AFC West: Robert Griffin III

The more macabre faction of Raider Nation tried to get a campaign going for the Oakland Raiders last year as the season began to unravel. Clownin’ for Clowney would have had the Raiders tank, thus giving them the top pick in the NFL draft and the chance to select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

But by finishing 4-12 and getting the No. 5 overall selection, the Raiders likely will search elsewhere, as Clowney’s freakish athletic skills probably have him going in the top four especially after his blazing 40-yard dash Monday morning at the combine.

Clowney’s unofficial time of 4.47 seconds was faster than every quarterback to have run at the combine since 2006 save for Robert Griffin III. The fact that Clowney’s time was later elevated to an official 4.53 may have taken some shine off, but it is still impressive for a 6-foot-5, 266-pounder whose job in the NFL will be to chase down slower and smaller quarterbacks.

“It means he’s 266 pounds and he runs like a wide receiver,” ESPN draft specialist Todd McShay said. “The average for wide receivers over the last five years (is) a 4.54, and he’s 64 pounds bigger than the average wide receiver. It’s a remarkable time.”

Still, Clowney disappointed by withdrawing from the rest of the day’s events, reportedly citing a tight hip flexor a day after getting “only” 21 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

Clowney, who followed up his 13-sack, 23-tackles-for-loss 2012 season with three sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2013, will have his pro day April 2 at South Carolina.
Alfred Morris, Eric BerryGetty ImagesWashington's Alfred Morris, left, and KC's Eric Berry lead teams trying to end losing streaks.
Fortunes have turned this season for the Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. The Redskins, who won the NFC East championship last season, are 3-9. After winning just two games last season, the Chiefs are 9-3 and can clinch a playoff spot Sunday if they beat the Redskins and either the Baltimore Ravens or the Miami Dolphins lose. But the Chiefs have lost three straight, and their chances for winning the AFC West are virtually gone after being swept in their two games against the Denver Broncos.

ESPN.com's Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss Sunday's game:

Teicher: This is a complicated question, but what’s happened this season with Robert Griffin III? Still bothered by the knee? Feeling the effects of missing offseason practice?

Keim: Yeah, it’s complicated because there are a lot of issues that have added up to him having an inconsistent sophomore season. The knee played a factor early in that he wasn’t going to run a lot and wanted to be more of a dropback passer (partly because he was fooled by last season’s success). The knee brace restricts him a little, but he just hasn’t regained his explosiveness. He’s still fast, but that first-step burst isn’t the same, and that hurts on some of the read-option or escaping trouble. Defenses are playing them different -- teams with good fronts can sit back and take away their play-action. They’ve seen coverages they didn’t see a lot of last season, and a greater variety of stunts and blitzes (knowing Griffin might not hurt them as badly). Missing the offseason really hurt Griffin’s ability to develop as a passer, and that has been a big issue. There are games when he looks solid, like against the Giants, but he also has had a couple of games that are as bad as any since he entered the NFL. Because he came from a much less complex passing system at Baylor, he needs a full offseason of work.

Adam, who would have thought Alex Smith would be the quarterback with the better team in this game? What sort of difference has he made for the Chiefs?

Teicher: His stats haven’t been great until the past couple of games, but he’s actually had a pretty good season. He’s been burned to some extent by dropped passes or his statistics would actually look a lot better. Through the nine-game winning streak to start the season, Smith played well enough not to mess up a good thing. He wasn’t committing turnovers, and, although he wasn’t making many big plays in the passing game, he was bailing the Chiefs out of some tough situations, whether scrambling or on the option or on a called play. Lately, they have needed more points and big plays, and he has delivered.

Kansas City has given up some yards via the running game this season. Give us a little scouting report on how Washington uses Alfred Morris and Roy Helu, and what there is to choose from between those guys. Also, do most of RG III’s rushing yards come on the option, called runs or scrambles?

Keim: The Redskins love to use a lot of stretch-zone and outside zone runs with Morris and Helu. Both can run inside. They will use some boot action off the stretch-zone, as well. Morris does a much better job than Helu of setting up defenders by pressing the hole and cutting. He gets linebackers to overflow, then cuts back. Morris is more patient than Helu, who hits holes as fast as he can run, and that often means he doesn’t set up defenders and therefore doesn’t create lanes for himself. He’s a bigger threat in the open field as a receiver. Helu is used more as a third-down back, but he is capable of running and does have the speed to break a long run. But, again, just not patient enough, and therefore gets a lot of 2-yard runs. As for Griffin, he’s averaging 5.46 yards per carry off zone-read runs (compared with 8.0 last season). His longer runs have come off scrambles -- but that also depends on whether a team plays a lot of man coverage. He’s just not as explosive off the zone-read runs, but teams have adjusted to it -- they are more disciplined against it, and safeties are more aggressive coming up to defend.

Looking at the Chiefs’ defense, how would you assess them at this point after such a dominant start?

Teicher: Not very good. The Chiefs have allowed more than 400 yards in each of their past four games. They are going to give up some yards, given the style they play (pressure on the quarterback, cornerbacks frequently in one-on-one coverage). Kansas City gave up some yards and big plays early in the season. But now, the Chiefs are not getting to the quarterback often, are rarely forcing him into mistakes, and are not getting the turnovers and favorable field position that made them so successful early in the season. That is why I think Washington could move the ball and score some points against Kansas City. The Chiefs played against a series of journeymen, backups or inexperienced players at quarterback over several weeks and feasted against those guys. The past three weeks, though, they have faced Peyton Manning twice and Philip Rivers and haven't fared very well. Given Griffin's dual-threat abilities and Washington's running game, Kansas City has some things to worry about.

The Redskins have given up a ton of points. The run defense looks as if it has been decent, but Washington has been horrible against the pass. Pinpoint the problems areas in that regard for the Redskins.

Keim: The Redskins have not generated enough pressure from their four-man rushes, although there are times when they get what they would consider good rushes but it’s not making enough of an impact. I don’t sense that quarterbacks are uncomfortable in the pocket. Sometimes it is because the coverage behind them is too soft, especially when they play zone. Washington has a lot of holes in its zone coverages, and quarterbacks can quickly find them. Makes it tough to then pressure. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been solid and made some big plays; he’s much better now in tight man coverage. But the safeties as a group have struggled, sometimes because of injury, and other times because of performance. The Redskins have to upgrade here. Brandon Meriweather is OK, but he’s one bad hit from a longer suspension. They have had to mix and match a lot at safety to try to make it work. But it’s not just here; the inside linebackers have not had a strong season. Cornerback Josh Wilson plays the run well out of the slot but can be picked on. He’s up and down. Rookie cornerback David Amerson can make big plays but also can surrender them (although some of that has subsided). It is an inconsistent group, and it is why defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is under fire. It is not all his fault, as there are times the calls aren’t his, but that is life in the NFL.

