Chiefs vs. Jets preview

October, 30, 2014
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The Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, teams headed in opposite directions, meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. After losing their first two games, the Chiefs climbed to 4-3 after Sunday's 34-7 win over the St. Louis Rams. The Jets, after beating the Oakland Raiders to begin the season, have lost seven straight games, including Sunday's 43-23 defeat to the Buffalo Bills. This week, the Jets replaced struggling quarterback Geno Smith with veteran Michael Vick.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Jets reporter Rich Cimini preview Sunday's game.

Teicher: Rich, do you think the Jets are making the best decision for this game by replacing Smith with Vick?

Cimini: I don’t think the change will solve the turnover problem, but Vick might bring a spark to the offense. He isn’t the Vick of 2010, but he’s still capable of escaping trouble with his legs. That alone will be good for a few first downs a game. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a full week of practice reps with the starters, something he hasn’t had with the Jets, including training camp. I know one thing: The players were ready for a change after last week’s brutal performance by Smith. The downside to Vick is that he will fumble; he’s always been careless with the ball. He had four fumbles last week (and lost two). Obviously, Andy Reid knows him better than anyone, having coached him in Philadelphia. That insight will help in the game planning.

It looks like the Chiefs are taking dink and dunk to a new level. How would you describe their passing game and what’s the deal with Alex Smith’s shoulder?

Teicher: It is a dink-and-dunk passing game. Smith last Sunday was the first NFL quarterback in two years to win a game by attempting just one pass longer than 10 yards down the field. While that’s an extreme, Smith has had similar games earlier in the season. Shaky protection is part of the problem. The Chiefs have allowed more sacks per pass play than all but four other teams, so the Chiefs put a premium on Smith getting rid of the ball quickly. The Chiefs have no pass play of longer than 33 yards. All the other teams have at least two pass plays of 34 yards or longer. The Chiefs ask their receivers to earn yards after the catch. Tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Jamaal Charles do that well.

The Jets are allowing a lot of points and their pass defense has been horrible. Give me a scouting report on the Jets defense and detail some of the reasons they’ve been so bad on that side of the ball.

Cimini: You’re right; the defensive performance has been stunning. Blame injuries and poor personnel decisions at cornerback. Rex Ryan is playing cards with half a deck, and the results have been lousy. They’re giving up big plays (nine pass plays of 40-plus yards), they stink on third down (a league-high 12 touchdowns) and they can’t steal the ball. Incredibly, they have only three takeaways -- one interception and two fumble recoveries. They don’t have anyone who can play man-to-man, so Ryan is playing more zone than ever before. Now, I will say this: The Chiefs don’t have an explosive passing attack, so this matchup plays to the Jets’ strengths, stopping the run and rushing the passer.

Obviously, Justin Houston is having a great year. What makes him so effective in Bob Sutton’s scheme, which is similar to Rex Ryan’s scheme?

Teicher: Houston would be a good fit in a lot of schemes, but he’s the perfect outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. He’s a solid all-around player, good against the run and in coverage as well as rushing the passer. He’s getting plenty of help in pressuring the quarterback. Tamba Hali, a relentless player, is a nice complement to Houston as an edge rusher. Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe have been effective inside rushers.

The Jets traded for wide receiver Percy Harvin last week and they got him involved immediately in the game against the Bills. How did they utilize him and what difference, if any, should he make in the Jets’ offense?

Cimini: Harvin didn’t make much of a difference in his Jets debut -- seven touches on offense for a total of 50 yards. Instead of using him as a “gadget” receiver -- bubble screens, jet sweeps, etc. -- the Jets used him as a traditional X receiver. I guess they think they’re smarter than the Seahawks, but the only plays that worked were his old Seattle plays. Two of his three catches came behind the line of scrimmage. Elsewhere, he caught only one of seven targets. His four rushes came from a running-back position. He played 44 of 84 snaps last week, so look for that total to increase after another week of absorbing the system. He’s fast, all right, but he’s not the kind of player that can elevate those around him.

After an 0-2 start, the Chiefs seem to have their act together. Could they pull a reverse of last year, finishing strong and becoming a factor in January?

