AFC West: Boss Bailey
Both were raised in the South, consistently credit their parents for showing them the importance of doing things the right way, played in the football-mad Southeastern Conference, and belong to the ultra-exclusive list of players who have been named to 12 Pro Bowls. Oh, and each understands what it is to look across a football field, with thousands in the seats around him and the last notes of the national anthem echoing in his ears, and see his brother on the other sideline.
“I've always said there’s a lot of pride in that," Champ Bailey said of facing teams his brother, Boss, played on. “Family is family. Our thing was you don’t drift apart; you play hard that day, in that game, because you want to win. You always want to win, to be the best, but it’s hard to explain to people because it’s never, 'I've got to beat you' -- because when the game was over, we were still brothers."
Boss and Champ Bailey were even teammates with the Denver Broncos for the 2008 season -- a year in which Boss Bailey played only six games because of injuries in what turned out to be the last season of Mike Shanahan's Denver tenure. The Bailey brothers felt the interest and dealt with the questions, but they weren't quarterbacks.
They weren't Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. And they weren't Super-Bowl winning, "Saturday Night Live"-hosting quarterbacks who also happen to be two of corporate America's favorite pitchmen. So when football nation wants to see all there is to see, hear all there is to hear about a game that includes Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, it’s a little different deal.
So much so that when Peyton was asked this week about what his parents -- Archie and Olivia -- think about all that will come with watching two of their sons in Sunday’s nationally televised affair between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants, the Broncos' QB said:
“I don’t think they enjoy it all that much."
Since the Giants made the draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers in 2004 to acquire Eli, this will be the third, and perhaps because of NFL schedule rotations, last meeting between the brothers. Peyton’s Indianapolis Colts won the previous two -- in 2006 and 2010. The 2006 game was the season opener for both teams.
“Well, I think the best part about this one is that it’s not the opener," Eli said. “It’s much better when it’s the second game -- or later -- just because you don’t have to be asked about it for three months. You get a week of questioning that you have to deal with."
Peyton was asked this week if Sunday’s game was one he had been thinking about through the offseason, and he did what he usually does when the well-honed deflector shields are up -- he tried to move on to something else.
“We knew we were going to play them, and based off of last year I knew we’d probably be on TV," Peyton said with a laugh. “So when it was, where it was, Week 2 or whatever -- I’m glad we only have to talk about it for one week. … But I did the New York conference call and there was not one question about the Giants’ defense. I had to force it in there myself."
Yes, he did, in the traditional conference call with the opponent’s media. After several questions about facing Eli, Peyton simply said:
“I haven’t been asked one question about the Giants' defense. That’s where the focus is for me as a quarterback and for our offense. It’s a good defense. They were put in some tough spots due to some turnovers against Dallas, but they were outstanding last year in creating turnovers, outstanding in the red zone, and so those are things that they’re very capable of and that’s where our focus is, is getting ready to play a tough defense on the road. At the same time, you do know because of their explosive offense, they’re capable of scoring some points, so you better be on top of your game from an offensive standpoint."
It could all be a product of a wired world and 24/7 news cycles, with so many in the populace armed with cellphone cameras, but the Mannings publicly wrestle with this game. They are brothers, they are close, and they spend a great deal of time together. They talk plenty, though not about football this week, and they have even stood pop culture on its ear together with a little football on your phone. In short, they live with the idea, as Champ Bailey put it, that “family is family."
And even as they have tried to keep the rarity of it all at arm’s length, to live in the week-to-week moments of the NFL, they both say they have taken time to appreciate the rarity of what has happened in the past -- it is unprecedented for quarterbacks of their stature in the game -- and will take a moment Sunday night to appreciate it once again.
“The past two times we have, for whatever reason, lined up across from each other during the national anthem," Peyton said. “So you do take a moment to realize that it is your brother over there that is a quarterback for the New York Giants in the NFL, and it is the same person that you grew up with. So it is unique, and I think you do take a moment to realize that it is special. But once the game gets started, all week the focus is on their defense, and you can go out there and just play."
“When I look back at the times we played against each other, I think you remember the national anthems and looking over and nodding at your big brother, talking to him before the game a little bit, the handshake after the game," Eli said. “Those things are special moments. … I’m proud of Peyton and his football career, also just proud of the way he’s handled himself off the field and all the great things he’s done. He’s my big brother and one of my best friends."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The runaway winner in this week's "You pick it" feature was the news that Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell will work with the team's receivers during the team's break before training camp to maintain their timing.
