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Old 08-08-2009, 11:07 AM   #1
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It’s sad to look at the Denver Broncos and no longer see Mike Shanahan. The relationshipo between the two-time Super Bowl champion head coach and Pat Bowlen’s franchise was an iconic portrait of NFL stability. It was like your grandparents’ marriage. Bowlen had once declared Shanahan the Broncos’ “head coach for life.” When that bond was severed this past January, the entire football world paused in shock.


But really, it shouldn’t have been shocking. Remove the names and faces and what you had was a fairly straightforward situation: Football Team X had only one playoff victory in the last 10 years and had just become the first club in NFL history to blow a three-game division lead in the final three weeks of the season. That is justification for a head coach firing.

Still, logic rarely trumps raw emotion. Tears were shed when Bowlen and Shanahan parted ways, and not a hint of acrimony leaked from the former head coach at his farewell press conference. After 14 years, the magic had run out.

Anyone who has ever gone through a serious breakup knows that the toughest part often plays out afterwards, during the transition back to life without your partner. The breakneck pace of the pro football calendar doesn’t allow for solitude and personal reflection, which is why Bowlen is excused for dumping Shanahan and immediately finding someone else. But Bowlen may have unintentionally sprinkled a little salt in the wounds by hiring Josh McDaniels, a passing-game minded offensive coach who, on the surface, seems like Shanahan only 20 years younger. If this really were a marriage, people might see McDaniels as the new bimbo trophy wife.

McDaniels’s brash temperament has only tightened the knots in the stomachs of Bronco fans. You may have heard that the former Patriots offensive coordinator arrived in the Mile High City and immediately butted heads with franchise quarterback Jay Cutler. McDaniels’s interest in acquiring Matt Cassel set the coach and quarterback’s relationship off on a foot so wrong that Bowlen, McDaniels and new GM Brian Xanders (who heads a largely remade front office) eventually chose to trade the 26-year-old cannon-armed star. Trading Cutler was almost like losing the house in the Shanahan divorce. It was upsetting, costly and demoralizing. But in the long haul, it was probably wiser to just endure the temporary misery and move on.

And move on Denver has. With McDaniels calling the shots and Xanders overseeing the personnel, the Broncos have remade their entire approach. Gone is the famed zone-blocking scheme that once produced 1,000-yard rushers like Great Plains wheat. In it’s place is a power-centric run game designed to balance a shotgun-heavy spread offense. If Daniels hadn’t been so resoundingly successful in New England, Broncos fans would be waving their arms and screaming from the Rocky Mountain tops “Stop! Stop! Don’t change the offense! The offense was never the problem!”

Indeed, this offense last season ranked second in total yards, third in third-down percentage and first in sacks allowed (a franchise record-low 12). With bookend tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris (who will have a combined 47 years of age on opening day) and young star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (combined 195 catches last season), this is an offense that was poised for a decade of dominance.

But McDaniels only knows one system. He’s so confident in his approach that he’s given the keys to Kyle Orton, the epitome of a caretaker quarterback. Even with the oodles of young talent, McDaniels still invested heavily in the offense, spending the 12th overall draft pick on running back Knowshon Moreno and a second-rounder on tight end Richard Quinn.

Drastic as this all is, the changes on defense are what’s really jarring. McDaniels hired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to install a 3-4 scheme. Those who remember the days of the Orange Crush might find this appealing, but a glimpse at this current Broncos roster reveals perhaps the most ill-fitting personnel for a particular system in the history of professional football. Career backup Ronald Fields is slated to start at nose tackle. Some guy named Ryan McBean will line up at end. Darrell Reid, a former Cover 2 defensive tackle, is penciled in as the starting outside linebacker––Outside linebacker! Three of the starting defensive backs are new to the team, and all four are over 30.

This is merely one of the many painful residual effects from the Shanahan breakup. While you never say never in the NFL, it’s reasonable to say that McDaniels will never win a playoff game with this particular defensive lineup. But someday he might win a playoff game––or even several playoff games––with his overall system. This is why people are willing to fight through the heartache.


