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24 Feb 2009

Four Downs: AFC West

by Aaron Schatz and Bill Barnwell

Denver Broncos

How do historically bad defenses rebound?

Denver may have hired a young offensive mastermind (Josh McDaniels) as its new head coach, but the problem in 2008 was clearly defense. Based on Football Outsiders' advanced DVOA ratings, Denver had the second-worst defense of any team since 1995. (The worst defense also played this year, in Detroit.)

The good news for Denver is that it would be almost impossible for the defense to be that bad for a second year. The natural tendency of all teams is for performance to trend towards the NFL average. For example, take the 25 worst defenses in DVOA prior to 2008. These 25 defenses improved the next year by an average of 11 percentage points worth of DVOA, or seven places in the NFL rankings. Only one team, Cincinnati in 1997-1998, actually got worse.

If we compare the teams that improved significantly to those that improved just slightly, can we find trends that might suggest optimism for the Broncos? It's difficult to find trends that tie the most improved defenses together, and those trends that exist don't suggest a huge turnaround for the Broncos:

  • Teams that play better on first and second down than on third down tend to improve. Denver's defense was equally poor on every down, ranking 30th in DVOA on first, 31st on second, and 27th on third.
  • Teams that were stronger against the run in the red zone tended to improve the next season. Ten of the 12 "worst defenses" with the biggest improvement in the following year had better run defense than pass defense in the red zone. Denver's red zone defense was 24th against the run and 25th against the pass, basically the same.
  • Nearly every bad defense concentrated its top draft picks on defensive players, but a few of the really strong turnarounds came from teams that had highly-drafted linebackers entering their second seasons. For example, the Ravens went from 29th in DVOA in Ray Lewis' rookie year to 13th in his second season. The 49ers went from 28th in Julian Peterson's rookie year to 14th in his second season. The Broncos can't complain about last year's draft, not when Ryan Clady was such a force at left tackle, but they didn't select a linebacker until the sixth round.

Who Could Leave?

Seven guys have already left, as the Broncos cut corner Dre' Bly, defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson, special teams demon Niko Koutovides, linebacker Jamie Winborn, defensive end John Engelberger, tight end Nate Jackson, and safety Marquand Manuel. Robertson's cap hit for the upcoming season was reportedly somewhere around $16 million, so his release should be no surprise.

Their other free agents are depth guys like safety Marlon McCree, halfback Michael Pittman, linebacker Nate Webster, and veteran end Ebenezer Ekuban. With a new regime across the board, most of these guys aren't likely to return.

Who Could They Sign?

Denver will have around $35 million in cap room without accounting for unearned bonuses, Bly's release, or the rookie cap. Their shopping list will consist mostly of defensive players.

The Broncos start with huge holes at safety, where neither Herana-Daze Jones or the departing McCree are any great shakes. The problem is that there's simply not a lot of great safeties available in the free agent pool, which leaves the team in the awkward situation of having to overpay for a middling player or coming to love the mediocrity they already know.

That's not the only place the Broncos need help; adding another linebacker or two to play alongside D.J. Williams is also a step Denver needs to take this offseason. The crop of outside linebackers is far superior to that in the middle, so with the Broncos arguably needing both, it makes more sense for them to target someone like the Falcons' Michael Boley. If they choose to go after someone in the middle, they could look at Jonathan Vilma of the cap-strapped Saints, or Eric Barton of the Jets.

Kansas City Chiefs

Is Tyler Thigpen the answer?

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the magic 8-ball is stuck on "reply hazy, try again."

In last year's draft, the Chiefs began to rebuild along the lines and in the secondary. To become a winning team again, however, they will need a quarterback. They might have found a diamond in the rough when they picked up former Minnesota seventh-rounder Thigpen. When he entered the starting lineup for good, the Chiefs moved to a primarily spread shotgun scheme, and the two changes combined to improve Kansas City's offense from horrible to mediocre.

Thigpen finished 30th out of 41 quarterbacks (minimum 100 pass attempts) in both of our advanced stats, DYAR and DVOA. When you consider both his lack of experience and the quality of the Chiefs' offensive line, Thigpen's season showed promise. But it was far from a definitive statement that said the Chiefs should build around Thigpen for the next few years.

