This week brought some colder, wetter autumnal weather to southern California. It put me in the perfect mood to watch a lot of film and to take in all of the facets of a massive, overwhelming Broncos beatdown of the Kansas City Chiefs, right on their own turf. Despite all the press about the past, this is a new team and they took the opportunity to prove that to KC and anyone else who was willing to watch. It was close right up to the end of the first quarter, and quickly turned into a rout during quarter 3. I enjoyed every minute of it. While I wanted to have the Broncos put a headlock on the Chiefs I didn't expect Ryan Clady (photo) to take it quite so literally.
I also continued to look at past film, spending a little extra time on special teams. I'll talk more about them on Thursday, but this was plenty to get us started. Hats on? Goggles in place? Let's do it. In fact, let's start in Indianapolis.
Defense Wins Game
Did anyone catch the way that Indianapolis won over Tennessee? Tennessee was a hot as any team in gootball, but they fell short when they came up against the Indy defense. The Colts had not one but two goal line stands in a game that brought about a 27-17 win over the Titans.
As usual, they had help. Vince Young fumbled at the one on first and goal. A Titans guard, Eugene Amano (another of the great football names, being mano Amano) committed a holding penalty, but Indy held on all tries and a perfect fade route in the corner of the endzone one fourth down was foiled when rookie Jerraud Powers pushed fellow rookie Kenny Britt out of bounds before he could get both feet down. Clint Session had 12 tackles to lead the Colts and he was joined by a crew that just didn't let up.
I bring this up for a simple reason. When Kansas City was sitting at the one yard line on 1st and goal at the end of the 1st quarter, I wasn't even phased. No chemicals were involved in my level of calm - for once, finally, for the first time in years, I awaited not how KC would score but how Denver would beat them back. Despite the ease with which the Chiefs moved the ball to the one, I knew that they were 17 plays into their drive and that the more opportunities you give Mike Nolan up in the booth, the more likely it is that he'll solve what's happening and that one or more of the Broncos will make a play. That went strangely errant during the losing streak, but that feeling was back again on Sunday, as it had been against NY. The Broncos held KC to a FG. My only surprise was that they didn't just take it away entirely.
Perhaps Elvis Dumervil, Bailey and the Broncos' fifth-ranked pass defense can negate the Colts' strength. Dumervil ran down Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel in the second quarter for his NFL-best 15th sack of the season. Unlike the Broncos' teams that took trips to Indy earlier this decade, Dumervil offers the chance to apply pocket pressure on Manning, and Bailey appears to have considerably improved secondary mates.
Ty Law has provided us with a veteran's skills at the cornerback blitz. He hits like a particle accelerator, giving us the Denver version of the Big Bang. H was a great pickup. I don't know the issues of contracts that well, so I'll assume that he was let go due to excessive dollars for expected performance, but here's his contract with us:
1/6/2009: Signed a one-year, $800,000 contract. The deal included a $200,000 signing bonus. Another $400,000 is available through incentives based on performance and playing time. 2009: $600,000
That's cheap for what he's bringing to us. He'll be a free agent in 2010, if the Broncos don't sign him to another 1 year contract. Based on what I've seen so far, they should.
Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill each picked off Cassel passes in the third quarter to set up scores. Brian Dawkins blew up a Kansas City first-and-goal-from-the-1 chance in the second quarter by tackling Jamaal Charles for a 3-yard loss and then delivering a blindside blitz to disrupt Cassel's third-down pass attempt. The Chiefs didn't have an answer.
"It's not for one guy," Dawkins said. "Champ does not have to be all over the place. Elvis doesn't have to make five sacks. There's always going to be somebody to make the play. To me, that's a telltale sign of a good defense."
It is, and that's what I loved about watching the KC game. in every quarter, someone else stepped up. Orton had a 'bad' game but ended up with a 90+ QB rating for his efforts by making two nice TD passes, moving above 60% on his passing completions and by the team going 4 of 6 in the Red zone and nailing those other two as FGs. This is a team that can put together a whole game. Indy is as tough as there is in the NFL, but every team can be beaten. It will take a near perfect effort, though. Are the Broncos up to it?
There's another side to our preparation this week: Denver will be going up against Larry Coyer, who was fired as the defensive coordinator in Denver. While most such individuals claim that it's just a game, theey understand the business and that there is nothing personal in their feelings few of us believe taht and for good reason. It's the nature of the competitive individual to compete, to assert oneself and to repay old slights. Coyer had trouble making the adjustments that kept the Broncos competitive during some of the games and over the course of the season. He will be looking to show Denver that he's learned those lessons and put them to good use.
Two side notes -- Bobby Wade was the best Denver player to wear a Chiefs uniform on Sunday, contributing drops and misses to keep drives from scoring. Ti's always appreciated, but don't expect Indianapolis to be as accommodating. And if you didn't enjoy watching Peyton Hillis show folks that he's not done with Denver, you just aren't a fan. I don't know where they keep the 'yards after contact' stats for RBs, but I'd love to see how his stack up. Great power running against an exhausted KC defense.
