At the 13:33 mark of the third quarter during Saturday's preseason game against Seattle, the Broncos defense found themselves in a familiar position: facing a team that, like their own offense, runs a zone blocking scheme. On the first of back-to-back zone-blocked running plays, Nate Irving sliced through the OL to stop the run, and then David Bruton came up from his safety slot to stop Robert Turbin for a four-yard gain on the second.
Following that second play, Ed McCaffrey made a comment about something that I'd like to cover - he noted that along the Seattle offensive line, each of the players was performing a reach block. What the heck is a reach block, and what does it have to do with zone blocking? Let’s use the first of these two plays as our example. I’ll talk about the second in a subsequent piece.
A reach block is a simple technique that’s used when a lineman has to block an opponent who's either in the gap next to him, or lined up on the teammate next to him. It’s employed when the play is going to require the second blocker (the RG in the diagram below) to move towards a different responsibility - either as part of a full-line zone blocking scheme or perhaps when the second blocker is going to be pulling toward the play side. The reach block is an essential skill for an offensive lineman.
For the past three seasons, David Bruton has toiled in relative obscurity for the Denver Broncos. Despite being arguably their best special teamer, the fact that he doesn’t start at safety has led to his game sometimes being dissed and other times being ignored outright.
Early in training camp some people were already counting him off the final roster. During the Seattle game on Saturday night, Bruton showed what a mistake that view has been.
When Denver selected David 114th overall in 2009, they did so partly on the basis of his 4.46 speed, and also for his leadership; Bruton had been a captain during his senior season. He was commonly described as ‘raw’ back then, and the draftniks’ book on him was that he could be an excellent special teams player immediately and might develop the chops to start at safety over time. He’s become a force on special teams since then, working as the personal escort of the returner on some plays and as a gunner on others.
My previous two looks at the Broncos' preseason-opening win over the Bears covered big plays from rookies Danny Trevathan and Steven Johnson. You could easily see how the design of each play facilitated their success - provided the linebackers were alert, quick, and effective enough. They were, and if those are the backups, it could be a fun year.
For our next analysis, I’d like to take on a similar play that was successful due to the pure effort of one player - defensive end Jeremy Beal.
A disappointing Combine dropped Jeremy to the seventh round of the 2011 Draft, and Denver's depth at the position relegated the former Sooner to the practice squad last year.
Of course, he's still stuck behind Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers, and Von Miller slides over to a DE function on most passing/nickel downs. Jason Hunter was threatening to think people into the corn fields until he tore his triceps, and now Derek Wolfe is at Hunter’s position - Beal’s task in making the squad isn’t easy, but just improved.
8:17 remains in the fourth quarter of the Broncos' 31-3 preseason-opening victory over the Bears. Matt Blanchard is Chicago's quarterback and has his guys in a 113 (sometimes called ‘Posse’) shotgun formation, with his running back to his right and tight end Evan Rodriguez (88) outside the left offensive tackle, which creates the closed side* of the formation.
The Broncos have just capped off a seven-play, 52-yard drive with a Xavier Omon touchdown run to extend their lead to 17-0 over the Bears. After the ensuing kickoff, the Bears have the ball on their own 23-yard line with 6:23 to go in the third quarter of Thursday's preseason opener.
The Bears are arranged in a 21 (regular) ‘I’ formation with the tight end on the offensive left. The handoff will be going to #25, tailback Armando Allen, who is intended to follow his fullback and hit the closed side (the one with the tight end) of the formation. The fullback is to fake a block to the strong side and then cut back to the weak side for his blocking assignment. The tight end will help double-team the right defensive end along with the left tackle, or take on the safety if he cheats up.
Denver is in one of their 4-3 defensive fronts, this time using the (traditional) Will (Nate Irving, #56) in a two-point stance at the right end of the DL. From Irving, top to bottom, are right defensive end Cyril Obiozor (54), tackles Ben Garland (63) and Sealver Siliga (98), and left defensive end Jamie Blatnick (77). The four defensive linemen and the Will linebacker want to engage with the entire offensive line including the TE, unless he releases. Irving would take him in that event.
Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler once said, "Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement."
Later (1987 to be exact), the philosophical musings of glam-metal poets Def Leppard went like this: "Action, not words."
Put most directly: "You can shut up now, cuz I saw what you did."
Last night, John Elway told us the 2012 draft was awesome, saying, "When we look at it, it's probably as good as it could have gone."
