Tag Archives: jack del rio

What Tampa Bay is Getting with Dirk Koetter, If He’s Named The Buccaneers Head Coach

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team to the play fast and loose with their head coaching position, but the Glazers have certainly made some eyebrow-raising moves since winning the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden thirteen years ago. It began with Gruden, currently ESPN’s color analyst for Monday Night Football, being shown the door after consecutive 9-7 seasons, and there’s been a folly of errors with the Bucs top job, including the questionable dismissal of Lovie Smith earlier this week.

The team’s improvement to 6-10, from 2-14 in Smith’s first season, apparently wasn’t enough, so the core of Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans will get their marching orders from a new leader when mini-camps and OTAs begin later this year. We’ve heard rumors from the ridiculous to the absolutely reasonable, so you can rule out Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but there are other candidates not named Dirk Koetter interviewing for a job they like won’t be offered when it’s all said and done.

Say what you will about the Rooney Rule, I personally understand the spirit behind it, but I don’t feel the mandate for a minority candidate interview fulfills its purpose, nor do I feel its necessary, given how much we’ve evolved since Art Shell was hired in 19891Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928. It’s difficult to put a name to this, and I don’t care to insult the man, but with Koetter being the in-house favorite, we’re going to label Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as the Rooney Rule candidate.

It isn’t fair to Goodwin, available to interview during the Cardinals’ bye week, but all parties involved can get something out of this. Best case scenario, speaking to supporters of the Rooney Rule, Goodwin blows them away, and gets the job. Under this scenario, Koetter walks, which is something of a wash, because Goodwin will certainly want to be the architect of the offense, in his first steps away from the shadow of Bruce Arians, aka “The Quarterback Whisperer”. Bottom line: This is an interview Goodwin deserves, but many will see it as a farce, and only the ones in the room will ever really have a feel for how legitimate the process is.

Until Cam Newton started to make Riverboat Ron Rivera’s offense tick, the strength of Carolina’s game is what you see when the Panthers don’t have the football. Sean McDermott has been coordinating that defensive unit since 2011. Give him credit for knowing how to utilize Luke Kuchely, and how to disrupt in the trenches, his defense is the reason they sit on the 1-line in the NFC as we enter the playoffs. He’s a candidate, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the 7th-worst scoring defense in the game, and that was in Year 2 of Lovie Smith.2This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.

I could get hit by a bus, but I’ll probably be home for dinner.

Barring a very genuine surprise, the former Arizona State head coach will be promoted by the Tampa Bay brass from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach very soon, but they have to complete the process. Honestly, what does it hurt to talk to viable candidates, even when you’re 99% of the direction you want to go? In Jacksonville, Atlanta, and now Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has received a lot of praise for the way he calls an offensive game for whoever was featured on the Jaguars offense from 2007 to 2011, for Matt Ryan, and for the very talented Jameis Winston.

One area of concern remains; there’s a big difference between being the Skipper and the First mate. The Glazer family, Jason Licht, and everyone involved with this rumored decision to put Koetter in charge of the show are willing to make a leap that no has dared to attempt since failing to elevate the Arizona State over six seasons3Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.. Koetter put a few players in the NFL, most notably Terrell Suggs and Zach Miller, but the Sun Devil football program never could conquer the Pac-10 on his watch.

He may be another Norv Turner, a guy who is brilliant until he gets the big whistle and a challenge flag, but I have to commend the Buccaneers commitment to stability for Jameis Winston, even if you might want to denigrate them for pink-slipping Smith after two seasons, and just one with the services of Winston. After all, you usually hear about the head coach/quarterback tandem more than the chemistry between the signal caller and the OC.

You might hear conversations about Brady and Weis, McDaniels, and O’Brien, but none of them roll off the tongue like Brady & Belichick or Belichick & Brady do. Things tend to change over time. Maybe under the guidance of Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, he understands the head coaching role better now, as well as the NFL game. There’s a precedent for that with the aforementioned Belichick. He didn’t get it done with the Browns, spent more time with Bill Parcells, and quickly took the Patriots to the promised land with his first second chance. I might believe Josh McDaniels was on the verge of that, but he’s got some work to do if he ends up in Nashville.

