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.
At snap, the front five for Denver - and there is a double team on the side of the right defensive end which takes up the tight end - engages the offensive line front for the Bears.
With all of the offensive blocking alignments engaged, rookie linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) diagnoses the play, spots his gap, and slices through:
He has to knife through it incredibly quickly, because it could close just as fast. Because the fullback has faked to Danny’s side and then cut back into the closed side to block, he has his back to Danny as the linebacker slams into the tailback, Armando Allen. The play results in a loss of two yards.
Several points come to mind here. The first is that Denver has set this play up perfectly.
- The over formation ensures that running plays to the strong side would be difficult, due to the Broncos' numbers on that side.
- Bringing the Will linebacker up to the defensive line permits an additional pass rusher or run stopper.
- It also creates an illusion of weakness, a potential opening for the running play to go through. The Bears bite, by trying to go to the closed side where they thought their superior numbers would give them an advantage. It might have worked, except for Trevathan’s backside pursuit.
While it is important to keep in mind that the second unit is not of the same quality as the starters, this play would have worked against anyone; it looked like someone had just drawn it up on a whiteboard. The defense essentially lured the offense into creating an obstruction on the left side of the line by packing the offensive left tackle, tight end, and fullback into the space that their running back should have fit through, thereby slowing his progress. In their turn, the five defensive ‘lineman’ absorbed all six of the offensive blockers, permitting the gap to open so that Trevathan could cut through it. The quickness of the backside pursuit put the final nail in the coffin.
Something that has to be noted is that Danny was able to diagnose the play, spot his gap, and fire through it, all in a split moment. When you talk about speed with a linebacker, the speed of his reflexes is essential - Danny’s already moving when some players are still mired in the recognition phase. He also has the foot speed and balance to cut through the clutter of the line unimpeded. He has that linebacker attitude - the joy of hitting hard - and yet he maintains very good fundamentals. You can see why he led the SEC in tackling for two straight years - he generally has his head tucked to the side, wraps up like a python, strikes with the shoulder, and hits through his target, rather than into it. That’s too often a rarity in the NFL.
The other thing that you noticed about him extended far beyond this one play - he always seemed to be around the ball. I liked what I saw of him in coverage, too. It’s only the first preseason game, but he’s starting out impressively.
Trevathan was not the only linebacker who excelled in this game. Nate Irving deserves a big pat on the back, and Mike Mohamed had several good plays. I also kept seeing the number 47 of fourth-round pick Omar Bolden as well. But on a night with a lot of good plays, this one stood out.