How big a difference has coach Andy Reid made --- and are the Chiefs a legitimate contender?

Teicher: He has made a huge difference. He has given direction to an organization that before had a lot of guys pulling in a lot of different directions. Reid came through the door for the first time with an impressive résumé, and players -- tired of the losing and the way things had been -- were more than willing to listen. He has been able to get a lot of guys to put aside personal goals for the greater good. But I don't see the Chiefs as being legitimate contenders, not this season. Even during their nine-game winning streak, there were some red flags everyone knew were going to be problems down the road. The two games against the Broncos, particularly last week's, showed a wide gap between the Chiefs and one of the league's premier teams.

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Philip Rivers and DeAngelo Hall USA Today SportsDeAngelo Hall, right, and the Redskins' secondary will try to slow down Philip Rivers, who has completed a league-best 73.9 percent of his passes.
This isn’t a compelling game when it comes to storylines. No big-name player is facing his former team. There’s no grudge match. And, in fact, San Diego and Washington have played each other only three times in the past 14 years, and not since 2010.

Still, there is a lot going on in this game. If the 2-5 Washington Redskins are intent on turning their season around, they need to win. Even in a bad division, a 2-6 record would be tough to overcome. At some point, teams just have to play well, and the Redskins must prove that can happen.

For San Diego, the Chargers’ 4-3 start is a good one. However, if they want to stay in the AFC playoff race or remain a threat in the AFC West, they can’t afford to lose to a sub-.500 team.

ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Redskins reporter John Keim break down this week's game:

Robert Griffin III threw 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions in winning rookie of the year honors in 2012. This season, he’s thrown nine touchdowns and eight interceptions through seven games. What has changed with his decision-making?

Keim: Griffin is used to making big plays, and last year, a number of them occurred because of his legs, whether running or extending plays. But that’s not always happening, and in games where his legs aren't a weapon, he has forced some throws. Not all the interceptions are his fault, of course, but in general, that’s been a theme: forcing throws. Also, they’re not able to use as much play-action throws as last year because of game situations, and when that happens, he and the passing game are very, very ordinary. They need to move defenders around, causing chaos in drops, with their zone-read fakes and play fakes. Denver also kept seven in coverage last week, and that’s always trouble for a unit that has just one receiver who threatens a defense in Pierre Garcon (although tight end Jordan Reed does now, too).

Philip Rivers’ stock has dropped the past couple of seasons. But under a new coach, he’s playing at a high level. Why?

Williams: Coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt installed an up-tempo, no-huddle offense focused on the short passing game and getting the ball out quickly. The result has been better decision-making for Rivers. He leads the league in completion percentage this season at 73.9 percent, which is nearly 10 percent more than his career average (64.3). And his 111.1 passer rating (second in the NFL) is more than 15 points higher than his career rating of 95.6. San Diego’s offensive line also has done an excellent job of protecting Rivers. The Chargers have allowed just 11 sacks through seven games, tied for second-best in the NFL.

Washington’s defense is allowing 32.7 points a contest, second-worst in the NFL. Why is Jim Haslett’s defense struggling to keep teams out of the end zone?

Keim: The defense struggled mightily in the first four games but has mostly done its job in the past three games, when the Redskins have been hurt by special teams (two punt returns for a score; a 90-yarder to set up another one) and the offense (turnovers deep in their own territory; an interception return for a score). But this is not a top-level unit by any means. The Redskins' secondary has holes, especially at safety, and the linebackers, as a group, aren't great at coverage. But they've played the run better of late, and they’re causing turnovers. They have two good but not great pass-rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. They have a good nose tackle in Barry Cofield. So they have good parts. They played great for three quarters against Denver; alas, the game went four.

Why has the Chargers’ pass rush been more productive lately?

Williams: Defensive coordinator John Pagano has used some creative defensive fronts and exotic blitz packages to manufacture pressure. Along with that, the ability of interior defensive linemen such as Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes to push the pocket inside have created one-on-one matchups for San Diego’s inexperienced edge rushers. And guys such as Thomas Keiser and Larry English have taken advantage of their opportunities.

Speaking of opportunities, Alfred Morris has followed up an impressive rookie campaign by rushing for 565 yards and four touchdowns through seven games. He leads all running backs with a robust 5.23 yards per carry. How has Morris remained effective, even with Griffin struggling?

Keim: Good question. Morris is better than he was a year ago, thanks to even better vision and stronger legs. Both qualities were good last year, too. Defenses have keyed more on him, knowing that on zone reads, for example, Griffin would not hurt them (until recently). Also, Denver rarely used an eight-man front against Washington in an attempt to play better in coverage. The Redskins usually receive good blocking from their tight ends and receivers, which helps Morris as well. And the line’s continuity shows up in the run game. But Morris deserves a lot of credit. He’s a patient runner who knows how to set up a defense, then cut back once it overcommits. Morris has proved this year that he’s not a creation of the zone read. The key for Washington is giving him more carries; this season's high is 19. Last season he had 10 games with more than 19 carries. Of course, that stems from winning and being in control of games. The Redskins have done little of both this season.

Eric, do you believe in this team yet, or do you still see a lot of holes? If so, where?

Williams: Offensively, San Diego has what it takes to make the playoffs in the AFC. The Chargers are one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Rivers’ ability to move the ball in the passing game has been nicely complemented by the emergence of bruising runner Ryan Mathews, who had back-to-back, 100-yard rushing games. But defensively, the Chargers remain a question mark, even though they have not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters. The Chargers’ defensive backfield has just two interceptions this season, and Jarret Johnson leads the team with just three sacks through seven games. The Chargers still lack elite playmakers on defense.

Power Rankings: No. 2 Denver Broncos

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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A weekly examination of the Broncos’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last week: 3 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

After scoring at least 41 points in game for the fifth time this season (this time in a 45-21 win against the Washington Redskins), the Denver Broncos wheeled into a much-needed bye week and moved up a spot in the ESPN.com Power Rankings.