If any of these jobs were easy or “good”, there probably wouldn’t be vacancies, so they’re all difficult undertakings. Keep in mind, there are no exclusive rights to Koetter’s service, despite the Bucs being his current employer. He’s talking to San Francisco and perhaps Philadelphia, but probably isn’t the favorite to land either of those jobs. The move makes sense, and honestly, Goodwin and McDermott are logical targets, but potentially giving Jameis Winston the same voice for the foreseeable future carries a value that can’t be matched. Sun Devil fans won’t believe they’re watching the same guy when they see the pewter, orange, and red on their screen on Sundays.

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1. Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928.
2. This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.
3. Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.

Packers Heating Up December

Now that is what a December Packer victory in Lambeau Field should feel like. The only thing missing was cold weather, and I don’t pretend to miss that much at all. At a critical time of the season with many goals hanging in the balance and fan confidence wavering, the Green Bay Packers thoroughly dispatched the Dallas Cowboys 28-7 last Sunday to pull ahead by 1 game for the Central Division lead, after Arizona had beaten Minnesota 23-20 to kickoff week 14 of the NFL season in a good game a few days earlier.

Yes, the Packers were supposed to win this game. but not many fans were letting themselves feel too confident since nothing else has come easy this year. Now sitting at 9-4 and a step closer to a division title, home playoff game and maybe even a first round bye, Packers fans can now breathe a sigh of relief for, well, a few days at least. It didn’t look as if it would be so easy through the first half and even into the 3rd quarter. I did find myself getting a bit nervous they hadn’t pulled away yet, anxiously dreading a big momentum changing play by Jerry’s ‘boys to make me all the more uneasy, but it never came. Green Bay pulled away from and beat an inferior team. They did what they were supposed to do, and it was quite the welcome feeling. Better luck next time Jerry.

On the offensive side of the ball, much of the talk was about Mike McCarthy’s decision to take back play calling. He had kept it a secret all week in an attempt to make sure Dallas couldn’t use the information to prepare better. I think a little bit much is being made of this. It’s not like McCarthy has had nothing to do with the offense up until now. He heard every play former play caller Tom Clements was sending in through his headset, and you’d have to imagine he had veto rights on anything he felt wasn’t a good call. That being said, play calling in the NFL can be somewhat of an art, and coach McCarthy has been considered one of the best in the game. Having him back calling the plays and getting in a rhythm for the playoffs is only a good thing. I only question the original decision to give up those duties in the first place. Something could also be said for how often it seemed the Packers offense was getting to the line earlier with more time for Aaron Rodgers to digest the defensive alignment and audible if necessary. He seemed to change the plays less at the line this game, possibly an effect of better calls being made in the first place.

After reading my column last week (presumably) and finding himself extra motivated, Eddie Lacy ran as hard as I’ve seen him run all season. He was a man possessed, running through attempted tackles and grinding Cowboy defenders into paste on his path to his best game of the year with season highs in carries (24) and yards (124). He and James Starks (11 carries for 71 yards) put the game away with over 100 yards rushing and 2 scores combined in the 4th quarter. For the whole game, including 27 yards of Rodgers scrambles, the Packers rushed for 230 yards, the most they have had in a game in 11 years. As Packers guard Josh Sitton alluded to, when they are running the ball like that, the entire offense feeds off of it, and it can grind down a defense through the course of a game. Running the ball successfully on early downs also helped them to convert 7 of 14 3rd down opportunities, extending drives and keeping a good but tiring Dallas defense on the field. The game ball definitely goes to the Packer run game and all involved, from Lacy and Starks to McCarthy’s play calling and the blocking from the offensive line and receivers.

The fact I’m into the third paragraph talking about offense and I’ve yet to complain about the struggling passing game serves to underscore the dominance they displayed on the ground. The passing game was not as big of a focus in this game, and was a bit underwhelming as a result. Aaron Rodgers completed 22 of 35 attempts for 218 yards and 2 scores, which was more than enough with the defense and running game dominating. Most importantly Rodgers protected the ball, as we’ve all come to expect, and McCarthy made a concerted effort to get an underutilized weapon in Randall Cobb more involved. Cobb was used more extensively out of the backfield and even lined up on the outside from his typical slot designation a few times. With 11 total touches for 90 yards, he threatened the formidable Cowboy defense in diverse ways, proving his worth in a game where he was involved as much as any this season.