Teicher: It’s possible. I think the Chiefs will be a strong contender for a wild-card spot. They’ve greatly reduced the number of big pass plays they’re allowing. That was a big problem for them last season, even during their 9-0 start. They aren’t a big-play offense, but they run the ball well and are very effective on third downs. They finally got a significant contribution last week on special teams, where they won on a weekly basis last year. If they continue to get that, the Chiefs will be tough to beat during the second half of the season. If they do make the playoffs, their chances of winning a game or two would be better than they’ve been in a long time, depending on the matchup.
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The San Diego Chargers (5-3) will travel to face the Miami Dolphins (4-3) in an important game with early playoff implications. Both teams could be fighting for a wild card in the AFC, which would make owning the head-to-head tiebreaker important.

Who will prevail in this matchup? ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker discuss:

Walker: Miami has won two in a row and San Diego has lost two in a row, so momentum may be a factor in this matchup. Where are the Chargers in terms of confidence and ending their losing streak?

Williams: The Chargers are a veteran-led group that understands the ebb and flow of an NFL season, so confidence will not be an issue traveling on the road to face the Dolphins. Two of San Diego's three losses have come on the road, against teams that have one loss apiece (Denver and Arizona). San Diego's other loss was a three-point setback to AFC West rival Kansas City at home.

The Chargers don't make a lot of mistakes and generally force opponents to beat them. Coach Mike McCoy is meticulous in his game-day preparation and his staff is skilled in making in-game adjustments. I expect San Diego will be ready for whatever the Dolphins plan to do scheme-wise on both sides of the ball.

The Dolphins are doing a nice job of running, ranked No. 6 by averaging 138 rushing yards per game. How has new coordinator Bill Lazor turned things around on offense?

Walker: Most people expected Lazor to come in and quickly fix the passing game, but he has made his biggest contribution with the running game. Miami's ground game has been consistent, whether it was Knowshon Moreno early, Lamar Miller lately or even quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has three runs of 30 yards or more in the past three games. Lazor has done a good job of spreading out defenses and calling run plays at the right time. His read-option with Tannehill and Miller has been a huge success. Miami's passing game still needs work, but there is progress.

West Coast teams often don't look the same in Miami; San Diego hasn't won here since the 1981 season. How are the Chargers combating that and will the 10-day layoff help?

Williams: Although West Coast teams traditionally struggle in early games traveling east, the Chargers have been relatively successful of late, posting a 7-5 record in 10 a.m. PT games since 2012. The extra days off have given this banged-up team a chance to get some players healthy, and with Philip Rivers controlling the offense, the Chargers are competitive more times than not. One of the keys for San Diego will be the possible return of running back Ryan Mathews. Out for the past six games with an MCL sprain, the Fresno State product could help provide some much-needed balance to San Diego's offense if healthy and cleared to play on Sunday.

After starting 1-2, the Dolphins have won three of their past four games to get back into the AFC playoff race. What has been the difference?

Walker: Part of it is the schedule. The Dolphins cannot hide from that fact. All three of Miami's victories during this stretch have been against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7), Oakland Raiders (0-7) and Chicago Bears (3-5). Those are bad teams the Dolphins must beat if they want to be considered playoff contenders, and to their credit they took care of business.

The Dolphins are 1-3 against teams with winning records. That is why this game against San Diego is such a good measuring stick of where the Dolphins stand. Miami's next four opponents have a combined record of 22-9 (.709 winning percentage), so we are going to find out quickly whether the Dolphins are contenders or pretenders.

San Diego was banged up before its previous game against the Broncos. Where are the Chargers injury-wise heading into Sunday's game?

Williams: The Chargers should be in a better place health-wise. Four weeks ago against Jacksonville, the Chargers barely had enough healthy bodies to fill 46 spots on the active roster. Along with Mathews, cornerback Brandon Flowers and running back Donald Brown are possibilities to return from concussions. Pass rushers Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring) and Cordarro Law (ankle) also should have a chance to make it back on the field on Sunday. Offensive linemen D.J. Fluker (ankle) and Rich Ohrnberger (back) have been playing with injuries, so the extra time should work in their favor as well.

The Dolphins are No. 3 in passing defense, holding teams to just 212 passing yards a game. How does the front seven set the tone?

Walker: Miami's front four are the strength of the entire team. The Dolphins have waves of good players, starting with defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and defensive tackles Jared Odrick, Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks. Miami also is getting contributions off the bench from Derrick Shelby, Chris McCain and Dion Jordan, who recorded a couple of tackles in his first game off suspension. This group sets the tone for the defense. The Dolphins' linebackers have been inconsistent with the exception of Jelani Jenkins, who leads Miami in tackles (53) by a wide margin.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- He has played in the two highest-scoring offenses in league history.

