Mike McCarthy may not like spiders and snakes, but he sure loves zebras and tigers.
This week, I did something a little different. I took my own advice (for once), and charted the first 15 plays from each of the Green Bay Packers' first three games of the year. As we've seen in the past, the first few drives can tell you a lot about how a team wants to attack their opponent. After this, the offense typically adjusts to down, distance, score, and time remaining in the game.
The Packers faced some interesting defenses, but all of them, like the Denver Broncos, were of the 4-3 variety. In Week 1 they took on Dennis Allen's mentor Gregg Williams and the blitz-heavy New Orleans Saints. In Week 2, they faced off against John Fox's old team, the Carolina Panthers. Finally, in Week 3, they battled against the Tampa-2 laden Chicago Bears.
What I found was a heavy dose of animal looks. What do I mean by this? Simply put, the Packers and Mike McCarthy rely almost exclusively on their 113 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and 122 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) when attacking the 4-3. In McCarthy's offense, these packages are called the Zebra (113) and the Tiger (122).
These animal personnel groupings are the key to understanding how the Packers plan to take apart the Broncos' defense.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Knowshon Moreno and D.J. Williams are listed as probable on the final injury report for the week, Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil and Marcus Thomas are questionable, and Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas are likely not back before Denver's Week 6 bye. For Green Bay, RB Ryan Grant and RT Bryan Bulaga are indeed out, while LT Chad Clifton, LB Clay Matthews, TE Jermichael Finley, CB Tramon Williams and CB Charles Woodson are all probable.
Chris Benson of PFF previews the game, and he thinks a realistic goal for Denver is to cover the 13-point spread. He writes that the Broncos have not faced anyone as dangerous as Jermichael Finley, and that the teams is faced with quite a dilemma in picking the poison between Finley and WRs Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Benson thinks that if Champ isn't quite up to his usual standard, Aaron Rodgers may pick on him a bit with Jennings, and of course he figures that the Broncos will provide Orlando Franklin with plenty of help in dealing with Clay Matthews.
Happy Friday friends, and welcome to the first ever edition of Digesting that was written in the air or on an iPad. It's been a hellaciously busy week as expected, but I'm heartened by the fact that as soon as we got over the clouds on the way out of Cleveland, the overcast gloomy view vanished and it was nothing but sunshine.
This week it's the Green Bay Packers in lovely Wisconsin, land of cow patties and beer farts. I'm not exactly breaking news to say that this will be challenging, and I'd go so far as to say that I think Brian Burke's model which Doug referenced this morning may be over-optimistic in giving the Broncos a 25% win probability. I've got my rubber gloves on (I lease them with an option to buy) and I'm ready to conduct the examination, so without further adieu, let's get it on.
Happy Friday, Broncos fans! Surely this is going to bring some cries of diva, but Brandon Lloyd wants to see more deep targets in his direction. He does have 10 catches in just two games played (he missed the Bengals game with a groin injury), but his average reception has gone for just 12.7 yards, a pittance relative to his 18.8-yard average from last season.
Lloyd blames the team's purported commitment to the run, while John Fox says Lloyd just hasn't been healthy enough (probably true). Yet, the Broncos have a split of 62% pass and 38% run so far - they just haven't attacked deep, or as Ted would say, they haven't taken the top off of the defense. To wit, the Broncos and Kyle Orton have only attempted 13 deep passes through three games, completing five of them. Meanwhile, the team has just 7 passes that have gone for 20 or more yards (including YAC) which ties them for 8th-fewest in the league. Meanwhile, the Patriots have had 22 such plays and the Cowboys 20 of them, although the high-octane Packers have had just 9 passes go for 20+ yards and have only attempted 17 deep passes.
Denver's defense has bitten - and thus been bitten - a few times on screens this year. The screen that Denver has been biting on is the slow screen, which is sometimes called the conventional screen - it's hard to run and not that many teams use it much. The reason for that is simple - once the team has been together for a while, they usually won't bite on the slow screen.
It's a very hard play to run and time properly. If you're a defensive lineman and you're suddenly not being blocked, there's a reason for it and it generally isn't clean living and good fortune - it's because they're trying to make a sap out of you. Denver has been terribly undisciplined defensively for years now, and I've been a bit disappointed in the lack of progress there - but I do believe that if we give DC Dennis Allen a full season he’ll put a stop to a lot of it, and I doubt that it will be as much of an issue. It’s early in the season, but Broncos DC Dennis Allen looks like one of the finds of the offseason.
