Jussel: Huzzah to McCay, NFL rules committee

I submit to you the Denver Broncos Most Valuable Person for the 2011-2012 football season: Rich McCay.

While we’re passing out awards, we will give a hearty handshake and a thank you to John Madden, as well.

What, no Tim Tebow? After all, Tebow is starting to — gasp! — garner support in league MVP talk thanks to Denver’s 5-1 record since he took over as starting quarterback. But I am suggesting Tebow and the Broncos would be nowhere near where they are if not for McCay.

Who is McCay, you ask?

McCay is the president of the Atlanta Falcons. McCay also happens to be chairman of the NFL Rules Committee.

And why is Madden, the legendary ex-coach and broadcaster, in the conversation as well? Madden serves as chairman of the Coaches Subcommittee to the rules committee, which makes recommendations to McCay and his group of seven team owners who OK the changes.

McCay and Madden and those owners and coaches last spring made a rule change that has significantly affected the Broncos’ season.

I can’t tell you exactly how many more games the Broncos have won this year than they would have if this change hadn’t been made, but I’m thinking it is a whole number and it is larger than 1. And I also know that this rule change has allowed the afore-mentioned Tebow to spend more time on the field than he would have — and spent more time in favorable situations.

That rules committee decided — for the sake of player safety — they would move the kickoff line from the 30 to the 35. It seemed simple enough: Player A kicks off and Player Z watches the ball sail over his head and out of the end zone. Ball on the 20 and no one seriously hurt.

At the time, I’m sure the rules committee did not factor into the equation that the Broncos, a.) play a mile high in half of their games, and b.) have a kicker who makes the Wilson “Duke” pigskin look like a new Titlist Pro-V1 in Matt Prater.

One year ago, 16 percent of NFL kickoffs were touchbacks. This year, 33 percent are touchbacks. The Broncos make those percentages infinitesimal.

Seventy-three percent of Prater’s kickoffs have not been returned. Only 11 of 49 of Prater’s kicks have been brought back. With one on-side kick and another kicked out of bounds, Prater has put the opposing offense on its own 20-yard-line 36 times to start drives.

Prater’s kickoffs improve your defense. Even great QBs like Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees tend to struggle when faced with driving 80 yards to score.

Let’s ask Phillip Rivers of San Diego how he feels about it, especially after Sunday’s weak effort in the Chargers’ 16-13 loss to Denver in which the Chargers scored on only three of 13 drives. The Chargers started outside of their 30-yard line only three times and started on their own 20 five times.

With opposing offenses starting on or inside the 20 on virtually every drive, the defensive unit normally needs only one big play to stop a drive — an Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller sack, or maybe a simple run stuff on first down.

That formula for success has put the ball in Tebow’s hands often.

Although he is inching toward respectability in terms of passing, the run-first, no-mistakes philosophy of Coach John Fox and his staff is making a serious contender out of the Broncos in the AFC West and, yes, even the wild-card race. Denver is only one game behind Oakland in the West and one game behind Cincinnati in the wild-card chase.

Which brings us to today in Minnesota against the 2-9 Vikings — a trap game if ever there was one.

Today’s contest is an early game, with the 11 a.m. MST start, a factor that normally seems to find Denver players groggy at kickoff.

It’s also indoors on artificial turf, another factor that Broncos have not exactly embraced historically.

The Vikings also tend to be strong where the Broncos are weak. Minnesota is terrible against the pass, but strong against the run, bad news for Denver and the conservative Tebow-led attack.

And the Vikings don’t spend much time trying to throw the ball, with rookie QB Christian Ponder repeatedly handing it to one of the league’s best rushers, Adrian Peterson, out last week with an ankle sprain and ruled out late this week.

All of which leads us to the logical conclusion: The Vikings should win by …

… No, hold on; there’s something otherworldly going on here.

I’ll take my 6-5 record picking with or against Denver and say the big kickoff rule change, a couple more timely defensive plays and a stray touchdown completion and/or run from Tebow give Denver another win, this time 21-17 as the improbable playoff march continues.


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