calculate for all 3 of the seasons worth of data available at PFF and let us know what you find.

64
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 4:24am

I'm not sure what the correlation is supposed to prove -- quarterback kneels have a great correlation to wins, doesn't mean that it's a good process.

The methodology of how the data is compiled -- regardless of the results, whether they're a perfect fit or a terrible one -- is flawed. The evidence is, you know, the reality of trying to break down what 22 players do on a given play from TV. Heck, even trying to identify who those 22 players is impossible a fair amount of the time.

Acknowledging that there are limitations is great. Those acknowledgments dramatically undersell how it is downright impossible to tell what the responsibilities are of every player on the field on a given play, and whether those players succeeded or failed at their tasks, let alone the unholy amount of time and work it would take to track that on every play.

How can you tell whether a receiver made the proper sight adjustment and cut his route accordingly when it's off the screen? Whether an offensive lineman was supposed to go to the second level and block instead of double-teaming a nose tackle? How on earth can you break down what a safety's been assigned to do? You can't. It's one thing to watch a play 15 or 20 times to break it down and make informed guesses about the X's and O's and the successes of a group of players on a single play or two (and another to make inferences about who was in coverage on a particular play, which is about as far as the Game Charting Project delves into trying to break down plays), but over the course of the entire season, you're making so many guesses and cutting so many corners that the data ceases to resemble reality.

Again, I'm sure they mean well, and I wish that they -- or us, or someone -- actually had the time and the ability to do what they want to do. But the data's all but useless.

65
by DeltaWhiskey :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 7:38am

"I'm not sure what the correlation is supposed to prove -- quarterback kneels have a great correlation to wins, doesn't mean that it's a good process."

DVOA also correlates with wins. The correlation I ran can be explained thusly, the PFF Team OFF/DEF Overall Scores correlate with OFF/DEF DVOA respectively suggesting a relationship between PFF Overall Scores and DVOA scores. While your example is obviously ridiculous, I fail to see what is ridiculous about the possibility that this correlation may mean something.

"The methodology of how the data is compiled -- regardless of the results, whether they're a perfect fit or a terrible one -- is flawed. The evidence is, you know, the reality of trying to break down what 22 players do on a given play from TV. Heck, even trying to identify who those 22 players is impossible a fair amount of the time. "

True, if you believe that every play must be 100% accurately assessed to yield a valid data set; however, if instead, you believe that sampling can provide a useful data set to analyize, then PFF methodology works. FO has chosen to sample the entire population to produce their measures, that's great if it's possible, but not necessary. Most statistical research relies on sampling.

"Acknowledging that there are limitations is great. Those acknowledgments dramatically undersell how it is downright impossible to tell what the responsibilities are of every player on the field on a given play, and whether those players succeeded or failed at their tasks, let alone the unholy amount of time and work it would take to track that on every play."

Agreed that PFF may not be able to tell how well someone executed their responsibilities, but I don't think that is their aim. Instead, they evaluate the effectiveness of what a particular player did ("how well they blocked, how effectively they rushed the passer or how they played in coverage") http://www.profootballfocus.com/about.php?tab=about. That is, they evaluate what they see - measuring objective behaviors.

"How can you tell whether a receiver made the proper sight adjustment and cut his route accordingly when it's off the screen? Whether an offensive lineman was supposed to go to the second level and block instead of double-teaming a nose tackle? How on earth can you break down what a safety's been assigned to do? You can't. It's one thing to watch a play 15 or 20 times to break it down and make informed guesses about the X's and O's and the successes of a group of players on a single play or two (and another to make inferences about who was in coverage on a particular play, which is about as far as the Game Charting Project delves into trying to break down plays), but over the course of the entire season, you're making so many guesses and cutting so many corners that the data ceases to resemble reality."

Again, not sure they're trying to assess whether individual players performed their assigned tasks; they're assessing the observed performance. I can't exactly tell if in your last sentence you're suggesting the the Game Charting Project, the PFF data, or both data sets have ceased to resemble reality.

"Again, I'm sure they mean well, and I wish that they -- or us, or someone -- actually had the time and the ability to do what they want to do. But the data's all but useless."

How can you say they don't have the time and/or ability to do what they want to do? What is the evidence that what they are trying to do is useless?

