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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy Thursday, friends. The All-22 film was made available yesterday, and I had occasion to review the Falcons game. I saw a lot of positive things to feel good about, but for today, I’m going to focus on some negative things.
Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter, and that put the Broncos in a very tough position. They nearly rallied to win the game, nut ultimately fell short.
I’ve reviewed the three plays repeatedly, and there are three general reasons why the interceptions occurred:
1. Mike Nolan is a good defensive coordinator, and the Falcons disguised their coverages well.
2. The Falcons have a very underrated pair of safeties in William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Each is among the top ten players in the NFL at his position.
3. Manning’s mental game hasn’t been perfect. He may have some rust there that needs to be overcome.
With five minutes to go in the opening quarter of Denver's season-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Von Miller demonstrated that he's well on his way to reaching his goal of improving his run defense this season.
Miller increased the strength of his upper body this year, and it showed during the preseason. Against one of the better rushing teams in the AFC, it was made clear again.
Pittsburgh was in 12 personnel, with the two tight ends forming the closed side on the quarterback’s left: Heath Miller (83) is on the outside, a step back, and Leonard Pope (45) is inline, just inside of him. The Broncos have four down linemen, and Von Miller has moved to the closed side, across from his namesake Heath. Antonio Brown motions from the closed side to a stacked position behind Mike Wallace (17).
There were several brilliant performances by the Denver Broncos on Sunday night - from Peyton Manning, the defensive line, Von Miller, and Wesley Woodyard, among others. But despite the abundance of bright spots, the play of Tracy Porter still stands out.
I watched film of Porter from 2010 and 2011 and understood the one-year contract Denver gave him. He was very slender - skinny, really. He didn’t have the power or form to tackle right - often as not, he threw himself at opponents' ankles and hoped for the best. He struggled with run support and had to battle in press coverage.
This year, he looks like a different player physically. His positives from earlier were that he has a textbook backpedal, was and is cheetah fast, flips his hips beautifully, and takes smart gambles. Those attributes are still present, and Jack Del Rio and defensive backs coach Ron Milus have him wrapping up, driving upward, and tackling hard. They haven’t tried to pull him back when it’s time to gamble, either.
Like other quarterbacks will do, Ben Roethlisberger appeared to make a concerted effort to throw against Porter in man coverage, and only threw to Champ Bailey's side when the Broncos used a zone defense. It’s exactly what Denver brought Porter in to do. They needed an experienced NFL cornerback with an aggressive attitude and a short memory - every CB gets beaten. You can’t let it affect you.
Like a lot of folks, I tend to spend what time I have to watch television on things like programs on nature, astronomy, history, et cetera.
I recently caught a program that dealt with wolves, and found that they’re remarkable animals. They live in a complex society: they have a clear social hierarchy, an extensive symbolic language, and are beautiful to watch. Wolves generally hunt in packs - they work synergistically with each other to bring down prey quickly and safely (for them).
Wolves also commonly attack their prey from behind, jumping on their backs to bring them down or hamstringing them to prevent them from getting away before the full pack attacks.
Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe may have seen the same program. No question, he lived much of it Week 1 against Pittsburgh; his impact on the game was first demonstrated with 9:42 remaining in the first quarter Sunday night.
One of the goals that Von Miller has set for his sophomore NFL season is to improve both his run defense and pass coverage.
We’ve already looked at a run play where he showed that improvement - now let’s take a peek at some simple things that he - and the rest of the Broncos - have done to improve in pass defense.
13:39 remains in the second quarter of the preseason game against San Francisco, and the 49ers have scored a touchdown in response to 17 straight points from the Broncos.
If things go well this season, Denver will be facing a lot of obvious passing downs in just such a position - playing with a lead while the opponent tries to get back into the game. It’s 3rd and 6, and the 49ers have driven deep into Broncos territory - they’re on the 15-yard line, and they are seeking either a touchdown or a first down.
Jack Del Rio has made no bones about it - he wants to increase the defense’s pressure on opposing offensive lines.
That pressure will affect the passing game by sacking, hurrying, and harassing the quarterback, making the job of the secondary easier. It also affects the run game, creating more tackles for loss, and more hits and tackles made at or near the line of scrimmage. Even in the simplified world of preseason football, the approaches Denver will take showed glimpses of themselves.
For a prime example, let's review a sack from two weeks ago by Elvis Dumervil against the 49ers and QB Alex Smith.
With 10:36 to go in the first quarter, the 49ers are down 3-0 and facing third and six - a tough down to achieve - and usually an obvious passing down. The 49ers are in a shotgun 11 formation with three wideouts, and Frank Gore alongside quarterback Alex Smith in the backfield.