Like most of you, I was pretty thrilled with the Broncos' 37-6 victory over the visiting Raiders on Sunday.
A few first-half errors (you tried a pass from who to who?) left me feeling that Denver should have been up by more than four points at halftime. The lights-out play of Carson Palmer, who had one good WR, a decent TE, and a great running back to throw to, kept the Raiders somewhat in the game.
Three three-and-outs in the third quarter, though, and the ensuing onslaught of the Broncos offense sealed the deal. Overall, I came away impressed with Denver’s composure, elated with Jack Del Rio’s play-calling, and comfortable going on the road for four of the next five, to see what this team really has in store.
These are some thoughts taken from my notes during the game, not always in any given order:
After the high of a great win over a division rival, it’s hard to come back to earth. One thing that’s a difficult reality for Denver, though, has been the disappointing play of Joe Mays.
Suspended for Sunday’s contest with the Oakland Raiders, he was effectively replaced by Keith Brooking, who looked better on Sunday than Mays has all year.
I give Mays, the Broncos, and Jack Del Rio credit for improving Mays’s coverage situation via changes in scheme somewhat as the season has progressed. Mays gave up four completions on four targets in the opener, two completions on three targets at Atlanta, and just one target and completion against Houston, with an average reception of 7.4 yards overall. They’re getting him out of danger well, but there’s more to the problem here. I have to wonder if they’re not following what they expected to have work, despite finding that it doesn’t. They need to look seriously at what has been more effective.
Week 4 will feature the much-hated traditional division rival Oakland Raiders coming into Mile High, still feeling good about their come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh. Denver is coming off a tough loss to the Houston Texans, falling short by six points for the second time in two weeks to teams that remain undefeated. Both the Broncos and Raiders see an opportunity to rack up a divisional win in the AFC West. Let’s go through the two teams.
The Raiders come in with the same 1-2 record that Denver has, with both teams’ wins having come against Pittsburgh. The Raiders have struggled to throw for distance, as shown by quarterback Carson Palmer’s 1-of-10 completions for 21 yards when throwing long (20 or more yards). He hasn’t thrown long for a TD, but has an interception when trying to go deep.
Darrius Heyward-Bey appears to have dodged a huge bullet after a frightening cervical injury last week, but he wasn’t helping them in the long game either. Denver should be able to maintain that tendency: Their pass rush appears stronger than the Raiders’ line, and cornerback Tracy Porter is expected to return to the lineup after a brief scare with what turned out to be a bruised knee.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Raiders were already down an early touchdown when Darren McFadden took a simple zone-blocking play and ran it 65 yards into the end zone. It’s basic ZB technique, and the Broncos will need to make sure that they’re disciplined in their gaps and able to both fight through the line’s blocks and to make sure that the safety has upfield containment to combat it.
Pittsburgh failed on both aspects, and the result will always be the same, no matter who’s running this basic play. Denver uses it, and so do many teams around the league. It’s also part of how Arian Foster has been burning the league for three seasons.
Here’s the basic lineup: Pittsburgh is in their classic, Okie-based odd-front defense. They’ve got three down linemen and two OLBs, spread wide this time. The ILBs are in their standard, base positioning. The Raiders are in 11 personnel and face 1st and 10 at their own 35. Their formation pulls one safety off into coverage, leaving only Ryan Mundy to handle the deep middle.
A late-game collapse by the Steelers on Sunday allowed the Raiders a fourth-quarter comeback capped by a game-winning field goal as time expired.
"They outplayed us defensively," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. "Their defense made the stops when they needed to, and we didn't. It wasn't from a lack of trying. Maybe it was trying too hard."
Could Denver have been trying too hard on Sunday against the Texans? That’s hard to imagine. But there’s still a grain of truth there.
What happened against Houston was nothing more or less than a better team beating a lesser one. No one likes admitting when their team simply doesn’t have the players or the chops to overcome their opponent, but Denver fans are going to have to accept it this time. Ironically, the Texans have spent years building a team that could beat Peyton Manning.
Roderick ‘Rod’ Smith was born in Texarkana, on May 15, back in 1970. He was all-league, all-area, all-state, and an all-state game choice as a senior at Texarkana High School in Texarkana, Arkansas. He earned two letters in football and basketball, and one in baseball while in high school. He attended college at Missouri Southern State, a Division II school.
While he was there, Rod set conference records with his 3,043 career receiving yards and 34 touchdowns. He broke his own school’s receptions record with 153, and as a senior, he was voted All-American by the AP, Kodak, Football Gazette, and NCAA Division II sports information directors - in other words, nearly everyone who covered Division II. In his senior season alone, he caught 63 passes for 986 yards and 13 TDs. He was a finalist that year for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which is given annually to the top Division II football player.
In 1994, he completed his studies with three degrees - economics and finance, general business, and the third in marketing and management. He was ready for his post-football life, which has been as successful as he was on the field. I follow him on Twitter just for the pleasure of it, and have found him to be one of the most positive and supportive folks I’ve had the pleasure to read.
A couple of days ago, I mentioned that I wanted to go over some positive differences in the OL from last year to this. I’m going to touch on some run blocking and some pass protection.
Let me start by showing you something simple.
The initial image is from the first possession of the Pittsburgh game. It’s just typical - the interior players usually are in three-point stances, and the tackles - who more commonly have to kick-step back to defeat a side or a speed rusher - often like to stay in a two-point stance.
Nothing new there - I included it mostly just so that you know where people are starting from.
From Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus earlier today:
In 2011 Elvis Dumervil went eight straight games with a sack late in the season. While he doesn’t have a sack yet this year, he has 13 overall pressures which ties him for the most among defensive linemen.
Pressures, schmessures. What every fan wants to see is sacks. There’s something exciting about seeing an edge rusher taking on a player who might outweigh him by 50 lb. and still flash by him, to, and through the quarterback. They’re the Holy Grail for the weekend watchers, a stat you can reel off and feel like you’re talking sense. And, no one can argue that sacks aren’t a great way to create negative yardage for the offense.
The sack is big news.
Elvis Dumervil doesn’t have one this year, and fans are getting antsy. Talk is increasing about how Doom isn’t having the same impact this season; how he’s been soundly beaten by offensive left tackles Sam Baker and Max Starks. With Jason Hunter out for the year and the DL having to try different options to get the pressure that the John Fox/Jack Del Rio scheme calls for, is Doom unfit for his role with the team?
As usual, I’ve been looking over the film of the first game with regard to the offensive line. Health issues prevented my spending the time necessary to fully cover the second game, but I did a little poking around in the stat pile as far as where the Denver OL stands in general.
I’ll work in what I found in the first game - as you’d expect, the stats were better in that contest, simply because the line played very well. Here are just the bare bones of the second game, using the figures over at Pro Football Focus:
The Broncos are in Atlanta for their first road contest tonight and a meeting with the Falcons, a very good team whose drafting and team development approaches I've followed for years.
The modern version of their franchise was built first by Rich McKay, who’s still the president and CEO, and developed more recently by GM Thomas Dimitroff, who’s a top young executive. Between them, they’ve put together a team that has an excellent offense and a defense that’s good, but is also vulnerable.
Last week, Atlanta lost Brent Grimes, their top cornerback, for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. They’ve signed former Colts corner Terrence Johnson, but 2009 third-rounder Chris Owens, who's never lived up to the Falcons' expectations, is expected to be their nickel corner tonight.
Let's take a look at the rest of Atlanta's roster to see what the Broncos are up against: