The so-called “Suck for Luck” hyperbole is fairly ridiculous. It’s bad enough to accuse an organization of tanking a game late into the season, but when fans and media are seriously suggesting that teams are intentionally keeping themselves from being competitive before the midpoint of the season, you know things are getting out of hand.
This contest pits two such teams against each other, though one has suffered through a bit more of the accusations due to the decision to allow Matt Moore (-1.4 at NYJ on Monday night) to remain the starting QB of the 0-5 Miami Dolphins. The Broncos management has issues of their own on their hands with the decision to turn to Tim Tebow for the answer to their own QB woes.
In a game featuring two teams that often lose winnable games, one of them is going to experience the rare, for them, joy of victory, while the other is in for another week of listening to the local fan base accusing them of losing on purpose. Which team is more bothered by the speculation? The answer to that question will show up on the scoreboard.
1) When in doubt, trade your best weapon?
Was it likely that Brandon Lloyd would be willing to resign with Denver? Probably not, especially considering his rapport with Kyle Orton and perceived hesitance to catch balls from Tebow. Now Broncos fans might be a little upset about taking Tebow’s best weapon away and only getting a likely 5th round draft pick in return, but what’s done is done and the focus should now be on how the team will move forward. Sans Lloyd, who will produce in the Broncos vertical passing game? In John Fox’s offense, it won’t take much, but the Broncos WR corps isn’t exactly a group of proven stars. While some may say “no thanks” to the prospect of watching a group of receivers made up of Eric Decker, Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas, Matt Willis, and Quan Cosby, we prefer to think of it as an opportunity to see what these players have to offer.
Thomas has the most potential of the group, but has had horrible luck with his health and will be making his first appearance of the 2011 season in Miami. He probably won’t see many snaps right away, but could push for a starting job before long. Royal is now the most senior Broncos receiver (discounting Cosby as he has no role on the offense) and could take on a larger role in the passing game than he’s had since his rookie year and Decker now has to prove he can get open without defenses focusing on Lloyd. There’s an abundance of question marks with this group of receivers and we’ll certainly be watching to see how this Broncos offense adjusts to the departure of Lloyd.
2) Don’t rush success, rush successfully
This is a mantra both teams should be sticking to in this one. Whichever team gets desperate and tries to win the game all at once through big plays in the air is probably going to be the loser. The winner will likely be the team that sticks to the ground game and slowly pounds out the victory. Why? Because both Tebow and Moore are potential liabilities in the passing game and if either gets pass-happy the opportunity for turnovers will be there for the taking. Willis McGahee (+3.3) has been the most productive on the ground of all the running backs in this game, whereas Reggie Bush (-7.5) has had an awful start to his Dolphins career. Daniel Thomas (+0.9) hasn’t been able to have a huge impact right away and at this point, Knowshon Moreno is more receiver than tailback.
On the other side of the ball, both teams have some holes in their run defense that the other team should be looking to exploit. For Miami, only two players in the front seven have a cumulative run defense grade of +1.0 or better: RDE Randy Starks (+4.0) and NT Paul Soliai (+2.2). None of the linebackers have a positive run defense grade, but ILB Karlos Dansby began getting back on track in that regard last week and will look to continue righting the ship. For the Broncos, nine front seven players have a run defense grade of +1.0 or better, so Thomas and Bush (if healthy enough to play) have a tough task ahead of them on paper. MLB Joe Mays is a boom-or-bust type of player in that at any given time he can either completely shut down a running play or completely whiff on a tackle and allow a long gain. His cumulative run defense grade sits at a mere 0.7 despite contributing the fifth-most defensive stops of all ILBs because he’s missed an appalling eight tackles—six more than he missed throughout the 2010 season.
3) Wake-ing a sleeping giant?
When Wayne Hunter managed to keep Cameron Wake from recording a single pressure last Monday night, Broncos RT Orlando Franklin’s job this weekend became much more difficult. Franklin hasn’t been as bad in pass protection (-2.5) as anticipated so far, largely thanks to an offensive scheme that utilizes TE/RB chip-blocks on Franklin’s side often, and he’s faced his fair share of quality pass-rushers already in his young career. Clay Mathews? Check. Shaun Philips? Check. Raiders, Bengals, Titans…all teams that can get after the quarterback. Now, Franklin can add Wake to that list. He had his best game as a pro and allowed only one pressure against Mathews, but shutting down Wake after a game in which he was held pressure-less is asking a lot of Franklin. Elite pass-rushers do not take being unable to do their job kindly and you can bet Wake will be giving 110% against the Broncos. We’ll be watching to see if Franklin’s performance against Mathews was an indication that Franklin possesses one of the most desirable qualities in an NFL player—the ability to rise to the level of your competition—or if he merely had a fluky game against Green Bay.
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