The other candidates for the AFC West story of the week were, 1) Denver re-signing Pro Bowl center Casey Wiegmann to a two-year contract extension, and 2) Denver cutting linebacker Boss Bailey after one season in town. The release cost Denver about $3.5 million in salary-cap room.
Personally, I think the Wiegmann story was the most newsworthy of the three candidates. Denver stepped up to keep Wiegmann happy and the team did it after he participated in the team's offseason programs. It was a clear message to receiver Brandon Marshall. He too wants a new deal, but he is staying away from the team. Any time a Pro Bowl player is talked out of retiring it is big news.
However, I can see why readers chose the Russell story. The Raiders were begging for Russell to show some leadership in his third NFL season. This was a move made by someone wanting to be a leader. It is significant.
Here is some of what the readers had to say. Thanks to those who participated:
Ryan from Lincoln, Neb.: The story of the week has to Russell's commitment to work with his receivers during the summer. With how critical Cable has been of him this entire offseason I think it's got people thinking that either the quarterback will have to shed some of his ego or Jeff Garcia will get another shot at managing an offense for a season. If Russell's mental approach to the game can be more leadership oriented and his decision making improves he leaves Garcia holding the clipboard because his arm and athleticism outweigh Garcia's ability to hold on to the football and play it safe every down. Jeff Garcia is a fierce competitor and is a fundamentally sound quarterback but he doesn't have much of an arm and he's aging. Garcia's game doesn't have any kind of pinache and he doesn't make spectacular plays like Russell most likely would if he could get his head in the right place. With a great stable of running backs and a little improvement in the receiving corps the Raiders' offense would be on the up-and-up if Jamarcus finally came into his own to be their franchise quarterback.
Kevin from San Jose: Obviously the story is Jamarcus Russell finally showing leadership and perhaps maturing into an elite starting NFL quarterback. However, I would not expect him to breakout this year considering the young receiving corps we have.
Jason from Placerville, Calif.: It has to be Jamarcus going the extra mile to get his timing tuned up. This is the key to how the Raiders will do this season. There was alot of plays last year that could have changed games if his timing was right then. GO RAIDERS!!!!
The candidates are:
Wiegmann gets new deal: Denver gave Pro Bowl center Casey Wiegmann a two-year contract extension. Wiegmann, 35, was considering retirement if he didn't get an extension.
Russell takes charge: Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell announced that he will be working with the Raiders' receivers during their break before training camp to maintain their timing. This was an assertive move by a player Oakland wanted to show more leadership.
Boss Bailey cut: Denver released linebacker Boss Bailey, the brother of star cornerback Champ Bailey, as he was recovering from a major knee injury. He was with Denver for one season and his release cost the team about $3.5 million in salary-cap room.
Pick your story of the week and hit my mailbag with your reasons why. I will post some of your responses later this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Broncos took a diversion from the Brandon Marshall saga Wednesday and made two significant moves by extending the contract of a key player and cutting a former key signing.
Denver announced that it gave center Casey Wiegmann a two-year contract extension. Agent Jack Reale confirmed that linebacker Boss Bailey was released.
Bailey was rehabilitating from a major knee injury he suffered last season, his first in Denver, where he was reunited with his brother, star cornerback Champ Bailey. Boss Bailey is expected to be ready to play in the NFL this season.
"I was somewhat surprised by this, although you are never really surprised in the NFL," Reale said of the decision.
Asked how Champ Bailey, who is also Reale's client, feels about this release of his brother, Reale said: "Champ is a pro and he understands the business. He's disappointed, but he understands." Champ Bailey has two more years remaining on his contract in Denver.
The Broncos made the move to cut Boss Bailey because it likes its outside linebackers, a group that includes Elvis Dumervil and top pick Robert Ayers. The move was costly for Denver. It will cost about $3.5 million in a salary cap space. Also, Bailey will be paid a guaranteed $2 million roster bonus.
Meanwhile, Denver averted a contract dispute with Wiegmann by giving him a new deal. He is getting about $3.5 million in new money. Wiegmann had one more year remaining on his deal. He said he'd consider retiring without a new deal.
However, both the Broncos and Wiegmann's agent lauded how the situation was handled on each side. Wiegmann attended the offseason program and mandatory minicamps, unlike what Marshall is doing.
"This shows the value of doing the right thing," Wiegmann's agent Joe Linta said. "Casey showed up for everything and Josh McDaniels (Denver's coach) and Brian Xanders (Denver's general manager) deserve credit for rewarding a player who does the right thing."
