Second Helpings

A Second Helping of the Broncos’ six sacks against the Browns

Happy Monday, friends.  Since tomorrow is Christmas, and I'll be busy celebrating the birth of the homie Jesus (or something), I've been slaving over a hot Game Rewind so I can break you off a little something for today.  In honor of the Broncos retaking the NFL lead in team sacks, I decided to look at each one of their six from yesterday, to see what we can glean from them.

Interestingly, all six sacks occurred in the second half, and in general, there's a reason for that.  When teams get down multiple scores in the second halves of games, they tend to forget about running the ball.  That allows the defense to simply play the pass, and guys who would normally read run-to-pass are able to focus on either coverage or blitzing.  Tactically, the stuff the Broncos did Sunday isn't seen too much outside of third-and-long, when the Broncos don't have a big lead.  Let's look at those tactics to gain understanding of how each sack worked.

After the jump, we'll get screenshot-happy.  Ready.... BEGIN!!

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A Second Helping of Demaryius Thomas gaining 19 yards against Oakland

Today, I want to briefly look at a play from the Raiders game that went for good yardage, and talk about why it worked.  I'm going to try to start doing this at least every week to stimulate thought and discussion.

The situation in last Thursday's game that we're covering is a 1st-and-10 from the Denver 36, right after the Broncos have received a third-quarter punt.  The score is 23-7:

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A Second Helping of Danny Trevathan and Chris Harris covering tight ends

I wrote recently about the little things that build up to make a good team great. Developmental players who can handle the lights and the pressure of an NFL game are among the keys to any team competing for a chance at the playoffs, and that’s Denver’s goal this season.

The first player I mentioned was Danny Trevathan. Partly, that’s because Trevathan has excited me since I sat down with three of his college games and watched him - his speed, his fearlessness, and his tackling fundamentals all stood out, and I saw a player with a ton of potential.

There was a scouting report comment, repeated by several reports (which might have taken it from the same scout - most teams buy either BLESTO or National’s scouting reports as well as employing their own guys) that Trevathan had trouble in zone coverage despite his quickness - he was too often caught looking at the QB’s eyes and not seeing his man coming into his zone. In one of his games, I saw him do it, too. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t since been coached out of it.

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A Second Helping of Lance Ball in blitz pickup

Please allow us to interrupt the day's (year's?) round of Lance Ball bashing for a moment.

Ball has been the target of plenty of criticism this season, including in this here space, although the ire has more often been directed at the Broncos' coaching staff for dressing and playing him over former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno.

That anger becomes magnified when Ball carries the ball on third-and-four (like he did against New England in Week 5), or on third-and-one (as happened on Denver's first possession yesterday, prior to Willis McGahee's injury).

The argument has been that Moreno provides more skill with the ball in his hands, while Ball is considered the better blocker and special-teams player (if Moreno is the latter, at all). Not to be overlooked is that Ball spent much of a year's time with the Colts between 2008 and 2009, and therefore he and Peyton Manning have a pre-existing comfort with each other.

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A Second Helping of John Fox’s lame fourth-down decision-making

TJ and I each made clear our disapproval for John Fox's meek choice yesterday to attempt a 19-yard field goal with 11:33 remaining in the second quarter of a 7-7 game.

Unsurprisingly, the decision caught the critical attention of Advanced NFL Stats writer Keith Goldner:

On another note, I cannot express enough disdain for John Fox’s decision to kick a field goal on 4th-and-Goal from the 1 in a 7-7 game, early in the second quarter. The numbers say to go for it unless you can’t convert at least 32% of the time. Peyton Manning can convert that well over 32%. The CBS commentator, though, went on a long rant about him making the correct decision to “take the points, because points usually win football games.” When is Chip Kelly coming to the NFL?

Well over? How about double? This season, on third or fourth down with one or two yards to gain, Peyton is 13/17 for 119 yards, three touchdowns, and a 134.6 rating. The Broncos have converted on 24 of 37 attempts - whether running or passing - from those same downs and distances, or 64.9%. 

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A Second Helping of Denver’s recovery woes: Opponent fumbles

The Broncos have been recovering fumbles at a puzzlingly low rate in 2012.

Explanations for this issue have resembled a Randian debate. Either, the Broncos aren't trying hard enough to recover fumbles, and are being outworked by their opponents, or they're trying to do too much (ie. scoop and run instead of falling on the ball).

It's Denver's fault - because anything unfavorable that happens to them, they've put themselves in that position.

Alternatively, the ball just hasn't bounced Denver's way as much as would be expected, and them's the breaks.

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A Second Helping of Denver’s fumble woes, Part 1

In the closing minutes of Denver's 36-14 victory over Carolina on Sunday, a remarkable thing happened.

Willis McGahee recovered his own fumble.

Normally this wouldn't be notable, and certainly not worth celebrating. But it was the first time all season that the Broncos had recovered one of their own fumbles.

In Week 10.

McGahee's gaffe - his second of the game - was the team's 14th of the year, and only the second one that didn't cost Denver possession; against New Orleans in Week 8, Ronnie Hillman fumbled shortly after halftime, but the ball took a fortuitous bounce out of bounds.

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A Second Helping of Willis McGahee vs Oakland

There's 12:37 remaining in the third quarter, with Denver facing 1st and 10 from their own 32-yard line. They’re up by only four points on the scoreboard, despite having dominated play on the field. A couple of errors have kept it close, but that’s about to change.

The Broncos are in 11 personnel, with Manning under center, Willis McGahee directly behind him, two wide receivers out to the offensive left, and WR Eric Decker to the right - the ‘z’ position. TE Jacob Tamme is tight to the line at the offensive right.

Having been picked apart by Peyton Manning in the first half, the Raiders are using a hybrid nickel defense. They have three down linemen up front, plus Lamarr Houston (99) standing at defensive left end; linebacker Rolando McClain (55) is shaded between center Dan Koppen and left guard Zane Beadles, while Philip Wheeler (52) is in a deep MLB position.

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A Second Helping of Wesley Woodyard’s sack of Carson Palmer

Fourth quarter, 12:20. Oakland’s trailing 34-6. They’re in 21 personnel, I formation with two WRs on the offensive left, starting from their own 39 at 1st and 10. Denver’s countering with man coverage on the WRs, a balanced-front defensive line, and Von Miller standing up as the RDE. Elvis Dumervil is at LDE, next to Mitch Unrein, and both are backed by LBs, with Champ Bailey behind them - an overload ensues on the defensive left.  It’s a fake, but it draws lots of attention.

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A Second Helping of Denver’s offensive line play

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.

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