One issue that should concern the Chiefs front office is that defenses seemed to figure Thigpen out later in games. Thigpen shows a clear, dramatic trend where he played very well in the first quarter, was mediocre in the second and third quarters, and then struggled to complete even short passes in the fourth quarter.

Tyler Thigpen by Quarter in 2008
Qtr Comp Att Yds Com.% Yd/Att TD INT DVOA
1st 56 90 633 62% 7.0 5 1 25.1%
2nd 59 113 794 52% 7.0 8 5 -6.6%
3rd 53 93 557 57% 6.0 1 2 -10.5%
4th 62 120 626 52% 5.2 4 4 -25.2%

Overall, Thigpen's 2008 performance shouldn't stop the Chiefs from drafting Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez if they feel one of those quarterbacks is truly worth the third overall selection. But the Chiefs also shouldn't go into the draft thinking of quarterback as a hole on the roster that requires reaching with their first- or second-round pick and passing up a better player at another position. There's nothing wrong with Scott Pioli giving Thigpen another year to prove he's a starting NFL quarterback while he continues to build the rest of the roster. Just don't be too disappointed if he turns out not to be the answer.

Who Could Leave?

Well, let's start with the guys who are free to go. The Chiefs' only unrestricted free agent of note is Pat Thomas, who has potential as a middle linebacker in the Tampa-2 and could end up as a backup somewhere else. Kansas City's most prominent free agents are both restricted: Safety Jarrad Page and center Rudy Niswanger. Both will stay, and Page is a likely candidate for a long-term deal.

Among those rumored to depart through rabblerousery are halfback Larry Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Johnson's status is a funny look at how people perceive player attitudes; he started off his career as a nuisance, put up great numbers behind the last legs of an elite offensive line, got hurt, and now he's a nuisance again. The cap hit for getting rid of Johnson is $8.8 million, while it would cost $8.2 million to keep Johnson on the roster.

Of course, trading Johnson requires a partner, and when you consider the depth available at running back both in the draft and free agency, there's a paucity of likely candidates for a guy who peaked two years ago and combines a hefty salary with a bad reputation. Marshawn Lynch's legal problems could open up a hole in Buffalo. Cincinnati could need a back if they don't -- or even if they do -- resign Cedric Benson. The Lions need everything, but no way Jim Schwartz commits that much money to a back. Maybe Seattle takes a chance on him. The options are extremely limited, which is why the distinct possibility exists that Johnson will be cut.

Gonzalez is a much more palatable option for teams, as a highly-regarded player looking for a ring at the end of his career. The list of teams that need a tight end and are close to contention is much longer, with possible landing points for Gonzalez including Philadelphia, Todd Haley's old stomping grounds in Arizona, or even Scott Pioli's former employers in New England.

Who Could They Sign?

The Chiefs have holes across the board that Pioli will hope to fill; as someone who's worked with Bill Belichick, he's undoubtedly concerned about the quality of his front seven defensively. While there are pieces in place with end Tamba Hali, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, and linebacker Derrick Johnson, the Chiefs could very well be in the running for Albert Haynesworth. If the situation comes down to whoever offers him the most money, it could very well end up being Kansas City.

Unless it's for a star player or an underutilized player who might breakout with a bigger role, the Chiefs won't splash out too much in free agency. Pioli's most familiar with the AFC East, so if you want to operate under the idea that he could go after the teams around him, options include Bills utility lineman Duke Preston, Dolphins Vernon Carey and Channing Crowder, famed Belichick binky and former Jets corner Hank Poteat, or even, yes, Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.

Oakland Raiders

Is JaMarcus Russell already a bust?

When Oakland drafted JaMarcus Russell first overall in 2007, they expected that the Louisiana State star would require some development time. But things have gone even slower than expected. According to the Football Outsiders advanced DYAR stats, only two quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts had more negative value than Russell in 2008. It was his second straight season below replacement level.