Added McDaniels in a statement: "We are very excited that we were able to negotiate an extension for Casey Wiegmann. The professionalism and leadership he showed throughout this process was outstanding. He was here every day working hard during our mini camps and conditioning program. Maintaining the continuity of our offensive line was a big priority for us, and we are very fortunate to have a Pro Bowl center like Casey Wiegmann as part of this organization."
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
We are continuing our AFC West rankings with a look at the top linebackers in the division.
1. Shawne Merriman, San Diego: The Chargers are counting the days until he returns from a knee injury that kept him out of all but one game last season. Merriman is an elite pass rusher, but he is also a complete player who makes San Diego's defense go.
2. D.J. Williams, Denver: Williams is top player. The problem with him is he has moves positions nearly every year. Now, he is playing an inside linebacker position for Denver as it moves to the 3-4 defensive front.
3. Kirk Morrison, Oakland: He is a tackle machine and one of Oakland's best players on defense. He's an underrated player.
4. Thomas Howard, Oakland: Howard, too, is a top defensive player in this division. He always seems to come up with the big play.
5. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: Phillips is an emotional leader on the defense, who has big-play capability. Merriman's return will help him.
6. Larry English, San Diego: I expect an immediate impact made by the No. 16 overall pick in this year's draft. English has looked fantastic this spring. He is a pass rusher, whose presence will be helped by Merriman.
7. Stephen Cooper, San Diego: Yet another playmaker on San Diego's linebacker roster. He is a smart player, who is always around the ball.
8. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: Johnson has been good in this league. He struggled last season. Perhaps the help Kansas City has given him at the position will revive him. He has good ability.
9. Zach Thomas, Kansas City: Thomas is nearing the end, but he is a leader and he always finds ways to make tackles. He'll make his presence felt.
10. Mike Vrabel, Kansas City: Like Thomas, Vrabel is nearing the end. But he is a gritty player, who'll make his share of plays.
11. Boss Bailey, Denver: Bailey has been injury plagued and he will struggle to come back from a serious knee injury. If healthy, he is a solid player.
12. Kevin Burnett, San Diego: Burnett was brought in as a free agent to help on passing downs. The Chargers have high hopes for him.
Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson
Despite allowing 28 points per game last season, the Denver Broncos used only four of their 10 draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. Of those four selections, only the 18th overall pick, Robert Ayers, is a front-seven player. And, oh yeah, Denver is changing its defensive scheme to a 3-4.
The Broncos did draft three defensive backs and also added Renaldo Hill, Andre' Goodman and Brian Dawkins on the back end. The secondary has a chance to be vastly improved and is now fortified for the long term. But if a defense allows opposing quarterbacks to sit back in the pocket without much heat, NFL receivers are going to get open. Denver sacked opposing quarterbacks only 26 times last season, and only three defenses allowed more than the Broncos' 7.7 yards average in the passing game.
|Ron Chenoy/US Presswire|
|The Broncos are hoping rookie Robert Ayers can give their pass rush a boost.|
Of course, if a defense can't stop the run, pass defense becomes even less important. Only the winless Detroit Lions allowed a greater yards per rush average than Denver last year.
There are some pass-rushers in this front seven. Ayers has a world of upside and may end up being a force at outside linebacker. My worries with him are that he never eclipsed 3.5 sacks in any of his college seasons and will be learning a new position -- as will just about everyone on this front seven. It also is conceivable that Ayers plays defensive end in this scheme, which would be another adjustment. Denver's defensive coaching staff is excellent, but in learning new techniques, surely there will be growing pains.
Elvis Dumervil is an excellent pass-rusher. He doesn't get the publicity that he deserves as an edge rusher, but he is technically sound, has a variety of moves that he sets up very well, has great initial quickness and knows how to use his lack of height to his advantage to get under blockers' pads and bend the edge. But teams routinely run at him, and he struggled to hold the point from his 4-3 defensive end position last year. Moving a little farther away from the ball might help, but I also have doubts about his ability in coverage along with his run support.
Jarvis Moss, a former first-round pick, is a wild card here. He has done little to justify his high draft position, but the new scheme could potentially revitalize his career at outside linebacker. Still, he doesn't appear fluid or loose enough in the hips to be effective with coverage responsibilities.
D.J. Williams is going to be a starting linebacker and there are other able bodies here as well, including newly signed Andra Davis, Boss Bailey and Wesley Woodyard. Davis played in the 3-4 with the Browns, but is a declining player. Still, he is tough, a good leader and a solid enough inside linebacker. Woodyard is smaller, but he is a natural playmaker and will get time as a sub package contributor. All of these players are better off on the inside in the 3-4, yet none are ideal.
