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.
When you have a running back who’s 200 lb, soaking wet after Sunday dinner, one question always stands out. How do you get yards up the middle with him?
There are several options - the inside zone run is always good. The back runs it on the right guard’s outside hip, and with Louis Vasquez, there’s lots of room. But, there are many plays that work just fine for a smaller back. Denver displayed one against San Diego in Week 8, featuring the blocking skills of Paul Cornick at right tackle.
The play shows exactly why Cornick replaced Chris Clark in the starting lineup:
Every year, we talk about the Broncos' issues with covering tight ends. Who’s strong enough, long enough, motivated enough?
We talk about it because the era of the tight end is back. Sid Gillman, who said that with two good TEs you can control the middle of the field, has again been proven right.
But the reality is that you don’t need to be tall or long to cover a TE. Strength helps, especially when the TE is firing off the line. You need a guy who can redirect him or change his timing. It’s the moment when the TE is most vulnerable. Most will be bigger than the coverage player. With good leverage and a nasty attitude, the defender can use the five-yard window to make the TE change his route.
Shutouts are always encouraging. When the Broncos' third string managed a stellar goal line stand, the team and fans went wild.
That is, except for Peyton Manning, who quietly stood and watched San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh as if he could read Harbaugh’s mind. Given Manning’s skills around football, he probably could. The newly built Levi's Stadium would forever be broken in with a 34-0 shutout.
It’s fair to say that both teams withheld many of their real strengths for their Week 7 Sunday night clash, but there's still plenty to take away from the contest.
Rookie Sylvester Williams had a unique journey to the pros, and struggled early, but lately has been showing exactly why Denver made him their first choice in the 2013 Draft. No one seemed to imagine a scenario where Williams would still be on the board when Denver chose, but an early run on offensive linemen left him to the Broncos, who gratefully snapped him up at #28.
That has turned out to be the right choice at the right time. Defensive line leader Kevin Vickerson suffered a season-ending hip injury in the Week 12 loss to the Patriots, and Williams started to see more time on the field.
He’s made the most of it, with a solid performance during the last quarter of the season. What Williams has done of late is to show that he understands the pro game and that he can play well at this level.
Happy Monday, friends. As I mentioned amid the kerfluffle on Friday, I have recently come into a bit more free time, and I plan to put out some good analytical content over the next couple weeks.
When Peyton Manning agreed to come to the Broncos, I did a series of articles about the Manning Offense, which I called the simplest in the NFL.
For the most part, that remains true. This year, however, Adam Gase has introduced some creative wrinkles to the offense, and they’ve been used at key times to generate points.
The Broncos celebrated the first day of December with a brilliant come-from-behind 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, and now control the AFCW and their own destiny for playoff seeding.
After customarily deferring possession on the opening kickoff, Denver had to weather KC's emotional level of play in the first half, falling behind 21-7, but getting to within a touchdown late in the second quarter.
They went three-and-out on their next series, but starting with the second-half kickoff, the Broncos sucked the life out of Arrowhead with three consecutive long touchdown drives - of 80, 92, and 95 yards.
Don’t you love life’s little ironies?
Just moments after Cris Collinsworth had long-windedly and orgasmically extolled the brilliance of Chiefs RT Eric Fisher (#72) during Denver's 27-17 Week 11 win, Derek Wolfe notched his fourth sack of the season by ragdolling Fisher. It happened with 9:35 left in the third quarter, and KC’s Alex Smith (#11) playing from the shotgun.
Since before he was drafted, I have liked Fisher’s play, and I enjoy watching his work. He’s learning quickly enough as a rookie for me to expect that at some point he’s going to take over the left tackle position from Branden Albert, just in view of his play so far. That doesn’t make his first year in the pros any less of a learning experience, though - every player has rookie moments.
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.
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.