And with their 343 points in tow, they are the highest-scoring team in league history after eight games, while quarterback Peyton Manning’s 2,919 yards passing are the most by a quarterback after eight games. Manning’s 29 touchdown passes are already more than he had in six of his previous seasons as an NFL starter and the second-highest total after eight games, behind Tom Brady’s 30 at the halfway mark in 2007.

But what could be some additional bad news for others in the league? The Broncos finally showed a little of the defensive edge this past Sunday that they had in 2012, when they finished among the league leaders in virtually every defensive category. The Broncos held the Redskins to just 266 total yards, while Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III rushed for just seven yards on five carries while throwing for 132.

It was exactly the kind of effort defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had been waiting for, and one Broncos coach John Fox declared as the unit’s best outing in a season that has been a struggle at times on that side of the ball.

"Without a doubt. ... I think for whatever reason we hadn’t executed as well up to that point," Fox said. "We have some real high-character guys in there and they decided they were going to get it right. That was as right as we’ve been up to this point."
SAN DIEGO -- A weekly examination of the Chargers' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 23 | Last Week: 12 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Idle for Week 7, the San Diego Chargers moved up another spot to No. 11 in this week's Power Rankings, the highest the team has been this season.

But the real question is, will San Diego remain in the top 15 in four weeks? The Chargers play three of their next four games on the road, facing opponents with a combined 18-8 record.

The first test in that tough stretch is a road contest at Washington, traveling across the country to the East Coast to face a team that is more talented than a 2-5 record indicates. The Chargers will need a game plan defensively to deal with the running ability of quarterback Robert Griffin III, along with the bruising running style of Alfred Morris.

Plus, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers understands that Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett likes to show a lot of different looks and bring pressure in his 3-4 defensive front.
Already this season, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has faced his younger brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and has made his first visit to Indianapolis as an opposing player.

So, what's another reunion? Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan will stand on a sideline inside Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the first time since the Broncos fired him following the 2008 season. That ended a 14-year tenure as the head coach, which included two Super Bowl wins with current Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway as his quarterback.

The Broncos are 6-1, having suffered their first loss of the season against the Colts in Week 7. The Redskins (2-4) have won two of their last three after an 0-3 start. ESPN.com Redskins reporter John Keim and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold break down this week's game:

Legwold: John, we'll get to the football in a minute. Sunday's game is essentially unprecedented in that a coach is coming back to face the team with which he won a Super Bowl -- one that is now run by his former quarterback. How has Shanahan described all of this? And do you get any kind of sense it means any more to him than any other opponent?

Keim: You probably know as well as anyone how Mike gets in these situations. He's talked about how important Denver is to him because he spent 21 years there, his kids were raised there and he still maintains a home in the area. But Shanahan is as competitive as they come, and there's no doubt his mindset is not on sentimentality, but on proving he should not have been fired in the first place. I remember hearing stories while he was in Denver about him, after winning the Super Bowl, showing reporters their newspaper clippings from early in the season. He coaches with a chip; it's what drives him to be successful.

I think Mike might feel better if the Broncos' offense wasn't playing so well. But have defenses started to attack them differently -- and with more success -- lately?

Legwold: For all of their struggles this season -- and at 0-7, the Jaguars have had plenty -- it was Jacksonville's defense that opened the box a bit, and the Colts took that cue. It was the Jaguars, being such a heavy underdog, who played more aggressively on defense than any of the Broncos' first five opponents. Jacksonville's defensive backs were more physical with the Broncos receivers, and the Colts went to the next level with that. The Colts played in press coverage much of the time on the outside, matched up one-on-one on the Broncos wideouts, kept the two safeties deep and defended the run with seven in the box most of the night. Now, it is a testament to the Broncos offense that "holding" it to 33 points, as the Colts did, was a season low. But it is probably a template others will try to duplicate, at least until the Broncos show they have an answer.

To that end, how do you think the Redskins will attack Manning and the Broncos' wide receivers?

Keim: They have to be aggressive, as they were against Tony Romo and against Jay Cutler, until he got hurt. The Redskins will not blitz every down by any means; they feel good about their ability to pressure with four -- thanks to having linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo and nose tackle Barry Cofield. But they will blitz from the slot and send the safety off the edge once in a while. Anything up the middle will come from the linebackers. What they've also tried to do the last couple weeks against very good receivers is jam them and disrupt timing. They won't do it every down; sometimes they'll do it at the line and sometimes they'll wait a couple yards. They will mix coverages; Washington uses a lot of three-corner, one-safety sets and that enables corner Josh Wilson to sometimes disguise his position. Will he be in the slot? Strong safety? That occasionally buys them time to get free on the rush. They will have a tough time against Wes Welker, as everyone does. But with issues at safety this week -- Brandon Meriweather's suspension and Reed Doughty's concussion -- I think you have to mix it up. If they try to just play coverage against Peyton Manning, he will pick them apart. It's not their style to just sit back.

Are you surprised by what Denver's offense has done? If so, what surprises you?

Legwold: I'm a little more surprised defenses were so passive early in the season in terms of how often they rushed Manning, especially after he simply torched coverage looks week after week. Despite the avalanche of touchdowns through the weeks, team after team chose coverage over pressure, and that's probably understandable, given Manning has routinely eaten up blitz packages like breath mints throughout his career. But until the Jacksonville game, defenses had rushed Manning with four or fewer on 70 percent of his dropbacks. The Jaguars and the Colts were more aggressive and had some success against a battered offensive line. There is a slight chance right tackle Orlando Franklin (knee) could be back this week -- that is the most optimistic scenario with the bye coming next week for the Broncos -- but left tackle Ryan Clady is on injured reserve. Manning has always been quick to adjust, so the Broncos will handle some things better than they did against the Colts. But when they're right and in rhythm, there are defensive coordinators who say the Broncos are as close to unstoppable as the league has to offer because they routinely have four pass catchers in the pattern who can consistently beat one-on-one coverages.

Staying on quarterbacks, the general feeling around the league seems to be that Robert Griffin III has been more himself over the last two games or so. Is that the case, or have the Redskins made some kind of adjustment to help him along?

Keim: No, I think the adjustment has been more about Robert trusting his knee and feeling good enough to let loose again. The Redskins say there were runs for him in the game plan in the first couple weeks, but I think that was just lip service and a desire to try and con other teams. The reality is, Robert wasn't going to be running a lot early in the season. I also think Dallas and Chicago both played in a way that fed into his running: man coverage on the outside and a big focus on stopping running back Alfred Morris. The Bears played as if they had not seen the Dallas tape; there were times when most of the eyes were on Morris, a contrast to last season when they were more on Griffin. So he had to run more. But I really think this is about him feeling better -- not healthier, but just overall better.