The defensive line is in worse shape than the linebackers. It wouldn't shock me if Marcus Thomas became a high-end starter for the Broncos in the near future. Tim Crowder does have some upside as well and could be better suited for the odd front. But there isn't much else to get excited about. Nose tackle is the No. 1 problem; 3-4 defenses without a presence in the middle crumble. There doesn't appear to be a presence in the middle.
Granted, the Broncos have a new coaching staff and will be running a different defensive scheme. And the personnel changes could help their cause. And surely running back after running back will not fall to injury. Everyone knows that having a strong running game is a defense's best friend. But their front seven is still a glaring weakness. I just don't see enough good players up front.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Stay tuned Thursday for movement on the Nnamdi Asomugha situation in Oakland. There were some strong indications Wednesday night and early Thursday that a long-term deal between the shutdown cornerback and the Raiders could be done at any time.
This would be huge news for the Raiders.
- The Denver Post is reporting linebacker Boss Bailey may not be salary-cap causality. With five defensive starters already jettisoned and with more than $25 million in cap room freed up, Denver certainly doesn't need to create any more cap space.
- New Kansas City coach Todd Haley said he hasn't named exact positions for several new assistant coaches because he hasn't figured it all out yet.
- The Oakland Tribune is reporting that receiver Ronald Curry has been informed he will be cut.
- The Chargers are hoping to secure LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates this offseason. Keeping his own has long been a mantra of San Diego general manager A.J. Smith.
- The Ravens' decision to put the franchise tag on linebacker Terrell Suggs could affect both Denver's and Kansas City's plans. Both teams have plenty of cap room and both teams could have used a pass-rusher like Suggs.
- The Chargers may be quietly bummed that the Raiders re-signed punter Shane Lechler. Many in San Diego believe their punter, Mike Scifres, is the best punter in the AFC but he keeps getting bypassed in favor of Lechler for the Pro Bowl. Some in the San Diego organization may have been hoping Lechler would go to an NFC team which would open a spot on the Pro Bowl roster for Scifres. My take on that one: Both Lechler and Scifres are the real deal.
- Former Oakland wide receiver Tim Brown will coach the receivers in an alumni game featuring Notre Dame players in Tokyo this July.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The fact that Denver has cut five defensive starters in the past couple of days may appear more drastic than it really is.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|Less than a year after acquiring Dewayne Robertson from the Jets, the Broncos discarded the former first-round draft pick.|
Yes, replacing at least five starters is no easy task. But the truth is the new Denver regime can't wait to do it. The team needs a huge facelift on defense.
It began this week when the team waved goodbye to starters Dre' Bly (cornerback), Dewayne Robertson (defensive tackle), Jamie Winborn (linebacker), Marquand Manuel (safety) and John Engelberger (defensive end). Only Bly and Robertson could have conceivably been part of the makeover, but both were high-priced and neither made much of an impact last season.
So they're out.
There is more change to come. Outside linebacker Boss Bailey, who is injured, could be a candidate to be cut. Starters Ebenezer Ekuban (defensive end), Nate Webster (linebacker) and Marlon McCree (safety) are free agents and are not expected to return.
But again, many of these players were starters in 2008 because the team had no other choice.
Under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan -- the former San Francisco head coach and longtime assistant -- the Broncos are moving toward becoming a 3-4 defense. Few of the above-mentioned players fit in the new scheme.
Pass-rush specialist Elvis Dumervil should have a place on the defense and could be moved to linebacker from defensive end. Young defensive linemen Marcus Thomas and Jarvis Moss (the team's first-round pick in 2007) will likely get a chance to play in the new scheme.
Thomas has been fairly productive the past two years and has a chance to be a good player. Moss has been a major disappointment, but he has natural pass-rush skills so there's hope he could flourish in the new system.
Young linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Spencer Larsen may get a chance to fit in the 3-4 attack. Woodyard, an undrafted free agent signed last season, is a natural playmaker and was a tackling machine last year. Larsen, a sixth-round pick last season, is a hard-nosed, versatile player. Still, there will be new competition for both.
Other than Bailey, the Broncos will likely be looking for help in the secondary.
Expect Denver to try to get at least two defensive linemen, at least one linebacker and three new defensive backs through free agency, trades and the draft. While big names such as defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth will be tempting, the Broncos may opt to target several more reasonably priced free agents than one big-ticket item because of their numerous needs on defense.
Whatever happens, the change is going to be drastic. The release of five starters this week only begins the sea change on Denver's defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Former Raiders' coach Lane Kiffin is proceeding with his grievance against the team for unpaid salary, according to a source close to the situation. Kiffin was fired by Oakland on Sept. 30. He was hired to be the the head coach at the University of Tennessee.