He's had a 16-catch game in his career and he's had the more 100-catch seasons -- five -- than anyone who has caught passes in the league's history.

Yet, as the Denver Broncos have rolled out to a 6-1 start, again with the league's highest-scoring offense, there are times wide receiver Wes Welker's role has been almost ornamental. His 19 catches are his lowest total over the first seven games of a season since 2005. Back then Welker was a Miami Dolphins wide receiver who had 16 receptions over the first seven games -- a far cry from a key piece in the 2007 New England Patriots offense as well as the 2013 Broncos.

[+] EnlargeWelker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyIn five games this season, Wes Welker has just 19 receptions for 181 yards.
"Yeah it's definitely been different, for sure," Welker said. "Would I want the ball more? Yes. As long as we're winning games and we're being productive on offense and doing those things, I'm good with however we get that done. It's kind of strange being, I feel like, the weak link of our offense. If I'm the weak link, we're going to be OK."

The season has been a bumpy ride thus far for Welker. It started with a concussion in the preseason game against the Houston Texans, Welker's third concussion since last November, followed by a suspension for a violation of the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs. The suspension was initially for four games, but was reduced to two when the NFL and the NFL Players Association approved a new drug policy.

Others have stepped up this seaosn. Julius Thomas had seven of his nine touchdown catches over the Broncos' first four games, Emmanuel Sanders had three 100-yard efforts in the first four games and Demaryius Thomas has four consecutive 100-yard games.

That, and the Broncos desire to play out of a two tight-end set more often, has left Welker as a bit player at times. He had one catch, for 8 yards and a first down, in the Broncos' win over the New York Jets to go with two receptions for 5 yards in the win over the San Diego Chargers last week.

"Wes is far, far from the weak link in the offense," Sanders said. "The thing is, it could be anybody's day on any given Sunday. Wes just hasn't had his opportunity. But I remember when you guys were saying (Demaryius Thomas) was not being as productive and things of that sort, and I came out and I said, 'Look, Demaryius can go off in any game for 200 yards' and that next game, he went out for 200 yards. So that's the same thing with Wes. Wes can go out for three touchdowns and have a big game versus any opponent. I feel like it's going to click for him pretty soon."

Welker would likely like pretty soon to be this weekend. The Broncos (6-1) will face the New England Patriots (6-2), Welker's former team, Sunday in Gillette Stadium. Welker's exit from New England was somewhat messy before he signed a two-year with the Broncos.

Of the four primary pass-catchers for the Broncos -- the two Thomas', Sanders and Welker -- Welker moves around the formation the least. Welker most often plays out of the slot and Julius Thomas has been the preferred match-up in the middle of the field. And quarterback Peyton Manning meticulously throws to the coverage without forcing the ball to any of the receivers.

Demaryius Thomas has said "any week it could be your week," and Welker was asked this week if he believed Manning wanted to find a way to get him the ball more against the Patriots.

"Not necessarily, I don't want him to feel that way either," Welker said. "I just want him to go play his game and whoever's open is open and whenever we need to score touchdowns, that's the way I want it to be. I'm not going to put any pressure on him or anything else, (saying) 'Hey I really need the ball because I'm playing my old team' or anything like that. I just want to go out there and whatever we need to do to win the game, that's first and foremost for me. Hopefully I make some plays along the way but however that happens is how it happens."

Last season Welker had four catches for 31 yards in the Broncos' regular-season loss to the Patriots (a Nov. 24 game the Broncos had led 24-0 at halftime) to go with four catches for 38 yards in the Broncos' win in the AFC Championship Game.

"I like the way Wes Welker works at football," Manning said. "He loves it, another football junkie, gym rat, whatever you want to call it that loves football, loves to work. You can't tell him, ‘Hey, that's enough, we're going to stop.' He wants to do one more, one more, one more."

Welker said he feels more "comfortable" going back to play against New England this time around and that "I'm just so excited about the opportunity and a big game like this."
SAN DIEGO – If the San Diego Chargers are getting healthier, quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t seem to notice on Wednesday.

“I don’t know if you could say today looked that way on the practice field,” joked Rivers. “I almost thought, ‘Where is everybody?’”

