Five questions stemming from the Broncos’ signing of Peyton Manning

Are the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender?
Everything hinders on whether or not Peyton Manning really is healthy and if the Denver defense can play as well next year as it did last season. If Manning only lasts six games or the defense falls apart, then the underachieving Chargers could easily take the AFC West next season. That said, the Broncos’ defense shouldn’t have to hold teams to under 10 points with Manning under center and Peyton could make stars out of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, assuming the two can stay healthy. And let’s put it this way, the Broncos’ Super Bowl odds went from 25/1 to 7/1 following the signing of Manning. There’s no doubt that this addition has put the Broncos over the top.

Is Peyton healthy?
Manning told reporters at his press conference on Tuesday that if the Broncos had a game on Sunday, he would be able to play. He said he might not play at the level he expects of himself, but he would be on the field. He also said that he hopes to be on the field for OTAs in April and that he insists he’s been open with teams about his medical history. At this point, Manning deserves to be taken at his word. If he’s still hurt, I highly doubt he would have convinced John Elway to give him $96 million over the next five years. Peyton has too much respect for Elway and the game of football then to deceive anyone. That said, I have no doubt that he’s healthy now but what happens after he takes that first hit? I’m less concerned about his current health and more concerned about whether or not he can hold up over the entire course of the season. After all, he had major nerve damage in his neck.

Are the Broncos making the right decision to move on from Tebow?
The Broncos are taking three separate risks with this signing. The first risk is assuming Manning will be the same player he was before he underwent multiple injuries. The second rest is giving him a $96 million contract and the third risk is that they’re reportedly willing to put Tim Tebow on the trade market. I view the first two risks as major, while the third is more of a small gamble that Tebow wasn’t going to get them much further than he did last season. After all, he may have beaten a banged up Pittsburgh team in the Wild Card round but he was completely exposed by the Patriots the following week. That said, he did win plenty of games last year for the Broncos and whether it was luck or the hand of God, Tebow was a big part of the team’s success in 2012. If Manning only plays two games next year before getting hurt again, some in Denver will wonder why the team was so quickly to part with Tebow just months after he led them to a playoff victory.

What will happen to Tebow?
As of Tuesday night the Jaguars, Jets, and Packers reportedly have interest in Tebow. According to NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi, the Jaguars have “serious interest” in trading for Tebow while the New York Daily News says that the Jets have “legitimate interest” in the former Gator. In rather surprising news, former Rams’ VP of Player Personnel Tony Softli told ESPN 101 in St. Louis that the Packers have at least some interest in Tebow as well. While he may not be viewed as a future starter, the Broncos should have plenty of trade suitors for Tebow if/when they want to put him on the market. The Jaguars make the most sense to land Tebow but there always seems to be a surprise team to come out of the woodwork.

What team got hurt the most in Manning’s decision?
The Miami Dolphins took one off the chin this week. After failing to lure Manning to Miami, the Dolphins reportedly low-balled Matt Flynn (who decided to sign with Seattle), and couldn’t convince an angry Alex Smith to leave San Francisco. (Smith re-signed with the 49ers on Tuesday.) So now the Dolphins are left with Plan D, which is former Jaguar David Garrard, whom they signed on Monday. As of right now Garrard will compete with Matt Moore for the starting job in 2008, which is about as exciting as a box full of yarn. Granted, the Dolphins do own the No. 8 overall pick but if the Browns take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannenhill at No. 4, Miami probably won’t have an opportunity to draft their future signal caller in April. No wonder fans were reportedly ready to protest the firing of GM Jeff Ireland – the Dolphins are a mess.

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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Steelers vs. Broncos

In easily the biggest Wildcard Weekend upset since the Seahawks knocked off the Saints all the way back in 2011, the Broncos shocked the NFL world on Sunday with a 29-23 upset of the Steelers in Denver. Here are some quick-hit thoughts from today’s game.

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates after throwing an 80-yard touchdown pass to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers during overtime in the AFC Wild Card round at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver. The Broncos advance beating the Steelers 29-23 in overtime. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

– Let me tell you a tale of two teams on Wildcard Weekend. We’ll call one team “Team Ass-Kicked” and the other team, “Team Tebowhorse.” Team Ass-Kicked tiptoed into their game against a good, but beatable opponent on Sunday and was predictable, unimaginative, and uncreative. Even though it was the playoffs, Team Ass-Kicked didn’t raise the level of their play and predictably, they got their ass kicked. (Hence the name – see what I did there?) Team Tebowhorse, on the other hand, opened things up, kept their opponent off balance, kept attacking and in they end, they pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend. I did enough bashing of the Falcons in my recap of their game against the Giants, but let this Denver victory be a lesson for Mike Smith and his coaching staff. When you try to do predictable things, you get a predictable outcome. When you open things up and actually attack defenses, you’re more likely to keep them off-balance. Good things come to those that go after what they want.