Kiffin is looking for money that Oakland would have owed him during the time he was unemployed. Both Kiffin and the Raiders are in the preparation phase. An arbitrator may not hear the case for several months.
* The word from the Bailey camp is that both Denver cornerback Champ Bailey (elbow surgery) and his brother, Denver outside linebacker Boss Bailey (knee surgery) are recovering well from their issues. Champ Bailey is expected to be ready for training camp and at this point. Boss Bailey is hoping to be ready for the season.
* The word Friday out of Denver is that the Broncos are definitely looking for personnel help. They could hire help in the draft and in free agency. Still, there doesn't appear to be a specific timetable. The team fired personnel members Jim and Jeff Goodman (they are father and son) and promoted Brian Xanders to general manager Friday. The Goodmans and Xanders were a three-man committee prior to the firings.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
It was an interesting day of roster shuffling in the AFC West.
And the division-leading Denver Broncos were trumped twice by division opponents. The Broncos tried to claim two players on waivers. However, they were beat to the punch by division foes.
Oakland claimed cornerback/returner Justin Miller off waivers from the Jets. Denver also tried to get Miller. Had Oakland not picked up Miller, he would have landed in Denver. The same goes for running back Michael Bennett, who was waived by Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
The Broncos, desperate for a tailback, put a claim on Bennett, but so did San Diego. Bennett is now the newest member of the Chargers. Had San Diego not claimed Bennett, he'd be a member of the Broncos. Waiver claims are awarded based on record. Teams with the worst record are awarded the player when multiple claims are made.
To make room for Bennett, San Diego cut linebacker Derek Smith who was signed to a modest contract this offseason. Smith will go through the waiver process Thursday. There could be a scenario where Denver would be interested. The Broncos are playing without all three of their linebackers. Starter Boss Bailey is out for the season and fellow starters D.J. Williams and Nate Webster may be out for another three weeks or so.
Smith really doesn't fit Denver's scheme. He has been more of a 3-4 linebacker lately and he may be nearing the end of the line at 33. But he is experienced and he is a leader. He could be attractive in Denver's time of need at the position. Kansas City also needs linebackers but it has been staying away from older players.
It's been speculated San Diego could have claimed Bennett because it knew Denver is in such a huge need of running backs. Denver has lost three tailbacks for the season in the past two games and it is down to rookie fullback Peyton Hillis at tailback. The team just re-signed Tatum Bell and he is expected to play Sunday at Atlanta. Bennett would have had a chance to play in Denver.
The Chargers have long liked Bennett and have been looking for running backs all season. The Chargers tried to trade for Michael Bush from the Raiders at the trade deadline so the team does want some more talent behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Sproles has been excellent, but he is small and he has some durability issues.
Bennett, a speedster, will likely be worked into the backfield behind Sproles. It also can't be lost that Sproles is a free agent at the end of the season. Bennett has another season on his contract. The Chargers always look to the future so this could be a good insurance policy move.
Oakland didn't claim Miller to keep him away from anyone. The Raiders needed Miller. He could be used as a backup cornerback and as a punt returner. Miller is a skilled player and Oakland needs depth at cornerback in light of the DeAngelo Hall release. With returner Johnnie Lee Higgins losing the opening kickoff Sunday against Carolina, the presence of Miller gives the Raiders another option.
Denver was interested in Miller when he came out in the 2005 draft. The Broncos selected the late Darrent Williams over Miller with the No. 56 overall pick (the Broncos were also considering San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson with the pick). The Jets took Miller with the next pick. With Champ Bailey likely out another couple of weeks, Denver was looking at Miller for depth reasons. He would have also given Denver the option of taking standout rookie receiver Eddie Royal out of the returning mix.
But Denver was trumped. Twice.
Around the AFC West where Larry Johnson is back in Kansas City and Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has been stripped of his play-calling duties:
The Broncos' linebackers are all hurt.
My take: There isn't a team in the NFL dealing with as many injuries as the Broncos. The Broncos have lost three running backs in the past week and all three of their starting linebackers are hurt. Boss Bailey is out for the season and D.J. Williams and Nate Webster will likely miss two or three more games. Star cornerback Champ Bailey will likely miss at least one more game. Undrafted rookie Josh Bell and veteran Karl Paymah could play in Bailey's place. Denver is banged up.
Larry Johnson is back with the club.