Thirty-five quarterbacks drafted between 1995 and 2007 threw at least 50 passes in each of their first two NFL seasons, and a dozen of those quarterbacks had negative DYAR (i.e. below replacement level) in both seasons. This is the list Tom Cable sees in his nightmares:

QBs Below Replacement Level In First Two Seasons
Player Team Year 1 Att Y1 DYAR Y1 Year 2 Att Y2 DYAR Y2
Kyle Boller BAL 2003 224 -289 2004 464 -118
Quincy Carter DAL 2001 176 -105 2002 221 -13
Tim Couch CLE 1999 399 -683 2000 215 -96
Charlie Frye CLE 2005 164 -94 2006 392 -215
Rex Grossman CHI 2003 72 -53 2004 84 -6
Joey Harrington DET 2002 430 -272 2003 554 -436
Danny Kanell NYG 1996 70 -195 1997 325 -87
Mike McMahon DET 2001 115 -96 2002 147 -196
JaMarcus Russell OAK 2007 66 -144 2008 402 -188
Akili Smith CIN 1999 153 -432 2000 267 -30
Alex Smith SF 2005 165 -880 2006 442 -125
Danny Weurffel NO 1997 113 -275 1998 144 -272
Spergon Wynn CLE/MIN 2000 54 -21 2001 98 -422

Is there reason to believe that Russell can become the first successful quarterback off this list? Sure, but nothing we might say about Russell wouldn't also have been said about a number of these other players. Russell has tremendous arm strength, but that was also a signature trait for Boller and Carter. We want to expect that a first overall pick will develop, no matter how slowly, but Couch and Alex Smith also went first overall, and Harrington and Akili Smith both went in the top three. Russell's not responsible for the mess surrounding the Oakland franchise -- but then again, it isn't like Joey Harrington had any control over Matt Millen's constantly blown draft picks.

This cloud does have a silver lining, if we look at Russell's second season in two halves. Russell suffered from knee and ankle injuries during the second half of the season, but improved his performance anyway. Russell completed 49 percent of his passes through Week 9, then 62 percent of his passes the rest of the way. He averaged -44 DYAR over his first eight starts, but 24 DYAR for his last seven. If that second-half improvement carries over into 2009, perhaps Russell can avoid the following in the footsteps of other first overall busts like Couch, Smith, and David Carr.

Who Could Leave?

Actually, except for Shane Lechler and Nnamdi Asomugha, it seems like everybody is already gone. The Raiders handed Lechler the highest contract ever given to a punter and then handed Asomugha the highest contract ever given to a defensive player. Then they went and un-did pretty much everything they did during the summer of 2008 -- both the good decisions and the bad ones. Big-money safety Gibril Wilson, the man with the absurd number of run tackles? Gone. Kwame Harris, the Human Hold? Adios. Justin Griffith, Kalimba Edwards, see you later. Javon Walker... for some reason, still around, but probably gone sometime before a March 3 roster bonus comes due.

It wasn't just recent additions on the chopping block, either. Ronald Curry, who had a poor year after being the Raiders' top wide receiver in recent years, was also cut.

Who Could They Sign?

Absolutely no idea. After re-signing Asomugha and Lechler, and taking cap penalties on all the veterans they cut, there's not a lot of space here.

San Diego Chargers

Is LaDainian Tomlinson done?

When the NFL picks its team of this decade, LaDainian Tomlinson will probably earn honors at the running back spot. But the decade is nearly over and Tomlinson's career may be as well. L.T. struggled with injuries in 2008, with a career-low 1,110 yards and just 3.8 yards per carry, the lowest average since his rookie season. Talk around the league now suggests the Chargers are considering trading or even releasing the former MVP.

Do Football Outsiders similarity scores (explained here) tell us anything about the odds of a Tomlinson comeback?

There's actually only one running back who is similar to Tomlinson over all three seasons in a three-year span: Emmitt Smith from 1995-1997. Like Tomlinson, Smith set the all-time NFL touchdown mark during a stellar sixth season (1995) but then came back to earth over the next two years. As bad as Tomlinson's touchdown drop has been over the past three seasons (28 to 15 to 11), Smith's was worse (25 to 12 to 4).

While Smith never again reached that same level of performance from when the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls, his career was definitely not done. He bounced back with two Pro Bowl seasons in 1998 and 1999. His 4.2 yards per carry average from those seasons looks a lot better when you realize that overall NFL rushing numbers are higher now than they were then. The league averaged less than four yards per carry in each of those years, and has averaged at least four yards per carry in every season since.