Offense

Josh McDaniels was wise to quickly abrogate the flimsy idea of a quarterback competition between Kyle Orton and Chris Simms and instead just name Orton the starter. Various injuries have kept Simms essentially out of the NFL since 2005. Orton was an on-again/off-again starter in Chicago, but few doubt that the 26-year-old has the aptitude to lead an offense. But lead it where? Orton’s never been one to conjure big plays. It’s hard to picture the accurate but soft-armed passer ever hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.

McDaniels wants a quarterback who will hang in the pocket and succinctly click through his progressions. Orton is average in this sense, which explains why the team has not considered renegotiating his expiring contract. Hanging in the pocket shouldn’t be hard, though. Denver boasts the best pass-blocking offensive line in football. Second-year gem Ryan Clady is already the game’s preeminent left tackle. Clady has light feet, quick hands, incredible strength and even better athleticism as a run-blocker out in front. His bookend, Ryan Harris, is less polished but almost equally as effective. The third-year pro from Notre Dame who surrendered just 2.5 sacks last season (Clady gave up one) exhibits pristine technique.

Between the tackles are guards Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper and center Casey Wiegmann. All three are masterful in pass protection, but being undersized and suited for the old zone-blocking system, there are questions about how effective they’ll be on the ground. Helping matters is the fact that strong-handed starting tight end Daniel Graham is practically a sixth offensive lineman.

McDaniels doesn’t like to coddle rookies in the least bit, which is why you might see first-round running back Knowshon Moreno spend most of training campo behind Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan until the Georgia product finds lucidity in the system. But make no mistake––Moreno is here to start. His versatility and open-field prowess are key elements of this offense and something that the downhill-plodding Buckhalter and Jordan simply can’t offer. (Though to be fair, Buckhalter at least has a modicum of elusiveness.)

Moreno will also be a factor in the passing game. So will No. 2 tight end Tony Scheffler, given that the fullback (in this case, either Peyton Hillis or do-it-all sophomore Spencer Larson) is not a major part of this system. Injuries have prevented the lithe fourth-year Scheffler from fully blossoming. After the drafting of Richard Quinn in Round Two, there was speculation that the new regime wanted to move in a different direction as this spot. But Scheffler impressed in minicamps and even proved worthy of having some plays designed specifically for him.

That, of course, doesn’t mean Scheffler is high on the priority list. Above him are star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. Marshall is a known head case, but one that has snagged over 100 catches each of the past two seasons. Analysts will argue that he must improve his mediocre route-running in order to thrive in this timing-based offense. Not true. Ask yourself, what kind of a route runner did McDaniels have in Randy Moss? Moss, of course, is a speedster; Marshall is more about strength.

If Marshall is Moss then, fittingly, the 5’10”, 182-pound Royal is Wes Welker. (Royal is actually quicker than Welker.) This means that Jabar Gaffney would be, well, Jabar Gaffney. The fluid veteran took $10 million over four years to follow McDaniels here from New England. He’ll play ahead of reliable Brandon Stokley and unreliable but acrobatic Brandon Lloyd.


Defense

If you didn’t get this from the intro, let it be clear: the personnel in this front seven is stunningly ill-fitting. This looks like a lineup your buddy might use when playing Madden (EA Sports) and deciding to give up and just screw around.

We’ll start with the defensive line. At nose tackle is Ronald Fields, a 315-pound ex-Niner who can fill space but do little more. He’s not destructive enough to draw double-teams. Behind Fields is Marcus Thomas, a lazy, trouble-making third-year pro who hasn’t learned enough technique to make blockers even sweat. If justice exists, Thomas won’t play.

Denver’s top four defensive ends have a combined one NFL start. Strong but heavy-footed Kenny Peterson is slated for the left side, while undrafted Ryan McBean, who spent some time in Pittsburgh in ’07 but was active for only one game there, is penciled in on the right. Last year’s fifth-round rookie, Carlton Powell, could push for playing time.

If you’re wondering where all of Denver’s real defensive linemen went, most are masquerading as outside linebackers. Former Colt Darrell Reid is making the unusual switch from defensive tackle, an experiment unlikely to succeed though, given Reid’s special team experience and football character, not promised to fail. Reid will play ahead of pass-rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil (who at 5’11”, 260 is too small for this scheme), disappointing ’07 first-round pick Jarvis Moss (who is on the roster bubble and likely to retire) and ’07 second-round pick Tim Crowder (who has decent strength but was inactive for most of last season).