This statement may or may not be true (even those that drafted Ryan Leaf said, "For the next 15 years, he's our man."), but one thing is not in doubt--the Broncos' actions in the draft said more than any contrived and trite soundbite ever could. Like an after school special, the lessons are there for us to see, standing in plain view - as long as we stay off drugs, close our ears, open our eyes, and stick around until the end.
Finally, The Old Man and the Hyperbole, Woody Paige, wrote:
Hannibal never endured such a demanding march, or October — road games against the Patriots and the Chargers and a home game with the Saints. Guess what? The final eight games are no bargain. The Broncos do get the Bucs and the Browns at home, and conclude the regular season at SAF at Mile High, as they did last year, against those pesky Chiefs. But they must play at Carolina — ever heard of Cam Newton? — and K.C., Oakland and Baltimore.
Woo. I've been covering the Broncos since 1974, and there hasn't been a schedule this grueling in any season since then — or, certainly, before.
This, of course, settles the issue, since 1974 was a watershed year. It brought us "Jungle Boogie" from Kool and the Gang, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (warning, nightmares will ensue), and Woody Paige, Denver's own cuddly serial killer of football knowledge.
Earlier in the week, Football Outsiders reported that in 2011, Champ Bailey gave up more yards after the catch (YAC) than any other cornerback in the league.
Was this a sign that Bailey was getting older, losing a step, or declining in skills?
On the surface, it's easy to look at Bailey's YAC stat and smoke the crack (and become immediately paranoid). If you had not watched a Broncos game all year, you'd assume Bailey was either missing a lot of tackles after the receiver caught the ball or he was getting beat deep badly. Luckily, the gang at FO qualified the numbers:
Now, let's be clear: These YAC allowed numbers generally don't say much about the actual quality of a cornerback. There's generally very little correlation between a cornerback's rank in Success Rate and his rank in YAC allowed. Still, it is very strange to see Champ Bailey giving up the most average YAC of any starting cornerback in 2011 -- and by a wide margin. Isn't he known as an excellent tackler for a cornerback? Yes, and there isn't much evidence that this is an issue of tackling. We only recorded Bailey with two broken tackles on plays where he was in coverage. He just seemed to have a few more plays than usual where guys got behind him on short- and mid-range routes.
As we always preach around these parts, stats are nothing without context. So let's provide some when it comes to Bailey and his YAC (not to be confused with GOAT, which is purely a term reserved for Norv Turner).
Today's article from Albert Breer may give Broncos fans pause. Breer suggests that the velocity on Peyton Manning's throws was already in decline during 2010--before his neck injury. Breer writes:
"The fall-off was significant on film," said one scout from a rival AFC team. "He showed stiffness and lost athletic traits. What made him special was never his athletic ability or movement skills, but you could see it with his arm strength, too. We break the field into 'short', 'intermediate' and 'deep', and on patterns deep and outside the numbers, you'd notice more air under the ball. There'd be more arc. Some it's by design, placing the ball where it needs to be. But it looked like his velocity was tailing off at the end of 2010. That's probably what he's most worried about. His rotation was fine, his accuracy was fine. But as far as the ball getting from Point A to Point B, and how much time he was giving defensive backs to drive on the football, there was enough there for concern."
The questions about Manning's arm strength go all the way back to the day he was drafted (Ryan Leaf had a stronger arm, after all). However, was it possible that in 2010, Manning had lost too much zip on his passes? The statistics certainly suggest as much. His Y/A, AY/A, NY/A, and ANY/A were all down by a full yard. At the same time, guys like Blair White, Pierre Garcon (which I believe means "dropped pass" in French), and Austin Collie weren't helping Manning's cause. And we saw what happened to the Colts in 2011 without Manning: they went down like they'd been shot by a sniper.
Manning has had other seasons with lower numbers than he had in 2010. So what is one to make of all of this?
After writing my game reaction yesterday, in which I had some criticism of Tim Tebow, I received several emails questioning my Broncos fanhood.
Just what does it mean to be a Broncos fan?
Back when I was a kid and began to identify myself as a fan, all that meant was watching my father curse John Elway on television and getting into fistfights at school with Steelers fans. It didn't take a lot of Broncos gear, Broncos tattoos, or a throwback jersey; it didn't require a cable package, mandatory attendance at Mile High Stadium (I made it to just a handful of games), or box seat; it didn't require that I adhere to a code, or sign my name somewhere, or join a group on Facebook group created by other self-identified fans.
And it sure as hell didn't require blind devotion--to the owner, to the quarterback, to other fans.