Similarity scores aren't so optimistic about Tomlinson if we look at his last two years instead of his last three. There are many more similar running backs over a two-year span, and while most of these backs stuck around the league for a few more years, they were generally part-time players. Only Curtis Martin (for one season) and Walter Payton really returned to their previously high level of play, while Tony Dorsett and Ricky Watters stuck around for a couple years as average starters. Dorsett was the only one to average more than 4.1 yards per carry the next season.

If there is one bright spot on Tomlinson's record, it is that he continued to be useful as a receiver in 2008. The end of a good running back's career is often foreshadowed by a big drop in receptions one or two years prior, but Tomlinson has had between 50 and 60 receptions for five straight years. Nonetheless, the Chargers should go into 2009 with the expectation that Tomlinson will be just one part of a running back committee. Franchising Darren Sproles showed they are moving in that direction.

RBs Most Similar To LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006-07
Name Years Team Run Yr1 Rec Yr1 Run Yr2 Rec Yr2 Age Yr3 Yd/At Yr3 Yrs Left 1000-Yd
Seasons Left
Pro Bowls
TOMLINSON 06-07 SD 315-1474 60-475 292-1110 52-426 30 -- -- -- --
Roger Craig 88-89 SF 310-1502 76-534 271-1054 49-473 30 3.11 4 0 0
Curtis Martin 01-02 NYJ 333-1513 53-320 261-1094 49-362 30 4.05 3 2 1
Ricky Watters 96-97 PHI 353-1411 51-444 285-1110 48-440 29 3.88 4 3 0
Tony Dorsett 83-84 DAL 289-1321 40-287 302-1189 51-459 31 4.29 4 1 0
Chuck Muncie 82-83 SD 245-1012* 44-368* 235-886 42-396 31 3.64 1 0 0
Edgerrin James 05-06 IND/ARI 360-1506 44-337 337-1159 38-217 29 3.77 2 1 0
Earnest Byner 90-91 WAS 297-1219 31-279 274-1048 34-308 30 3.81 6 0 0
Eric Dickerson 88-89 IND 388-1659 36-377 314-1311 30-211 30 4.08 4 0 0
Thurman Thomas 93-94 BUF 355-1315 48-387 287-1093 50-349 29 3.76 6 2 0
Walter Payton 80-81 CHI 317-1460 46-367 339-1222 41-379 28 4.03 6 4 4
*1982 stats pro-rated for strike

Who Could Leave?

Guard Mike Goff is likely to leave; the Chargers will probably resign Kynan Forney and give him a chance to fight with a draft pick for the job. On the defensive side, end Igor Olshansky will likely opt out of his contract and become a free agent; Olshansky struggles for consistency and didn't have a great 2008 season. The problem is that there's not really a ready-made candidate to replace Olshansky on the line, both in free agency and on the roster. Swapping him out for the Cowboys' Chris Canty, the other notable 3-4 end available in free agency, would be a slight loss. In the long run, it makes more sense for the Chargers to resign Olshansky.

Who Could They Sign?

San Diego has $15 million in cap space and will likely gain some more room by restructuring Tomlinson's deal. They'll need to reserve a hefty amount of space for Philip Rivers' next contract, so don't expect them to be huge players in free agency.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 24 Feb 2009

32 comments, Last at 27 Feb 2009, 3:54pm by cjfarls


by black president (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 12:36pm

Oshiomogho Atogwe was franchise tagged by the Rams.

by black president (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 12:41pm

Sproles was franchised too.

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 12:49pm

Thanks. This was originally written a week ago, and I tried to go through and make all the changes based on moves over that time, but I guess I missed a couple. Should now be fixed.

by Nick Giaquinto (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 1:20pm

hard to tell what Russell is or could be working in the most dysfuctional environment in the NFL.

by bubqr :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 1:25pm

Vernon Carey is also not available anymore.

Does Haynesworth make any sense in a 3-4 ? What are they going to do with Dorsey ?

by cjfarls :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 3:40pm

Yeah, my biggest problem with this article is it doesn't analyze at all the cahnge to a 3-4 Defense (or at least a 3-4/4-3 hybrid) that both Denver and KC have talked about.

For example, I would guess Vilma as very unlikely to go to Denver, as he prtty much sucked in a 3-4, and likely will want to go to a pure 4-3 team.

While the trend analysis of really poor defenses was interesting, did you look at turnover in personnel at all? Denver is likely to have 7, if not up to 9 new starters on D next year... I would think this would trend the team to regress towards the mean, but also likey means we'll still be on the sucky end of the NFL spectrum.