Every team needs a screen pass or three on hand to keep the on-rushing defenders honest or to make them pay when they’re not. There are five screens that are generally considered as such - and there is an additional option called a ‘smoke route’ that I’ll also cover, since it does much the same thing - run properly, it makes the defense pay for their tendency towards aggression.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Denver finally got Marcus Thomas back onto the practice field along with Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil, albeit in limited fashion for all three. It's been a rough go for Thomas, who suffered a pec injury during training camp and recovered in time for Week 1 before straining a groin during his conditioning test. Obviously, it could take him a while to get back into playing shape - so even if he's able to play on Sunday at all, figure his playing time to be severely limited.
Meanwhile, Knowshon Moreno and D.J. Williams were full participants yesterday, and it will be interesting to see how their respective returns affect how much action Willis McGahee and Wesley Woodyard see in Green Bay. Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas remain sidelined and are unlikely to return prior to Week 7 (following Denver's bye).
Like several readers who have commented here, I actually enjoyed most of Denver's game Sunday against the Titans. I prefer winning as much as anyone, but I’d like to remind folks of some old words of wisdom. When the fans talked last year, they said that all they wanted was a team that was competitive every game. The Broncos have been, and whether or not their schedule will be tougher, that’s a good thing to see. Von Miller showed that wisdom doesn’t always require age:
We’re not going to let this stop our work habits or slow us down. We are going to get back in the lab tomorrow and analyze the film and keep taking steps to be the team that we want to be.
Getting better is what Denver has to be focused on. I found some research that indicated that in Great Britain they did a study on soaking in tubs and pools at exactly 100-101 degrees for 1.5 to 3 hours a day. It lets me keep up on my reading, and I have to admit - I’m learning to just let things go and relax more.
Good Morning, Broncos fans! As Legwold reminds us, it's getting about time for the Denver offense to start putting together some longer drives to give its own defense a breather, and to shorten the game for them. Revisiting the drive data I've been going over after games, the Broncos have had 22 possessions the past two weeks excluding the kneeldown to end the win over Cincy. Of these 22 possessions, six resulted in scores, while all 16 non-scoring drives have consumed 2:46 or less of game clock, and the only drive among the 16 that lasted longer than six plays ended in an interception (the one that sealed Sunday's loss). A staggering 10 of the 16 non-scoring drives were three-or-less and out.
Yes, the defense has overall been quite impressive, at least relative to the garbage we became accustomed to in 2008 and 2010. But it's not going to cut it against Aaron Rodgers & Co. unless the offense helps them out a bit, extends some drives and kills some clock, not to mention scores some points. If not, it's going to be a long Sunday for all of us...
Happy Rebuilding Tuesday, friends. Since I got my mind right last week and remembered what was really going on, I found myself significantly less upset about Sunday’s game than I’ve historically been about Broncos losses. I also decided that I think Foxball is a great way to rebuild, because as TJ pointed out Sunday, it makes it hard to get blown out of games. As much as I can be a pretty good sport about losing 17-14 on the road when I expected practically that exact result, it remains to be seen how I do with something like the 43-13 stinkbomb against Arizona last season.
In any case, this might be the busiest week that I have all season, because it’s my month-end close, I have a test in my MBA class on Thursday night, and I’m heading out with my girlfriend for a weekend in Key West on Friday morning. I was a crew member of the original USS Spruance (DD-963), which was the lead ship of the Spruance class, and as such I was invited to attend the commissioning of the second USS Spruance (DDG-111), the 61st ship of the Arleigh Burke class, which will take place on Saturday evening. I’m going to do the best I can today and Friday, and I’ll be watching the game on my iPad on Sunday but no other games, because you know, it’s Key West. Anyway, it’s down to football as time allows. Ready…BEGIN!!
Good Morning, Broncos fans! Plenty of injury updates from Mike Klis: Denver is expecting to have Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams and Knowshon Moreno back in action this week for their game in Green Bay. Obviously, they'll need all the help they can get, so these returns could not come soon enough, although whether having Williams take over for his worthy replacement Wesley Woodyard isn't so clear.
In more great news, Marcus Thomas is expected to practice this week but perhaps on a limited basis - it remains to be seen if he's anywhere near the proper shape to play after missing most of camp with a strained pec and then missing the first three games with a groin injury. Julius Thomas got rid of his walking boot and could be back next week against San Diego, while the other injured Thomas (Demaryius) is not expected back until Week 7 (after the bye).