– To expand on my first point, the Steelers didn’t expect the Broncos to throw the football today and why would they? With the playoffs on the line last week, Denver only mustered one measly field goal against an underrated, but slightly above average Kansas City defense. There were even rumors that Tim Tebow would be benched for Brady Quinn if he didn’t play well. But instead of playing into Pittsburgh’s hands and just hoping for the best, John Fox and his staff put together a game plan that actually attacked Pittsburgh’s weakness: its secondary. With the Steelers playing run defense and leaving their corners in one-on-one coverage, the Broncos threw the ball vertically and guess what? It worked. This wasn’t a genius game plan by Denver and it could have easily backfired. But it was the best game plan because it was one that kept pushing the Steelers’ defense. It’s not wise to poke a sleeping bear but if you find yourself face to face with one in an enclosed area, you might as well go on the offensive. Because you’re not going to win by letting him do all the attacking.

Tebow only completed 10 passes but that’s not the stat that matters. The stat that matters is 15.0. That’s how long his average pass went for today, which is why the Broncos scored 29 points instead of 3 like everyone thought they would. Tebow will never be an elite quarterback in the conventional sense. He’s always going to lack the presence to stand in the pocket and beat teams like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. But even his strongest detractors have to give him credit for taking shots down field and some of his passes were right on the money. Granted, he got a ton of help from his receivers but this wasn’t one of his typical wins where he played like crap for three quarters only to run his way towards a victory. His arm and his legs helped the Broncos win that game.

– Ike Taylor is going to see Demaryius Thomas in his nightmares for the next eight months. This was simply a day for Taylor to forget and one for Thomas to cherish because it was his coming out party. The Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2010 because they needed a deep threat to replace Brandon Marshall. And while it has taken him some time to develop, Thomas is finally starting to perform like that big-play wideout that Denver envisioned he’d be two Aprils ago. It’s crazy that two receivers this weekend broke out with 200 yards. (Thomas and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.)

– Not to pile on Taylor but he really was at the root of Pittsburgh’s problems defensively. Granted, the Steelers were at a disadvantage because of injuries but Dick LeBeau did his job today. As a defensive coordinator you want to force Tebow to throw and that’s what LeBeau did. It’s just that defenders like Taylor repeatedly got beat, which was about the only thing they couldn’t do. Just a bad, bad day for the Steelers’ top corner.

– It all went for naught but that was another gutsy performance by Ben Roethlisberger. His ankle was clearly bothering him but he hung in there and delivered some big plays on the Steelers’ game-tying touchdown drive. (His receivers also made some spectacular catches.) But it makes you wonder whether or not Pittsburgh was destined to repeat as AFC champions this year. Big Ben’s injury wasn’t likely to get any better if he kept playing on it and the Steelers’ suffered one too many injuries. It just wasn’t the year for the “Terrible Towel.”

– I’m sorry, but John Elway still bugs the crap out of me. Denver fans can twist it however they want but Elway was never fully on the Tebow bandwagon. You know it, he knows, Jesus knows it. Then there he was, jumping around like a 7-year-old girl after Tebow won the game in overtime. I know, I know – what is he going to do, not celebrate his team’s huge victory? But there’s just something very wrong with a guy who gets what he wants after being a prick. You should have played in Indianapolis like a man, John!

Great partnerships between head coaches and quarterbacks

The quarterback has always been the most important position in pro football, even in the days when the running game was dominant. Many fans don’t realize that quarterbacks called all the plays as late as the 1970s and into the early 1980s. So even if offenses weren’t quite as complex back then and great teams had excellent running games, having a field general like Bob Griese, Terry Bradshaw or Roger Staubach was critical. As the NFL evolved into a more pass-happy league, an evolution that has accelerated in the last ten years with rules protecting the quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, the importance of the quarterback has only been magnified.

This reality makes the relationship between the head coach and the quarterback the most important in pro football. Look at the great teams over the years, and you see great partnerships between coach and quarterback leading to success on the field. It’s interesting to take a look back and see how these relationships took shape and see how they varied based on the situations and the personalities involved. Here are several interesting examples:

1-Bill Belichick and Tom Brady

Bill Belichick was known as a defensive genius when he took over the New England Patriots, but he was also known as a rigid coach who had a complete lack of imagination on offense as a result of his years as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Belichick wanted the quarterback to be just another position on the field as he didn’t seem to acknowledge the leadership qualities of the position. Tom Brady was a sixth round pick sitting on the bench behind Drew Bledsoe.

When Bledsoe got hurt, Belichick turned to Brady and immediately saw Brady’s talent, decision-making and leadership ability. When Bledsoe came back, Belichick decided to stay with Brady, which at the time was a controversial decision. They made it to the Super Bowl, and by then Belichick has so much confidence in Brady that he made the aggressive decision to drive down the field with little time left in the fourth quarter in a tie game against the Rams. John Madden famously said on television that the Patriots should have just run out the clock and took their chances in overtime. Instead, Brady drove the Pats down to the game-winning field goal.

Two more Super Bowls and one undefeated regular season later, this partnership between Belichick and Brady is one of the most successful in NFL history. Belichick and his offensive coaches let Brady achieve his full potential by becoming just as imaginative on offense as Belichick had been his whole career on defense. From year to year the Patriots would beat you in many different ways, and then they grabbed Randy Moss they were almost unbeatable.

