Monday Musings:Denver’s flanking pass rush, Joe Mays steps up, Beadles has work to do

I keep files on all sorts of things, both diculous and ridiculous, from the physics of football to the estimated time that quarterbacks should have their feet in place, the ball cocked and ready to go out by with drops of different lengths. That last one comes up about twice a season. Interested?

A quality NFL quarterback is expected to do a three-step drop in 1.5 seconds, five steps in 2.1 seconds and seven in less than 2.7 seconds.

Tarvaris Jackson didn’t have time to do any of them on Saturday night.

I don’t have a lot of real sympathy for Jackson - lord knows that Denver’s had their share of matador linemen of late, and it’s part of the game. It was up to Pete Carroll and the FO to provide him with the offensive linemen that he needs to put his game together, and they’ve been affected by injuries. Even so - you can’t help but gaze in astonishment, because I don’t even recall looking at a pair of defensive ends plus a rover that looked anything like this group. Von Miller, of course, has various roles that he plays and he manages to do all well, which is astounding for a rookie: Robert Ayers and Elvis Dumervil plus Miller is almost an absurd combination, especially with Kevin Vickerson and Brodrick Bunkley in the mix.

Then there is the backup DT situation with Jeremy Jarmon, Mitch Unrein, DeMario Pressley and Ronnell Brown. Denver is moving their players constantly to create matchups until Marcus Thomas returns from his pectoral injury and perhaps D.J. Williams from his elbow dislocation.

Among the many things that I’ve enjoyed studying over the years has been historical military strategy. Among the more classic formations that the Romans used (among other cultures) was a group of phalanxes that formed into a pattern that looked roughly like the head of a bull, with enveloping phalanxes on the flanks that were considered the bull’s horns. To engage on one flank was to expose the other - to try and defend both meant that the Romans would use an envelopment and attack also from the rear. That was very much what watching Denver’s defense in the first half Saturday was like - Miller and Doom on the outside, Ayers, Vickerson and/or Bunkley in the middle, causing havoc as Miller and Doom capsized the Seattle tackles and the bull’s horns gored the backfield from either side. Pick one side or the other - you’re still getting gored. Doom’s stoic style and fierce tackling against the run has been slowing the running game just as much as the rush has limited the pass.

It was kind of like watching Mira Costa Community College playing against Boise State when the Denver D was on the field. That’s not to say that RT James Carpenter of Seattle is a bad player - actually, what’s most enjoyable is the point that he's not - rather, he was a legit first-round pick in the 2011 Draft. But Von Miller is likely to expose a number of good players this year, younger and older. Best note of the game - San Diego’s Jeromey Clary is very vulnerable to the speed rusher on the right tackle. If you play Philip Rivers, you need a little ‘edge’. Denver finally has one - well, two, really. Miller is a very rare find, while Doom is stopping the run in its tracks for the first time.  And, what was Miller’s comment on Carpenter’s play?

James and I are good friends. He's going to be a great tackle in this league. I think you have to give credit to our secondary. There were a lot of coverage sacks out there tonight.

Miller is a genuinely nice young man who also has taken to the cliches of pro sports very seriously, which I admire. I do give a lot of credit to the Denver secondary, which is playing superbly. I just don’t take it away from the DL, and while Miller’s modesty does him credit, his performance was incredible and he’s still learning. That’s really the frightening part - this is when he’s young and inexperienced. Miller had four unassisted tackles, two sacks and four QB hits in just over one half of play - a good night’s work by any standard. When you realize that he’s just learning the pro game, it takes on some pretty impressive overtones.

Let’s not take this half play by play - you can find that here and it would take forever. I just want to touch on some points and plays that matter the most.

The first point is that the defense wasn’t the only excellent group on the field. The starting offense had its ups and downs, but in the end they put up 17 points and Kyle Orton threw for a 99.2 QB rating on 16 of 23 throwing, with one TD and an INT for the game. The INT was just sloppy, but for most of the game he looked sharp. Denver continues to struggle with penalties, and in the third preseason game, you’d like to be seeing a little more crispness to the play.