I've provided evidence that what they're doing correlates with DVOA and therefore there is a possibility that on the aggregate they're measuring something of value. These may be spurious correlations like kneel to win, they may be a random finding (i.e. luck), or they may refelect a true relationship - at this point it's hard to tell.

The historical correlation of Offensive DVOA with wins is 0.678, for Defensive DVOA the correlation is -0.512. For 2009, the correlation of OFF DVOA with wins is 0.800, for DEF DVOA r = -0.490 (p < 0.002). The correlation of PFF's Total OFF with wins in 2009 was 0.676, for Total DEF, r = 0.239 (ns). OFF DVOA appears to have had a very good year this year, DEF DVOA was in line w/ previous years. The PFF Offensive numbers are in line with DVOA's historical numbers. To me, all of the correlations I've run, suggest that PFF data cannot be summarily dismissed. Just because you think what they're doing is impossible does not mean that it is.

It is possible that the individual player values mean little, but the aggregrate numbers may have the potential to tell as much as DVOA. FWIW, the correlation between 2009 FPP Overall for QB's with 2009 DYAR for QB's is 0.890.

"Again, I'm sure they mean well, and I wish that they -- or us, or someone -- actually had the time and the ability to do what they want to do. But the data's all but useless."

The biggest problem is that you've threatened the readership with your ire if data from this site is used in discussion without really supporting that ban. Your assertion that the guys at PFF have undertaken an impossible task, is not fully (minimally) supported. I've provided preliminary evidence that they may actually have "the time and the ability to do what they want to do."

66
by Bill Barnwell :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 12:30pm

You can't measure something objectively when you can't see it or know what the player was supposed to be doing. Suggesting that this is a sampling technique? Lord. I'm done with this.

68
by DeltaWhiskey :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:41am

Noted.

5
by ChaosOnion (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:29am

While Merriman was invisible this year, it was also his first year coming back from knee surgery. I think he had a torn PCL. Is it a surprise he had a lackluster year? How dependent upon performance enhancing substances was Merriman's past performances? I think it would be a mistake to write him off. And keeping Merriman and acquiring Peppers are not mutually exclusive exercises.

8
by The Blow Leprechaun (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 12:21pm

Not to mention his first year off steroids!

15
by Dean :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 4:20pm

Shhhh... we're not supposed to notice.

We're also not supposed to notice that there have been 3 starters on that D in the last 5 years who have tested positive for steroids.

Although, in truth, I would be shocked to learn that any number less then 3/4 of the linemen in the league - on every team - are on something. After all, they don't test for HGH.

6
by jimbohead :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:38am

There's no chance the 49ers let go of franklin. He'll be franchised, then they'll work on getting a long term deal. The Broncos will have to look elsewhere for their NT.

7
by Independent George :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:52am

Slightly off-topic, but can anybody explain the point of Restricted Free Agency? Not how it works - I understand that well enough - but why it even exists to begin with? Rather than trying to restrict poison pills, wouldn't it make more sense to just scrap it entirely?

17
by Dean :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 4:23pm

I guess the best explaination I can come up with is "compromise." Young players get the ability to change teams (in theory), and teams who lose young players get compensated for them. Market economics being what they are, young players have premium value, and teams value the player more then the draft picks.

9
by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 1:24pm

Chiefs: Would be much better off running a 4-3, where Dorsey and Jackson could play DT and Hali could go back to playing end. Then Derrick Johnson can play full time at OLB, too. The 3-4 experiment was simply a mistake. They don't have the right personnel, and fitting scheme to personnel is a much better strategy than fitting personnel to scheme. There isn't anything intrinsically superior about the 3-4 or 4-3.

In FA, if they followed this strategy, they could look at Antrell Rolle if he comes available, and then look to get a middle linebacker in the draft or a 4-3 DT if Jackson is better at end.

On offense, Chris Chambers revitalized their offense and has Randy Moss Lite type skills and size. He ought to be both cheap and useful given that he and Cassel seemed to click. In FA or the draft, they need to continue to rebuild the offensive line regardless. Ben Watson is an athletic body at TE but he's a bit old for a rebuilding team.

