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Q&A with NFL Network's Mike Mayock

Posted Nov 17, 2011

NFL Network's Mike Mayock sits down with DenverBroncos.com to discuss what he's looking for in Thursday's game, an under-the-radar Bronco and his thoughts on the AFC West race.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Mike Mayock made a name for himself serving as a draft expert for NFL Network.

Now the former standout defensive back at Boston College works in the booth for NFL Network's Thursday Night Football broadcasts. Watching film on the Broncos in the team's Dove Valley headquarters on Tuesday, Mayock took a break to sit down with DenverBroncos.com for a Q&A. He gives his thoughts about the New York Jets, Von Miller, Tim Tebow and how he sees a tightly contested AFC West shaking out this season.

For Broncos fans who aren't familiar, what should they expect from the New York Jets this Thursday?
"I think at this point New York is kind of going through a little bit of an identity crisis. That's what I've seen all year long from them. (Jets Head Coach) Rex (Ryan) has kind of made his bones with ground-and-pound -- being physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yet you trade up into the top five to draft a quarterback. Two years in a row you go to the AFC Championship game and lose, and you expect that in year three the quarterback is going to take a quantum leap forward. So I think they want to throw the ball more, however, the quarterback's development may not warrant it. They haven't run the ball as well, either, so offensively I think they're still kind of struggling a little bit to understand who they want to be.

"Defensively they've had some injuries. I thought they were playing better until New England came in the other night. I thought New England just did a great job staying with their game plan, spreading the field and letting Tom Brady make decisions. Once Tom Brady eliminated the turnovers, I think it was just a matter of time before they got down the field. That's what happened."

Does New York coming off a tough loss make it a better time for the Broncos to face them, or worse?
"I think anytime you get a cornered animal, it's a little tougher. Either way, the Jets are coming off a short week with a long trip, playing at altitude -- it's a difficult turnaround. However, when you throw in the loss and the way they lost, you're going to get their best effort. I'd much rather have them fat and lazy coming off a big win. They know they've got to grind out every single day from now to the end of the year."

Are there any matchups in particular within Thursday's game you'll be keeping a closer eye on?
"I'm sitting here watching the tape right now of your defense. What I'm fascinated by is not the ability of Von Miller, because you could see that coming out of college, but I really like the creative ways they use him to get him in one-on-one situations. In base personnel, he's a Sam linebacker. In nickel situations, he's a defensive end paired with (Elvis) Dumervil. When they get exotic, they do different things -- they can line him up on the inside as an inside linebacker coming through the A-gap. So I'm looking at all this stuff on tape and I'm just really fascinated by what they're trying to do to free this young man up on the defensive side.

"On the offensive side, I was at your Oakland game in person two weeks ago. I started laughing up in the press box watching the way I thought your coaches did a really great job of one, managing Tim Tebow and not allowing him to throw the ball on third-and-long and taking him out of dangerous situations for young quarterbacks, and two, scheming him in the run game. NFL defensive coordinators absolutely hate the option game. They don't usually have to deal with it. They can't stand it. I was home yesterday watching your tape this weekend, and when you combine what they did against Oakland when they went unbalanced to the field, ran the zone read back on the boundary, there was nobody within 20 yards of Tim Tebow in a black jersey. It was phenomenal. Then last week they actually did a couple triple options. Everybody uses that term more often than they should -- everything's not a triple option. However, they brought Eddie Royal in motion, they ran zone reads -- it was a form of triple option and they got a 12-yard gain out of it.

"That's a long way of saying that on defense the way they're using Von Miller and on offense all the different ways that they're integrating the quarterback into the run game."

As part of NFL Network's draft coverage, has Miller's rookie year been what you expected it would be?
"I can't remember if I had him as the second- or third-best player in the country -- I had him in my top three or four players. It was easy to see him as a pass rusher. The question was could he hold up at the point of attack? How heavy is he? A lot of people thought he was going to 3-4 team to be an outside linebacker. The whole playing Sam in a 4-3, people were saying, 'I don't know if that's a great fit.' I think you have to give the Denver coaches credit, as I talked about, in finding creative ways to get him involved in the pass rush in almost every pass down."

How do you feel about Tebow's performances this season as a 3-1 starter?
"I think the Broncos coaching staff has done a great job of playing to his strengths. If you look around the league at Cam Newton, if you look in Cincinnati with (Andy) Dalton, the coaches are doing a better job than they ever have in the NFL of making young quarterbacks comfortable in the system. That's opposed to just saying, 'Hey, young quarterback, here's our playbook, you go learn it.' What they're doing is they're making the kid comfortable. Tebow is way more comfortable in a quarterback-run concept, where when he throws the ball it's either off heavy play-action or he's out on the edge where he's more comfortable with clear vision. So I credit the coaching staff for putting him in a position to be successful."

From watching film, is there anyone on the Broncos that has stood out to you that people might not be talking about?
"I'm fascinated by Chris Harris. I'm mad at myself. I made several phone calls this morning around the league trying to find out more about this kid, because he was way off radar screens. Matter of fact, he wasn't invited to the combine. I did no tape work on the kid whatsoever because he was not listed as a draftable player. So here he is out of nowhere, starting in the nickel package, making plays, prominent on special teams -- I couldn't be happier for this kid. I'm going to spend the next couple days trying to figure out who this kid is, why he didn't get drafted, what did I miss, what did other teams miss. He's a kid I'm really enjoying watching."

Where do you see the Broncos finishing in a wide-open AFC West?
"I think the most important thing is what you just said -- wide open. San Diego is beat up. I did their game last week with Oakland, and they've got three starting offensive linemen out. Oakland has got some talent. They've got some big, fast skill-position people. They're coming along. If Carson Palmer continues to develop and show the positive signs that he has the last two weeks, I would say watch out for Oakland. Right now, I think Denver is the wild card. I really do. Most people look at Oakland and say if Palmer continues to develop, he's the best quarterback in the division right now because Philip Rivers isn't getting any help from his offensive line. But I think Denver is the wild card. I think they're playing with house money right now, and that's always a dangerous position."