Special Teams Fun
A most of you know, I've been tearing apart film recently in an attempt to get a better idea of why the losing streak was happening. Today is the start of some discussion of special teams. Much of today's info came from the KC game. I've got some more coming on Thursday. Theser are some qustions that I wrote down before hitting the film:
Who is blocking on the KO and punts, who stands out? Give me some names
I'll go with 4 - on KOs, Spenser Larsen and Peyton Hillis. I can add Robert Ayers - the more film I watch, the more he's in on the blocking. Quinn? You bet. He's been in on the blocking frequently, on the ST. Against the fake punt play in KC, which could have been another TD if complete, he made a veteran read and play. By the way, calling that play at your own 28? Wow. It seemed that Darcel McBath was caught out of position, following where he thought that play was going, which left the receiver, a center who lined up as an eligible receiver, wide open. Quinn made a totally heads-up play. Nice work, rookie. Quinn also blocked well, not letting up on his man, on the drive following Andre' Goodman's perfect INT on Cassel later that quarter.
For what it's worth, that seemed to be a badly thought-out play. It's a huge gamble, your offense is failing to make any yardage but you're still only down 14-6. Aren't you throwing in the towel when you do that? It lead to a FG that made it 17-6 and would later prove to put the game out of reach.
Who is standing out as a gunner?
David Bruton, Darcel McBath and now Spencer Larsen stand out, as does Richard Quinn, but Darrell Reid (who had 3 ST tackles on Sunday at KC) was also a factor in many plays. It's a nice thing when you need to list 5 good players. Josh Barrett also seems to always be around the ball - not yet making the tackle but fillig the right lanes and keeping the runbacks contained. Champ Bailey had a nice play on the kickoff following Prater's FG at 13:30 of the 3rd Q. He was there along with Spencer Larsen, who didn't get credit for that tackle but who was in on it. Wes Woodyard had two ST tackles of his own. There was a lot of praise to go around, and all of it deserved.
Did anyone notice that when Eddie Royal had some space to move in and come blocking that he was repeatedly able to gain significant yardage? The pattern of not stopping the offense until they are in the area of the 40s and then having Royal backed up to the goal line was broken by our defensive play and the difference was obvious.
He may not have caught a lot of passes but they had to account for him all day and his combined yardage was a thing of joy. The man can block, too. You might also want to go back and rewatch the Marshall TD from the 10 yard line - Marshall started on the right side of the formation, went in motion to the left and received the pass on the right. If Eddie Royal doesn't seal off #39, Brandon Carr, on that play, Marshall maybe gains 2. Instead, Royal drove his man out of the play for just long enough to let the Broncos start celebrating.
On the following KO, Alphonso Smith, Robert Ayers, Josh Barrett and Andra Davis were ready to tackle if Wesley Woodyard hasn't made a perfect takedown on the ball carrier. The Broncos were swarming on STs, and that's nice to see. They need to continue that level of play. They didn't, for 4 games, but have stepped up for the late season run.
Royal's runback at 13:00 of the 4th Q was a thing of beauty. I thought that he was going to waste another return by running vertically, but he faked that and turned upfield into a seam, pounding across into Chiefs territory and nearly breaking a final tackle at the end before being brought down by the kicker. Such a great job...getting the kicks with room to run makes it all work.
By the way, on the 44 yard FG kick following the fake punt, I loved hearing Dick Enberg say of Prater, "Oh, he's got a big leg.." Yes, he sure does. Both of our kickers seem to be gaining in strength as the season is moving along. That's always a nice feeling. By the way, just how the heck did Berger manage to get that punt off with Jovan Belcher in his face? Picked up a penalty, but managed to roll the ball along the sideline for long enough to make that punt a keeper. When you're on, you're on...
Renaldo Hill made a great catch on a Matt Cassel throw for an INT but the real hero of the play was none other than Elvis Dumervil. Doom hit Cassel just as he released, driving him slightly backward and causing the pass to sail on him, leading to the INT. Great pressure creates great plays.
Buckhalter takes the rock for 12 to start the Denver drive after that play, but the heroes of that play were Ryan Clady and Spencer Larsen. Clady sealed off his man and Larsen free-lanced to the outside, taking the RDE (91, Tamba Hali) out of the play. Buck ran on past them and picked up 12, the last 3 by sheer force of will. On the next play, it was Larsen, Daniel Graham and Clady. Buck put on an amazing show. 113 yards on 10 carries? I don't recall seeing a performance like that recently , off the top of my head.
Talk about team - did you see Kyle Orton, blocking downfield for Marshall on the reverse? Sure, Marshall didn't make it to that second level, but you have to chuckle when your QB is finishing his blocks. I loved it.