Raiders: Let's be honest, this team is not ready for a franchise quarterback. Short of Peyton Manning, no quarterback could revitalize the golaith of suck that is the Raiders' offense. This eternal rebuilding project should start with replacing the worst lineman every year in the first round of the draft, while waiting to see if any of the WR prospects turn out and riding a rush-centered attack in the meantime. To that end:

Cornerback is a need; Nnamdi's target numbers are silly low because he's good, and also because the other side of the field is so enticing. Leigh Bodden might be a decent idea. He wouldn't make anyone think abotu targeting Nnamdi, but he'd stop making the defense a one-handed joke. Resigning Richard Seymour probably isn't worth the effort, except maybe to sign and trade in the uncapped year. In the draft, some linebackers would be nice.

Chargers: The offensive line needs work (and health). If Nick Hardwick is back, then Jeromey Clary is indeed the weakest link; getting a big heavy run-oriented right tackle would be a good call in the draft. The Chargers should have the pick of free agents with their prospects, so the uncapped year could be very good for them. Julius Peppers would go a long way toward revitalizing the defense of a team that needs to win now before the offensive and defensive fronts collapse from age and injury.

Denver is the toughest sell. The defense is very nice, but a lot of the toys are creaky (Champ Bailey isn't a top 5 corner anymore), and Elvis Dumervil, sack numbers aside, is no Dwight Freeney. On offense, the line is good, and relatively young; no matter who is behind it, they're going to score a bit. Still, assuming Marshall is gone, WR is a need, and Kyle Orton isn't supposed to be the permanent solution, right?

Right?

11
by BigWoody (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 2:05pm

"The Chargers should have the pick of free agents" Wait, wait! The Chargers were a "final eight" team. For the upcoming uncapped year, don't they have to lose a equal player before they can sign one? Puts them out of the running for Peppers, right?

12
by dk240t :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 3:17pm

I stopped reading at "Chris Chambers revitalized". Is there another Chris Chambers other than the mediocre WR that people occasionally still mistakenly think is a stud?

26
by greybeard :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 8:23pm

If you adjust the performance of Chris Chambers with the Chiefs (9 games) to full season (16 games): 64 receptions, 1080 yards, and 7 TDs. He also averaged 16.9 yards per reception (Moss 15.2) also puts him in 6th place for players with more than 20 receptions. He may not be a stud or even a good WR, but he did do a decent job there and given that it is Chiefs, that counts as revitalization. But don't let the facts get in the way of your prejudices.

38
by jebmak :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 6:40am

It's true! His DVOA skyrocketed to 1.1 from only 0.2 in 2008, which is his highest since 2003. And his catch rate only dropped a little from 52% to 49% (almost exactly his career average).

53
by greybeard :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 3:25am

I could not care less about DVOAs of individual players. Until DVOA adjusts for not only opponent but also the teammates and coaches of a player, it is meaningless for me.
His catch rate affects his yard per catch you know.
And he was playing for Chiefs.
Context matters.

56
by Eddo :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:42am

Well, he's also been kicked to the curb by a team with good offensive personnel, the Chargers. In San Diego, his DVOA wasn't any better, even with Philip Rivers throwing him the ball and Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Ladanian Tomlinson, and Darren Sproles to draw attention away from him.

57
by Nathan :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:46am

This doesn't really make sense. How can being surrounded by receivers that are better than you possibly be GOOD for your numbers? I mean yeah, you're going to line up against a nickleback a lot of the time but if Rivers is still chucking it up to Jackson and Gates 80% of the time what does it matter?

By your logic you if you put him in a 5 WR set with Randy Moss, Vincent Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Marques Colston he should get 25 catches a game for 300 yards because all those other amazing receivers are going to draw the coverage away from him.

That just doesn't seem like it's the way it works. Good receivers attract both coverage and targets. See Moss / Welker / Stallworth in 2007. It's not like Stallworth lit the league on fire cause Moss and Welker were attracting so much attention.

59
by Eddo :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 12:42pm

I didn't say it helped his raw numbers; in fact, you're correct that it would hurt them.

But his per-target numbers, like DVOA, should indeed be better when surrounded by other options. Think of the Saints; Robert Meachem put up huge DVOA because he could get open due to defenses focusing on the team's other weapons.

Heck, Malcolm Floyd is an example in the very offense that Chambers was mediocre in. His DVOA is through the roof, yet he's not a particularly impressive receiver.

Chambers has been mediocre everywhere he went, regardless of who throws him the ball or if he gets favorable attention from defenses.

61
by dk240t :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 6:45pm

So a career 3.7 reception per game, 53 yard per game guy who's been kicked to the curb by 2 prior teams has a 9 game stretch where he shoots up to a whopping 4 receptions per game for 68 yards per game, and that is revitalizing their offense?

