The Spotter’s View: Identity Crisis

Will Manning solve the Broncos Identity Crisis tonight?

This week’s edition of Monday Night Football features two teams trying to find out what they’re identity is going to be for the remainder of the 2012 season. The biggest question is this: Are the Broncos and Chargers legitimate contenders? Well, they both have All-Pro franchise QBs at the helm so there’s hope. Both teams also have the fortune of playing in a weak AFC West and in a down year for the AFC altogether…so there’s opportunity as well. But in order to turn that “hope” into reality and capitalize on the “opportunity” before them, these two teams need to solve their respective identity crisis’. Here’s The Spotter’s View:

The first thing that jumps off the page when breaking down these two teams is the number of first-year free agents found on these two rosters. The numbers are staggering and it’s part of the reason why Denver and San Diego are having issues playing with consistency. Take a look…

Broncos First Year Free Agents

  • QB Peyton Manning – Starter
  • TE Joel Dreesen – Starter
  • C Dan Koppen – Starter
  • SS Mike Adams – Starter
  • CB Tracy Porter – Starter
  • LB Keith Brooking – Starter
  • NT Justin Baanan – Starter
  • WR Brandon Stokley – Contributor/Starter in 3 WR sets
  • FS Jim Leonhard – Contributor
  • TE Jacob Tamme – Contributor

That’s seven full-time players and three big contributors for the Broncos that have been playing together for only five games total (fewer in some cases). SEVEN out of 22 starters are brand new, free agents. This obviously can be troublesome for any team but it presents an even bigger hurdle for the Broncos due to Manning’s intricate offensive schemes.

Remember, Manning dealt with very little roster turnover during his tenure in Indianapolis. He had the same receivers nearly every year. The same TE. The o-line was never an issue. And when they did make a switch – say from Edgerrin James to Joseph Addai – the replacement played for as long a time as the guy he replaced. Same players, same system, continuity…they all equaled success for Manning.

Now he’s faced with change but it isn’t just a free-agent quarterback joining a new team. It’s a free-agent quarterback joining a new team that also features seven new free-agent starters and three big contributors. That may explain why Denver has adopted a rather bizarre identity through the first five weeks of the season.

It seems as though the Broncos M.O. so far has been to fall behind early, look comatose for three quarters, stage a furious fourth quarter comeback and ultimately lose. In all three of their loses they have trailed by 20 or more points in the third quarter. In the game’s final stanza: they are outscoring their opponents 58 to 6.

The issues are widespread and can explain part of this bizarre identity. The Broncos have no running game to speak of. They have been awful with regards to fumbling the football – particularly in the red zone. And they’ve had a very difficult time protecting Manning when he drops back to pass. He’s already been sacked 10 times this season – as many as his entire 2009 campaign with the Colts. All of this speaks to a lack of continuity and familiarity.  An identity crisis – if you will.

In the :40 second window that Manning is making his calls at the line of scrimmage – calls that include pass protection responsibilities, route alterations, changes from run to pass or from left to right…sometimes in a loud environment on the road and always against an opponent whose pre-snap goal is to confuse you….well, you can easily see why having so many new faces in Manning’s huddle can be problematic.

Chargers First Year Free Agents

  • WR Eddie Royal – Starter
  • WR Robert Meachum – Starter
  • SS Atari Bigby – Starter
  • FB Le’Ron McClain – Starter
  • DT Aubrayo Franklin – Starter
  • ILB Demorrio Williams – Contributor

The Chargers are also dealing with change particularly at WR which may explain some their issues as well. This offense – usually one of the most potent in football – has failed to eclipse 300 total yards in three of their first five games. For perspective, that equals the number of times San Diego has failed to reach 300 yards in the previous two seasons COMBINED.

Granted – this lack of output can be attributed to the pieces San Diego has lost more so than the pieces they’ve added – but that’s the point. Change. It affects everything. It creates problems that aren’t easily answered. Losing RB Darren Sproles eliminated a huge threat on 3rd Downs. Losing WR Vincent Jackson stripped this offense of its’ big plays. And – when coupled with the unfamiliarity of guys like Royal and Meachum, who were brought in to solve some of these problems – well, you can see why Philip Rivers hasn’t been enjoying much success.

In fact, Rivers has completed a league high 48 passes this season at or behind the line of scrimmage – partly because of game-planning but also partly because he has no report with his weapons outside. Meachum has gone catch-less twice this season and Royal has just 11 receptions all year. Basically, the San Diego offense has devolved into designed screens and a steady diet of check downs to RB Ryan Matthews and TE Antonio Gates.

As for the big picture, San Diego has struggled with consistency for years under Head Coach Norv Turner. They’ve started slowly historically and have had trouble digging out of the holes they’ve created. It’s been an issue for years. Some of that blame has to be put on Turner. Some on Rivers. But it would seem to me that this roster turnover has played a hand in their slow starts as well.

When you lose key players and spend time trying to find adequate replacements, it would make sense if the on-field production would suffer during those transitions. It’s happening again this year as Rivers average pass is only flying 6.4 yards down field – good for 31st in the league. Last season that number 9.0 (good for 9th).

Overall, the team that solves their identity crisis first – either San Diego or Denver – will likely win the AFC West crown this season. Kansas City isn’t a threat and Oakland just can’t score. Tonight will give us an opportunity to evaluate where each team stands with regard to their respective issues.

Can Manning and his new teammates avoid the slow starts that have plagued their early season? Can Rivers establish some chemistry with his perimeter weapons?

Whichever team can answer that question with a “yes” tonight will likely win this game and this division in 2012.

 

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