My take: It's time for Kansas City to allow Johnson back. He was punished for three games by the team and then one game by the NFL for off-field issues. Since he was inactivate and suspended for three games by the Chiefs, Johnson missed just one game check and that came when he was suspended by the league for the San Diego game.
Four games away from the team is a stuff penalty. Johnson now has seven games remaining with the Chiefs to show the team that he is worth keeping around in 2009. Johnson is probably gone after this season. But if he plays well, he could change the team's mind. It will be interesting to see what Kansas City's offense is like with Tyler Thigpen and Johnson in the same backfield. Thigpen is best suited for the spread offense where the running game is a second option. The Chiefs will have to find a way to get the most out of both Thigpen and Johnson.
The Chiefs' defense is beat up.
My Take: If the Chiefs lose Turk McBride for the season it will hurt. He is a big part of the defense. The Chiefs were playing without several starters against San Diego. That's why Chiefs coach Herman Edwards decided to go for two points and try to win the game in the final minute. After the loss, Edwards said his defense just wasn't healthy enough to go to overtime.
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp has been stripped of his play-calling duties.
My take: You can't argue with this team trying to change its offensive fortunes. Oakland hasn't scored a touchdown in three games and it was two games between trips to the end zone before that. Oakland has scored a league-low 113 points this season. Apparently, interim coach Tom Cable is calling the plays now. Oakland is a mess and the play calling is just a part of it. But you can't argue with it. The Raiders weren't scoring under Knapp, who will likely end up on Jim Mora's staff in Seattle next year, so a change is understandable.
The Chargers' run game isn't right.
My take: LaDainian Tomlinson said this week the running game isn't working as well as it should be. He said he is healthy from a turf toe injury he suffered in Week 1. Still, Tomlinson had just 78 yards on 22 carries against Kansas City on Sunday. I think the Chargers need to use both Tomlinson and backup Daren Sproles. He has a nice burst and he is an excellent change of pace back. I'm not saying Sproles should take carries away from Tomlinson. The Chargers need to force the issue and create caries for both. With Sproles in the mix, it will take pressure of Tomlinson and help create opportunities for him.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Here's some Saturday news and notes:
* If JaMarcus Russell doesn't play Sunday against visiting Carolina because of a knee issue, he won't have a chance to outshine Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn who played well in a 34-30 loss to Denver on Thursday. Oakland chose Russell over Quinn in the 2007 draft.
However, while Russell struggles to get his career off the ground, Quinn had a nice debut. Quinn completed 23 passes for 239 yards and he threw two touchdown passes. Russell has matched Quinn's completion amount once in nine starters; he surpassed Quinn's yardage total once and he matched his touchdown total once.
I'm not saying the Raiders made the wrong choice but the pressure is building for Russell who led his team to just 77 yards and three first downs, both franchise record lows, last week in a shutout loss to visiting Atlanta. If Quinn does well, the pressure will only mount for Russell.
* The Jim Harbaugh to Oakland talk continues. There have been rumblings of this for several weeks. Harbaugh, who is Stanford's coach, appears to be a good fit for Oakland. The former NFL quarterback is an offensive mind which Raiders' owner Al Davis craves.
He's young and he is respected in the Bay Area. He'd be a good sell to Raider Nation.
Will it happen? Stanford will do what it takes to keep him. But until Harbaugh announces he's staying at Stanford, this talk won't die.
* It didn't get a lot of play this week, but Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha questioned the Raiders' hasty decision to cut fellow cornerback DeAngelo Hall eight months after trading for him and giving him a hefty contract. Asomugha is the Raiders' best player, by far, and what he says should be listened to. This is not a loose cannon. Asomugha is an intelligent, rational man. His thoughts should carry weight in the organization.
Asomugha's thought wasn't uncommon. Many folks were thinking the same thing. But maybe since it came from Asomugha the organization will take it to heart.
* Kansas City coach Herman Edwards once again lived up to his billing as a players' coach. He defended the play of top pick Glenn Dorsey. The defensive tackle, who was the No. 5 overall draft pick in April, has been getting criticized because he hasn't made the major impact that was expected.
Edwards said this week that Dorsey is doing well in the run defense and that he's improving in pass defense. It's no surprise Edwards is backing Dorsey. While Dorsey hasn't been spectacular he is far from a bust and his coach clearly has been patient with him.
* In light of Nate Webster's knee injury Thursday night against Cleveland, the Broncos were calling around about available linebackers Friday.