If you blinked, you might have missed it so I'll pass it along. On the fumble forced by Mario Haggan and picked up by Andre' Goodman, in the background you could see Vonnie Holliday hammering his man into the turf so that he couldn't have a shot at getting to the ball or to Goodman. In a single heartbeat, Holliday went from fighting with his man to get to the ball carrier to fighting to drive him into the ground. Great job, heads up play. And, on the following KO, the Broncos filled their lanes to perfection, not permitting any chance of a good runback. The STs stepped way up last Sunday.
Rotating players - Darcel McBath and Marcus Thomas seem to make their presence known every time they step into the rotation. Kudos to both of them.
I'm embarrassed to admit that by the time Cassel completed a nice pass to Bobby Wade over the middle at the end of the third quarter, I found myself actually rooting for him to get one. It was that much of a beating - I knew that he couldn't beat us. I just didn't want to see the Broncos keep slaughtering him. In a few moments, the feeling passed, but it gives an idea of the kind of game it was. Vonnie Holliday sacked him on the next play anyway. The final play of that abortive drive was a hot route out of the shotgun, incomplete to Chambers. If Cassel had put it on the money it would have been intercepted by Renaldo Hill. The overage was as compete as the snow on the Divide. By the end of the 3rd Q, it was time for the mercy rule to kick in.
Variety is the Spice...
On the following series for Denver, backed up to their own 6 yard line. The Broncs came out with a nice little formation that should look familiar to those who read last year's Magic 3 article by Steve Nichols or my own followup to it. Denver brought Spencer Larsen up to just behind the LOS, to the right, with Daniel graham on the line to Polumbus' right and Tony Scheffler outside both of them, towards the right sideline. Moreno was in the backfield, Orton under center and Marshall split out wide to the left. It was essentially a Magic 3 formation, and Denver played with several variations of Multiple TE formations over the course of the game. I saw Quinn in for one of the other Magic 3's. They seem to be running out of it so far, which is fine. I await them using it to throw more - it will give the defensive coordinators fits. It's hard enough to step as a power running option.
Back to the Future
Does it seem familiar that Brandon Marshall is doing so well that teams are obligated to try and stop him, leaving the running game more room to maneuver and Royal a Chance to catch more balls? It should. The more that Marshall catches, the more that other players come open and the more big plays we will see. It was true las year and it is this year as well.
Speaking of the future - I loved that the Broncos when for the big play on 4th and inches at the start of the 4th Q. Moreno could have had 80 yards as easily as 18. Both Graham and Larsen handled their men perfectly. They caught KC in the perfect defensive formation for the playcall and the blocking was once again perfect. Complementary football is a beautiful thing, and watching Moreno make TDs is likely to become something of a habit.
On the following KO, Champ Bailey filled the middle, forcing the returner to pause and giving Mario Haggan (who wasn't credited) and Larsen (who was credited with the tackle) a chance to pounce. That's the kind of thing that only a film review really permits you to enjoy. Quite often, the player who makes the play possible isn't the player who makes the play. That's Broncos football in a nutshell.
I heard back from Joel Griffin after last BT&N. Nice fellow. He had this to say:
I really enjoyed reading your film breakdown of the Denver Broncos. Without even reviewing the film I could have pointed fingers at Hochstein & Polumbus - but you did an excellent job of highlighting their ridiculous errors. Graham was called for 2 more holding calls on Thanksgiving that resulted in 38 rushing yards coming back for Moreno so I wouldn't go letting him off the hook for his inconsistency yet...
Good points, Joel. Daniel Graham is a huge player, a game-changer when he's on. When he takes a play off by committing a foolish penalty I want to growl at him but he always rebounds for us. That's been a pattern with him for a long time, and he's worth the aggravation of a few plays, although I still hope the grows out of it. I loved his TD play at KC and that's typical of his abilities. Scheffler had a big drop, but also got a PI call that moved the chains and he added a 19 yard reception. I loved seeing Peyton Hillis taking people apart in garbage time. I still think that there's a place for that man in the RB rotation, but time will tell. Buck seems to be chewing up the field again - a 9.4 YPC AVERAGE? Ok, he was a prescient pickup by McD and Co. Nice work by Knowshon Moreno, too. A team ypc of 5.1 really does help the game along...
A Final Thought
One of the things that is being lost in all the perspectives of the last couple of weeks is this: Denver is finally getting to the point where they can be more of a 'big strike' team. No, that doesn't mean that they will change from the short yardage offense that they began with, but it does mean that they have other options when they need them. Marshall's 47 yard run is one example, the increase in longer plays is another. This is a team that is still finding out how good it is. The players needed to get used to the schemes and to each other, but that's happening much as I and many others predicted early in the season. It's great to see.
I'll be back for the usual Thursday Broncos Thoughts and Musings, but too much happened this week to summarize quickly. Let's hope that the injuries are minor, that Denver realizes that they can compete with anyone if they play at their best and that a surprise awaits Indianapolis when we travel there next weekend.