Questions on zone blocking have been pouring in. There’s no question that it has advantages for Denver, whether Peyton Manning stays or not. The question for today is whether we should expect Denver to begin a change to more mobile linemen.
The answer is, not necessarily. I see that as a good thing.
In Dennis Hooper’s March 2009 article on inside zone blocking, he laid out what you want in a zone blocking lineman. Here’s what he listed (I've numbered his bullet points):
One of our readers recently emailed us with several questions relating to the likely offensive line and system under new head coach Gary Kubiak. We'll address them one by one over the coming days and weeks:
Do you believe we will be going back to a pure ZB scheme? - Kevin
It’s a great question, Kevin, and one that's on the mind of most Broncos fans. The short answer is yes, in degree. But, I think that we’ll see more than that.
In the 2014 season, the Denver Broncos have caught a form of the injury bug. This season's viral mutation seems to attack linebackers. It started near the top of the lineup and has kept up.
It attacks all starting linebackers not named Von. While injuries from sprained ankles to concussions have been included, left leg and knee injuries have ended the season for standout Danny Trevathan. Brandon Marshall missed two games at the end of the season, forcing Denver to turn to the unknown Todd Davis out of powerhouse Sacramento State.
The fans and staff were looking forward to seeing Marshall and Trevathan together in the playoffs. Trevathan’s third left leg injury of the year, a dislocated patella, has put paid to that dream. Happily, Marshall is due back for the playoffs.
When Orlando Franklin learned that he was being moved to left guard last offseason, he issued a very negative tweet on the subject. He quickly took it down, and got on board with the idea. The development of the offensive line as a whole has followed a similar path.
There were some tenacious problems that developed early in the season. They were dealt with, one after another. No player is starting where he did last season for the Broncos. Yet Denver has a revitalized line.
"When I first heard about it, you get disappointed, because you're moving positions," Franklin said. "But at the end of the day, as long as I'm on the field and as long as I'm one of the best five, I'm happy with that."
Some fans had started to lose faith in the Broncos after they's lost two of their last three games in blowouts at New England and St. Louis.
The team knew Miami, which entered the game with a 3-2 road record, would be a tough opponent.
Denver, meanwhile, hadn't yet lost at home.
In 2013, the Broncos needed to make a few changes on the offensive line. Manny Ramirez did a better job at center than J.D. Walton had. Chris Clark impressed at left tackle as Ryan Clady's understudy.
In 2014, Denver wanted to play its five best starters, so Clady was back at left tackle with Clark on the right side, although there were potential problems there. The Broncos entered minicamp looking to move Orlando Franklin, formerly the right takle, to left guard.
Understandably, the Broncos wanted to see if Clark could do equally well on the right edge. They brought in Winston Justice to ‘give him competition'. Unfortunately, left and right tackle often require different body types. They need different skillsets, too.
One of the amazing things about elite athletes is the way they marry natural skill with endless practice. The fundamentals are always what a player, coach, or team goes back to when things are hard.
DeMarcus Ware showed off some of the keys to any lineman’s play during Denver's Week 10 win at Oakland.
Everyone notices when an elite player makes a splash play, and Ware has made more than his share over the years. But on many of his true splash plays, you barely see how he does it.
Early on, the Raiders knew they were going to struggle to keep Derek Carr’s uniform clean.
The news on Nate Irving’s torn MCL - that he was placed on IR and won’t return - saddened but didn’t surprise me. I’m sorry for the man, and I hope he recovers quickly and completely. I have a lot of respect for Nate.
But he won’t be back in orange this year, and his contract is up after the season. Denver may move on.
As we talked about on Thursday, Denver’s been using a three-safety look. T.J. Ward has been handling a SS/LB role when they’re in nickel. Quinton Carter has taken over SS, with Rahim Moore at FS. It’s a good option. Corey Nelson has taken some snaps in relief, as has Lamin Barrow. Both are rookies, and neither is at the level of Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, or Von Miller, which is no insult.
A slow team start put the defense in a tough place, early in the Broncos' 41-17 road win over the Raiders. It was the defense that kept the Broncos in the game until they caught fire.
The defensive line kept up steady pressure all game. Despite not having a sack, they kept creating hurries and QB hits. They shut down the Raiders' run attack. The Denver secondary played exceptionally well in both the run and pass areas.
Two players led the way for the secondary: T.J. Ward and Quinton Carter. It wasn’t their stats so much as their attitude, which was contagious. Combining them with Rahim Moore is working well. Adding cornerbacks Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, and Aqib Talib makes them that much more physical. All three corners like to mix it up.
With the hangover of another loss at New England still in the backs of their minds, the Broncos could have been excused if they'd gone to Oakland hoping for a simple victory.
What they found is what a lot of teams have found this season. Oakland is a much better team than they usually show on the field. That doesn’t minimize the Raiders’ singular ability to shoot themselves in the foot.
Denver brought its own set of problems into what may be their final visit to the Coliseum. Problem 1 on the list has been the erratic play of their offensive line. Despite attempts to change it, the line has let down the running game this year more weeks than not. Few, if any, running backs consistently break tackles in their own backfield. The laws of inertia are against them.