* The Broncos, who are need a running back with Ryan Torain out for the year with a knee injury, will be without Webster at least 2-3 weeks and potentially more time. Denver is now playing without all three starting linebackers. Weakside linebacker D.J. Williams will miss another 3-4 weeks with a knee injury and strongside linebacker Boss Bailey is out for the year with a knee problem.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Here are some Broncos halftime notes as they trail Cleveland, 20-10:
Brandon Marshall looks distracted. He has dropped passes and he has run the wrong routes. Jay Cutler doesn't look overly sharp, but Marshall has helped out that perception with some uncharacteristically sloppy play.
The Broncos are using a spread offense with Cutler in the shotgun because they don't have any running backs. They are down to fullback Peyton Hillis at running back. Starter Ryan Torain is out with a leg injury. Backup Selvin Young is not healthy yet because of a groin injury. Michael Pittman and Andre Hall were put on injured reserve this week. Denver is in bad shape at running back if Torain's injury is serious.
Speaking of bad injury situations, now all three of Denver's starting linebackers are injured. Middle linebacker Nate Webster is out with a knee injury. He is not expected back. Strongside linebacker Boss Bailey is out for the year with a knee injury and weakside linebacker D.J. Williams will be out for the next month with a knee injury. Left cornerback Champ Bailey is out for a month with a groin injury and safety Marlon McCree is out with an ankle injury. This defense is just not talented enough to withstand these injuries.
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
DENVER -- What's the difference between the AFC West and the United States presidential race?
There will be a winner this week in the chase to be president.
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Denver quarterback Jay Cutler played his worst game of the season Sunday, tossing three interceptions.|
Further cementing its stranglehold on the title of worst division in the NFL, the AFC West went a combined 0-3 Sunday. It was the second straight week the division went winless. The four AFC West teams are now 10-22 at the halfway point of the season. No, don't expect an AFC wild card to come out of this division.
With half a season to go, there is a legitimate chance the AFC West will produce the first playoff team with a losing record in the playoffs in a non-strike shortened season. Two 4-5 teams made the playoffs in 1982.
Only a strike could save this division. As silly as it sounds, the Denver Broncos, losers of four of their past five games, are leading the division. Denver is 4-4; San Diego, which had a bye this week, is 3-5; Oakland is 2-6 and Kansas City is 1-7.
After a 26-17 loss to visiting Miami on Sunday, in which the Broncos continued their sloppy ways on offense and untimely lapses on defense, Denver players tried to find a way to be positive.
"The division hasn't been good, we can look at that," Denver linebacker Nate Webster said. "But, come on, we need to start winning some games."
The Broncos, who play on a short week Thursday night at Cleveland, had an opportunity to separate themselves from San Diego while the Chargers were on a bye. With wins over Miami and Cleveland, Denver could have been 6-3 while San Diego was still 3-5. Now, Denver must try to avoid being 4-5 as the Chargers prepare to play host to Kansas City next Sunday.
"We have to shore things up," Denver running back Michael Pittman said. "We have to do it quick."
There is plenty of work to do. Quarterback Jay Cutler is coming off his worst game of the season, the vaunted Denver running attack is coming off its second-worst effort in the history of the franchise and the battered defense probably will now have to play without another stalwart, linebacker D.J. Williams, who suffered a knee injury.
"This was a bad game," Cutler said.
Other key developments from Sunday:
Turnovers continue to kill Denver: The Broncos continued to be careless with the ball. Cutler was the culprit Sunday. He threw three interceptions, two in the first quarter -- including one that was returned 32 yards by Miami cornerback Will Allen for a touchdown to give the Dolphins a 13-0 lead.
The Broncos have committed 15 turnovers in their four losses. Eleven of the turnovers have come in the first half of games. In the past five weeks, Denver has been outscored 56-0 on series after turnovers.
Simply put, the Broncos' defense is not stout enough to withstand the pressure of Denver's offensive mistakes.
The turnovers are also ruining a strong offense. In Denver's first three games, which were essentially mistake-free, Denver scored 114 points. In the five games since, Denver has scored a total of 76 points and no more than 19 points in a game.
"Turnovers, it's that simple," Cutler said when asked his thoughts on his unit's biggest issue.
Nowhere to run: In 14 seasons under Mike Shanahan, Denver has been the premier rushing offense in the NFL. It wasn't Sunday. Denver had 14 yards rushing. It was the second-fewest yards in team history. It was a Miami record for fewest rushing yards allowed. Denver ran the ball only 12 times. Shanahan categorized the effort as "embarrassing."
This is battered unit. Pittman left the game because of recurring neck stingers. After the game, Pittman suggested he may need time to rest the injury.
This may open the door for promising rookie Ryan Torain, who was eased into action Sunday. It was his NFL debut. The fifth-round pick from Arizona State broke his elbow in training camp in early August.