Teams blitzed Griffin early in the season because he wasn't quite himself. They also played the zone read with a little more discipline (until last week). How do you think Denver will react to his style of play?

Legwold: It's easy to forget in all that's happened all over the league since, but it was John Fox, former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and current offensive coordinator Adam Gase who dropped the read option on the NFL in the 2011 season. The Broncos had Tim Tebow at quarterback then, and discovered he didn't function well in a traditional pro-style, dropback passing offense. So they unveiled the read option against the Raiders that season, won big and eventually made the playoffs at 8-8. The Broncos have since defended the look well, but Griffin will be the most explosive player they've seen running it. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio is aggressive and the Broncos like to try to force the issue. Champ Bailey won't play because of a foot injury, but Del Rio likes his other corners enough to play plenty of man coverages. They will likely use some sort of spy on Griffin in some down-and-distance situations, and take a measured approach in the pass rush so they don't get too deep into the backfield and give Griffin escape routes.

Staying with the Redskins' offense a little more, on the outside it looked as though there was at least a small rift between Griffin and both Mike and (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan earlier this season. Was that the case, and if so, have they worked through it?

Keim: A rift? Not sure if it went that far (though perhaps this is semantics), because that feels harder to repair. But there was definitely a little tension as the coaches and player sought to get on that so-called same page. From Griffin's perspective, what I've always heard is that it was a matter of him being able to trust his coaches -- that what they told him during the week would play out on Sunday. He needs to trust them. From Mike Shanahan's perspective, he always liked to let Griffin know who was in charge. For Shanahan, this is a business relationship, though Griffin seems to like having something more from those he works with. Shanahan only wants to win a Super Bowl. That's it. Griffin's dad didn't help the cause by talking about how his son shouldn't run the ball; the coaches would point out that Griffin's ability to run is why he was so good last year. He's not an accomplished passer yet and needs his legs to be dynamic. I've always felt this was an evolving relationship and one that could work. But I'll be curious to see what happens with it should the Redskins fail to turn their season around (and it becomes a disaster). Just keep in mind: Griffin is tight with the owner.

How did Von Miller look in his return and is he enough to save the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Miller looked like he had missed six weeks' worth of practice. At times he flashed his ability, but he also looked rusty and sluggish. Time will ultimately tell the tale, but it will be interesting to see if the extra 10-15 pounds he said he added in intense workouts during his suspension affect his play. His game before the suspension (for violating the league's substance-abuse policy) was predicated on speed off the ball, explosiveness and the ability to change direction at full speed, without losing any momentum toward the ball carrier. It was just one game, and publicly Fox keeps saying it will get better, but Miller did not consistently show that same explosiveness this past Sunday. Internally, some with the team are concerned Miller continues to avoid taking any full responsibility for what's happened. He is now in Stage 3 of the league's drug program, which means his next suspension is for at least a year,and he's tested up to 10 times a month for the remainder of his career. Yet he continues to say he doesn't have a substance-abuse problem or need any help in a treatment program. So, some are left to wonder how exactly he got all the way to Stage 3 without having a substance-abuse problem. Put it all together and Miller certainly does have question marks around him. On the field, though, the Broncos need him to be better than he was Sunday night if he's going to have the kind of defensive impact they hope to see.

In the end, with a 2-4 start, is Shanahan in any real trouble with owner Daniel Snyder if they don't rebound to make the postseason or at least be in the hunt down the stretch?

Keim: I haven't heard Shahanan would be in that sort of trouble. I think it would take an outright disaster for anything to happen, and former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, for example, recently said that Shanahan would return regardless (Cooley remains close to many in the organization). But the interesting part will be whether he gets an extension. Shanahan signed a five-year deal and has constantly said that owner Dan Snyder would give him all five; otherwise he would not have come here. But would he want to enter the last year of his contract without an extension? So there is a scenario under which Shanahan does not get fired, but presses Snyder for an extension. At that point, Snyder has a decision to make; if he doesn't grant the extension, then Shanahan could end up resigning. Once again, there could be offseason drama in Washington.

Do you view Denver as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, or do you have concerns that they're built more for the regular season than postseason success?

Legwold: In the end, if they can avoid too many more major injuries, they'll have the offense to put themselves in the title hunt. The question will be, can they find enough defense from a unit that, somewhat surprisingly, hasn't performed nearly to the level of last season? Also, they have to play with a little more edge on offense. Receivers can't always be looking for a flag because there is some contact, and they can't react as poorly as they sometimes do after fumbles or other misfortunes. Just get back up and play. But it is a talented group who generally works hard across the board, and when it plays with purpose and toughness, it can be the best the league has to offer. It's a matter of keeping their eye on the ball, as it were, and closing the deal.

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Almost the moment anyone passes through the front doors of the Denver Broncos' south suburban complex, there are two easy-to-see reminders of Mike Shanahan's tenure with the team.

The two Lombardi trophies stand watch -- bathed in the glow of their own spotlights, along with all of the hardware from the six AFC Championship Game wins in the franchise's history -- over all those who cross the lobby each day. While there aren’t many players left from Shanahan’s time with the team – Chris Kuper, Champ Bailey, Wesley Woodyard, Matt Prater and Ryan Clady – and Alex Gibbs is the only Broncos assistant to have worked with Shanahan, those coveted silver baubles from the two titles remain.

Though Shanahan has a restaurant with his name operating just a few miles from the Broncos’ practice fields, as well as an offseason home nearby, Sunday will mark his first trip back to Denver as another team's head coach. He will stand on the opposite sideline at Sports Authority Field at Mile High and make what he says is just his second trip to the stadium’s visiting locker room.

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan, John Elway
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiMike Shanahan helped John Elway and the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles during his time in Denver.
"You're there for 21 years, got a lot of great friends, great memories, where we raised our family, yeah, I’m looking forward to it," Shanahan said. "It will be enjoyable."

After an 8-8 finish in 2008, when the Broncos lost their last three games to miss the playoffs, including a crushing home loss to the Bills and a 52-21 loss to the Chargers in the season finale, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired the man he once called his "coach for life." The Broncos had won just one playoff game between their Super Bowl triumph to close out the 1998 season and the day Bowlen made the change. Shanahan exited having worked as the head coach or an assistant coach there for more than two decades.

