Mason's Mailbag: A long-term comparison for Phillip Lindsay

Mase, how would the scheduling formula work with 18 games? I don't think it would. Right now, the NFL schedule is completely balanced.

-- Brian (via Orange and Blue 760 text line)

There is the possibility of adding another two games in intra-conference play based on the standings. For example, the Broncos face the third-place teams from last year's standings in the AFC East (Buffalo) and the AFC North (Cleveland), while also taking on the entire AFC South, per the scheduling rotation. Based on this year’s schedule an extra two games could come from the AFC East and AFC North. In 2020, the additional pair of games would come from the AFC North and AFC South, since the Broncos and the AFC West face the entire AFC East.

Here's how it would work with the AFC West with this year’s scenario:

Kansas City: In addition to facing the first-place teams from the AFC East (New England) and AFC North (Baltimore), the Chiefs would face the second-place team in the AFC East (Miami) and the third-place team in the AFC North (Cleveland).

L.A. Chargers: In addition to games against the two second-place teams from the AFC East and North (Miami and Pittsburgh), the Chargers would face the first-place team in the AFC East (New England) and the fourth-place team in the AFC North (Cincinnati).

Denver: In addition to their games against third-place finishers Buffalo and Cleveland, the Broncos would play the fourth-place team in the AFC East (N.Y. Jets) and the first-place team in the AFC North (Baltimore).

Oakland: In addition to their contests with fourth-place teams (N.Y. Jets and Cincinnati), the Raiders would play the second-place team in the AFC North (Pittsburgh) and the third-place team in the AFC East (Buffalo).

Thus, in games against the AFC North and AFC East, the Chiefs would play teams with an average division placement the previous year of 1.75 (two first-place teams, a second-place team and a third-place team). The average placement of foes for the second-place Chargers would be 2.25. For the third-place Broncos, it would be 2.75, and then 3.25 for the last-place Raiders.

Playing teams from different spots in other divisions in the conference based on the previous year's standings is a concept that was used from 1978 through 2001. Until the expansion to 30 teams in 1995, you might recall how the rotation called for the two fifth-place teams in each conference to play each other in a home-and-home series. (There were just two fifth-place teams in each conference because one division in the AFC and NFC had four teams until the arrivals of Carolina and Jacksonville.) This is why the Broncos played the Patriots twice in the 1991 season.

The idea I personally favor is for two extra games to be permanently set against teams from other divisions (or the opposite conference). This would allow for the creation of geographic rivalries that do not exist. This would allow the Los Angeles and New York clubs to meet annually. It would ensure annual games among the three teams in Florida. Some pairings would also have historic basis. For example, I have the Cowboys partnered with Houston (obvious, because of geography) and Green Bay (a history of classic, high-leverage duels going back to their meetings in the 1966 and 1967 NFL Championship Games).

In this proposal, the Broncos' designated annual non-division rivals would be the Seahawks and Cardinals. I love the idea of getting Seattle back on the schedule each year to rekindle that old AFC West tussle, and Arizona and Denver need to be paired, as they are the only NFL teams in the Mountain Time Zone. With the rest of the schedule rotation intact, this would mean that every four years, the Broncos would face those teams twice (such as last year, when the AFC West was paired with the NFC West).

Hi Mase,

Lifelong Broncos fan and Colorado native here, now living in Vienna, Austria. Many thanks to you, the rest of the Orange and Blue 760 and Broncos media team members for all the of the excellent content you produce and make available worldwide. It really helps us Broncos Country expats feel connected to home, despite the long distance.

My question for you is why multiple media personalities are predicting that Royce Freeman will be more productive and get more carries than Phillip Lindsay this season? Granted Lindsay’s injury was perhaps nontrivial, but honestly I don’t understand why he continues to be so underestimated, despite such an outstanding rookie year and a long history of proving naysayers wrong.

-- James Conner

There will always be doubters for any player who doesn't fit into the generally accepted height/weight/speed template of a what an NFL player at a position should be. After all, there were doubters of Elvis Dumervil for his entire 11-season career, because he was thought to be too short (5-foot-11) to be an effective pass rusher, and yet only seven players who played their entire career since 2000 posted more sacks.

That said, the wrist injury is a big deal for a running back. We know that Lindsay is willing to run into a stacked box; we know that he is fearless and durable. But you know that opponents will make an extra effort to tear the ball from his grasp and test the recovery of his wrist. I expect that he will be fine, but that, too, leads to doubters.

It's also not the worst thing for the Broncos offense if Royce Freeman leads the running backs in carries and overall touches -- or at least comes close to Lindsay's tally. If you're going to play the long game with Lindsay and maximize his long-term effectiveness and viability, it's essential to make sure he shares the workload.

In that regard, you should look to the career of Warrick Dunn for guidance.

Dunn broke into the league in 1997 as a 5-foot-9, 180-pound first-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Like Lindsay, Dunn electrified an offense that otherwise lacked explosiveness. Dunn actually averaged more touches per game as a rookie (16.4) than Lindsay (15.1).

But the key for the Bucs in those early-career years was that they were not tempted to overuse Dunn because they had fullback Mike Alstott, an effective runner and pass-catcher in his own right. From 1997-2001, Alstott averaged 209.8 touches per season, while Dunn averaged 265.8.

The sharing of duties continued in Atlanta from 2002-07. For most of those years, the Falcons had another productive running back (T.J. Duckett) and the most productive running quarterback in NFL history (Michael Vick).

Luck and natural durability are factors, as well. Dunn played at least 15 regular-season games in all but two of his 12 seasons and missed just 11 games in his career. But the result for Dunn was a career in which he amassed 15,306 yards from scrimmage and posted at least 1,000 yards of total offense in all but one season. Even in his final season (2008, with the Bucs), he averaged 4.8 yards per touch -- right at his career average.

Dunn is a best-case scenario, but with Freeman as a 1A back, Lindsay can have that sort of career if injury luck is on his side.

*Steve Antonopulos and I attended schools in Limon and Hugo many years ago. I would like to send him a congratulation card. What is his mailing address? *

-- Larry Kelly

Send it to him care of the Denver Broncos, 13655 Broncos Parkway, Englewood, CO 80112.

Has Alexander Johnson returned to the field and how has he been looking? I was hoping after last year and having a full training camp this year he would be a big contributor this season. What are your thoughts on him?

-- Henry Ellis

He's looked all right, but he hasn't really jumped out yet during the practices that were open to the media. There's a path for him to make the 53-man roster, but he's in a thicket of competition with Keishawn Bierria, Joe Jones and Joe Dineen, among others, with Justin Hollins factoring as a combination inside/outside linebacker. Thus, special-teams work should be the biggest factor in determining whether he makes the roster, so he needs more moments like the big hit he had on kickoff coverage against Washington last August.

I don't see Johnson starting unless injuries strike, as Todd Davis and Josey Jewell appear bolted in as the projected first-teamers. Jewell's improvement is palpable; the expansion of zone concepts in Vic Fangio's scheme could help him more than any other Broncos defender who returns from last year's squad.

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