It may be the somewhat overlooked defense that deserves the most praise. Granted, the Cowboys are missing some key weapons and haven’t been stellar on offense without Romo this year, but the Green Bay defense held them to 7 points on only 270 yards of offense, going 1 for 11 on 3rd downs and 0 for 2 on 4th down attempts. The Cowboys did not have a drive longer than 6 plays the entire game.

The Pack did give up some long runs to McFadden, 2 of which came on Dallas’ only touchdown drive of 80 yards that kept the ‘boys within reach in the 3rd Quarter. Besides that it was a stellar performance. Dez Bryant was essentially shut out, catching one pass for 9 yards. Sam Shields had a pick intended for Dez in the end zone and essentially eliminated him from the Cowboys game plan before leaving with a concussion in the 2nd quarter. Impressive rookie Damarious Randall took over without missing a beat and kept the clamps on Bryant for the rest of the game. While much attention has been focused on the previous offensive woes, the Green Bay defense has quietly surged as of late, now all the way up to 6th in the league in points allowed.

If you have a passing game struggling some with various deployments of 1-high safety blitz packages, having a dominant and improving run game and defense is certainly a good way to make it through that stretch. Next up this week are the Oakland Raiders (6-7), 3rd place in the AFC West. They are a better team than Dallas, and this one will be on the west coast. New coach Jack Del Rio has them playing a physical and aggressive brand of football with a very solid offense and somewhat underrated but streaky defense. I’m excited to see how the Packers respond with the bar being raised this week prior to yet another level the following week at Arizona.

Latavius Murray is a talented running back but for whatever reason the Oakland ground game has struggled the last 5 weeks, with Murray averaging under 50 yards per game and less than 3 yards per carry in that span. Derek Carr is a rapidly ascending 2nd year signal caller for the Raiders. Equipped with a very quick release and excellent arm strength, he also has the speed to occasionally beat you with his legs. He compares in many ways to a young Aaron Rodgers as far as general skill sets, especially with that quick release. At Carr’s disposal are 2 very good weapons on the outside in veteran Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper. Crabtree is a savvy and sure-handed wideout who has rejuvenated his career after a couple subpar seasons. Cooper has a lot of speed and is extremely polished for a rookie. He is on pace to be the first 1,000 yard receiver since Randy Moss for the Raiders and he has 6 of the longest 12 receptions for his team this year.

The solid and improving Packers defense will have it’s hands full in what I believe will be a stiff test. Even more the case now that word has come down that defensive back Sam Shields will not play, causing the packers young secondary to be tested on the road this week. Any help they can get from the front 7 pressuring Carr to make decisions faster than he wants to will be a huge help. Carr has shown less of an ability to deal with pressure up the middle, so look for the Packer defense to run some stunts to get rushers in his face quickly.

On defense Oakland deploys both 3-4 and 4-3 Under concepts in an aggressive scheme that makes big plays but can also give some big plays up. Strong side linebacker Khalil Mack is a terror. He leads the league in sacks (14) and has an excellent balance of power, speed and discipline. 5 (!) of those sacks were in an upset of Oakland’s divisional leading foe Denver last week. He will definitely be a focus of Green Bay’s protection schemes. Defensive end Mario Edwards is having a great rookie season. He sometimes moves inside on passing downs, and can cause some havoc rushing the passer from there. The secondary seems to be a weak spot being held together by all-time great and future potential first ballot Hall of Famer Charles Woodson.

Packers fans won’t need much of an introduction in this case, as Woodson spent the best and most productive 7 years of his long career in Green Bay. Let go by Green Bay with plenty more left in the tank, there’s no doubt the competitive veteran will have a little extra motivation when playing his old team this week. He as much as said so in interviews. I would expect nothing less in this case. Though he may go into the Hall of Fame as a Packer one day, right now he has business to take care of. Currently dealing with a shoulder injury, I still expect Woodson to be looking to make some big plays in this one. He has 5 interceptions this year so far, the most he’s had since donning green and gold. and he will be looking to get one off Aaron Rodgers in this one.