A lot of road has been traveled by Shanahan and the Broncos since. Denver fired another coach (Josh McDaniels) before the 2010 season was over, Bowlen hired John Elway to run the football side of his team, and Elway signed Peyton Manning to throw passes for it. Shanahan, after selecting quarterback Robert Griffin III in the 2012 draft, has seen his team win the division, has dealt with the aftermath of Griffin’s knee injury, and now brings the 2-4 Redskins to Denver in his fourth season with the team.

"That’s part of football, people making decisions and going different directions," Shanahan said. "… At least when I left it I felt like I left it in pretty good shape … even though we didn’t get done the last couple years as much as you’d like to. Five Super Bowls [as head coach and as an assistant], one out of every three years we were in a championship game. You do that seven out of 21 years, you feel like you’re pretty lucky being in the right place at the right time, a lot of people helping you out along the way."

Beyond Bowlen and team president Joe Ellis, the football side of the Broncos’ operation has undergone two extreme makeovers since Shanahan's last day. McDaniels first brought his version of the Patriot Way to Colorado. Then Elway arrived in early 2011 to rebuild from the 4-12 season left behind after McDaniels' second year, replacing him with John Fox.

As far as players, Prater (signed off the Dolphins' practice squad in 2007) and Woodyard (made Shanahan's last Broncos roster in '08 as an undrafted free agent) have seen a lot of change since Shanahan's departure.

"He gave me my first good opportunity in this league," Prater said. "It’s pretty crazy. It’s been a lot of transition with different coaches and different guys coming through. I’m happy to still be here."

"He was the guy who gave me my first chance to play in the NFL, so much respect," Woodyard said. "He was one of those guys who always kept it straight forward, he never B.S.’ed it, he always told you exactly what you wanted to hear from a head coach, he never cut you short, he always kept it real. … I believed in him and he believed in me."

The Broncos will honor Shanahan with a video presentation before Sunday's kickoff, a nod to those trophies in the lobby and all the time Shanahan spent with the team.

He has always said he believes the Broncos were close to being a playoff regular once again -- with Jay Cutler at quarterback -- when he was let go in 2008. Still, he spends a big slice of his offseason time in Denver, played a round of golf with Elway earlier this year during the league meetings and says he still considers Bowlen a friend.

"I had 21 great years with Pat," Shanahan said. "Sometimes when you separate, you look back at all the great times you did have. I’ve always considered Pat one of my best friends."

Asked if thought he would hear cheers or boos from the fans on Sunday, Shanahan said, "Hope they don’t boo me. I don’t think I did anything wrong to get booed. I didn’t leave. They fired me."
Alfred Morris and Darren McFaddenUSA TODAY SportsAlfred Morris and Darren McFadden combined to account for three touchdowns in Week 3.
The Washington Redskins, with their still-healing franchise quarterback seemingly rounding back into shape, are 0-3 for the first time since 2001.

The Oakland Raiders, with their young quarterback in question after a concussion, are coming off a spanking on national television.

Something has to give Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET in Oakland, right?

Washington team reporter John Keim and Raiders team reporter Paul Gutierrez break down this week’s rematch of Super Bowl XVIII.

Paul Gutierrez: John, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the heart of Silver and Blackdom, what with Terrelle Pryor’s first-ever concussion putting his availability to play Sunday in serious doubt. Many critics of running quarterbacks say this is the risk they take -- more hits. From afar, it seems the shine is off Robert Griffin III a bit, and not just because his team is winless and the catcalls have the young QB being called RG0-3. Is he already at a career crossroads, or are we simply seeing a young signal-caller dealing with adversity after a devastating injury?

John Keim: I think it’s a combination of both, Paul. Griffin does not want to rely on his legs as a quarterback, using them only as an occasional weapon. Eventually I think he’ll get there, but he’s not a refined passer just yet. So he still needs to evolve and that’s where the injury comes in: He still needs his legs to be a dynamic player and because of the injury he’s still not quite himself. When he was at Baylor they used a rather elementary passing game. I think he’ll eventually blossom as a passer because he throws the ball well, is smart and works hard. But he’s not at that point yet. Paul, along those lines, the Raiders’ defense does not have good stats against the pass. Is that just because they’ve faced Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning in two of the first three weeks? Or are there real issues here?

Gutierrez: True, the Raiders have faced Luck and Manning in two of their first three games and lost both. Yet stats-wise, Oakland is a middle-of-the-pack defense when it comes to defending the pass, ranking 16th in passing yards allowed per game. And really, at this stage, the Raiders will take it, especially after beginning the season with nine new starters on defense and then losing strong safety Tyvon Branch in Week 2 against Jacksonville on a blitz. What’s really sticking in their craw is the lack of interceptions by the Raiders. As in zero. No picks. None. As Charles Woodson put it after the clinic Manning put on against them on "Monday Night Football," it’s something the secondary especially has to make a concerted effort on this week. So I’d expect the Raiders to take a page out of Denver’s defensive playbook by stacking the box and daring RG III to beat them through the air, rather than on the ground. If that is Oakland’s strategy, might that backfire on the Raiders? Or does the threat of RG III turning the corner on a zone read actually open up the play-action pass?

Keim: That’s definitely the strategy I would take right now. Detroit did it last week, daring Griffin to beat them with his arm and not his legs. Actually, they weren’t afraid of his legs. On one of the zone read runs he made Sunday, Detroit sent both the end and the linebacker at Alfred Morris. They were more worried about him running. It will be this way until Griffin shows that he not only can run, but can hurt a team while doing so. I will say that Griffin was really close to having a good game against Detroit. They were using more play-action -- and a 57-yarder off this play-action was dropped in the end zone. If not for that play and Griffin’s late fumble off a 21-yard scramble, his game would look different. But even if the Raiders use eight in the box the Redskins will try to run. Everything works better when that’s their focus and it sets up what was a lethal play-action game a year ago. What does your gut tell you about who will play quarterback this week for the Raiders? And could you break down where Pryor’s game is, as well as Matt Flynn’s? Obviously their offense would look much different with Pryor than with Flynn.