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 10:03pm


I agree that this installment does not really address the challenge of Den and KC changing schemes. Improving an existing scheme requires finding better players. Improving with a new scheme involves finding better players as well as needing different skill-sets.

I do, however, have some alternate thoughts on your final paragraph. I assume you actually meant "progress" to the mean, since the starting point could not be much farther below the mean. And no, simply changing personnel does not suggest an automatic movement toward the mean. From whom they change and to whom they change is rather critical. Much of the Broncos' defensive personnel was not likely to be good in any scheme; many of them simply aren't very good football players. But we can't just assume that "different" will = "better" (and it could even = worse).

Your main point, though, that the trend analysis is not very useful is absolutely on target. I would think that variables like change-in-personnel or change-in-scheme would correlate much more highly than change-in-year, to say nothing of the myriad other variables that impact results, some of which are game-to-game and can distort DVOA et. al. A statistics-oriented site should know better than to offer up this sort of pseudo-evidence.

That said, the authors were tasked with finding something interesting to say. Simply pointing out that the Broncos' defense sucks and, needing to replace nearly every starter for either talent or schematic reasons (or both), it is likely to suck for at least the next two seasons, lacks both statistical pizzazz and meaningful word count. At least they thought about some ideas and offered them up.

The only (highly likely) certainty? The Broncos' defense will be, as you say, "on the sucky end of the NFL spectrum" in 2009.

by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 8:12am

Regression to the mean = statistical term referring to the tendency of scores that are extreme (either in a positive or negative direction) to move towards the mean on re-measurement. Thus, there is a high probability that Denver's defense will improve, even if they do nothing.

by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 12:17pm

You're misunderstanding what "the mean" is in this case. The "mean" is not the mean of all NFL defenses...it is the "mean" of an infinite number of Denver's defensive performances, given their personnel.

For all we know, Denver's defense may have outperformed themeselves last year, and still been as terrible as they were. In this case, regression to the "mean" would involve them getting worse.

by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 3:57am

You may be correct about my misunderstanding which mean we're referring to; nonetheless, when referring to regression to the mean, it matters not which side of the mean one begins on for regression to occur.

by bravehoptoad :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 12:21pm

Exactly. And since we don't know which side of the "mean" Denver's defense was on, we don't know which direction they go when they "regress."

If they outplayed their natural ability last year, then they'll "regress" to the "mean" by likely playing worse. If they underplayed their ability last year, then they'll "regress" to the "mean" by likely playing better.

Just because they played badly, that's no indication of which direction they go when they "regress."

This is why comments like "they can't get worse" or "even if they do nothing, they'll get better" are so off the mark.

by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 1:14pm

My point was meant as a general comment more about "regression" than about Denver in particular. Most don't seem to understand that when bad teams get better, they are "regressing" as much as good teams are when they play poorly.

by BroncosGuy (not verified) :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 4:21pm

I only intended it as a joke; apparently it wasn't very funny because nobody go it.

by Ryan Harris (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 4:22pm

I think there is a bit too much emphasis on the 3-4, 4-3 personnel.

I agree that Dorsey might not be a prototypical 3-4 player, but he is only 1 year removed from being "safest pick" in last years draft. They are still playing football right? Tackle the guy with the ball, chase the QB, take up blockers etc. While Dorsey may not fit an ideal mold the guy still knows the fundamentals of football and I highly doubt that the Chiefs deciding to go with a 3-4 will render him suddenly useless.

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 6:57pm

I agree, and not only that, but there's 2-gap 3-4 players and 1-gap 3-4 players on the DL, and somehow you usually only hear about the first kind. Franklin became a more effective nose tackle last year when the 49ers started asking him to play 1-gap.

by PaulH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 11:05pm

Obviously they are still playing football, and Dorsey is still a good football player, but even so you still need to fit into the scheme properly to maximize value and production.

I certainly don't think the transition to a 3-4 turns Dorsey into a bad player for the Chiefs, mind you, but considering the Chiefs spent a top five draft pick and a 51-million dollar contract on him, they need him to play consistently at a very high level, and I don't really see that with Dorsey in the 3-4. I could see him being a consistently pretty good player in the 3-4, but is that really what the Chiefs need from him?