Look, if anything revitalized the Chiefs offense, it was replacing Larry Johnson for 15-20 carries per game at 2.8 yards per carry with Jamaal Charles' 15-20 carries per game at 5.8 yards per carry (and Charles' superior pass receiving skill).

62
by greybeard :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 12:59am

Yes, I am saying that. In 2009, in 9 games he had more receiving yards than any other Chiefs player had for 16 games. His 16 game projected numbers would also made him the best receiver for Chiefs -better than Gonzales- in 2008 and just shy of Gonzales by 30 yards but better than everybody else in 2007, better than everybody in 2006, 20 yards short of being the best in 2005.
So yeah I think that.

21
by JonC :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 6:07pm

Leaf! Ha! re: the Chargers' lines, the "collapse" to which you refer has already occurred. They've got nowhere to go but up! :) The Chargers have been rebuilding around Rivers since the 2006 offseason. The group of players that occupied the "window" beginning in 2004 is mostly gone...although I think one of them did win a Super Bowl....what was his name again?

42
by The Human Spider :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 12:12pm

Drew BREES!

67
by cjfarls :: Fri, 02/19/2010 - 5:07pm

Denver is the toughest sell. The defense is very nice, but a lot of the toys are creaky (Champ Bailey isn't a top 5 corner anymore), and Elvis Dumervil, sack numbers aside, is no Dwight Freeney. On offense, the line is good, and relatively young; no matter who is behind it, they're going to score a bit. Still, assuming Marshall is gone, WR is a need, and Kyle Orton isn't supposed to be the permanent solution, right?

The O-line is actually Denver's biggest weakness. They have studs on the edges in Clady and Harris (injury prone), but the 30-somethings on the interior line got old real fast last year, and their depth sucked (an acknowledged concern heading into the 2009 season). Weigman and Hamilton were simply awful at LG and C, and Hochstein is a better backup than a starter. Kuper, at RG is decent, but nothing special and also got banged up. When Harris went down mid-season, you had 1 good player (Clady), 1 average (Kuper), and 3 bad players on the oline... and it showed.

Orton is FAR from the offense's biggest problem. When Weigman/Hamilton/Hochstein weren't playing matador to the interior rush, he actually looked above average... at least better than any free agent options or rookie is likely to look. For his first year in a complex offense with an in-his-face pass rush, I'd say 3800 yards and a positive TD/int ratio means he gets at least another year to see if he can absorb more of the playbook, etc... he's only like 26 years old.

Marshall I give a 50-50 chance of coming back... and if he doesn't, he'll give the team some extra picks to play with. I personally hope he comes back, as the team is better with him than without. If they manage to keep him, they could use to add some deep speed as Marshall, Royal and Gaffney are all better possession guys than they are on deep routes. None really stretch defenses.

On Defense, interior D-line and secondary depth again appear to be the main problems. When Ryan McBean and Kenny Peterson were hobbled mid-season in the Balt/Pitt/Wash games, the interior defense took a huge hit as the backup depth proved incapable of keeping opposing O-line's off of the LBs (The horrible 'skins o-line absolutely pushed them around, signalling the beginning of the end). The run defense never recovered from that point. As pointed out, the secondary is long in the tooth as well... there are some promising youngsters at safety, but the CB group could fall apart suddenly like the oline did without some young bodies developing behind them.

10
by MCS :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 1:54pm

"Javon Walker is likely to retire or be released,..."

But Green Bay was so unfair to him!

16
by Miguel (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 4:21pm

FYI - In order for the Chargers to give Sproles a RFA tender they will have to pay him 110% of his 2009 salary

35
by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 3:58am

Yep, which means he's getting a raise, not a big pay cut. That seems like it will be a big problem for San Diego.

