Before the Broncos' epic meltdown last week, there were two interviews that, in retrospect, foreshadowed the chess match between Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell--a chess match that, at least early in the game, Caldwell pressed his unforseen advantage.
The first was an interview with Joe Flacco on the Dan Patrick show, in which Flacco asserted that the key to a Ravens victory would be establishing the run. While that's not exactly a news flash--we all knew the Ravens wanted to run the ball--it confirmed again in the minds of fans and likely the Broncos coaches the perception that the Ravens were going to give the Broncos a healthy dose of Ray Rice and rookie sensation Bernard Pierce.
And why wouldn't they? The dirtly little secret that emerged from watching film of the first matchup between the teams was that the Ravens, after stumbling on their first three drives, experienced a brief window in which they were indeed running the ball well against Denver. In a series of three consecutive plays in the second quarter, the Ravens ripped off runs of four, fourteen, and fifteen yards. The drive stalled on a penalty, or it's likely the Ravens would have scored. After that, the running game was generally abandoned by the Ravens because the Broncos got up in the game by two scores.
After Ronnie Hillman coughed up the ball during the first quarter of the regular season finale against Kansas City, the Broncos played a series in relative chaos. Peyton Manning took a rare delay of game penalty; three snaps later, Ryan Clady jumped to a false start.
The result? A three-and-out, the first of just two on the day for Denver.
As has usually been the case this season, their struggles didn’t endure. The Broncos marched down the field like the champion team they want to be, pausing only briefly between possessions during the Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas highlight show.
It was also time to stop the Chiefs before they could gain any momentum. What happens here is part of that; great plays often come from great fundamentals applied with great effort.
Happy New Year, friends. As we finish up our third regular season of operation, it occurs to me that we had a pretty good year of advancing football knowledge, and of getting stuff right. In my Navy days, we’d have an annual performance evaluation, and a key part of the process was what’s called the brag sheet. The sailor being graded would list his/her accomplishments during the year, so that the evaluator wouldn’t forget anything, and could consider everything the sailor thought should be appraised.
We believe in accountability here at IAOFM, and when we get something wrong, we readily admit it. When we get things right, though, it seems appropriate to be proud of that, and to make sure that those successes make it into our assessment, such as it is.
This is our 2012 brag sheet. It's like the "best of" articles that other blogs are running, but it's different in our IAOFM way. I’m writing it, because I have no pretense of false humility, and we all know that. When we kick ass, I’ll say it, and when we fall short, I’ll be just as quick to admit it. In general, I’m just as humble as my record says I should be.
We believe that we’ve been the best source of Broncos information and analysis anywhere, and we hope you agree. These are in no particular order, and in fact, I kind of spaced them out haphazardly, so that you'd read the whole thing. Check it out, look back at the year of IAOFM with us, and tell a friend.
I’ve been an unabashed supporter of Derek Wolfe for quite some time now - I like his game. It might be easy to forget that I’ve also listed the concerns that I’ve had with his play, starting prior to the draft:
The first problem that I noticed with Wolfe was that oddly, despite his substantial college production and decent test times, he looked somewhat slower in the drills. He lacks some of the lower body development that I thought I’d see, based on the games I'd watched. Explosion, particularly on his first step, seemingly isn’t his forte, which is odd. I’ve seen him blow past an OL player, and I’ve seen him pretty much standing still when they got their hands into him, and I’m not sure which is the real Wolfe - probably both of them. He has several decent pass-rushing moves, including a nice rip move, and that’s not common among college players, but he also forgets how to use his hands and arms on other plays. That was true in the few games that I saw him - hardly enough for a full scouting report, but it matched well enough to those I have.
He cannot smoothly handle a double team and will often end up on the ground when faced with those - you can help him out schematically in degree, but that’s a problem at the next level. It’s back to his lack of good lower body strength and a resulting inability to anchor: his balance and ability to use leverage also play into that.
I’ve seen evidence of those pre-draft concerns at times this year, but I’ve also seen them diminishing.
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!!
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:
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.
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.
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%.
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.