Gutierrez: The gut, especially with Pryor having yet to be cleared to practice as of Wednesday, tells me that Matt Flynn will get the call. And the locals will not be happy. Pryor has become a huge fan favorite and his skills are as raw as he is electrifying. His pocket presence has improved as has his downfield passing. He simply does not look like the same scattershot guy who was a dark-horse favorite to be the Raiders’ No. 3 quarterback after the draft. He has a presence about him that did not exist a few months ago and he is improving every week in this small sample size. Flynn, meanwhile, is the prototypical West Coast offense quarterback. He's accurate and mobile enough but needs time to let plays develop. He didn't get that in the exhibition season. He had a sore elbow and was under constant assault by the defense and had no time to pass. So the $6.5 million man was beaten out for the second summer in a row after signing a big-money deal. He admitted he was down but said it did not affect his preparation. And with Washington’s defense giving up record-level points thus far, maybe the stars are lining up for the chosen quarterback, or the guy who was supposed to be the franchise quarterback. Then again, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Like Mike Shanahan and the Raiders. Hard to believe it’s been a quarter of a century since he was hired by Al Davis in Los Angeles. Not so hard to think he still harbors resentment toward the Raiders. Has that come up at all during Raiders week? After all, he says Al Davis still owed him money.

Keim: Mike talked about that today and says he had a lot of respect for Al, even though they had their differences. Knowing Mike, he’d still like to stick it to that franchise. He’s a competitive guy who loves beating people or teams that he has a grudge with. He used to save articles when he was with Denver and then bring them out after the Super Bowl to remind the writers that they were wrong. And we all know the story about the time he was on the field before the game and one of his players threw a ball at Al (Steve Young, I believe). This is also the first time Shanahan has played an AFC West team since he left Denver. I’m sure those old feelings are still there; after all, he spent a brief time there and then spent a number of years wanting to beat them twice a year. Those feelings don’t just fade away, especially in a guy like Shanahan. But right now, he has bigger things to worry about than any money Al Davis might have owed him. It seems like the Raiders have been without hope for a while. Where is the hope now -- and what should the Redskins be concerned with?

Gutierrez: The hope, from the fans’ perspective, resides in Pryor’s arm and legs. Realistically, it’s in the Raiders having some semblance of continuity. Consider: Since Jon Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season, the Raiders have had seven coaches in 11-plus seasons in Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson and now Dennis Allen. The message from general manager Reggie McKenzie is that he’s getting closer to putting a product on the field that resembles his vision. The Raiders will have a lot of money to spend in free agency next year but McKenzie said he will not be shopping at Macy’s. Hope and change -- you being in the District should be familiar with such talk, no? -- come with gradual improvement, and continuity being allowed to foster, so to speak.

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Did Pryor prep Raiders' D for RG III?

September, 27, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- While it is not known yet if Terrelle Pryor will set foot on the field Sunday, the concussed Raiders quarterback’s skill set will have already left an impression.

A training camp and early season's worth of practices against Pryor should have Oakland’s defense in some semblance of readiness for Washington’s Robert Griffin III.

“Yeah, it helps,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “Our defenses go in from day one with the responsibilities of what people are calling this 'read-option,' which is option mechanics. It’s option football. So from day one this defense is, How do we take care of this? What are your rules? Well, apply your rules.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Jack DempseyPracticing against their own quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, should have the Raiders prepared to face Robert Griffin III on Sunday.
“So whatever call we’re in, our players need to apply their rules that they’ve done since day one. And it’s always good to see it in camp from a quarterback like T.P., and he did a great job running it and the formations that we used in camp were very hard ones. So that was good for us. It helped.”

Of course, there’s no substitute for the real thing, even if enough shine has come off RG III in these first three games that he’s known derisively in some corners now as RG 0-3.

In his last game, though, Griffin looked closer to the electric rookie he was a year ago. Meanwhile, the Raiders were shredded by Denver’s Peyton Manning.

“It’s a tough defense, they fly to the ball,” Griffin said of Oakland on a conference call with Bay Area reporters this week. “People say that they’re not that good because of what happened with them Monday night against the Broncos, but watching the tape you can see how aggressive they are and how they fly to the football. I am definitely impressed, and I know it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

As will containing Griffin, bad knee or not, be for the Raiders.

“I think once he gets out, he can run,” Tarver said. “He scrambled last week. People are making a big deal out of his sliding, which that one slide he did fumble the ball and he wants [Washington Nationals outfielder] Bryce Harper to help him or whatever, but he can still run straight ahead. Once he gets going, he’s going pretty fast. We need to be correct in our lanes.”

According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders missed 19 tackles Monday night. Griffin would seemingly make Oakland pay a significantly steeper price if the Raiders are unable to wrap him up.

“Again, it’s the same thing -- it starts with ourselves,” Tarver said. “This starts with ourselves. We played two pretty good games where we took care of what we could control. And we played one where we can obviously tackle better and take care of our own stuff better.

“And that’s what we’re going to do.”

QB Watch: Raiders' Terrelle Pryor

September, 25, 2013
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A weekly analysis of the Oakland Raiders' quarterback play.

Pryor
Rewind: With the Raiders falling behind early in Denver and the Broncos stuffing Oakland’s running game, Terrelle Pryor took it upon himself to get the Raiders’ offense kick-started. He did not disappoint. Sure, there were some uneven moments, and he still hangs the occasional receiver out to dry for an oncoming defensive back with bad intentions, but Pryor kept his team’s spirit in it, or as much as you can in an eventual 37-21 loss. And until he suffered a concussion running directly into a blitzing Wesley Woodyard in the fourth quarter, and was replaced for a series by Matt Flynn, Pryor built a career-best QB rating of 112.4 in throwing for 281 yards on 19-of-28 passing, including a 73-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore.

Fast-forward: Not only does Pryor have to go through the concussion protocol to be cleared to play Sunday -- on a short workweek -- he has to be cleared just to practice. Washington, though, has allowed opposing quarterbacks a league-worst passer rating of 120.1. Pryor has to be champing at the bit to keep flinging it after his relative passing success in Denver, no?

Where’s the pressure? A week after getting pressured 12 times in 31 drop-backs by Jacksonville, Pryor was blitzed just five times in 32 drop-backs by Denver, per Pro Football Focus. The thinking being that teams want Pryor in the pocket, rather than running wild. Pryor responded with his most accurate passing day as a pro.

Prediction: If Pryor is cleared medically, the challenge will be to keep him from trying to lock horns and go play for play with Washington’s zone-read specialist under center, Robert Griffin III, even if RG III has lost some shine this season. If it’s Flynn at quarterback for the Raiders, expect a more traditional, albeit, West Coast offense-style playbook.

Double Coverage: Chargers at Eagles

September, 13, 2013
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Michael Vick and Dwight FreeneyUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesSan Diego will have to rotate Dwight Freeney to keep him fresh against Michael Vick and the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA -- The similarities were striking, and then everything was completely different.