Fortunately, the futility abates from here. The starting right outside linebacker will be first-round rookie Robert Ayers, an intelligent, versatile 273-pounder from Texas who has drawn comparisons to Terrell Suggs. Ayers may also log some reps at defensive end. Andra Davis and D.J. Williams give Denver two sturdy inside linebackers. Davis is a respected veteran leader who is not fast but firm at the point of attack. He was highly productive in a similar scheme for several years as a Brown. Williams would be a Pro Bowler if not for the fact that this is his fourth different position in six years. However dynamic Davis is at the point of attack, multiply it by 1,000 and you get Williams.

The Bronco secondary is old but certainly not inept. In fact, as long as everyone stays healthy, it has a chance to be amongst the league’s best. Champ Bailey, 31, is still a shutdown corner capable of shadowing any wide receiver. Opposite him is ex-Dolphin Andre Goodman, an underrated man-defender who will show at least the moderate alacrity in run defense that Dre’ Bly never did.

Goodman is joined by former Dolphin teammate Renaldo Hill, an all-around dependable veteran who will alleviate the mess at free safety. Hill is also capable of operating in the box, though that role is reserved for Eagle great Brian Dawkins, a future Hall of Famer who has lost a step but was several steps ahead to begin with.

With Vernon Fox being heavy-footed, the depth at safety depends on the development of athletic and well-sized second-year pro Josh Barrett. At cornerback, the depth is a little brighter. The Broncos are extremely high on rookie Alphonso Smith, a supple big-play weapon whom they shockingly––perhaps even carelessly––sacrificed a 2010 first-round pick to move up and get in Round Two. Smith will immediately supplant second-year men Jack Williams (who tailed off last season) and Josh Bell (potentially solid but undeveloped) at nickelback.


Special Teams

You rarely hear a kicker talk about being fatigued at the end of a season, but that’s what Matt Prater admitted to last year. Some observers believe the 25-year-old was also rattled by criticism he took for missing nine of his 34 attempts. A poor punt coverage unit hurt Brett Kern in 2008. The Broncos ranked 28th in this department, as well as in kickoff coverage. Eddie Royal is an electrifying return weapon, though he might be too valuable offensively to keep in a fulltime special teams role.


Bottom Line

It’s somewhat nerve-wracking to issue scathing criticism of a team loaded with so much offensive talent. But since that talent doesn’t include a first-class quarterback, the defense’s inevitable adjustment nightmare blackens Denver’s outlook for 2009. Pat Bowlen is willing to give Josh McDaniels a well-deserved fair shake at things, which is why the coach should be judged more on his team’s performance in 2010.

Predicted Finish: 2nd AFC West


http://www.nfltouchdown.com/denver-b...-2009-preview/






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Old 08-08-2009, 11:42 AM   #2
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I love these type of articles. I do think, however that defensively we will be better then people think. Considering the last two seasons, how much worse could they get? Also, the ZBS is not going away, but more power football elements are being introduced. If the ZBS was going away, we would not have kept Dennison and Turner. I find it interesting that we did not extend Orton's contract. Makes me think regardless of how he does this season, we get a QB early in next year's draft.

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Old 08-08-2009, 11:47 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by sirhcyennek81 View Post
I love these type of articles. I do think, however that defensively we will be better then people think. Considering the last two seasons, how much worse could they get? Also, the ZBS is not going away, but more power football elements are being introduced. If the ZBS was going away, we would not have kept Dennison and Turner. I find it interesting that we did not extend Orton's contract. Makes me think regardless of how he does this season, we get a QB early in next year's draft.

That has been said every offseason for the past two seasons. Just sayin'.
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Old 08-08-2009, 11:47 AM   #4
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It's unfortunate that half of the introduction seemed to be wrong. We aren't ditching the ZBS. Our offense wasn't #2 no matter what the fantasy stats say it was.
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Old 08-08-2009, 11:48 AM   #5
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That has been said every offseason for the past two seasons. Just sayin'.

