|Exciting back-to-back wins mask Broncos' plentiful problems|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 September 2007 02:34|
Despite plenty of problems and more than a dozen new starters, the Denver Broncos are off to their first 2-0 start in four years because of coach Mike Shanahan's sound split-second decisions late in games.
On Sunday, he correctly bet that Sebastian Janikowski couldn't kick two 52-yard field goals in a row, using a timely timeout in overtime to negate his first one and icing Oakland's kicker, who missed his second.
Jason Elam then kicked the game-winner, just as he had a week earlier at Buffalo, where Shanahan made the crucial call just before the last play from scrimmage to have his field-goal unit rush the field in a ``Toro!'' fire drill rather than risk not getting the first down or spiking the ball with too many men on the field.
Elam's kick cleared the crossbar as time expired against the Bills.
``I think that just comes through time,'' Shanahan said Monday. ``You've screwed it up so many times that eventually you're going to get it right. As a head coach, the more you're in it, the more comfortable you feel in game situations that it becomes fairly natural.
``I wish I could have said that a number of years ago. Because it's got to come up like that,'' Shanahan added, snapping his fingers.
First-year Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, who rushed the field to rejoice his first win with the rest of the Raiders only to realize the celebration was premature, complained that Shanahan called the timeout a split-second before Janikowski nailed his first kick.
``Nobody was aware they called timeout,'' the 32-year-old Kiffin said. ``They rushed just like there wasn't a timeout. Maybe somebody's got to tell me the rule. They should tell the ref to blow it just before he kicks it.''
But that's not the point. And Shanahan, in his 13th season in Denver, knew exactly what the rule was. In 2004, the league decided that coaches on the sideline and not just a player on the field could call timeout.
``That was a smart play by him,'' running back Travis Henry said.
One that saved the Broncos from a disheartening loss.
``Any time you go through games like that, you put so much time into it, it comes down to the last second, you feel pretty fortunate to come away with a win,'' Shanahan said.
Still, the exciting wins are masking plenty of problems.
The Broncos have piled up an NFL-high 911 yards, a league-best 267 of them from Henry, yet they've managed to score just three touchdowns. Three times they've stalled inside the 5-yard line. The defense, still adjusting to Jim Bates' scheme, is allowing 156 yards rushing a game. And Elam's three misses so far are one more than he had all last season.
``We've got some work to do,'' said Shanahan, who nevertheless gave his players the day off Monday.
``It's nice to look back after you win to go through the mistakes,'' Shanahan said. ``And it's a very positive mind-set, compared to losing a game like that and saying, 'Hey, if you'd have done one of these 10 things, we could have won.' I've been on that side too many times, too.''
The crux of the Broncos' troubles is this: they have seven new starters on offense and six on defense, not counting D.J. Williams, who has moved to middle linebacker, and Elam has a new holder in Todd Sauerbrun after enjoying Jake Plummer's lightning-quick reflexes the past few years.
So, it's just going to take some time Shanahan said.
As for Elam, who has scored more points for one team than anyone else in NFL history, Shanahan isn't at all worried about his three misses, two of which came in the fourth quarter.
``No, he's smart enough to wipe it out,'' Shanahan said. ``He's been a great kicker for a lot of years and that's just part of the profession. You've got to be able to wipe those out. He's strong enough mentally to do it.''
Shanahan also has faith that the offense and defense will get it together. After all, the defense has allowed just 20 points despite a new front four and the offense is moving up and down the field despite three new linemen, two new receivers, a new tight end, fullback and halfback.
``Considering there's a lot of new players at a lot of different positions,'' Shanahan said, ``we look pretty good.''
So do his calls.