New head coaches made their debuts Monday night for the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Diego Chargers. Both teams held big leads early in the third quarter.

Chip Kelly’s Eagles hung on for the win. Mike McCoy’s Chargers lost on a field goal as time expired.

As a result, the mood in Philadelphia is downright giddy as the city prepares for Kelly’s home opener Sunday against the Chargers. The mood in San Diego is a bit different.

Let’s start there.

Phil Sheridan: How are the Chargers handling that dispiriting loss?

Bill Williamson: I think we will see the answer to that question on Sunday. The Chargers are saying the right things and they are going about their business. But this loss was devastating. San Diego led Houston 28-7 in the third quarter before being outscored 24-0 to end the game. San Diego was known for blowing leads in the Norv Turner era. To start the Mike McCoy era the same way has to sting badly. The Chargers looked really good for most of this game. But they have to wallow in the defeat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes them a while to get out of the funk Sunday.

Are the Eagles in any danger of being overconfident?

Sheridan: Actually, I think they are. There has been a lot of talk this week about how they showed the world they’re a legitimate contender now, and that Kelly’s offense can work and so forth. Meanwhile, they have former coach Andy Reid coming back Sept. 19 for a much-hyped game against Kansas City. This is a bit of a trap game, for sure.

Can the Chargers handle Kelly’s no-huddle, high-pressure offense?

Williamson: This is not the easiest team to prepare for after such a painful defeat. One of the reasons the Chargers fell apart Monday night was because the defense wore down. It was a nice, comfortable night in San Diego against a normal-paced offense. What is going to happen on a hot day in Philadelphia against Kelly’s amped offense? San Diego has a decent defense but it lacks depth, especially on the line and in the secondary. Keeping bodies fresh could be an issue.

Did the Eagles wear down themselves on Monday night?

Sheridan: They definitely did. It was very humid at FedEx Field. Center Jason Kelce said he needed to hit the oxygen tank for the first time since college (in fairness, it was only Kelce’s 19th NFL game). Kelly said he would be more careful to rotate players in order to keep them fresh. But this will be an issue all season for the Eagles.

Is Dwight Freeney the player he was in Indianapolis?

Williamson: In short, no. But he’s not bad. Freeney, 33, was very active against Houston. He had a half sack, but he was in the backfield often. The question is, can Freeney handle the Kelly attack on a regular basis? He is more of a rotational player. Keeping him on the field against the Eagles may be difficult. I could see his effectiveness wearing down late in the game if he doesn’t get a chance to rest much.

Is the Eagles' defense as good as it appeared against Robert Griffin III?

Sheridan: That is very much up in the air. RG III was not at all himself in his first live action since blowing out his knee last season in the playoffs. He found a rhythm in the second half, and the Eagles were not able to stop him. Philip Rivers is obviously a very different kind of quarterback. This Eagles secondary could be vulnerable to a smart, accurate passer -- especially if starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher (concussion) isn’t able to play.

By the time the Broncos are done in the preseason, their defense will have at least kicked the tires on how they will play quarterbacks at each end of the spectrum.

In the preseason opener last week, they got a look – albeit a short one – at Colin Kaepernick. And in his 12-play cameo the Broncos saw every bit of the mobility and upper-tier arm strength that helped power the 49ers into the Super Bowl last season.

In his only drive, Kaepernick was 4-of-4 passing for 38 yards to go with a 6-yard run as he led the 49ers on 13-play, 67-yard jaunt through the Broncos defensive starters. In all, the 49ers held the ball for 7 minutes, 7 seconds, closing out the possession with a field goal.

Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III
AP Photo/Evan VucciThe Broncos are likely to play against two of the most mobile young quarterbacks in the NFL in Russell Wilson on Saturday night and Robert Griffin III on Oct. 27.
"That’s a good offense, but we know that’s not really us," said cornerback Champ Bailey. “We have to be better than that and we are. But that’s what the preseason’s for, to work all that out. But that’s a pretty good offense with a special guy at quarterback. Just the kind of thing that shows you what the season’s about."

Saturday night the Broncos get a look at Russell Wilson, another mobile passer with the kind of arm that made him a Colorado Rockies draft pick. Wilson also carries himself with a wise-beyond-his-years composure when things get tight to go with almost unshakable confidence. The Broncos regulars are expected to play most, or all, of the first half Saturday night in Seattle.

And in the third preseason outing, likely the last gameday work the Broncos defensive starters will get in August, the Broncos will see the St. Louis Rams’ Sam Bradford, a largely pocket passer with quality accuracy.

“It’s probably a good thing for us,’’ Bailey said. “It kind of gets everybody in that routine of getting ready for one kind of quarterback, then turn around a week later and get another one. That’s how the season goes.

“The young guys need to see that. In college, it can look the same a lot of times: similar offenses, similar quarterbacks. I think in this league you learn every guy brings a lot to the table or they wouldn’t be here and every guy can hurt you in different ways. If you can't adjust, they'll score points and hurt you.’’

It does mirror -- at least some -- how the Broncos will open the regular season. In the first two weeks they’ll get the Ravens Joe Flacco and the Giants Eli Manning, pocket passers in the more traditional mode, each with at least one Super Bowl win on his resume.

In Week 4, they have the possibility of facing Michael Vick in Chip Kelly’s high-speed attack with the Eagles if Vick indeed wins the quarterback competition. And in Weeks 7 and 8, the Broncos get Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in back-to-back games, the two quarterbacks who top what could the be the remember-when draft class of 2012.

“I think that is true -- you don’t see that big a difference in college with the guys back there,’’ said Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. “It changes how you rush, what you play on the back end, all of those things. We all have to adjust every week, you know, but for the young guys that’s kind of the thing -- you have to be ready to go from one quarterback to a totally different guy in a few days. That’s the way this league goes. If you can’t get prepared every week, they don’t keep you around very long.’’
NFC schedule analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Breakdown: The Oakland Raiders are trying to improve their secondary. The group will be tested immediately. Oakland starts the 2013 season at Indianapolis and faces quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 1. In Week 3, the Raiders travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning in a Monday night game. In Week 4, Oakland faces Robert Griffin III and Washington. In Week 5, the Raiders play Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. So, we will learn a lot about this evolving defense early in the season. If the Raiders can hang on, they could control their own destiny late in the season. They play each AFC West foe in the final three weeks of the season, including a home date against defending AFC West champion Denver in Week 17.