Anywho, one final point... I wouldn't make anything of the whole "safest" pick bit. Just because you are considered a "safe" pick doesn't actually make you one. Robert Gallery and countless other examples show us the fallacy in putting too much stock into that evaluation.

by Bobman :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 8:19pm

Aaron and Bill,

Come on, the "years left," "1,000 yd seasons," and "pro-bowl season" columns are kind of galling for the one guy who is still active (and could kick all three of our asses at once). He could have 2 years left, or 4... he's still just 29 for Pete's sake.

Did you have any injury specifics for these guys? IIRC, Dickerson had a chronic hammy problem in his "year 2" for Indy and lacked a lot of the things that made him ED--he was just a big, kinda fast guy, with good vision but limited cutting and acceleration. Of course you'd expect a decline for that year. But I am not sure if all the comps had similar nagging injury issues like LDT did this year. Surely Edge did not--his albatross was the AZ OL.

Thanks for a good article, as always.

by taxistan :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 11:24pm

JaMarcus is not a bust yet. The operative word is: YET

by PaulH (not verified) :: Tue, 02/24/2009 - 11:28pm

If you will remember a couple of years back shortly before and after the 2007 NFL Draft, I argued pretty vehemently on behalf of JaMarcus Russell. I thought he had the raw tools to be a once-in-a-generation player, and I thought the Raiders were completely and totally justified in taking him #1 overall. Admittedly, I thought it was the "smart" choice.

However, a couple of years on, I'm willing to concede that now I believe my arguing counterparts had it right from the beginning. Russell does indeed have an arm unlike any the NFL has seen in years, but it's pretty obvious that he has really struggled with the mental aspects of the game -- going through his progressions, making good decisions, knowing when to get rid of the football, etc. -- and frankly I haven't been overly impressed with his accuracy, plus you still have serious questions about his physical conditioning and commitment to the game. Don't get me wrong, the potential is still there (isn't it always with the highly-drafted busts, though), but if I had to do it all over again I certainly wouldn't be saying the Raiders should take him at #1, and at this stage I'm afraid he's closer to becoming a bust than a star.

And admittedly he is playing with a terrible organization, no question about that. However, as the article itself alluded to, that's also the case with many other high-profile busts as well. Guys like Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Alex Smith, Tim Couch, and countless other busts were all surrounded by terrible organizations as well, but ultimately the players are the ones getting paid the mega-millions to perform, and it falls back on them when they don't.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 1:10am

J Russell not bust,. Impriving player. Yo all saw it. Just goling to continue to Get better and will be Pro Bowler next seaosn.

J Griffith one of best all round FBs in game. What release tells you is Raiders think Stud FB Oren Oneal will be ready for 2009. Oren Oneal devasting knee injury in preseason last year. There was talk at time it could be career ending) ORen Oneal destroys any defenders that get in way. His lost was a big big blow to the running game. Oneal been working out every day at Raiders facility.

Also what Griffith release tells you is Raoiders like WR turned FB/ h-back Marcel Reece 6'2 240 4.42. Reece has wr skills runs good routes very good hands and will be nightmare for defenses to accountn for( Mcfadden , Reece, and stud up and cominger tE Zach Miller ) What a three headed monster combination sure to scarys defensive coordinator of other temas..

Kwame harris - There was no way Raiders were not going to cut him. Haris signed one year contract and no way Dvais going to pay him that much money(9 million) after he lost LT Job to Mario Henderson. Might sign Kwame harris
down road to more reasonable contract and move to RG. Kwame harris great run blocker, has great feet and would thrive inside ala R gallery.

Raiders have alot of very good young players and going to giver those kIds a chance.
With the seventh pick in draft Raiders select BJ Raji.

Raiders Dline really starts shaping up well for future. De's 22 T Scott, 22Greyson gunheim 25 Jay Richardson DT BJ Raji 22 Tom Kelly 28

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 3:38pm

Russell wont be a pro bowler next year. To do that he is gonna have to outperform Brady(Cassel), Manning, Rivers, Cutler, Roethlisberger, Palmer, and other quarterbacks that have just as good of a chance to break out as he does (Thigpen and Flacco). Please dont bet on russell making the pro bowl, you will just be wasting your money.

by taxistan :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 1:32am

Welcome back Raider Joe. I didn't say he was a bust and there are encouraging signs in the latter half of last year but.........

by ammek :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 4:41am

The most positive indicator for the Broncos' defense is this one: they fired Bob Slowik.

