There has been no shortage of exceptional special team players with the Denver Broncos this year. Among them is linebacker Steven Johnson, currently second to Jacob Tamme with four tackles and an assist.
Johnson's signature play of the season was his Week 4 blocked punt and touchdown return against the Eagles that resulted from two factors: a quick explosion off the snap to the right side of Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos (46), and blown blocking assignments by the offensive line. Let's take a detailed look at what happened.
As you'll see below, the Eagles put four men on the offensive right - the special teams guard and tackle, plus two more - running back Chris Polk (32) and safety Colt Anderson (30). Johnson makes his charge through the A gap between the center and right guard - the guard is ‘covered’ (looking directly at) by Johnson but blocks down (to his own right) on Adrian Robinson (57) while the snapper blocks to his left, making Johnson's charge up the middle easier.
In an effort to learn more about their offensive line, I put on some tape of Jacksonville this week. It didn’t take long to know that I was watching a terrible group, especially when it comes to run blocking. It’s making the work of RB Maurice Jones-Drew much, much harder.
They’re slightly better against the pass, but their quarterbacks - Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne - aren’t playing well. I don’t have any qualms about saying that the Broncos are likely to run roughshod over this OL.
Gabbert played hurt early in the season, but then gave in to a hamstring injury, leaving the team’s leadership to Henne; he isn't the answer either. Both QBs played in the Week 5 loss at St. Louis, with Gabbert leaving after he felt the hamstring ‘pop’. Henne will start tomorrow against the Broncos.
Trindon Holliday may be Denver's brightest special-teams star, but he's far from their only one. Let's check in on how the rest of the Broncos' third unit is faring:
Denver's coverage units have rebounded from a brutal preseason - during which they allowed 15.3 return yards per punt and 42.6 per kickoff - and cut those numbers to 11.8 yards and 24.2 yards, respectively.
They've achieved this by doing an excellent job of staying in their lanes in coverage.
Last offseason, the Broncos signed undrafted rookie Quincy McDuffie to try out for the team as a receiver and return specialist. He had been named a Sports Illustrated All-American as a kick returner, which put him up against returner/receiver Trindon Holliday in a battle of the bantams.
In the end, both the contest and the position went to Holliday, and thankfully so: through five weeks, he already has touchdowns on both punt and kick returns. He’s consistently exciting as a returner and often extends his returns - getting back to the the 35 is a short return for him.
When he does bring it out, he’s averaging 37.7 yards, on six returns; the former NCAA track champion has an amazing four touchdowns among his last 26 returns.
With the placement of Ryan Clady onto IR and corresponding promotion of Chris Clark to starting left tackle, a lot of people are looking at offensive line play with newly interested eyes. I also wanted to share with you some of the sites and information that I’ve used or enjoyed - they’re good places to lurk and learn. Some folks are interested in learning enough to have it help them watch film - others might be inquisitive for other reasons.
Regardless, I think that you’ll learn a bit from this piece and it has several good links that you can peruse at your leisure if you have the interest.
A lot of people are still learning the game of football, and I’ve found that this is why many folks come to IAOFM. We believe that the average fan is a lot smarter than the league believes, and that they often want to learn more about the game than the general media provides. Like you, we’re also constantly learning.
It’s my belief that every fan can benefit from some level of watching film with intent. What I mean by that is that it’s not really all that meaningful to run the game a couple of times, mostly watching the ball and expecting to get anything of value from it beyond the superficial comments of the announcers.
There’s nothing wrong with the superficial, either, if that’s all you feel like experiencing.
Simply put, there’s no one right way to enjoy the sport; I try to keep it entertaining as well as educational. After all, whether you are used to just watching the game casually, or are someone with a background in film, breaking down tape can be quite enriching.
With the injury to Ryan Clady and his resultant year off of football, let's consider what the Broncos can do going forward:
Left Guard - Zane Beadles was tossed into the blender during his first year in the league, with the bad move of trying to play two rookies (Beadles and J.D. Walton) next to each other, and adding to the problem by shifting Beadles to RT ( for which he wasn’t in any sense ready) when Ryan Harris was injured.
Since that bad beginning, though, Beadles has improved his functional strength, balance, and technique to the point that he earned an alternate Pro Bowl slot last year. I can’t think of a single reason to move him - he’s not the problem.
Rahim 'The Dream' Moore has put his catastrophic error from last year's season-ending playoff loss behind him, but still uses it for motivation. Moore said on Monday that he’d picked up some things that he wants to focus on in his play, including improving his angles and route recognition.
His hit on Dallas Clark in the third quarter of the opener against Baltimore showed just how aggressive and effective Moore can become. Peyton Manning’s constant efforts to improve has created a special kind of energy that’s rubbed off on the entire locker room. This is a team that doesn’t care about who starts: they just care about winning.
Moore and the other safeties have internalized that. The ferocity of Duke Ihenacho and David Bruton (who added a hit and a hurry to his punt block) playing alongside him hasn’t hurt. This is a very tough group of defensive backs.
I’d like to start today with a simple analysis of where the offensive line was going into Thursday’s game and what I'd expected out of them. I had hoped to write this last week, but life went ahead and interceded. It happens to us all.
There two situations that I expected to affect this line, and they’re likely to be around for a few games, at the least. Let’s cover them:
First and foremost is the move of Manny Ramirez to center. This has several ramifications - Manny isn’t a natural center and doesn’t have a lot of experience there. The center has to make a lot of calls, including adjustments - it takes a substantial intellect, which is one reason that testing shows offensive linemen rank second in average IQ, with quarterbacks just ahead of them. That Manny has taken this on with so little preparation time is a testament to that aspect of the man. He’s also a player who struggled at guard at first, but became more effective than was Chris Kuper.
I was looking over the Broncos' roster the other day and noticed something that really had an impact on me. With the obvious growth of Julius Thomas’s NFL skills, Peyton Manning now has six targets who stand 6’3” or taller. That’s a lot of big receivers.
It’s a misnomer that cornerbacks have to be taller to defend them - technique is everything, as a long review of Champ Bailey’s career shows.
But if you don’t have Champ’s innate skill, speed, and highly developed technique, covering a guy who’s quick, strong, and 6’5" - especially when you’re 5’10” - makes defeating a high-point pass reception pretty tough. When the quarterback in question can thread a needle at 15 yards, having an entire stable of tall, strong, talented receivers makes defending the pass an even more difficult assignment.