- David Fleming, ESPN Senior Writer
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In the crazy, topsy-turvy world of the NFL, sometimes fans just need someone to talk to. So once a week Mag senior writer David Fleming will exchange emails with one lucky (we think) reader. If you'd like to have an email exchange with Flem, click here and pour your pigskin heart out. Go ahead, Flem's listening. And be sure to check out the weekly Flem File on Page 2 tomorrow and every Wednesday.
Dear Flem: After watching that 92-yard "drive" the Steelers put together this week, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Good ol' Days of the Denver Broncos. I'm not only talking about the two NFL championships in the 90s but the days when anything was possible because No. 7 (John Elway) was manning the ship. Now, anything is possible, but usually not in a good way. This team is driving me mad. It is Week 15 and no one has any clue what version of the Broncos will show up on Sunday. Thanks for listening.
— Andrew Brown, a Broncos fan living in New Jersey
FLEM: If consistency is the hallmark of a great team, then the Broncos are, uh, um, not great.
ANDREW: I watched the Broncos dismantle a Jets team that was picked by many to reach the Super Bowl (at least that week), lose pathetically to the lowly Raiders and almost blow a crucial divisional game to the Chargers before divine fate intervened (aka "The Hoch").
FLEM: Things are so bad at running back that the Broncos are using the Lions leftovers. Last week, Mike Shanahan signed some guy named Cory Boyd off the practice squad, gave him most of the first-team reps in practice and then cut him on Monday.
ANDREW: I think I might have to suit up at running back for them before year's end!
FLEM: Well, at this point, it's you or Franco Harris. At least Jay Cutler has been fun to watch. Although, I hear fans comparing him to John Elway, and that's a little much. Elway once told me his favorite thing in the whole world was to go into an opponent's home stadium and shut their fans up. Cutler's just not there yet.
ANDREW: Jay Cutler. I've been listening to the hype about him having a stronger arm than Elway, that he has a better understanding of the offense than Elway did at this point etc. The bottom line is that there will never be another John Elway.
FLEM: My dad, and other Browns fans, are thankful for that.
ANDREW: Elway's teams never would have lost games at home like this Denver team has consistently done. Losing to the Raiders at Mile High this year was definitely the low point. Seriously, what has happened to the biggest home field advantage in the league? Seems to have disappeared into the infamous thin air, I guess. Whether on the road or at home, Cutler is more similar to Eli Manning than John Elway. These two newbies aren't phased one way or the other. Like you said, Elway lived for the chance to send rival fans filing for the gates early, but it's hard to tell from the body language / facial expressions of Cutler and Eli whether they're in training camp or the Super Bowl. Sure, calm nerves are necessary for a Franchise QB, but where's the passion?
FLEM: Maybe we'll see it come out in San Diego in the season finale. What's your worst-case scenario for that game?
ANDREW: My worst case scenario is also the most likely scenario based on the first 14 games of the season. Denver loses next week, San Diego wins. That would set up a winner-take-all showdown at Qualcomm Stadium. That's right, there's a possibility that, at 8-8, the Chargers could become the AFC West Champions! How's that for parity in today's NFL?
FLEM: Yeah, I don't like that either. The NFL is headed for a league where everyone finishes 8-8. Now, a glass-half-full person says, 'Cool, every team finished tied for first.' But a glass-half-empty dude, like me in this case, says, 'Everyone in the NFL just finished tied for last.'
ANDREW: I won't even begin to study these crazy tiebreaker formulas or entertain the notion that the Chargers can still make the playoffs at this point. All the Broncos need to do is take care of the Bills this weekend and I will be able to sleep soundly—which means they are bound to lose after building a commanding lead (at home no less).
FLEM: Are you a fan of South Park?
ANDREW: How dare you ask me if I like South Park! I'm genuinely insulted now!
FLEM: Sorry. Okay, so how would the rest of the Broncos season play out if it was an episode of South Park?
