I Didn't Tell You So! Brandon Marshall Playing Exceptional Football

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I Didn't Tell You So! Brandon Marshall Playing Exceptional Football
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

My 14 month-old son does a lot of things that remind me of sports fans, including myself.

Things happen that make him absolutely delirious with joy. Then, quite suddenly, something will happen that makes him scream and yell and cry with frustration. Or vice versa. Sometimes it swings back and forth so quickly I don't know if he's laughing or crying, yelping for joy or screaming in anger, or all of the above at the same time.

For me, part of the fun in being a sports fan is the freedom of acting like a kid again. As fans, we have license to scream and yell and be joyous when our team does well and be frustrated when our team does something we don't like.

There are a lot ways toddlers and sports fans are alike, and I'm damn proud of it. The way the Broncos are winning close games in exciting fashion, it's quite possible I will poop my pants before season end, although, unlike my son, I'd be on my own to remedy that situation.

This year, there is another kid-like thing I'm terribly tempted to do: say "I told you so!" The mainstream media articles all seem to mention how universally maligned McDaniels, Xanders, and Bowlen were prior to the 5-0 start. They would have you believe, it seems, that EVERY Denver Broncos fan hated every facet of what happened over the offseason.

The truth is that many Broncos fans thought the changes were for the better and that this year's team would succeed. I was among the group that were glad to see a team-first mentality brought in, and if that meant Jay Cutler didn't want to be here, so be it. 

Still, I can't shout out a blanket "I told you so!" because I was dead wrong on what to do with Brandon Marshall. I didn't think Marshall could change, and so I thought Denver should have completed the purge of "Me-First" players and traded him for whatever they could get. 

And, man, I was as wrong on that one as the haters were on McDaniels.

Brandon Marshall is, quite simply, playing the best football of his career.

How can that be? He was a Pro-Bowler last year and his numbers so far are down compared to 2008!?! Yes, Marshall was a Pro-Bowler last year, but it was arguably undeserved.

True, he had 104 catches for 1,265 yards and 6 TDs. Those are certainly Pro-Bowl-worthy numbers, except when you figure in that he was targeted 181 times. Normalize his stats for 2008 by the number of times he was targeted and they don't look nearly as good.

He caught 57 percent of the passes thrown his way, which ranked 27th in the NFL. Only three percent of the passes thrown to Marshall in 2008 resulted in a touchdown—29th in the NFL.

Instead of looking at yards per catch (YPC), look at yards per targeted: In 2008, Marshall averaged just under seven yards each time he was targeted. By my calculations that ranked 34th in the NFL.

How about first-down catches?
In '08, Marshall caught 65 passes good for a fresh set of downs. Impressive, except that equates to 36 percent of the passes in which he was targeted, which ranked 30th in the NFL.

 

If you think grading receivers on a per-targeted basis is down right dumb, consider this: the top-rated receivers for 2008 (regular season only) when you factor in catch percentage, first-downs per targeted, touchdowns-per-targeted, and yards-per-targeted were:

1) Anquan Boldin
2) Andre Johnson
3) Larry Fitzgerald
4) Steve Smith
5) Tony Gonzalez

 

Judging from that list, I'd argue it's a very valid way to rank receivers.

So how is Marshall doing so far in 2009?

The following rankings are among the top-40 receivers in yards through week 5.

Marshall is catching 65 percent of the passes thrown his way (13th in the NFL) and 11 percent of the passes thrown to Marshall have resulted in a TD (3rd in the NFL). Thirty-eight percent of the passes thrown to Marshall have resulted in a first down (30th in the NFL), while Marshall's yards-per-targeted is 7.65 (30th in the NFL).

Statistically speaking, Marshall is performing far better than last year in terms of catch percentage and touchdowns-per-target. He's just slightly better than 2008 in terms of yards and first downs each time he's targeted.

Of course, stats don't paint a complete picture—and they get boring real fast. One of the head scratching aspects of Marshall's level of play in 2008 was that he wasn't a very good red zone target. With his unique combination of size, strength, and athleticism Marshall should be a go-to-guy close to the end zone.

Last year he wasn't.

This year has been a different story. Against New England, the Broncos targeted Marshall near the end zone and he responded by making two fantastic plays. In the Dallas game, he used his size, strength, and elusiveness to make a highlight reel catch and run for the game-winning score. Scary thing is, he's just now becoming familiar with the offense and, as a result, being utilized more often.

He's gone from pouting about his contract to showcasing his talent like never before. 

Marshall has mentioned the influence of teammates in getting him back on track, most notably Brandon Stokely and Brian Dawkins (surprise, surprise). But in my mind, the way McDaniels has dealt with Marshall just might be the young coach's most amazing accomplishment so far.

I've supported the new Broncos regime from day one, but on this issue I have to say "I didn't tell you so!"

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