Blue Ocean Blue - LAKE
One of the things that stands out from this offseason is the strange mix of dread and excitement resulting from the emergence of Patriots West, courtesy of the arrivals of Scott Pioli and Josh McDaniels in what was once the worst division in the AFC. Dread because at its worst, the Patriots mentality is all about crushing personalities out of some perceived need to do so for the sake of the team. Mark my words, if McDaniels turns Marshall and Royal into Gaffney and Caldwell, this will be one of the worst things that could have ever happened. Furthermore, the rumored impending ejection of Tony Scheffler reeks of the “system above talent” thought process that is exactly the wrong interpretation of what made the Pats dynasty work (yes, the system is important, but ONLY in how it adapts to the talents contained).
Still, you couldn’t have picked two better teams to experiment on. In the case of the Chiefs, I’m not even worried about the loss of personality, largely because this has been a team defined by the absence of personality, except they don’t win, so instead of “no nonsense” they’re just boring. Enter Scott Pioli, who apparently pulled off the heist of the century by getting a talented QB and plugging him into an offensive system that runs a spread style similar to what he succeeded with in New England. Dwayne Bowe is handwriting Robert Kraft a thank you note. Tony Gonzalez has stopped starting every morning with a game of Russian Roulette. Hell, Larry Johnson even smiled a little, I bet. Point is that for the Chiefs, Patriots West is excitement for the simple fact that it is SOMETHING. Hell, America needs to know more about all three of the players mentioned above, and if importing a rigid code and system is the means to that end (and NOT the end itself), well, good.
For the Broncos, however, this is all much more interesting. I already mentioned my fear for Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall, who run the risk of being seen as cogs in a machine and not unique, underrated talents. I’ve also gone on record as saying that the move to deal Cutler was the kind of soulless move whose goal was comfort over creativity. Boo to that. With everything said and done, the smoke has cleared with Kyle Orton as the apparent starter for what was once the most dynamic non-Pats passing offense in the AFC. Norv Turner is shaking in his boots, I’m sure.
But maybe there’s some significance to the fact that this offense, as good as it was, was still no Patriots offense. True, the idea of submitting the unique talents of the Broncos personnel to a rigid code seems counter-productive, particularly when that system ejects the most potent weapon the team has; however, we’re forgetting that McDaniels isn’t just importing a system he learned. We’re dealing with the mad scientist himself. Throw away the Oakland Raiders (why the league hasn’t done this already, I’ll never know), and the Broncos were clearly the least “scary” team in the division by virtue of Cassel’s entrance onto a young and hungry Chiefs squad (DO NOT FORGET ABOUT GLENN DORSEY). For better or for worse, this move combined with McDaniels arrival and a couple of first round picks in a draft loaded with defensive firepower give the Broncos the chance to bare some ferocious teeth in 2009. McDaniels is no idiot; maybe instead of seeing his skill players, including Orton, as unimportant, he sees his system as the tool by which they unlock some talent we didn’t even know was there.
So for what it’s worth, I’m ready for Patriots West, if only because it makes the AFC West that much more interesting. Watching the unapologetic flash of the Chargers fight off the invading hordes of efficiency and fungible skill positions will make for compelling divisional football. And hey, we’ve even got comic relief coming out of Crazy Al and the Raiders. It’s the whole gamut of entertainment in one division. Sign me up.