Torain was a non-factor against Miami. He had three carries for 1 yard. However, with Pittman hurting and Selvin Young out for the past three games with a groin injury, Denver may have to turn to Torain in an attempt to regain the Denver rushing spark.
Marshall no fan of defensive scheme: Fresh off his lowest catch output since becoming a starter late in his rookie season in 2006, Denver star receiver Brandon Marshall, who had two catches for 27 yards, was more focused on the game plan of Denver defensive coordinator Bob Slowik.
"When I look at it, it's common sense, if I was a receiver going against our defense and they're stacking the box and we're playing a one-high defense and eight in the box, and the DBs are 10 yards off of me, I'm going to catch 10 to 12 balls a game," Marshall ranted. "I don't even know that receiver's name who caught all those balls.
"Tighten up the coverage and just play ball, it's real simple. It's real simple. They don't need to be 10 yards off. Tighten it up. You say they don't do that against us, the reason why is a receiver will kill them."
When a star bashes the coaching scheme, it is a sure sign of the wheels falling off a team.
Webster didn't buy into Marshall's complaint. He pointed to Denver's defense nullifying Miami's Wildcat formation. Miami ditched the Wildcat after having very little success using it Sunday. Miami had 75 yards rushing and Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington completed 23 of 40 passes for 281 yards.
Webster also pointed to Miami's final series as the only poor defensive possession Denver had. The Dolphins went on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took 8:02 to give them a nine-point lead with 3:08 to go.
"That was it," Webster said. "I don't think our defensive scheme really hurt
Walking more wounded: When Bailey was lost for at least a month with a torn groin, Williams became Denver's best defensive player. The 2004 first-round pick was having a Pro Bowl season with 77 tackles at weakside linebacker.
Now Denver -- which also lost starting strongside linebacker Boss Bailey for the season two weeks ago -- probably will have to play without Williams for a while.
Shanahan said Williams has a sprained MCL in his knee and he had no idea how long Williams would be out. Williams, who didn't talk to reporters Sunday, departed the stadium on crutches. If Williams is out for an extended period, it could be devastating to Denver's defense.
He is a playmaker, and without the Baileys and Williams, the defense will be stretched extremely thin.
Yes, it was a disastrous Sunday for Denver. But here's the bright spot for the Broncos: They are still the best in the West.
Yes, the AFC West is that bad.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
There is something interesting about the Kansas City Chiefs as we head to November.
Thank you, Tyler Thigpen. At 1-6, the Chiefs aren't exactly a compelling study heading into the final nine games of their slate. However, Thigpen added some intrigue to their season. A whole lot of it.
In his second NFL start, Thigpen, who was horrible in his first start, played shockingly well in the Chiefs' last-minute 28-24 loss to the Jets last Sunday. Thigpen threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns and he wasn't intercepted. He completed his first 10 pass attempts.
Thigpen outplayed Brett Favre for much of the game. With quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard out for the rest of the season with injuries, Thigpen will get plenty of chances to build upon his strong game.
It won't be easy this week against a fine Tampa Bay defense. But we're looking forward to seeing how Thigpen performs. Last week, there was little to look forward to in Kansas City, other than the draft. But Thigpen has brought some life to the Chiefs' world.
Are the Denver Broncos ready for the Wildcat?
At this point, it's no sure thing the Broncos' defense could handle Heathcliff, the cat. Don't be surprised if the Wildcat roars loud and proud in the Rocky Mountains.
Denver's defense has been a sieve. Without the services of the Bailey brothers, Champ (the star cornerback is out for a month with a groin injury) and Boss (the linebacker is out for the year with a knee problem that required surgery), it could be tough sledding for the Broncos.
Denver, which sits atop the AFC West with a 4-3 record, has struggled against the run and pass on defense. Trick plays just complicate matters. Confusion could be the order of the day for the struggling Broncos defense.
If Miami leaves Denver with a win, it will be on the strength of the Wildcat.
This is a battle of the highly drafted quarterbacks.
Maybe Russell can learn something from the rookie.
Ryan has been outstanding this season. He has the look of a winner and the Falcons are flying fairly high at 4-3. Yes, Ryan is a rookie but he looks like he's on his way to being a star. Russell has struggled right along with the Raiders, who are 2-5. Like Ryan, this is essentially Russell's rookie season. He played sparingly as a rookie last season.
Russell has shown some signs that he could be a winning quarterback, but he is behind Ryan in his development. Beating Ryan and the Falcons could go a long way in Russell's development.