Even after a long weekend to recuperate from nagging injuries, eight Chargers players still missed practice.

Brandon Flowers (concussion), Ryan Mathews (knee), Manti Te'o (foot), Jeremiah Attaochu (hamstring), Dwight Freeney (knee), Rich Ohrnberger (back), Jason Verrett (shoulder) and Jahleel Addae (concussion) did not practice.

However, Flowers, Mathews, Attaochu and Addae did some work on the side. Freeney and Ohrnberger are expected to play against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

After missing three games with a concussion, running back Donald Brown finally cleared the NFL concussion protocol and was a full participant in practice on Wednesday, along with cornerback Steve Williams (groin). Linebacker Reggie Walker (ankle) was a limited participant.

“It felt good to get back out there, get back into a routine and get back into the swing of things,” Brown said. “You put so much time and effort into the offseason to play in games. And to sit out and watch your team compete while you have to sit there and not do anything, it’s tough. But I’m excited about the opportunity this coming week to play Miami. It’s a good test, and it will be a challenge.”

The addition of Brown gives San Diego more depth at running back, with Branden Oliver taking the lion’s share of the reps in the backfield the last three games.

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said even with eight players missing practice on Wednesday, his team is inching closer to being fully healthy.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are extremely close to coming back,” McCoy said. “You see some of those guys running around today on their own doing things. But we’ve got one thing on our mind – finding a way to get to 6-3. That’s all that is on our mind for the rest of the week.”

The Chargers also released cornerback Aaron Hester from the practice squad and signed cornerback Kendall James from Maine in his place.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With Montee Ball having missed three games with a groin injury he suffered earlier this month, any injury to Ronnie Hillman would be an attention-grabber for the Denver Broncos.

Hillman
And Hillman was limited in Wednesday's practice with a shoulder injury he suffered during the workout. However, later Wednesday afternoon, Hillman said he expected to practice Thursday and remained on track to again be the team's lead option at running back Sunday against the New England Patriots in Gillette Stadium.

"I just landed on it funny, it'll be all right," Hillman said following Wednesday's practice.

Asked if he had any concern he wouldn't be able to play in the showdown with the Patriots, Hillman said:

"No, I'm not, I'll be at practice (Thursday). So, I mean, I plan on being at practice (Thursday). I don't know what they're talking about. But I'll be fine. It's nothing that I can't deal with."

Hillman has helped give the Broncos run game a boost over the last three games. The third-year running back has two 100-yard games in those last three outings and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the three starts.

Rookie Juwan Thompson, who briefly left the game against the Arizona Cardinals with a knee injury before he returned in the second half, has been the team's No. 2 back since Ball's injury.

Thompson has missed some practice time since the injury, but has played in the last three games and leads the team in rushing touchdowns with three.

"(The Patriots) are clicking," Hillman said. "It's going to be interesting to see what happens when we get out there … but we know we have to be on our game, no mistakes."
ALAMEDA, Calif. – Oakland Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson and cornerback TJ Carrie both practiced Wednesday.

Both players were injured Sunday in a 23-13 loss at Cleveland. Watson had a stinger and Carrie had a lower-back injury.

Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa did not practice Wednesday. He left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Those of us in these parts don’t need any encouragement to appreciate Tamba Hali. Beyond the sack numbers -- he’s third on the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time list behind Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith -- his blue-collar approach to things makes his style of play easy to like.

That encouragement came Wednesday nonetheless from, of all places, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan in an interview with Kansas City-area media. The Jets play against the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium and it’s not unusual for a coach to go overboard with the praise of an upcoming opponent.

Hali
But Ryan’s adoration for Hali came unsolicited and in response to a question about Justin Houston. He leads the NFL with 10 sacks, six more than Hali.

Ryan had the love for Hali instead.

“For my money, I like Tamba Hali the best,’’ Ryan said.

“It starts with his motor. I love the way he plays. Physical. Every snap he goes. Great use of hands. You’ve got to block him every snap. Just a relentless player. Physical, smart, obviously loves to play. I just appreciate players like that.’’

Ryan went on to praise Houston as well. By that point, though, it almost sounded like a backhanded compliment.