Part of the Jimmy Johnson coaching tree, Slowik has emulated and perhaps surpassed illustrious ex-colleagues such as Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner in failing dismally and repeatedly at the next level - and yet being hired time and time again regardless. Slowik has completed seven seasons as a defensive coordinator in the DVOA era; he could reasonably wrest the Football Outsiders' "Don't Give This Man A Job" award away from Ted Cottrell and Tom Walsh:

Yr - team - def DVOA - rank (pass def DVOA; rank)
1995 - CHI - 7.8 - 23rd (18.8; 25th)
1996 - CHI - 2.4 - 21st (12.5; 23rd)
1997 - CHI - 2.2 - 24th (9.3; 25th)
1998 - CHI - 3.4 - 22nd (12.3; 26th)
1999 - CLE - 17.8 - 30th (21.5; 29th)
2004 - GNB - 16.4 - 29th (26.5; 29th)
2008 - DEN - 26.2 - 31st (41.4; 31st)

That's right, none of Slowik's mad-blitzing defenses have finished in the top three-quarters of the league in passing DVOA. (To be fair, the 1993-94 Slowik defenses performed better against the pass, at least according to conventional stats; however, they were feeble against the run and mediocre at forcing turnovers.) Here's a list of the Packers' defensive futility records he broke in his single season at the helm.

The good news for Denver? Post-Slowik, defenses don't get worse. The bad news? They remain "on the sucky end of the spectrum" as BroncosGuy puts it:

Yr - team - def DVOA (+/-) / rank (+/-) / pass def DVOA (+/-)
1999 - CHI - 2.4 (+1.0) / 23rd (-1) / 12.9 (-0.6)
2000 - CLE - 11.4 (+6.4) / 25th (+5) / 9.1 (+12.4)
2005 - GNB - 2.0 (+14.4) / 22nd (+7) / 4.7 (+21.8)

If ever there was a scenario that invited defensive meltdown, it was "Shanahan fires yet another coordinator, promotes Slowik, spends first three draft picks on offense".

by An Ominous (not verified) :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 3:28pm

I will say one thing about Slowik- he is one HELL of a positions coach. For all that he can't coordinate a pass defense, check out Denver's numbers against WRs when he was the DB coach. He had Lynch and Ferguson both playing over their heads, and he helped develop Foxworth and Williams into solid up-and-comers. Before Slowik started working with him, the consensus on Champ Bailey was that he was a great corner, but also a little overrated. Then in the two years where Slowik was coaching DBs, Bailey put up arguably the greatest 2-season stretch of any CB in the history of the game (19 INTs, 3 TDs + the 100 yard return against New England, 401 return yards, 44 passes defensed despite being routinely avoided). Especially in 2006, when he allowed the lowest yards per attempt in the league, didn't allow a TD all season, and posted double-digit INTs despite being routinely avoided all season long (from some numbers I've seen, he was as likely to intercept or defense a pass as the guy he was covering was to catch it).

In fact, I'm a big fan of the "promote to the level of incompetence, then demote back down once" theory of staff-building. If there's a head coach who fails spectacularly, I want him as my offensive or defensive coordinator. If there's a coordinator who fails spectacularly, I want him as my positions coach. I figure the reason they made it to coach in the first place is because they were so phenomenal at their previous position, so get them back in that position and let them do what they do best. Dick LeBeau is the best example of this theory in action, but really any failed coach will do.

by Tracy :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 5:20pm

Maybe not ANY failed head coach should be hired as a coordinator. Mike Martz, for example, has had mixed reviews as an offensive coordinator, and I'm not sold on Mike Nolan as a defensive coordinator.

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 4:46pm

What mixed reviews has Martz had? Seems to me he's always made an offense a lot more relevant than it was before he took over. In his two years in Detroit, their offense improved by 4% and then 6%. In his year in SF, their offense improved by 16% (and Detroit's offense dropped by 12%). He hasn't reproduced the Greatest Show on Turf, but that just shows that players are far more important than coaches (which is why players sign $100 million contracts and coaches don't). I certainly wouldn't mind Martz coordinating my offense in the slightest.