In roughly five quarters of work, the first string has produced 35 points - nearly half the total from the team. This isn’t bad for a group of players who have a limited background together. Keeping Mike McCoy and his changes with the Encyclopedia McDaniels-ica that functioned as a playbook was a smart move. A lot of players are already familiar with the system, and those who weren’t are picking it up quickly. It will be an interesting twist to see how McCoy does at calling the plays this coming season.

The first Denver series of the game started with a holding penalty on Zane Beadles, which brought a Knowshon Moreno run back, if for only a yard. The next play was a pass that lost five yards - an illegal formation penalty (Orlando Franklin) was declined. Starting with two penalties is not an auspicious start.  Moreno then took it around right end (with Franklin leading and looking good) for five and Orton passed to Eddie Royal for 10. Then, Britton Colquitt hit his first big punt of the night, 61 yards with just a six-yard return. A great deal of the 1st half was back and forth with both teams' offenses essentially out of sync - it happens, but it’s lousy timing in the third preseason game. However, in the second quarter, some things came together in an even stronger way than they had been with Denver’s defense. 

The D was special almost all night. Make Seattle run for no gain, then have an incomplete pass, add another incomplete pass and then a punt is a nice template for Seattle’s offensive half of the evening. It wouldn’t be that easy, but for the starting defense, it looked like it wasn’t all that hard either.

Seattle started with the weakside (left) TE going into motion to the strongside, which turned into a running play right-side that the TE was supposed to block for. That didn’t happen - it was quickly turned into a gang tackle that Champ Bailey had first grabs on. On the next play, everyone is covered, and Doom just slogs over a downed OL that he brushes off his legs to converge on the QB just as Miller hits Jackson from the side and Vickerson from the front.

I give Jackson a lot of credit for getting out of an impending sack on the next play, but the die was cast. No one on the Seattle OL could stop the Denver pass rush. Nice, deep booming punts were also the order of the day, and Jon Ryan booted this one for 63 yards, although Syd’Quan Thompson brought it back 19 yards to the Denver 31.

There was a lot of back and forth for a while - neither team looked sharp, except for Denver’s D, most of the time. There was one play that stood out, though - it came at 11:27 of the 1st quarter, 1st and 10 on the DEN 45. Orton spent his time focused on the weakside (his pass protection was excellent, too) and at the last moment, swept his eyes right and nailed Thomas with a sweet pass in the soft spot of the zone for 21 yards. That’s a skill that Orton’s handling much better this year, and he’d display it with Thomas again before the night was out. Audibles don’t show up on stat lines. Really, how well you handle play action doesn’t either. Neither does looking off the safety, at least on most stat lines. But all are keys to winning football games, and Orton did them all well. Of course, it’s even more impressive if you don’t throw your first INT a few moments later wink, as Orton did.

With 25 seconds left in the 1st Quarter: Broncos in shotgun, 1 RB set left, 3 WR, 1 TE. Seattle is in Cover-2. There are several classic Cover-2 beaters - the slant is one of them, because it can split the safeties, creating enough confusion in the middle to fit the pass in for a completion. Eric Decker is on the inside of the two left/weakside WR positions. On the snap, he takes off at top speed down the field, and veers - at nearly full speed - to the inside up the seam. It’s a perfect pass and a perfect catch - Orton was starting to get pressured, but had no trouble holding his ground until the right moment to let loose and Decker caught the pass perfectly on his hands, locking it into his body (it made contact with the ground and came free, but not until he’d brought it in and executed a couple of steps that qualified as ‘football moves, so it’s a catch).  I get the impression that with Brandon Lloyd, Royal, Decker, Matthew Willis and Thomas (with Britt Davis and Daniel Fells, plus the running backs), the Broncos' biggest problem won’t be whom to throw to. Orton has said that few teams will be able to stop Denver for four quarters. If the defense keeps them in the game, he may well be right.