18
by Dave0 :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 4:36pm

i really wanted the chargers to trade sproles last offseason. that indy game was absurd--they could have gotten a lot for him. as with mike turner, they should have pulled the trigger when they had the chance.

here's what they do

1. trade sproles now. he's still got a little bit of luster on him as he's a good kick returner and receiver, but no way is he worth 6m
2. try to bring LT back as a reserve for a smaller deal. maybe he's a realist and sees that after last season his full-time-starter big-money-contract days are over.
3. get that starting rb somewhere. he doesn't have to be a great player to be more of a contributor than LT and sproles in 2009. hell, maybe go with internal options. mike tolbert looked ok, and jake hester wasn't drafted in the second round to play special teams.
4. beef up both lines thru the draft, then get a kick returner in the fifth round to replace sproles. aj smith is very good at that.
5. start the new running back, play LT all over the place--slot, change-of-pace, etc. fewer touches keeps him fresh. he's still in great shape and he's still got great hands. he should be able to contribute *something* as long as he can keep his ego in check

22
by JonC :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 6:11pm

Acee had a good line re: LT's last deal; "Both sides agreed he'd play for that amount or they'd part ways." I'd love to have LT back, but you don't repeatedly trash your teammates in public if you think there's a chance you'll be back. I think Sproles will sign a modest long-term deal with SD; I agree about the lines, esp. the d-line.

49
by Dave0 :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 12:18am

Acee had a good line re: LT's last deal; "Both sides agreed he'd play for that amount or they'd part ways."

but here's the deal: when they came up with that understanding, LT was coming off another 1000 yard season and still looking like he might bounce back. very few people think that now. the situation has changed. there's no reason their agreement can't change too.

i think there's been an increasing understanding among fans and the league that great backs burn out crazy fast. maybe a change of role would keep LT in the league--and contributing to a super bowl contending squad--longer, which he's said is important to him.

if i were him, i'd at least think about it, even with everything that's happened over the past few months.

as for sproles lets look at a player who is in a somewhat similar situation. the chargers have done a great job making sure they're the ones who define kassim osgood's role, much to his dissatisfaction as far as him wanting to play on offense. they need to do the same thing with sproles; if he won't play ball, get rid of him for whatever you can get, because there are more like him out there who will not demand multimillions per year.

19
by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 5:32pm

Bill:

One theory I've seen regarding Denver's defensive regression is that they stopped blitzing on run downs after employing a lot of run blitzes earlier in the year. I don't have the means to either confirm or refute this idea, but it might be interesting to look at.

20
by Jeff Fogle :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 5:50pm

Some of the 6-0 Denver start might be attributed to Orton playing over his head too. He kinda returned to prior form in the last 10 games.

First Six: 72% comp's, 8.5 ypa, 9/1 TD/INT, 1.5 sacks/game, rating near 100
Last Ten: 62% comp's, 6.7 ypa, 12/11 TD/INT, 2.0 sacks/game, rating in low 80's
Chi 2008: 59% comp's, 6.4 ypa, 18/12 TD/INT, 1.8 sacks/game, 79.6 rating

No way to maintain the pace of the first six games, even if you take out the fluke TD at Cincy early on. Does DVOA show something similar? Looked up the efficiency charts at the team level. Saw +17.1 after six games, +3.5 for the year on offense for Denver. Not sure how much of that is Orton. His individual mark was -0.9 last year in Chicago. Did he have a huge first six then a pedestrian last 10 in DVOA this year?

25
by Bronco Nut (not verified) :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 8:17pm

If memory serves me well, Orton injured his ankle in week 8 (week 7 was a bye week, I think) and didn't seem to quite play the same after that. Which could be very troublesome for us Bronco fans, because that EXACT same thing happened the year prior in Chicago, and it would be very disturbing to see a trend like that develop.

I really don't remember enough about either injury to say whether they were freak accident type injuries, or the regular, predictable, Donovan McNabb type injuries.

30
by Nathan :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 11:30pm

Orton injured his ankle? I DON'T BELIEVE IT!!!

32
by tuluse :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:30am

With the Bears he was scrambling and just got tackled awkwardly. Although I'm not surprised he got hurt from it, I was surprised it affected his whole season. It seemed like the kind of thing you deal with for 4-5 weeks then it's over. Of course Grossman was so terrible they had to rush Orton back a week or two early.

He's always been a very tough player ever since college. Maybe his coaches need to make him take a bit more time off. I'm sure Bronco's fans wouldn't have minded a week or two more of Chris Simms for a 100% Kyle Orton at the end of the year. Another win and you're in the playoffs.

55
by Piglet (not verified) :: Thu, 02/18/2010 - 11:12am

Another Denver fan here, I think the real problem was that Ryan Harris went out about midseason, Ben Hamilton proved that he has not been the same player since his concussion, and Casey Weigmann finally showed his age. The o-line went from an area of great strength to a major weakness due to these developments and a glaring lack of o-line depth, at least to my eyes.