The Green Bay offense will have it’s opportunities to make some big plays this week, and it will come down to them taking advantage of those when they present themselves. I expect them to commit some extra resources to protecting Aaron Rodgers from the Oakland pass rush when they attempt to move it through the air. The best way to soften up a pass rush is with a powerful running game and cleverly designed and carefully called screen package. With the run game coming on strong and McCarthy’s advanced screen game I expect Green Bay to be able to move the ball on Oakland’s defense. Making sure they finish scoring drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be key along with taking care of the ball and making sure Oakland’s pass rush doesn’t force Rodgers into making any uncharacteristic mistakes that Woodson and his teammates will be waiting to capitalize on.

This test on the road is a big one for the Pack. If they take care of business as they should, it will setup a great matchup in Arizona next week. Root for the Eagles to take down the Cardinals in Philly on Sunday. If Arizona loses 2 of the last 3 and the Packers win out, they can steal the elusive first round bye out from underneath the Cardinals. If the Packers don’t dispose of the Raiders this Sunday afternoon though, it won’t matter. Though the Pack is one game up for the division with the tiebreaker on Minnesota, just in case, you can also root for the Bears to beat the Vikings in Minnesota this weekend. I enjoy it when they play each other as it almost guarantees one of them will lose. I’d be fine with a tie as well.

Packer tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari have the biggest matchup of the day on the offensive side in keeping Mack, Edwards and the rest of the Raiders pass rush in check. They’ll certainly have help from tight ends and running backs in protection. On defense the secondary will have to slow down Oakland’s talented receivers and get pressure on Carr. I’d bet Woodson gets one pick off Rodgers in this one, but I think the Packers go out west and continue to heat up in December, beating a good and underrated Oakland team in their house 28-23.

Sometimes in sports it’s difficult to just do what you’re supposed to do and beat the teams you should beat. Green Bay began showing some real positive signs in last week’s win over Dallas. Continuing that momentum with a win in Oakland and setting up a monumental NFC showdown with Arizona is all this Packer fan could hope to get for Christmas. Hopefully all my fellow cheeseheads are on Santa’s nice list this year.

Which Direction Should USC Go?

Getting past any distraction is the key for any college football program. But when the football team loses its coach in the middle of the season it creates a scenario that nobody surrounding the program wants to deal with.

Welcome to the current world of USC Trojan football. By now we all know what has happened to the premier college football program on the West Coast. Steve Sarkisian was put on a leave of absence and less than 24 hours later Sarkisian was terminated as the Trojan Head Coach. Clay Helton has been named the interim coach for the remainder of the season, but after that, what should the Trojans do with their search for a new head football coach?

First of all, we have to realize that Pat Haden isn’t going anywhere. Personally, I think he needs to go, but realistically he won’t be fired anytime soon. The fans, alumni, and the big money boosters who want him gone are going to have to wait on that possibility because the powers that be at USC, especially the USC President Max Nikias, gave Haden the vote of confidence.

“I look forward to working with Pat Haden as our USC AD for many years to come.” USC President Max Nikias said in statement on Tuesday.

Now, onto the bigger issue of a head coach for the Trojans. Where do they go? Does Clay Helton even have a chance at getting the head coach job? Do they go outside the “Peter Carroll” tree?
These are all questions that are being asked since the firing of Steve Sarkisian on Monday. It is my belief that the USC brass need to go outside anybody that is connected with Peter Carroll and anybody that is connected with the university. With that being said, Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, two ex-Trojan players, should not be on the list, but in reality, they are not leaving the NFL to come back to college anyway. I don’t believe they would have any interest in going back out on the recruiting trail to get players to come to USC.

The name that was brought up almost immediately was Chip Kelly, former head coach at Oregon and current Philadelphia Eagle Head Coach. Chip is not going anywhere, he’s not leaving the pros right now. He just signed a $35 million dollar contract a couple of years ago and leaving this soon after coming from the college ranks would be an admission of failure. I don’t think he’s ready to leave Philly at this point. The other aspect of hiring a guy like Chip Kelly is that he is not a “shaking hands, kissing babies” type of coach. He wasn’t well liked by alumni and boosters at Oregon because he wasn’t kissing their backsides in terms of giving them the time of day, so I don’t think that would play well with the big money people at USC.