“I recognize Houston is leading the league and he’s got the 10 sacks and all that,’’ Ryan said. “And he is an outstanding pass rusher. He’s a finisher but both those guys are. Houston is obviously a good player also. They’re both outstanding.’’
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Quarterback Alex Smith missed a season and a half during his time with the San Francisco 49ers because of an injured right shoulder. So an abundance of caution led Smith to get treatment at halftime of last week’s game against the St. Louis Rams for what the Kansas City Chiefs are calling a sprained throwing shoulder.

Smith
“I’ve had a history of stuff with my right shoulder," Smith said. “I was a little sore, but I felt good.

“(He was concerned) enough that I went in to get some treatment at halftime and get it looked at. In the middle of it, you’re feeling loose and you kind of keep that swelling down and you’re feeling good. It was something I felt I could handle."

Smith, who injured the shoulder toward the end of the first half after being sacked, played most of the second half. He was replaced in the final minutes by Chase Daniel.

Smith was scheduled to practice and take his normal workload Wednesday as the Chiefs begin their preparations for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium.

While it appears Smith will play against the Jets, his history with the shoulder makes the situation worth watching. The Chiefs didn’t feel Smith was putting himself at risk by playing in the second half against the Rams.

“He felt good enough to play," coach Andy Reid said. “Those kinds of things, they tighten up a bit on you after the game. He’s got a bruised shoulder. Those things happen.

“He was loose and he stayed loose. He felt good. The doctors looked at him to make sure he wasn’t going to be in a position where there was going to be further injury. He just landed on it funny."

In the Rams’ game, Smith became the first NFL quarterback in two seasons to win a game while throwing only one pass more than 10 yards down the field. Reid said he didn’t change his play-calling to accommodate Smith’s injury.

On that subject, Smith said, “I hope not. I certainly don’t feel like that. It didn’t need to be like that. I felt 100 percent and could do everything I needed to do."
SAN DIEGO – When the San Diego Chargers travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins, quarterback Philip Rivers will face one of the most effective blitzing defenses in the NFL.

It should prove to be an interesting matchup because Rivers has been one of the most effective quarterbacks in the NFL when facing the blitz.

Rivers
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Dolphins are sending a blitz (five or more rushers) on 35.5 percent of opponents’ dropbacks this season, which is the ninth-highest percentage in the league.

Miami’s defense has allowed a Total QBR of 9.5 when blitzing this season, which is the lowest in the NFL.

However, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers has a Total QBR of 95.6 against the blitz this season, the highest in the NFL. Rivers has nine touchdowns against the blitz, which is tied with Matt Ryan for the most in the league.

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin will have to decide whether to blitz or play coverage against Rivers.

“That’s a great question,” Philbin said. “That’s the dilemma we’ve been sitting around in South Florida trying to figure out the best way to handle it. I think when you play a quarterback as good as Philip Rivers, it really gets down to playing good, fundamental defense.

“You know he’s going to complete some passes. You’re going to have to tackle really, really well. You’re going to have to be very disciplined in your rush lanes. Not that he’s the world’s greatest scrambler, but he’s so aware in the pocket that any weakness that you present to him, he’ll take advantage of it. So I don’t know if there’s one sure way.

“It just goes back to playing fundamentally good, solid defense. We’re going to have tight coverage. We’re going to have to have good pass rush lanes. And some guys are going to have to win some one-on-ones.”

Chiefs’ patience with Knile Davis pays off

October, 29, 2014
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ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher says the team should be applauded for waiting for Knile Davis to develop as a kick returner.

Ronnie Hillman needs to have a big game vs. Pats

October, 29, 2014
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ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the importance of the run game and Ronnie Hillman against the Patriots.

Chargers need to control line of scrimmage

October, 29, 2014
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ESPN Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams says getting back to playing sound defense and stopping the run will be key against the Dolphins.

Derek Carr will test Richard Sherman

October, 29, 2014
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ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson says rookie quarterback Derek Car isn’t afraid to test the best corners in the game, which means Richard Sherman will be the target this week.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Champ Bailey is just over seven months removed from his release by the Denver Broncos.

Harris
Bailey
But that was still more than enough time to heal those vocational wounds. Because Bailey, who formally announced his retirement Tuesday, is an NFL fan these days and one who has thrown his support squarely behind his former team.

“They’re just fantastic, man. I’m cheering them every weekend,’’ Bailey said. “I’m still a Broncos fan, I’m not going to lie. Regardless of how it went down, I’m always going to be a Bronco. They had a lot of faith in me, I hope they win it all, and they look good enough to do it. I still talk to a lot of those guys and want them to have it all.’’