As for Nolan... his Coordinater years are further behind him, so I'll stick to points and yards. His first season in New York saw the Giants rise from 18th to 5th in yards allowed and a stunning 26th to 1st in points allowed. His first year in Washington saw them rise from 28th to 16th in yards and 13th to 8th in points. Jumping over to DVOA (because it's available for his next couple of stints), his only year in New York saw their DVOA jump from -6.2% (15th in the league) to -14.9% (5th in the league). After he left, the DVOA dropped to -10.0%, 11th in the league. In Baltimore, he didn't turn any defenses around because he inherited an already elite unit (ranked 1st and 4th in DVOA the two years prior to his arrival); however, he did a MASTERFUL job keeping that defense elite even as it was positively gutted to free agency, putting together a defense that ranked 6th, 1st, and 2nd in his three years in charge despite completely turning over the roster (outside of Ray Lewis, of course) and converting from the 4-3 to the 3-4.

In 2000, Baltimore had a defensive DVOA of -30.0%. In 2003, under Nolan, they had a DVOA of -28.2%, despite losing 8 of 11 defensive starters in that span (all 8 of them immediately before Nolan took over).

It looks to me that both coaches have INCREDIBLY strong resumes as coordinators. Nolan's work in Baltimore was especially underrated- he took over perhaps the best defense in history after it lost almost all of its starters and he responded by putting together a defense that was very nearly better than the one before. I'm very excited to see what he can do with the Broncos over the next 3 years. The only defensive coordinator we've had in the past decade with this good of a resume was Jim Bates, and Shanahan never gave him a chance to implement his scheme before he was sent packing.

by Fan in Exile :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 10:56am

Thanks guys that's about what I've come to expect from the Football outsiders when it comes to the Broncos.

One Part mildly interesting statistical data that doesn't really mean anything for the team. Nor do I accept the excuse that there isn't anything else to write. The guys who are left on the team started because of injury so how about comparing thier performance to that of the guys who got cut. I would be a ton more interested in a line that went there's no hope Bronco's fans the guys who are left on the team posted a worse DVOA than the guys who got cut, or something along those lines.

One part something you could get from reading any sports site anywhere. Really those were the guys who got cut, why isn't this under breaking news! How about looking at the Speed scores of the running backs and talking about which ones should remain. We've got a freaking ton and some are surely gone.

One part shear ignorance of the team. The coaches and FO have said over and over again that they are switching to a 3-4/4-3 hybrid, and you guys think that safety is some how the huge hole to start with? Then you compound the error having them look at linebackers who don't fit the system at all. Boley is way to light, Vilma already bombed in the 3-4. Barton at least fit the system but seriously bringing in a 31 year old linebacker? That's what you've got for all of the holes on the team is one 31 year old linebacker?

I appreciate most of the stuff that you guys publish but when it comes to writing about the Bronco's this is what you guys put out.

by Preacher (not verified) :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 7:16pm

Of course, the worst 25 historical defenses will improve the next year. Its impossible not to. Otherwise they wouldnt be the bottom 25 defenses in historical records - the next year would be worse and these would be the BOTTOM 25!

by Big Johnson (not verified) :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 3:44pm

hahaha good point. therefore only 12 of the teams on that list can actually get worse out of 25. good observation

by b-rick (not verified) :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 9:00pm

Denver does not have the DL personnel that fit the 3-4 on their team, so subsequently they should prioritize there both in the draft and free agency. A 3-4 DE like Igor O. from SD and a NT should be their priority. While Denver's LBs aren't the best, they are not near the weak spot that safety was last year.

If Nolan gets the defense to mediocre and Denver can keep their RBs healthy (especially Hillis) they could win the west next year.

by JoRo :: Thu, 02/26/2009 - 12:15pm

I'm with Fan in Exile... I'm either wondering if you guys will ever hire someone who'd post actually useful info on the Broncos, or just let another site do it for you or something, cuz it' pretty bad when it comes to the West most the time.

by cjfarls :: Fri, 02/27/2009 - 3:54pm

At least FO acknowledge's the Broncos getting hosed by the HoF... but yeah, otherwise it often shows how little FO actually knows about Denver.

I come here for general NFL news and theory (best site on the web for those, so don't think I don't appreciate what you FO guys do), and read MileHighReport for Denver specific analysis.