Complaint department: The Raiders do a ton of traveling from Weeks 10-14. In that time span, the Raiders have one home game squeezed between four road games. The Raiders visit the New York Giants on Nov. 10 and go back to visit the Jets on Dec. 8. In that month span they travel more than 16,000 miles. Last season, 21 teams traveled fewer miles than that the entire season. But that’s kind of the way it goes for a team on the West Coast.

Turkey Day time: The Raiders will play at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Raiders lost at Dallas on Thanksgiving in 2009. The Dallas game and the Monday night game at Denver are Oakland’s only nationally televised games.

Raiders Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 8, at Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 15, Jacksonville, 4:25 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 23, at Denver, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Sep. 29, Washington, 4:25 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, San Diego, 4:25 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 13, at Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, Pittsburgh, 4:05 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 3, Philadelphia, 4:05 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 10, at NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, at Houston, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Tennessee, 4:05 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 28, at Dallas, 4:30 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, Kansas City, 4:05 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at San Diego, 4:25 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, Denver, 4:25 PM

Chiefs' timing wrong on Clowney

February, 14, 2013
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Tim Keown, in an ESPN.com piece, makes the case for South Carolina defensive end prodigy Jadeveon Clowney to be eligible for this year’s draft. Problem is, the NFL won’t allow it.

Clowney is not eligible for the draft until next year. I’m sure the Kansas City Chiefs would be all for the league bending the rules this year as Clowney would be the sure No. 1 pick in the draft.

It’s another reminder that this is such a bad year for the Chiefs to have the No.1 pick in the draft.

The Chiefs’ top need is a quarterback. A year after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went 1-2 in the draft, there has yet to be a passer who has shown he is worthy of being the top pick this year.

Kansas City will get a good player with the top pick, just not one who has instant stardom stamped on him. For those questioning that Clowney isn’t a great position fit for the Chiefs because they have outstanding pass-rushers, it doesn’t matter. You take a player like Clowney regardless of need and gleefully watch him take over the league.

The Chiefs will only have that luxury if they have the top pick again next year.
Geno Smith/Matt Barkley/Mike GlennonAP Photo/Cal Sports MediaWest Virginia's Geno Smith, USC's Matt Barkley and NC State's Mike Glennon are the top prospects in what is considered a weak quarterback draft class.
Much has gone wrong for the Kansas City Chiefs this season. Things could get more complicated after the worst season in recent memory for the franchise.

Things are so bad for the Chiefs, even the lone benefit of having a disastrous season may not automatically play in the their favor. It looks like 2013 is going to be a bad draft year to need a quarterback.

Kansas City is 1-8 and on pace to get the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Despite their awful record, the Chiefs do have talent throughout their lineup. Their most glaring hole is at quarterback. Matt Cassel has lost his starting job and Brady Quinn appears to be a stop-gap answer. Ricky Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011 doesn’t appear to be the answer, either. The Chiefs need a quarterback, but they may be a year too late.

The 2012 quarterback draft class may go down as one of the great all-time quarterback draft classes. Five rookies from that draft class are starting and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the first two picks from the draft, appear to be transcendent talents.

What about the 2013 class? Scouts Inc. college scout Steve Muench calls the upcoming quarterback class “terrible.” West Virginia’s Geno Smith, USC’s Matt Barkley and North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon may be the only quarterbacks worthy of a first-round pick, but none of those players appear to be sure things. And if they go in the top three overall picks, they might be massively over-drafted.

In fact, Muench thinks Barkley’s draft stock is ”free-falling” and Muench believes Glennon will have work to do between now and late April to secure a spot in the first round. ESPN draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have both often said this fall that this quarterback class lacks certainty. Much like the 1984 and 2000 quarterback classes that immediately followed terrific quarterback classes, the 2013 class appears to lack the tremendous talent level of the quarterback class of 2012.

“The Chiefs need a quarterback, so they have to look hard there,” Muench said this week. “But it would have been nicer if they were in this position last year. It would have been a lot nicer. ... There’s no Lucks here.”

Are the Chiefs, who definitely appear headed for a top-three pick, out of luck in the 2013 draft?

Not necessarily, but it appears there aren’t any clear-cut easy connections for Kansas City at any spot. There appears to be better value at the top of the draft at other positions. (Remember, this is always subject to change, especially during the time of the NFL combine in late February.)

Muench said the top five players on Scouts Inc.’s list include Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Notre Dame inside linebacker Manti Te’o, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.

None of those positions are major need areas for the Chiefs, certainly not in the same scope as quarterback. Would the Chiefs really take a guard at No. 1? I Don’t think so, either.

Still, Muench thinks, as of right now, Lotulelei and Jones will be worth the No. 1 pick and the Chiefs should consider taking either players if they get the top pick. He thinks both players will be superstars and instant impact players.

The issue is neither player is a great fit for the Chiefs. Lotulelei may be the better fit for the Chiefs because of his value. Muench thinks he’d be a terrific defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. Kansas City, which has drafted three defensive linemen in the top 11 of the draft since 2008, could put Lotulelei at an end position to pair with 2012 first-round pick Dontari Poe at nose tackle.

“That could work,” Muench said.

Jones, whom Muench describes as an “absolute terror," is a dynamic 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker, but the Chiefs are stacked there with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

Muench does think if the Chiefs end up with the top pick, they should seriously consider taking Smith over Lotulelei and Jones. Yes, the two defensive stars appear to be more of sure things, but the quarterback factor is huge. Quarterbacks have more value and they often get drafted higher than players at other positions because of their chances of becoming stars.

Muench thinks Smith is a middle-of-the-first-round talent. Yet, he does think he can become a franchise player.

“He is not near Luck or Griffin,” Muench said of Smith. “But I do like him and he can hit big. He needs to get better under pressure, but he is excellent in the pocket and he has a lot of skills. I think he will be taken very highly because of the position and the potential, and I think the Chiefs very much should consider him if they get the No.1 pick. There is no sure thing, but he could hit big. What if he becomes a star and the Chiefs don’t take him? They’d still have a hole at the most important position on the field and they would blow a chance at a star. That’s hard to recover from.”

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think the Chiefs’ dilemma is big at all. He doesn’t care about the risk or the chance to get a better overall player elsewhere. Here are his thoughts on the subject: “It has to be a quarterback for Kansas City.”

It may be a year late, but the Chiefs’ draft thoughts may have to start at quarterback, regardless if it’s not a golden year at the position.

 

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