What about Brian Kelly, Head Coach of Notre Dame? Kelly’s coaching style will be on display for USC this upcoming weekend because the Trojans are playing Notre Dame on Saturday. Would he leave the Irish and go coach for one of their long-time rivals? He might. He has said that coaching at Notre Dame is something you can do for 15 years. He’s in year six with the Fighting Irish and if the Trojans bring an open checkbook I could see him listening at the very least. The other part of what might make Brian Kelly attractive to USC is that he has a classy persona and that persona is rooted in coaching discipline to his players. He’s a possibility for the Men of Troy.

Somebody mentioned Jim Mora, Head Coach at UCLA. How crazy would that be? Leave the Trojans’ crosstown rival to go coach USC? I don’t see that happening at all. Mora has a great thing going with the Bruins, is raising money like a madman for the program, and everybody associated with the program LOVES him. UCLA has plenty of money to keep Mora away from anybody and they would not let a Mora move to USC happen. To me, Mora is off the list.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah Utes Head Coach is getting some mention as well. What he has done at Utah the last few years and having his team currently ranked in the top five in the polls will catch the eyes of the hiring committee at USC for sure. He’s also in the same conference and the same division as USC, so I would think people around the program are talking about him already. It’s no secret that Whittingham has had some difference of opinion with administration at Utah in the last couple of years, so he just might pick up the phone if the Trojans call. Some people might ask “Why would he leave?” People leave jobs because it’s just time for a new challenge. Is Utah going to be Alabama or Ohio State? Probably not, so a new challenge or a change of scenery might be something Kyle Whittingham wants in his life at this time. Imagine what he could do with the talent the USC brings in on a yearly basis? Just let that thought sink in.

Finally, what about Kevin Sumlin? Currently, he is overseeing the program at Texas A&M and has done some great things with facility upgrades and raising money at College Station. Before Sarkisian was hired, Sumlin was contacted by USC to be their coach two years ago. Nothing got done between the two parties back then, but could it get done between Kevin Sumlin and USC a second time around? I think it could. With the amount of money that USC could bring to the table and the talent they can bring to the field, why wouldn’t Sumlin take the call? I think Kevin Sumlin should be near the top of the list, if not at the top of the Trojan wish list. He’s young, innovative, runs a spread type of offense, he can recruit, has shown that he can handle the media pretty well. And to survive in Los Angeles you need to be media savvy.

The problem at USC is not lack of talent, that’ll never be an issue for them. The Trojans can go anywhere in the country and get the type of talent they are accustomed to getting. The issue at USC is there administrative leadership. They have allowed things to get out of control with their decision making.

“USC has four and five star athletes, do they have four and five star leaders?” Former Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti questioned the other day on ESPN.

That’ll be the question that any prospective coach will have going forward with USC. If they want to get somebody like Kevin Sumlin, Brian Kelly, or Kyle Whittingham to come to USC then they have to show that they have their act together. Right now it’s the leadership at the top that is not together, so until that happens the Trojan program will suffer.

Zone-Blocking Is Back With Kubiak Back in Denver

Peyton Manning doesn’t need to be told, I’m sure. No one wins without help. It’s a fact of life in the National Football League. Few, if any, team in the NFL can win without a quarterback, but no one will ever accuse a team that employs #18 of suffering that dilemma. Manning doesn’t need an all-star ensemble of receivers, though he always seems to be blessed with a corps that draws envy from around the league. Simply put, the guy needs a solid enough running game to keep defenses honest with his arm, which clearly is not what it used to be.

In John Fox, he had a coach that knew how to play to his strengths; in Denver’s case, it was the defense, before and after Manning signed with the Broncos via free agency, after he was released by the Colts in 2012. Casual fans tend to make the mistake of branding a guy as offensive or defensive, based on how one climbs the coaching ladder to the rank of head coach, but the best head coaches are simply coaches of the game, regardless of how long they spend as specialists on one side of the ball or the other. Fox left it to his lieutenants, Mike McCoy and then Adam Gase to engineer an offense to its own strengths, with varied levels of success. For failing to return to the Super Bowl or even the conference championship, Fox was shown the door, and Gase wasn’t far behind.