No, the talk was that our back 7 were fine, while our defensive line was horrid. New scheme, better coaches. We'll see what happens.

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Old 08-08-2009, 11:50 AM   #6
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Good read except for some of it, I like the o-line write up.
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Old 08-08-2009, 11:55 AM   #7
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He doesn't like Thomas one bit.
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Old 08-08-2009, 11:56 AM   #8
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"Indeed, this offense last season ranked second in total yards, third in third-down percentage and first in sacks allowed (a franchise record-low 12). With bookend tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris (who will have a combined 47 years of age on opening day) and young star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (combined 195 catches last season), this is an offense that was poised for a decade of dominance."

ugh
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Old 08-08-2009, 11:59 AM   #9
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Ayers from Texas? Otherwise a good analysis. I like the line on the defense: "This looks like a lineup your buddy might use when playing Madden (EA Sports) and deciding to give up and just screw around"
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Old 08-08-2009, 12:04 PM   #10
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Good article. Hits the nail the head! I just can't wait to get my Orten Jersey!
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Old 08-08-2009, 12:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sirhcyennek81 View Post
I love these type of articles. I do think, however that defensively we will be better then people think. Considering the last two seasons, how much worse could they get? Also, the ZBS is not going away, but more power football elements are being introduced. If the ZBS was going away, we would not have kept Dennison and Turner. I find it interesting that we did not extend Orton's contract. Makes me think regardless of how he does this season, we get a QB early in next year's draft.

i am thinking we are waiting on Orton not because we don't plan to keep him, but just in case he isn't the answer. We aren't the Chiefs giving a guy millions before he has played a single snap for the franchise. We are going to watch him this season and if he does well, we will re-sign him, if not, we will look for a replacement.

although it would not surprise me to see us re-sign him for at least 1 year and draft our QBOTF next year and let him lead us for 1 more season, because Simms obviously can't do it.
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Old 08-08-2009, 01:12 PM   #12
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Good article.
The key on offense, I believe is Peyton Hillis. If Hillis can catch 40+ out of FB position. Our offense will be deadly. He can definitely run (around or over) after the catch. As he gets more touches both in running and receiving, OL will benefit from this, so will RBs and WRs, not to mention Orton.
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Old 08-08-2009, 01:18 PM   #13
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"Indeed, this offense last season ranked second in total yards, third in third-down percentage and first in sacks allowed (a franchise record-low 12). With bookend tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris (who will have a combined 47 years of age on opening day) and young star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (combined 195 catches last season), this is an offense that was poised for a decade of dominance."

Lets just forget the most important offensive stat: Points scored, where Denver ranked 16th and had they not played 3 very crappy defenses in the first 3 games would have probably been closer to 24th overall in points scored.

Decade of dominance my ass.
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Old 08-08-2009, 01:32 PM   #14
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McDaniels’s brash temperament...
Although I've read/heard many times that this isn't the case.


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Gone is the famed zone-blocking scheme...
Really? Did the scheme take Dennison and Turner with it?
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Old 08-08-2009, 01:34 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Rock Chalk View Post
"Indeed, this offense last season ranked second in total yards, third in third-down percentage and first in sacks allowed (a franchise record-low 12). With bookend tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris (who will have a combined 47 years of age on opening day) and young star receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal (combined 195 catches last season), this is an offense that was poised for a decade of dominance."

Lets just forget the most important offensive stat: Points scored, where Denver ranked 16th and had they not played 3 very crappy defenses in the first 3 games would have probably been closer to 24th overall in points scored.

Decade of dominance my ass.
Red zone scoring wasnt as much of an issue when Hillis and Pittman were healthy.
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Old 08-08-2009, 01:38 PM   #16
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[B
Decade of dominance my ass.
POISED FOR a decade of dominance.

Yeah, they weren't there...but the Os future looked very bright.
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Old 08-08-2009, 04:05 PM   #17
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Red zone scoring wasnt as much of an issue when Hillis and Pittman were healthy.
And should have continued that way had the QB been more of a leader type.
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Old 08-08-2009, 05:31 PM   #18
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Red zone scoring wasnt as much of an issue when Hillis and Pittman were healthy.
I'm wondering if they used more of a power running game last year in short yardage when these two were in.