Bailey played 135 of his 215 career regular-season games with the Broncos, 10 of his 15 seasons after the 2004 trade that shipped him from the Washington Redskins to Denver, a tenure that ended this past March when the Broncos released the 12-time Pro Bowl selection. The Broncos didn’t offer Bailey the opportunity to renegotiate the final year of his deal or ask him to switch positions.

Bailey said Tuesday the New Orleans Saints, where Bailey spent training camp, didn’t ask him to switch to safety, either.

“No team ever asked me to play safety, nobody ever asked me to,’’ Bailey said. “I made it a point to be clear I was open to it if I thought it was time … and maybe it was time. But people saw me as a corner, so I took it as a compliment.’’

And Bailey also reserved the highest of praise for a former teammate, cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who eight months following ACL surgery is having his best all-around season as a pro. Harris has consistently credited Bailey’s mentoring as part of the reason why he has gone from undrafted rookie in 2011 to one of the best players at his position in the league.

“Chris is probably the closest guy to taking the techniques that I used and putting it on the field,’’ Bailey said. “He’s probably the closest thing I’ve seen, he just understood it … he worked it and took it to another level. I’m really proud of him.’’
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In a career filled with signature plays, of double-take athleticism combined with preparation and instincts, the one that may stand alone, because of the context, wasn’t one of Champ Bailey’s 52 career interceptions.

It wasn’t one of the times he baited a quarterback down the hash in an effort to get somebody, anybody, to throw the ball his way, only to flash a little more make-up speed to snare the ball as his own.

It wasn’t one of the innumerable battles with the best the league had to offer at wide receiver.

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesChamp Bailey's preparation skills and aggressiveness helped him become one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.
It was a tackle. Because while the world of shutdown corners is one often played out in the open spaces where unshakable confidence and 4.3 speed are requirements for survival, Bailey, who retired on Tuesday, at his best was more than that.

Yes, in his prime he was on the short list in coverage with flexibility, speed, an eye for details and the willingness to study. He had no island or T-shirts or signature strut into the end zone.

Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith once said, “Champ doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t have to. He knows you know you already didn’t get the ball."

But what separated Bailey from most who have played the position at its highest level, was that to go with all of those skills in coverage, Bailey would roll up his sleeves and get dirty in the run game. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan, having made the trade to bring Bailey to Denver for what became a 10-year run, called Bailey the “best tackling cornerback I’ve ever seen and one of the best players in coverage I’ve ever seen. Just a no-doubt Hall of Famer."

So, the tackle, on a sweltering September day -- 89 degrees at kickoff with 64 percent worth of energy-sapping humidity -- in Miami. It was the 2005 season opener, a game the Broncos would eventually lose, before winning enough games to go on to the AFC Championship Game four months later.

And on the first play of the second half, in a game in which Bailey already had seven tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, on a first-and-10 for the Dolphins from the Miami 35-yard line, running back Ronnie Brown, then a 223-pound rookie, rumbled around the right end into what was on other days also a dirt infield for the Marlins with no other Broncos defenders within range to stop him.

Bailey charged the line of scrimmage, stopping Brown in the dirt for a 5-yard gain with no yardage after contact as Bailey dislocated his shoulder doing it. It’s not that Bailey, a top-shelf cornerback, made the play. It’s that he was willing to make the play.

Bailey, who wore a brace on his shoulder for years after that tackle and many more just like it, always seemed to be at the center of discussions between what football people said and what those with analytics in hand had to offer. The football people saw an all-time player with instincts, athleticism and a quarterback’s recall for situations and personnel.

And at times those who have opened the window to analytics in the game saw a player who got beat deep and was challenged more in coverage than was often presented in the mainstream.

In the end perhaps everybody has a point. From my perspective I often fall back on the words of a man who essentially had the patience and willingness to unwrap the game in many ways for me -- longtime scout C.O. Brocato -- who has always said to trust your eyes.

I’ve seen lots of cornerbacks play, lots of cornerbacks folks have stuck the "shutdown" label to, both with and without numbers or game video in hand to make the case. I don’t profess to have THE list and respectfully acknowledge opinions of others that were gleaned from hard work.

But the two most complete cornerbacks I have seen are Rod Woodson and Champ Bailey. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s going to stay for quite some time.

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