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.
Next shot, look at the pocket they’ve formed. Note the number of one-on-one matchups: LG Zane Beadles (68) is still available to take on a late blitzer, because he isn’t needed to help out. That fact by itself is positive. Credit Willis McGahee (23) for handling his own assignment; the whole of the pass protection is excellent here.
Reversing the view, we can see that center J.D. Walton (50) is engaged on the play by Steve McLendon, who gets a hand in under Walton’s facemask. Walton puts his head to the side and keeps driving, keeping McLendon under control despite the small cheat. The ball is gone before McLendon can do anything. Nice, Walton. This is why John Fox likes to call him Trash Can - he does the dirty work.
How about Walton’s run blocking? Easy enough - let’s start with another series against Pittsburgh. With 5:48 left in the second quarter, Denver is at the Steelers 11-yard line, and it's 2nd and 1. Brandon Stokley (14) comes in from the side. Beadles and RG Manny Ramirez (65) will fire out, but that’s not what I want you to focus on here.
Look at Walton’s feet. Notice the right knee over the toe, and the straight left leg? He’s getting his power from that back foot, and he’s driving into his man.
In this next shot, you’ll notice that his feet are spread perfectly evenly, and his head is down and to the side. He’s pumping his feet, pushing his shoulder into his assignment, and driving his man back.
By putting his head to the side, he’s also keeping his body between the defender and McGahee. There’s no way for Walton’s defender to get into this play.
Okay, let’s finish with a run from the Falcons game. I wanted to show both the team blocking and to note how well Beadles pulls and Walton handles his one-on-one assignment; this play presents both. It starts with Denver at its own 10-yard line, 1st and 10, with 11 personnel.
Below is the end zone view, which lets you see how the Broncos block it: this is a pretty standard play with them.
At the snap, Beadles pulls from his left guard slot - Walton is in front of him and nearly hidden from view. RT Orlando Franklin (74) helps with Manny’s assignment (and has to hit above the waist to keep it legal) before moving to the second level (the linebackers, CBs, or safeties). Ryan Clady (78) has stepped back and is in position to handle the right defensive end, whether he’s speed or power rushing. He’s bending at the knees much more than at the waist, which had been problematic for him last year.
Notice below that Joel Dreessen (81) has a perfect leverage angle, feet to shoulders. Franklin is already coming off his aid to Manny and has moved to the second level. McGahee will follow Beadles through the hole, and Stokley has his man locked up as well; the Broncos require good blocking from their WRs.
This is where you want to be: The wide receivers are either locked up with their men or are - in Eric Decker’s (87) case - about to be. Clady and Walton have maintained their blocks, as has Ramirez. Beadles has taken out a man. Every player carried out his assignment. No one’s bent at the waist, shoulders forward. Franklin’s picking up a new target.
Just to review, then: the Broncos offensive line has overall been fairly strong in pass blocking. Manning’s been sacked five times, but not all are on the OL and Peyton’s often had plenty of time in the pocket.
The run blocking has been high in properly handled assignments. I look forward to seeing how RG Chris Kuper fares on his return: I expect it to take a couple of games to knock the rust off. The remaining four starters have all shown various degrees of improvement.
It’s good to see.
Every Bronco has performed their assignment perfectly, and McGahee is off to the races. The result? A 30-yard gain, from a play designed for 5-7 yards. This isn’t a matter of the Falcons making mistakes - it's of the Broncos doing their jobs. Walton, Clady, and Ramirez had the hardest jobs in one sense - they had to hold their blocks the longest, and all did so effectively.
Here’s the key point, from my view - in both the run game and in pass protection, Denver has been working together well as a unit. There’s visible improvement in the technical aspects for Walton in particular, and for Beadles as well. It’s true that PFF graded as the worst center in the league in 2011. It’s also true that he handled two different systems with two polar opposite QBs during that season.
We can’t ignore the fact that Beadles and Walton came on under difficult circumstances back in 2010. It’s often said (and almost as often ignored) that it takes three years to see what you’ve really gotten in a draft. This is the third year for both of them, and so far - while granting that the season is young - they’re looking substantially better in run and pass pro blocking than they did last year. Better knee bend, footwork, better leverage, and better technique.
I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys. I’m sure you will, too.