The Seattle Seahawks' convincing Super Bowl win confirmed a couple of trends that are working.
It helps to have a mobile quarterback such as Russell Wilson. It also helps to be physical, as Seattle and other teams have stressed finding physical players in the building process.
That's where you give the Denver Broncos some hope. They play the NFC West in 2014. To prepare for those games, the Broncos might try to get a little more physical with their offseason acquisitions.
"When you play those teams you know it's a physical division," Broncos president John Elway said. "You got to be able to play physical with physical teams, and that's always a goal is to be able to have a team that physically can stay with everybody in this league. It's a tough division that's a very physical division, so that'll be a great test for us."
The Indianapolis Colts, for example, copied the model that made Baltimore successful. When he joined the Colts, Chuck Pagano brought the Ravens' concept that bigger is better. Pagano wanted bigger, stronger players on defense. He's been trying to build a more physical offensive line. He put the fullback back in the Colts' offense.
The Colts proved the system worked, at least in the regular season, as they beat San Francisco and Seattle (despite the fact that they lost to the Rams and Cardinals to go 2-2 against the NFC West). If the Broncos can use the four games against Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona as a test of their physicality, it could help them get back to the Super Bowl.
The downside of playing the NFC West is that it could cost the Broncos home-field advantage. The Broncos went 4-0 against the NFC East in 2013, but that won't be nearly as easy a task against the NFC West next season.
Getting the defense to be faster and more physical can be accomplished. Getting more physical on offense is tricky. Peyton Manning isn't mobile. The Broncos need offensive linemen whose priority is to knock down defenders quickly so the quarterback can get rid of the ball.
The Saints have similar issues with Drew Brees, and they invest in physical guards who knock down defenders and get away with lesser talent at tackle.
I agree with Elway's assessment that immobile quarterbacks aren't dinosaurs.
"I think you have both types in the league right now," Elway said. "You have Peyton, you have [Saints QB Drew] Brees, you have [Patriots QB Tom] Brady -- they're pocket guys. The young guys are the guys that are athletic and can move around -- you have the [Colin] Kaepernicks, Wilson, Cam Newton and some others. In this league, there is probably more of a combination of both right now than at any one point because with the athletic quarterbacks that teams have, they'll take advantage of what they can do. I think staffs are doing a hell of a job taking advantage of what their quarterback does best."
The solution for the Broncos and other AFC teams is getting more physical. It worked for Baltimore in its Super Bowl victory over San Francisco. Now we'll see if Denver, and even the New England Patriots, can do the same.
From the inbox
Q: I can't stand it! Russell Wilson is Mark Sanchez. He's a young, serviceably talented QB who was lucky enough to join a team at a time when it had a dominating defense. He hasn't had to do much -- just manage the game, not turn the ball over, and make a few plays here and there. We saw how well that worked out for Sanchez. I predict similar results for Wilson. He's not a franchise-caliber quarterback.
Scott in Minnesota
A: I disagree. Watch him when he has to take control of a game when he's behind in the fourth quarter. Before then, the offense doesn't allow him to open up his passing game. Don't just look at the stats. He's asked to throw only 25 or 26 passes a game. Instead of comparing Wilson to Sanchez, view him as a shorter version of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was asked to be conservative early in his career. The Steelers won with defense and a running game. Wilson already has a Super Bowl ring. Sanchez didn't get past the conference championship game. I don't buy the comparison.
Q: People give Ted Thompson a great deal of credit for Green Bay's success, but should we be giving former Packers director of football operations and current Seahawks GM John Schneider more credit than he's received? He's now been part of constructing two elite, Super Bowl-winning defenses with two different teams in the span of four years, and Green Bay's fall from one of the best defenses to what it is now coincides perfectly with his departure to Seattle.
Avi in San Diego
A: Thompson deserves the credit for the success of the Packers. He's the main decision-maker in Green Bay, just like Schneider is the main decision-maker for Seattle. I agree that the talent level of the Packers' defense has declined, but I don't think that's because of Schneider's departure. The Packers have remained a perennial playoff team and Thompson does a great job.
Q: With the evolution of the passing game in today's NFL and linebackers having to cover more often, do you think it's likely that we see teams try and convert safeties into linebackers? As an example, I'm a Browns fan. I see T.J. Ward playing close to the line of scrimmage a lot already. Is it even conceivable for a player like that to assume a hybrid ILB spot and allow the defense to play another ball hawk deeper in the secondary.
Att in Dallas
A: Good question. I don't see a big transition, but a bigger safety with speed could make the conversion. Brian Urlacher played safety in college and had a great career as a linebacker. The benchmark for such a conversion is size. If you put a 215-pound safety at linebacker for coverage purposes, he'll get overpowered. The use of the big nickel might become more prominent. The big nickel features three safeties, one playing the role of a linebacker. The Saints did a great job of that when they had a healthy Kenny Vaccaro. They used three safeties -- Vaccaro, Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins. If you want a safety as an every-down linebacker, he needs to be big enough to hold up against the run.
Q: I respect your work a lot, but your view on Marshawn Lynch's reticence seems rather Draconian. Why force the issue? Are reporters getting nervous that other players will follow suit and they won't have anything to write about? In addition to the many players who are more than happy to get media exposure, does the game itself not provide sufficient material? Personally, I recognize my own ignorance; I'm therefore always impressed with writers like you who can break down X's and O's in a way that's both informed and accessible to most fans. Why bug Lynch? Can we not accept a range of player attitudes toward what even you must admit is a pretty frenzied media culture?
Brian in Quincy, Mass.
A: It would be a different situation if Lynch were camera shy or had personal issues that caused him not to be interviewed. That wasn't the case. He's a great interview one-on-one. He simply didn't want to do it. He's been resisting interviews for more than two years. The league stepped in and fined him $50,000, then rescinded it. If he failed to talk again, the fine would jump to $100,000. He's one of the most important players on the Seahawks and one of the best running backs in the league. You noticed once he gave a seven-minute interview Thursday, the issue went away. Players are required to give interviews. It is in their contracts. Lynch does want media exposure. He does commercials. He has a Skittles sponsorship. All he has to do is some group interviews. It's part of the job.
Q: I was wondering why the Raiders don't move Marcel Reece to halfback instead of playing him at fullback. He has shown he can produce when put in that role.
From Sean in Jamestown, N.Y.
A: It is an option if they can't come up with another back in the draft or in free agency. I think it's pretty clear they aren't going to re-sign Darren McFadden. If the Raiders can't find an explosive back, he might be the best option. Reece is a great player. He needs to be on the field. But the Raiders' offense would be better if it had an explosive back and Reece on the field at the same time.