Enter Gary Kubiak, stage left. Kubiak is a Denver Bronco, through and through. From being drafted by the team late in the 1983 Draft and being John Elway’s understudy until he retired from playing in 1991, to returning to Mike Shanahan’s staff as an assistant in 1995 after winning a Super Bowl as Steve Young’s quarterbacks coach in San Francisco, to returning to the Rockies for the job that always felt like his destiny, no one will ever question Kubiak’s familiarity with the organization. Two years before Shanahan and the Broncos parted ways, Kubiak was named the head coach in Houston, where we improved the team overall, right up until a brutal 2-11 start cost him his job before the end of the 2013 season. A lot of things that worked in Denver ended up not translating to other organizations, but the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) the Broncos ran worked with an undeniable level of success for Kubiak and the Texans.

Even with the stable of weapons that Manning has to catch the ball, their success tends to hang in the balance, based on whether or not they can run the football well. With few exceptions, you need that type of balance to succeed in the NFL. In CJ Anderson, many believe the Broncos have their man to pound the rock and open things up downfield for the likes of Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Wes Welker. Manning isn’t foreign to the idea of help, nor was his boss in the front office, John Elway, before him. There’s a difference between a quarterback making you very good and quarterback with the right complimentary pieces making you great. For Elway, it was the difference between handing the ball to Sammy Winder for 700 yard seasons and Terrell Davis for 1500+ yard seasons. It was the difference between being AFC Champs and the World Champions.

Now, Manning got into his own way a lot in Indianapolis. So, let’s not smear Edgerrin James in pointing out that Joseph Addai’s efforts as a rookie in 2006 and contribution to the offense in the subsequent post-season played a definite role in getting Manning his only Super Bowl ring to date. James was a fierce competitor and a certain upgrade from the likes of James Mungro and Dominic Rhodes, but he had the unfortunate distinction of watching his former teams play in Super Bowls. Addai split carries with Donald Brown, but still had the lion’s share of the touches on offense, catching 40 passes for 325 yards, to accompany his 1000 yards or so on the ground. In the years after the Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, the support from the running game wasn’t there, and it showed the most in Manning’s final game as a Colt, a 2011 Wildcard Game loss to the Jets.

Rex Ryan’s defense continually forced Manning to check down to the run, and Addai and Rhodes weren’t up to the task. They combined for 93 yards on 17 carries in a game where Manning completed just 18 passes on 26 attempts. It all equaled a 1-point defeat, and with Manning’s neck issues, he never suited up for Indianapolis again. In three seasons in Denver, he’s had a caravan of running backs behind him, most notably Knowshon Moreno, who left for Miami via free agency before the 2014 season. When Moreno was on, 18 didn’t have to throw for 400 yards to keep his offense on the field and his team in the game. When he wasn’t, the whole thing went plop, and it was most notable in a 43-8 Super Bowl loss to Seattle.

Now, even with a lot of the pieces returning to the 53, Denver has a new identity. They have the personnel to do it, but the Kubiak factor cannot be overlooked here. It took him a few years to get everyone to buy-in in Houston, but after inheriting Ron Dayne and Wali Lundy for the first two seasons, he made Steve Slaton a thousand-yard back and ultimately made Arian Foster a household name. After some tough breaks in Texas, Kubiak needed to take a stepping-stone job as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, and 1200 Justin Forsett rushing yards later, he was on Pat Bowlen’s short list to replace Fox in Denver. His first task in Denver, now that Manning confirmed his intention to return, must be to get a new group to buy into zone-blocking.

The sample size is small with Anderson, but it came during gut-check time. As the weather got worse, Anderson got more carries and led the team in most rushing categories, seeing his success play out over the second half of the season. We’ve seen this work with Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, and Reuben Droughns in Denver before, and CJ Anderson is more than just a warm body. He’s a legitimate guy to watch, and Gase even ran some zone-blocking in 2014, so the idea isn’t completely new to anyone involved.

Behind Anderson, the Broncos have options. Montee Ball was expected to back-fill the production lost in Moreno’s departure, but injuries and fumbles have factored into him being a disappointment. Speaking of hit-and-miss, Ronnie Hillman remains an enigma. Hillman has had his flashes of brilliance, but it’s tough to judge who exactly he is, since he missed time to injury in 2014. Still, the former regime liked him, and with good reason. More Than A Fan’s own Dan Armelli explains on Denver’s Fansided page, Predominately Orange.

