It’s often said that it’s the little things that count in life. By my count, during the Broncos' 36-14 win over the Panthers, there were five of them in particular that deserved a big pat on the back.
The first one hits big. He often plays big. He’s Danny Trevathan, the 6-1, 232-lb nickel- and dime-package linebacker whom the Broncos took as their sixth-round draft choice in April. It doesn’t take much knowledge of the game to notice that he’s usually around the ball at the tackle, and that he’s essentially fearless. Danny’s been getting into games in nickel and dime coverage, paired with his Kentucky fellow alum and super ‘backer, Wesley Woodyard.
Trevathan looked outright diminutive next to the 6-5, 255-lb Carolina tight end Greg Olsen. But discriminating fans may have noticed that after Olsen had gashed the Broncos early on, the team assigned Danny to cover Olsen, with immediate positive results. Trevathan did not shut him down, and he will learn a lot from the encounter, but it shows clearly the confidence Denver is developing in him. And, it was a pretty good start, given what he was being asked to do on the fly. Olsen wasn’t the guy he was mostly studying in film work last week, and the rookie still bothered the TE and made his job harder.
College scouting reports gave Danny poor grades for zone coverage, but as I’ve often commented, those reports tend to contain information that was true at some point in the player’s college career, but might have already been corrected at a later point. Danny did have a bad habit at times of not watching for receivers coming into his zone because he was too focused on the QB - I saw him do so. When Denver has put him on a single player, though, his speed, effort, and ability to mirror, have immediately came into play.
Although only credited with two tackles and one pass defensed, he had an impact on Olsen that slowed Cam Newton’s reads and ball placement, making it more likely that one of the Broncos defenders would have time to get to ‘Superman’. Olsen was targeted twice when Trevathan was in coverage on him, and made one of the two catches. The other was put down as a pass defensed by trebuchet Trevathan.
Trevathan played an important role that was easily missed if you only focused solely on the fun in the backfield, which was easy to do. Seven sacks? What a performance!
The smallest things can have a big impact, and the 5-5, 170-lb (soaking wet after Sunday dinner, perhaps) Trindon Holliday was huge in Carolina. In addition to his returns - all 169 yards of them, including his electrifying 76-yard punt return touchdown - Holliday also added two pass receptions on two targets, for another 17 yards. 186 total yards, two receptions, and one TD are numbers that reflect the outsized impact he had on the game.
I’d hate to see him used too often on pass plays, but he’s obviously one heck of a player. Holliday boasts a return for a TD in each of the last two games, and is the only player in the league with both a punt- and kickoff-return TD this season. Denver hasn’t had a dedicated returner of his ilk in a long time.
How big was this little thing? The Panthers fired special teams coach Brian Murphy the next day, citing ‘philosophical differences and productivity’. Philosophy? Maybe. Productivity? Can’t argue that one.
Chris Harris may be small of stature, but he’s a huge part of the defense, and his role is constantly growing. The unheralded, undrafted cornerback, who started 41 of the 50 games he started in four years at Kansas, was both a captain and KU’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, but couldn’t score a Combine invite. He’s been all over the field, stepping up even more as Tracy Porter struggles with a difficult diagnosis as to the cause of his seizures. Harris has shown that he is just as comfortable on the edge as he was at nickelback for the Broncos last season, and may make Porter’s task of getting his job back unlikely.
To put his skills in perspective, he’s one of only three NFL players (along with Wesley Woodyard) to have registered multiple sacks and multiple interceptions this season. 30 of his tackles have been solo. At 5-10 and 190 lb, he’s a mighty big part of Denver’s vastly improved defense. Last Sunday he played right cornerback, slot cornerback, and even took some snaps at safety. He played all of them well, which is a remarkable feat for any second-year player. He also notched a sack, a QB hurry, and four stops to go with his seven tackles, including two for loss, in the Broncos’ drubbing of the Panthers.
Perhaps the best nickname of the season is ‘Sticky Man’, Jack Del Rio’s term for Tony Carter, who’s becoming one of the biggest little men you could ask for at corner. I’ve watched him go from a PS alternate to an attacking starter with ball-hawking skills and marvelous mirroring technique; I can’t say enough good about him. That kind of development takes a franchise that understands player development, a special kind of player, and a personal drive that’s rare to find. Big applause for him - that pick-six in Carolina was as smooth as they come. Champ Bailey + Carter/Harris is simply a stronger group than Bailey + Tracy Porter/anyone.
I like Porter, and I hope his health issues evaporate. I’d like to see that he gets the strength that he needs to mirror well, tackle with authority, and put some pressure in press coverage. If the rest of his skills matched his speed and silky hip flip, he’d be a perennial All-Pro. As it is, there are now three guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
Carter’s receivers were targeted six times. Only two passes went for completions and none for touchdowns, meaning that he actually outscored his assignments. He even came up big in run support - listed at 5-9 and 175 lb, he has solid tackling fundamentals and a total fearlessness when employing them. Carter is also the only player in the NFL to have returned both an interception and a fumble for a touchdown this season. Production is the ultimate measure of a player.
Tony has allowed the lowest completion percentage among NFL corners - he’s been targeted 32 times and only 11 (34.4%) have been completed. He’s broken up eight passes as well. He’ll be tested against some very good QBs this year: Josh Freeman has been hot, Joe Flacco can’t be overlooked, and for all his mistakes, when he plays like he can, Philip Rivers can be an elite QB. Carter’s reaction? Small potatoes. His self confidence is one of his gifts.
Rahim Moore was thrown out onto the field last year without the benefit of OTAs or minicamps, and it didn’t take long for him to self-destruct. The Broncos coaches worked with him carefully to prop him up emotionally and teach him why he was their first choice in the second round of the 2011 Draft. In the offseason, Moore hit the training area and film rooms religiously and entered OTAs with a much stronger body and a will to match. It’s paid off in a big way.
Moore has 47 tackles, third on the team, with 37 of them of the solo variety. He’s been taking good angles, knows his assignments and his opponents. At 6-1 and 196 lb, the former beanpole is now much stronger. He has filled out his body and sharpened his understanding of the game. With the help of veterans Champ Bailey and Mike Adams, and the tutelage of secondary coach Ron Milus (pronounced MY-lus), who was himself a cornerback in college at the University of Washington, Moore has become an essential part of the massive step up in Denver's defensive play.
Moore had four tackles in the Carolina game, adding an interception and a pass defensed to his totals. His use of angles and leverage, his technique in tackling and coverage, and his unceasing efforts all have come together to make this young man one of the Broncos' key pieces for this year and for the future.
Jack Del Rio will tell you - as he tells his players vocally - that paying attention to the little things is essential to creating an elite defensive squad. These five players are each just one part of the Denver defensive turnaround, but the little things add up along the way.
These smaller guys deserve a big thank you from Bronco fans everywhere.