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 terms ‘weak side’ and ‘strong side’ are changing - the closed side is now wherever the tight end lines up, and the open side is where he doesn’t.
The Broncos have their Sam (Jerry Franklin, #42) over the Y receiver, and the Will and Mike are behind the defensive tackles, shading to their outside hips (toward the sidelines). Denver is in a Cover 2 shell, and safety Duke Ihenacho is handling the defensive left, for those who’ve told me they’ve been jonesing for an Ihenacho sighting.
Right defensive end Jeremy Beal (93) is spread to the outside, covering the TE, and the remaining three defensive linemen - left defensive end Jamie Blatnick and DTs Sealver Siliga and Ben Garland - are bringing pressure to bear on the inside of the offensive line over the center and the guards. Steven Johnson is the Mike, playing a step deeper and to the left of Will ‘backer Elliot Coffey.
At the snap, Rodriquez fires away from the center of the field, and Jeremy Beals shadows him. The three remaining defensive linemen explode into the center of the offensive line, and Sam linebacker Jerry Franklin ignores his receiver and sprints in from the defensive left.
The right tackle, Cory Brandon (76), turns to face Franklin as he rushes in, and it’s a fatal error. It’s not the tackle’s fault - he has to protect his quarterback - but it’s just what Jack Del Rio wanted him to do.
This leaves Blatnick one on one with the right guard, Siliga on the center, and Garland on the left guard, who’s getting help from the left tackle. That’s all just a con, though - Steven Johnson bursts off of his post at Mike, and he’s the one attacking. The right guard alertly hands off Blatnick to the running back - which is not a bad mismatch for Denver by itself - and tries to block Johnson.
There’s no one but the guard between Johnson and Blanchard.
As you can see from these two images, Johnson is using his head of steam and attacking the guard from ‘lower to upper’ - driving upward from his feet, through the core muscles, and into the guard’s pads, with good form.
In other words, he’s taking advantage of being shorter. Notice how Steven’s body is angled from his feet to his shoulders, upward and inward?
He knows that he only needs to be able move the guard three inches up and to the rear to take control of his body. With Johnson’s technique and momentum, that outcome is a foregone conclusion. Johnson is attacking the guard’s inside (quarterback side) shoulder, and his left foot steps inside the guard’s left foot. Done right, Steven’s technique should move the guard completely out of his way.
Johnson’s power has done precisely that. With so much force concentrated on his left shoulder, the guard has to step back with his left foot, opening the way for Johnson. Steven’s hips are now opening up and he’s in full stride. He’s got an unencumbered pathway to the quarterback.
And, Johnson gets his man. It wasn’t Blanchard’s day. Only a hot route would have saved his bacon.
It's the fifth of six sacks on the night for the Broncos, and the first in NFL action for Steven Johnson. Linebacker will be a tough group for him to break into, but he does himself a favor with play like this.
Like Danny Trevathan's tackle for loss discussed previously, it was set up by Jack Del Rio’s concepts of bringing pressure on every play. He designed a local overload, and whether Blatnick overpowers the running back or Johnson blows by the guard, the Bears are in danger from the moment the ball is snapped.
The Bears should have recognized the potential problem and called for a hot route (three-step drop and immediate release to the designated receiver), but this is nicely disguised. The mismatches are created by the scheme: at that point, it is up to the individual players.
Johnson doesn’t disappoint.
It’s only one preseason game, and by the fourth quarter you’re playing against the opponent’s third string. Even so - Johnson’s technique is perfect, and that’s what the coaches will see when they look at the play. It was a nice job by the rookie.