2-Mike Shanahan and John Elway

John Elway is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Yet despite his heroics with “The Drive” and countless other games that he won on sheer athletic ability, Elway had never managed to win a Super Bowl. He never had a real running game, and the Denver defenses were routinely embarrassed in Super Bowls. Then Mike Shanahan arrived. Shanahan is a stubborn system guy, and since the John Elway days he’s not had nearly as much success with his arrogant attitude. But Shanahan’s system was exactly what Elway needed. Elway bought into the changes which placed more emphasis on a running game and a disciplined approach to the passing game, and the result was two Super Bowl titles.

3-Bill Walsh and Joe Montana

Bill Walsh was a system guy. He was an offensive genius who dominated the NFL with his West Coast offense, and he happened to find the perfect quarterback for his system in third-round draft pick Joe Montana. Montana was very accurate and incredibly smart, and he played the quarterback position flawlessly in this system. Of course the 49ers were loaded with talent on offense, but the natural relationship between Walsh and Montana set a standard that would be copied over and over again in the NFL. Look at Aaron Rodgers today, and you see flashes on what Walsh and Montana created thirty years ago. Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have forged a great relationship following the Brett Favre drama in Green Bay.

Of course there are exceptions that help prove the rule. Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw never got along, but they managed to ride one of the best defenses in history plus a great running game to four Super Bowls, and Bradshaw thrived under pressure despite his frosty relationship with Noll. Bill Parcells was notorious for riding Phil Simms, and they had great success as well.

But there’s no doubt that the relationship between the head coach and the quarterback is usually a critical component to sustained success in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how young quarterbacks like Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford grow with their head coaches.

Tim Tebow to start next year for the Broncos?

Denver Broncos rookie QB Tim Tebow watches the defense play against the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California on December 19, 2010. Tebow ran for 78 yards and a TD in the Broncos 39-23 loss to the Raiders. UPI/Terry Schmitt

While he did state that the youngster would compete with Kyle Orton this offseason, Broncos VP John Elway reiterated that he wants Tim Tebow to be the team’s starting quarterback in 2011.

“I think where we are as an organization, we are going with Tim,” Elway said, this coming after he described himself as being Tebow’s “biggest fan” before the draft last week.

Tebow appreciated Elway’s comments.

“To have John Elway say positive things about you is just amazing. He’s played the game at the highest level possible, and I’m excited because he’s going to be a great asset for me.”

Elway has told Tebow that in order for the Broncos to become Super Bowl champions, the former Heisman winner will have to perfect his throwing motion, improve his accuracy and prove he can win from the pocket. While Elway does believe that Tebow can accomplish these things, he doesn’t want to set a timetable for when it will happen.

I had my reservations about the Broncos trading back into the first round last year in order to take Tebow. But the kid is a natural winner and a football player through and through. The Broncos don’t ever have to worry about Tebow going the JaMarcus Russell route and not working at his craft. I don’t know Tebow personally but I can envision him on a field somewhere right now throwing to receivers and committing every mistake to memory so that he doesn’t make them again. He’s a tireless worker.

Of course, just because he’s willing to put in the time doesn’t mean he’ll make stides in order to lead the Broncos to the promise land. But at least he knows he has the organization’s support, which is huge for a young quarterback. Now it’s up to Denver’s new coaching staff to do everything in its power to put Tebow in the right position to succeed.

Broncos go with safe choice, hire John Fox

Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox watches as his team loses to the New Orleans Saints 34-3 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 7, 2010. UPI/Nell Redmond .

While Rick Dennison was initially favored to land the gig, the Broncos were swept away by John Fox’s interview on Wednesday and have decided to make him their 14th head coach in team history.

This hire makes sense on many levels. The Broncos finished dead last in yards allowed this season and Fox is a defensive-minded coach. After the Josh McDaniels debacle, they didn’t want to take another risk and you couldn’t get less risky than John Fox. He was the Panthers’ head coach since 2002 and during that span, Carolina finished with fewer than seven wins only once (which was this season, when they went 2-14).

But could the Broncos have gotten more blasé with this hire? Fox has already led a team to the Super Bowl and it certainly wasn’t his fault that the front office left him with practically zero talent to work with last season. But his teams were always the models of inconsistency under his guidance, making the playoffs one year only to finish 7-9 or 8-8 the next. He also stuck with Jake Delhomme as his starter for way too long, even though a blind puppet could see that Delhomme was done years ago.

He also isn’t a very good schemer. Giant fans loved him when he was the defensive coordinator in New York before he was hired in Carolina, but the Panthers always seemed to have secondary issues over the years. While pundits love to say how he “always gets the most out of his players,” I’ve never heard anyone wax poetically about one of Fox’s game plans.

What I’ve written doesn’t make Fox a bad coach obviously, but again – he’s the epitome of “meh.” It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Tim Tebow now and if the Broncos plan on going into next season with him as their starter. Fox has had zero success and limited experience developing young quarterbacks, so again, I question the Broncos’ choice here.

That said, maybe he was the right choice for the Broncos at this particular time. And regardless of my personal feelings about him, the majority of people seem to like him.

Hey, he can’t be any worse than McDaniels was, right?

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