I just don't think zone blocking works that well against a goal line defense (unless you have an absolutely elite back) and it certainly showed when we had guys like Young who could rack up yards between the 10s when healthy, but couldn't punch it in from within 5 even if they ran every down.
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Old 08-08-2009, 06:45 PM   #19
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Fortunately, the futility abates from here. The starting right outside linebacker will be first-round rookie Robert Ayers, an intelligent, versatile 273-pounder from Texas who has drawn comparisons to Terrell Suggs. Ayers may also log some reps at defensive end. Andra Davis and D.J. Williams give Denver two sturdy inside linebackers. Davis is a respected veteran leader who is not fast but firm at the point of attack. He was highly productive in a similar scheme for several years as a Brown. Williams would be a Pro Bowler if not for the fact that this is his fourth different position in six years. However dynamic Davis is at the point of attack, multiply it by 1,000 and you get Williams.

I'll buy that for a dollar
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Old 08-08-2009, 07:30 PM   #20
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I'm wondering if they used more of a power running game last year in short yardage when these two were in.

I just don't think zone blocking works that well against a goal line defense (unless you have an absolutely elite back) and it certainly showed when we had guys like Young who could rack up yards between the 10s when healthy, but couldn't punch it in from within 5 even if they ran every down.
Moreover, the type of linemen that are well suited for the ZBS too easily get ragdolled at the goal line. Ive seen Hamilton get ragdolled too much over the recent past and I have been saying that they should go after bigger linemen who are mobile enough over smaller mobile linemen that they hope are strong enough. But their approach to drafting linemen wasnt too unlike their approach to drafting RBs. For a long time they tried to get away with developing low round picks.

Sometimes its easy to forget how freakishly strong Schlereth was though too.
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Old 08-08-2009, 07:47 PM   #21
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That has been said every offseason for the past two seasons. Just sayin'.
with a new defensive coach with a new scheme and a bigger d-line along with a real d-line coach I can't see how they couldn't be better
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Old 08-08-2009, 07:48 PM   #22
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Moreover, the type of linemen that are well suited for the ZBS too easily get ragdolled at the goal line. Ive seen Hamilton get ragdolled too much over the recent past and I have been saying that they should go after bigger linemen who are mobile enough over smaller mobile linemen that they hope are strong enough. But their approach to drafting linemen wasnt too unlike their approach to drafting RBs. For a long time they tried to get away with developing low round picks.

Sometimes its easy to forget how freakishly strong Schlereth was though too.
Dude, do you have any clue as to what your talking about? Nobody was b****ing and moaning about the ZBS and redzone efficiency when Elway and TD was playing...

Just saying, smaller quicker offensive linemen win the goal line if they get under the defensive line, take the defensive line's legs out from under them and push the dline back. Then it takes a special RB to seal the deal. TD had nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo problem finding the endzone my friend, esp. in the post season....
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Old 08-08-2009, 07:51 PM   #23
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POISED FOR a decade of dominance.

Yeah, they weren't there...but the Os future looked very bright.
still does
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Old 08-08-2009, 08:04 PM   #24
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Moreno will also be a factor in the passing game. So will No. 2 tight end Tony Scheffler, given that the fullback (in this case, either Peyton Hillis or do-it-all sophomore Spencer Larson) is not a major part of this system.
Next
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Old 08-08-2009, 08:14 PM   #25
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Dude, do you have any clue as to what your talking about? Nobody was b****ing and moaning about the ZBS and redzone efficiency when Elway and TD was playing...

Just saying, smaller quicker offensive linemen win the goal line if they get under the defensive line, take the defensive line's legs out from under them and push the dline back. Then it takes a special RB to seal the deal. TD had nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo problem finding the endzone my friend, esp. in the post season....
Whatever works. But as I said, Ive seen Hamilton get ragdolled a lot in recent years. I also made the point that it could partly be relying on low round guys whot are groomed. Whatever works, whether thats stronger guys or more talented guys.
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