The Sports Guru, purveyor of all things Bronco, took a few minutes to answer some burning questions about fantasy-killer Mike Shanahan, Champ Bailey and the playoff future of the Broncos. Feel free to check out my answers at Mile High Report.
NN - Something I've wondered the last few years: Did Mike Shanahan have a life-scarring fantasy football experience? The running back rotation is chronicled year in and year out. There have been injury issues, but sometimes I wonder if Mike Shanahan has a big-time doghouse as opposed to "matchups."
MHR - I think Shanny is so confident in his scheme that he isn't afraid to inter-change parts and refuses to break the bank on a position that is usually short lived in the NFL. Instead he focuses on looking for a style of running back. This year has been the most challenging by far to this theory but a lot of that has had to do with the Offensive Line getting a bit long in the tooth. Overall, Shanny would prefer one back to carry the load, but he won't settle just to do it. He will spread the ball around and take advantage of the hot hand until more of a feature back can be found.
NN - Vernon Davis is a rookie and still has plenty to learn, but he's shown the speed and athleticism and use of size that made him such a high pick. With Antonio Bryant out and the 49ers reduced to possession receivers, whom do the Broncos use to cover Davis or is it a combination of guys and dare the other receivers to beat them?
MHR - The Broncos have good experience facing quality tight ends getting to play Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates twice a year. The Broncos utilized what they called the "Big Nickel", using a safety instead of a corner as the extra defensive back. They like to use the safety because of the size factor. They are faster than a linebacker, bigger than a corner allowing them to be physical with the TE off the line. Sam Brandon has been that guy the past couple of years but was lost in the Steeler game with a knee injury. It proved to be a big loss, with Gonzalez and Gates having big games against the defense later in the year. I think the Broncos have found a similar type guy in Curome Cox, and you will probably see a lot of Domonique Foxworth as well.
NN - Champ Bailey is clearly a stud, and in my opinion is the best corner in the league. Is he a guy Shanahan relies on as a crutch in terms of upgrading the defensive line? Do great corners create a big pass rush, or does a great pass rush create great corners (Champ Bailey excluded among others)? The 49ers defense has been a weakness for some time now and it makes me wonder what would be a better area to emphasize.
MHR - A great pass rush is the best friend of a defensive backfield. Show me DBs that are getting it done and chances are they have a hell of the D-line pressuring the quarterback. That is the reason that the Broncos have struggled against great passing teams like Indy. Give Peyton Manning all day to throw and he will chew you up, even with a Champ Bailey on the other side. Football games are won in the trenches, on both sides of the ball, control the line of scrimmage and you control the game. Take the Baltimore Ravens. They have registered 26 sacks the past 5 games while allowing only 1. The result is a 4-1 record. That is what makes Bailey so impressive, in my opinion. He has to stay in coverage longer than a lot of guys, but has the ability to just get to the ball. He is the Defensive Player of the Year, in my opinion.
NN - What are your thoughts on the head coach having complete control of personnel decisions the way Shanahan does? I understand how it is useful in terms of having a team full of "your guys." However, it makes me wonder if the grind of doing both can decrease the effectiveness in either or both areas.
MHR - Shanny has had his moments, both good and bad. For every Terrell Davis, Al Wilson or Jay Cutler there is a Deltha O'Neal, Maurice Clarett or Brian Griese. His free agent acquisitions have had the same roller coaster feel, with duds like Dale Carter or Darryl Gardner and studs like Champ Bailey or Javon Walker. The one thing I do like about Shanny is the way he handles his "mistakes". The best players play, period. Doesn't matter how much you make, where you were drafted, or how good you used to be, your job is on the line every week. Just think, Mike Shanahan is the guy who essentially cut Jerry Rice. That took stones.
NN - Pretty straight forward, but with the playoffs starting next week and assuming you make it, would you rather face New England or Indianapolis? Indy has the horrific run defense but has the explosive offense. New England isn't as prolific on offense but they've got the mind of Belichick and Brady's arm who have done some amazing things the last five years.
MHR - Probably going to have to beat both in order to get to Miami, but I'd love to start with the Patriots. Shanny has pretty much owned Belichik, winning 4 out of 5 meetings during the run by the Pats. The Broncos are the one team Tom Brady has looked very pedestrian against, including the playoff game last season and the 17-7 Bronco victory Week 3 in new England. Each game would have it's story lines since the Broncos have had the opposite kind of success with the Colts. I just feel better going to Foxboro, playing outside, then indoors at the RCA Dome.
NN - Prediction time - Do the Broncos take care of business and seal up a wildcard spot?
MHR - Denver started strong this season, then nearly gave it all away and missed the playoffs. It took stones for Shanny to make the QB switch knowing the growing pains that would be involved with it. Now that it is done the Broncos are poised for a run the next few years and that starts Sunday. The Niner's are beat up, the U-Haul is parked outside, and the lat things these guys want to do is battle in 20 degree temperatures in a foot of snow. Just getting to Denver is going to beat the Niner's down. The last time the 49'ers played the Broncos in Denver in the regular season it was the last game at the old Mile High Stadium and that team had T.O., Jeff Garcia and Jerry Rice. I like a similar result. BRONCOS 38 - 9