23
by slipknottin :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 6:39pm

No mention that both Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard are RFAs this year?

29
by Theo :: Mon, 02/15/2010 - 8:45pm

"Nnamdi Asomugha joked at the Pro Bowl about leaving for New York to play across from Darrelle Revis."

Yeah but, he, but that would, what? That. What? How would?! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

31
by Thomas L (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:11am

Well, someone will need a QB that can beat New Orleans in the playoffs. As it happens, there's a guy playing backup QB who's cheap, injury-prone, but did manage to take a team to the Superbowl, losing to Manning, but beating Brees along the way. Rex something-or-other. There's not that many QBs with a 1-1 playoff record vs. Brees and Manning, as I recall.

33
by tuluse :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:34am

eh, that's easy, McNabb also went 1-1 against Manning and Brees in the same year.

36
by Brendan Scolari :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 4:03am

Sorry, my tone-reading skills need sharpening, but you are joking right?

39
by Theo :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 8:00am

He's saying that to make it to the Super Bowl, you need Rex Grossman because he beat Drew Brees and already took a team to the Super Bowl.
Some stats don't lie!

37
by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 5:08am

The chargers should just trash sproles and tomlinson. they had the worst rushing offense in the league because of the runningbacks not cause of the line. If the offensive line is so horrendous then how did they have the best passing offense in the league? Come on spanos i hope you realize where the true value on the team is and where the fat needs to be cut. Get rid of LT and sproles on offense and keep everyone else. Give merriman another shot on d with phillips and english. There is a pretty good chance one of those three guys will make that unit respectable. the D line needs to get better, it is awful. Castillo hasnt been good in 2 years or so, igor left last year and jamal aint getting any younger. Not one defensive lineman has looked league average recently. Scrap these guys and start over. The defensive backs are pretty good, ellison looks like he could be an above average starter at safety alongside weddle. Cromartie is awful but they dont really have much of an option right now.

Get rid of LT, sproles, and everyone on the defensive line. These two units were just trash and even a brand new start can't be worse than last year.

40
by Theo :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 8:04am

X is bad and Y was in there.
Concluding: X is better with A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W or Z in there.

41
by Bronco Nut (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 11:44am

FINALLY, some advanced football statistical reasoning that I can understand.

47
by Theo :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 3:48pm

Is poster drumk?
It was a reaction to and a summary of the post above.

46
by Shalimar (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:49pm

Run blocking and pass blocking are different skill-sets, and very few offensive lineman are equally good at both. This is especially true of backup lineman, who are usually on the roster because of they are good or even exceptional at one but aren't starters because they still suck at the other. Thus, your reasoning is based on a false premise and doesn't make sense. The Chargers have a young offensive line that had injury problems last year so it will improve. Adding a good RT would help more than adding a first-day running-back would though.

As for Charger needs, the primary need is to find a long-term replacement for Jamal Williams at NT. He was great for a long time, but at his age you have to assume last year was the beginning of the end. You can't succeed with a 3-4 defense without a good run-stuffing nose tackle.

52
by Nathan :: Wed, 02/17/2010 - 6:35pm

Run blocking and pass blocking are different skill-sets, and very few offensive lineman are equally good at both.

Sebastian Vooooooooooooollllllllmmmmmeeeer!

I am so excited about that guy.

69
by Don (not verified) :: Mon, 02/22/2010 - 3:50pm

I agree. I actually think that a combination of Tolbert, Hester, and maybe a mid-round draft pickup would be better than what they had last year. And it would be cheaper and then they could draft some guys for the defensive line (Nose Tackle?). I'm a huge LT fan but it looked to me like there were several times, maybe on average once or twice a game where he was a step away from a big gain but was stopped for a three yard gain. A couple of years ago those would have been 20 or 30 yard gains.

45
by loneweasel (not verified) :: Tue, 02/16/2010 - 2:06pm

Why not just call a spade a spade? (or in this case, two spades)

Denver and Kansas City had two of the worst offseasons in recent memory. Aside from a fluky start by the Broncos, their performance was wholy predicable. McDaniels has proven to be over his head. Pioli has been exposed as a gigantic fraud (Tyson Jackson at 3? How do you live that down?). So don't expect anything better in this offseason either.

The beatings will continue since morale will not improve.