The Broncos will also be returning Ronnie Hillman, who gained the necessary weight in effort to become more durable. In a cruel twist of fate, he ended up missing the same amount of games in 2014 as he did in his first two years combined (8).

Even still, Hillman showed great improvement and proved to be an asset on this team. He can play on any down (though probably not every down), averaging a career high 4.1 yards per carry. Most of his 434 yards on the season came at a point where the Broncos offensive line could not run block worth a lick. Hillman was the perfect back at the time with his ability to bounce runs outside if and when it got messy between the tackles.

He was also able to earn the coaches’ trust on 3rd downs and passing situations. According to Pro Football Reference, Hillman improved on his pass block efficiency (which calculates how efficient a RB is when it comes to limiting sacks, hits, and hurries) from 88.5% in 2013 to 93.8% in 2014. Moreover, Hillman was targeted more in 2014 (34) than in his first two years combined (12, 14).

In another reboot of sorts for the Broncos, former head coach Wade Phillips will return to the charge of Kubiak, after serving as his defensive coordinator for three years in Houston, serving in the same role with Denver. If you’ve experienced the trauma of Phillips being your head coach, try to understand that he’s out of the way enough calling the defense, and he does that well. Jack Del Rio is a big loss for the players, but Phillips will have the unit ready to go without missing a beat once September rolls around. Overall, you expect some improvement from the 2015 Broncos.

They might even be able to afford some of the anticipated regression from Peyton Manning, and still be a better team, thanks to what Kubiak and the ZBS bring to the table.

Broncos Coach's Stock Falling Off a Cliff

Remember when Denver Broncos Head Coach John Fox was a certified genius? And also when Broncos Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy was part of an untouchable triumvirate that included himself, Fox and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. Seems like only yesterday…

Actually, it was last Saturday morning.

Maybe I’m just full of sour grapes after getting my playoff picks decimated this weekend, and maybe a 38-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens can’t be laid all on the Broncos coaching staff. Maybe lots of different things, but I sure expected more from a coaching staff sporting Peyton Manning and the 4th ranked scoring defense in the NFL.

When Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco heaved a 70-yard bomb to Jacoby Jones, was it Del Rio’s fault as the defensive coordinator that defensive back Tony Carter let Jacoby Jones run right by him? Or that safety Rahim Moore took a practice squad angle on the pass and looked like I do when I’m trying to jump up and hit the stop button on the smoke alarm in the hallway when I burn dinner as he flailed at the ball fluttering over his head?

No, those things weren’t Del Rio’s fault. Giving up three other offensive touchdowns and the game winning field goal to Joe Flacco and the Ravens is a poor showing from a defensive squad that knows better, and frankly should have been coached better. (Three other touchdowns because I can’t count the Corey Graham interception return for a touchdown against the defense. Even though they probably deserve the judgement)

I might need a few more minutes to figure out how that defense was so badly outplayed by an offense that had scored 20 or less points in seven games this season. While I’m trying to figure out what happened, I’ll leave a quote here that John Fox gave at the Broncos season ending press conference about calling for Peyton Manning to kneel at the end of regulation with 31 seconds to play.

“I’d do it again 10 times if it presented itself in that situation.”

“You watch a (70)-yard bomb go over your head, there’s a certain amount of shock value,” Fox said. “A little bit like a prize fighter who gets a right cross on the chin at the end of a round, you’re looking to get out of the round.”

What? Really? I do understand being a little skittish there, but PEYTON MANNING.

It isn’t that I think Manning is some sort of god among men, but I’d say that he’s at least as good as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. You know Matt Ryan, the guy that started a drive at his own 28, threw two passes for 41 yards and set up a game winning field goal by Matt Bryant to beat the Seattle Seahawks. But, I suppose that John Fox didn’t want to take a chance with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. It’s only a playoff game, after all.

That leaves Mike McCoy, the super hot head coaching candidate. His offense scored 35 points and has been fantastic all year. McCoy’s stock didn’t drop at all, and if he wants it to stay that way, he needs to take the San Diego Chargers head coaching job that he’s been interviewing for.