And hopefully better than ever, though we'll take "at least average."
Week 1 has kicked off and so, now we have as well.
I don't know whenThe Hard Countwill debut right now (I know you're concerned) and whether I'll do video or just audio. A few things are in a complete state of flux, including jobs, so it may just happen or not happen suddenly and without warning.
Thursday Night Lights
Every Friday we'll go over the Thursday night game, telling you what stood out either positively or negatively. Not a complete breakdown, though on occasion maybe we'll be breaking down a specific play.
For Peyton Manning, it was a split personality game. The first quarter and a half found Manning struggling, floating some odd passes and generally looking uncomfortable. Some of that was because of his offensive line, which had its hands full with the pass rush. He was victimized by some drops as well. But he just looked off.
Then two things happened.
First, Joe Flacco threw a pass to Brandon Stokley (what was Flacco's obsession with throwing to the old folks home anyway?) which cornerback Chris Harris picked off.
I've been critical of Harris in the past, but part of this offseason I watched a lot of his tape and have turned around on him. This was one of the prettiest interceptions you'll see, as he undercut Stokley's route. I'm not sure Flacco should have thrown the ball to begin with, but he obviously thought he could lead Stokley enough to avoid Harris, who was in perfect position.
This gave the ball to Manning on the Baltimore 24 yard line. You never want to turn the ball over in your own end to Manning and the next series is why.
Well, not so much a series as it was a single pass—a 24 yard bullet to tight end Julius Thomas, who the media has been buzzing about since training camp.
If I had to pick a tipping point, that's it.
The Ravens run a 3-4 most often, but in this case, the formation is a modified 4-3 with former Bronco Elvis Dumervil lined up on the outside right end of the offensive line. They would then drop their three remaining linebackers into coverage as the front four rushed the passer.
For the most part the line held, but left guard Zane Beadles gets owned by Chris Canty, while Dumervil is chipped by Thomas, who then headed out on what was basically a "fly" route (with a little "chair" move in it).
Thomas left inside linebacker Daryl Smith totally behind while linebacker Josh Bynes and strong safety James Ihedigbo couldn't get over in time. This is the matchup issue Thomas brings. At 6'5", 245 pounds, he's way too big for corners and safeties to handle, but his athleticism makes him hard for linebackers to keep up with.
After that, it was like the alarm went off and the Broncos showed up. Manning's game got much, much sharper. His passes were on target, had better zip and better touch. The pass rush showed up. Even the run game improved, though marginally.
Meanwhile the Ravens' defense fell apart and the offense ran right off the tracks and off a cliff. Losing Jacoby Jones and Michael Oher hurt badly—especially Oher as the right tackle position clearly degraded after he left with an ankle injury.
And Joe Flacco made some odd passes.
But it was the momentum on the Denver side of the ball which really was the key and it started with that interception, the Thomas touchdown and the quick 7 points in two plays.
- Montee Ball didn't get on the field for most of the game, though he was in there during red zone chances. The running back breakdown was nine carries for Knowshon Moreno, eight for Ball, and four for Ronnie Hillman. Hillman and Moreno both caught the ball though, while Ball was on the sideline on third downs. Moreno was on the field for 52% of the offensive snaps while Ball was on for just 25% and Hillman for 21%. In other words, running back by committee is at hand again.
- The Ravens spread the ball out overall, but Flacco went to Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark too many times. Even though both paid off on occasion, they were also clearly old and slow. This is an offense which needs some help, even if Jacoby Jones is healthy.
- As much as the Ravens offense looks like it's missing a guy like Anquan Boldin, it looks like it misses Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Danell Ellerbe and Cary Williams and safety Bernard Pollard. A lot. Maybe the unit will come together and maybe it fell apart because it was Peyton Manning bombing them, but right now it looks out of sorts. And it's not like the road gets easier.
This is why we can't have nice things
I have a longer Jets post about why they are the way they are for sometime next week, but has anyone seen Rex Ryan? Because he's not coaching the Jets right now.
No, the dude coaching the Jets looks like Rex but he isn't.
The New York media is brutal. They raise you up and when the story is better that you slide, they cast you down. And light you on fire.
Ryan talked a lot. Too much. But he was encouraged by the media. Then, it became he talked too much.
So when new GM John Idzik came in, he clearly told Ryan to tone it down.
Now the media bitches he isn't the old Rex.
Well, you didn't want the old Rex.
There is a lot to pin on Ryan in terms of the struggles of the New York Jets franchise. He ignored the offensive side of the ball. He strong-armed GM Mike Tannenbaum into ignoring offense early in drafts. He believed in Sanchez too long.
The media can attack on all of those angles and more. But that he talked too much and now not enough?
It's like asking players questions, complaining you get pat answers, then getting a colorful one and tearing the guy apart.
Be careful what you ask for, media. You wanted him less interesting. You got him.
My Picks for the Week
For at least now, I'll be writing a weekly piece compiling the picks of experts around the media-verse and adding my own takes on them - for the full thing, check it out on Bleacher Report.
For those of you with an allergic reaction to BR, my winners stack thusly (FWIW I had the Broncos last night):
Texans (this slide has my favorite JJ Watt picture ever)
And that's it for this week. Enjoy the games and hope I'm wrong on the Packers game.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.
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