ANDREW: The class takes a field trip to Kansas City to visit Kenny's cousin. Unfortunately, the entire group develops a terrible illness called "Divisional Diarrhea." Upon their return to the somewhat familiar confines of Mile High at Invesco Field in South Park, Dr. Mephisto informs the boys that his awful case of "DD" can occur when you least expect it but will likely disappear for weeks at a time. Then, just when the DD has subsided, and a trip to the east coast seems like it could cure the boys, Cartman goes and angers the one man you do not want to make angry, Bill Bellicheat. After years of owning the Bellicheaters (not fiction) the Boys lay a giant turd sandwich. And if the Broncos don't take care of business against the Bills and/or Chargers, this frustrating football team will be fully responsible for killing all of us "Kennys."
FLEM: Awesome. And my apologies for questioning your South Park loyalty. Although, I would have found a way to get Robert Smith from the Cure into the episode. Back to reality, I'm afraid. I can't let you go without a few questions about the defense. First of all, what's your reaction to the fact that Denver gives up 135 more yards and 13 more points A GAME than the Steelers.
ANDREW: My reaction to their defense, if you can call it a defense, is similar to Stan whenever Wendy tries to talk to him. I don't think anyone has faith in their ability to make a stop … including themselves. I guess that's a positive on some level, since Shanahan knows his offense will need to score around 28 points in order to win, so they game plan accordingly.
FLEM: Please complete this sentence: If the Broncos greatest defense was called the Orange Crush, then this year's defense should be called ______??
ANDREW: How about "Orange you glad you don't have their D/ST on your fantasy team?" Perhaps that's too long. Maybe Orange CrushED works better?
FLEM: Can you blame a lot of this on Champ Bailey's groin? Is he that good?
ANDREW: I hold Champ Bailey in the same regard as Reggie Bush. A game changer—yes. A game changer in every game in which he plays—no. You cannot blame their lack of D on one player. It's just like blaming the Chargers disappointing season on Shawne Merriman's knee. Does it affect the unit? Absolutely. But one man (even a shutdown corner) should not be the reason they are letting opposing RBs run rampant!
FLEM: Shanny's hope, I think, is that Champ returns and sparks the Broncos defense the same way Bob Sanders did with the Colts terrible defense when they won the Super Bowl. That's a pipe dream, I think.
ANDREW: Their core problem has been the same for the last five years. Inability to rush the passer and get consistent play from their defensive line. They clearly understand how important O-line play is, yet have overlooked the D-line in drafts and have attempted to patch the line with underachievers from the Browns or, as I refer to those bums from that three-year stretch, the Browncos. As I write this, I'm watching Monday Night Football featuring at least two Browns who will likely be overpaid by owner Pat Bowlen next year … ugh.
FLEM: Anything else on your mind? Go ahead, I'm listening.
ANDREW: A wide receiver is paid handsomely to catch passes. A linebacker is rewarded with a nice paycheck to tackle. Stop celebrating excessively when you're just doing your job. If it's a game changing play or a big hit that jars the ball loose, alright. I love the big plays that we see every week on the highlights as much as the next guy or girl, but all too often it's all about "look at ME, look at what I did," when football is the ultimate team sport.
FLEM: Here's who I blame for this annoying trend: Junior Seau. Last year, I calculated that after every last one of his significant tackles during the last 18 seasons, Seau had sprinted 12 extra yards and tacked on four superfluous Rocky fist pumps and two unnecessary Rockette leg kicks. Even if you lowball the number of Seau's silly celebrations (10 percent of his career tackles plus all his sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions) you come up with 1,200 extra fist pumps, 600 extra leg kicks and 10,800 extra steps, or, more yards (of wasted energy) than LT has run for in his last 40 games.
ANDREW: Just hand the ball to the ref, get back to the huddle and get ready for the next play.
FLEM: Unless it's a Broncos running back who scores, then it's one of those rare occurrences that warrants something special.