This was one 2nd Quarter Seattle possession that I really enjoyed: It really was very much like all the rest, I suppose - just even more so. The Broncos defense, who was consistently special, moved up into spectacular.

Play 1 - The defense earned a quick rundown of this whole - and brief - possession - exactly 90 seconds, start to finish. They were outrageous much of the evening and this time that was especially true. At 9:27 of Q2, at 1st and 10 the Seahawks were in a standard, 1 TE, 3 WR, single-back formation and the TE was opposite Champ Bailey , who was covering the slot in what has become standard duty. Denver had Champ cheating a bit to the inside near, with Ryan McBean, Vickerson, Ayers and Doom in an under formation on the DL. Jackson took the snap and handed it to the back, who tried to sweep off-tackle. He didn’t even make it out of the backfield - Doom was the first to lay hands on him, but behind him there was a cascade of blue unis. Doom gets credit for stopping the run, which he did well, that play and all night. Everyone else was standing there and making sure that everyone got up.

Play 2 - On the next play, Denver has five men up front - one standing on each end (Von Miller across from RT), three with their hands in the dirt. The ball is snapped, and Von instantly torches Carpenter at right tackle, driving him straight back in a bull rush, with a sudden turn to it, cornering on a carpenter’s square right into Jackson. Miller says that he and Carpenter are good friends; If so, it’s a testament to his own charisma, because it’s got to be difficult to keep smiling at a guy who keeps making you look that bad. Ayers is right there on the sack and Ryan McBean is right next to them, and they aren’t alone there. The new Broncos believe in doing things in groups. It fosters camaraderie. Swarming is a constant. Ayers was all over the field, all night. Even McBean was making plays.

Play 3 - Seattle tried something a little different on the next play, going to a TE-strongside, five-man OL with the QB in the shotgun and the RB level with him, weakside. Denver countered with the base of Miller standing, and Vickerson, Ayers and Doom each with their hands down at the snap. The X receiver had started in motion, and the QB controlled the snap and threw to him instantly - a hot route. The receiver caught it, but Ayers was there almost before the ball. The WR tried to avoid Ayers' hands by doing a spinning Limbo move and almost made it under his arm, but instead landed on one hand and found more blue jerseys coming at him. He spun again in mid air, but this time he spun back into Ayers, who yanked him in, locked his arms on him and landed on him full bore - whack! It’s also 7:57 when the receiver hits the turf, and Denver has another stop in just 1.5 minutes.

Notes

Some good, bad and things to watch out for:

1. Joe Mays wasn’t fooled by play fakes this week. After last week’s performance, they needed him to step up, and he did. Mays was all over the place Saturday night. Nice job, Joe.

2. D.J. Williams is out 3-4 weeks with a dislocated elbow. This will give Wesley Woodyard a chance to step up - good luck,  and good health to both D.J. and WW.

3. In a combination of strange and ugly, left guard Zane Beadles has got to get his act together: he’s just not blocking well enough. Center J.D. Walton’s ahead of him. Even Rookie Orlando Franklin’s ahead of him. RT is a more essential position than LG, but Beadles is going to have to really step up this season or Denver will either have a new RT or a new LG as soon as it can be, depending on how the draft and FA fall next year.

4. Ryan McBean is quietly doing a better job than I thought he would. He is, as I thought he would, playing both some interior and some exterior DL. Some said that this was his best usage, as a multiple-use lineman in a 4-3. We’ll find out.

5. Five sacks? You have to love it

6. Yes, that was a very nice hit by Matt Willis on the returner for Denver's first punt. He’s going to do anything to get on the field, and I like that in a player.

7. You know this one....

8.  The cut block on Bunkley by Robert Gallery was, I’m sad to say, legal as the rules are written. This is one of the rules that Kevin Vickerson challenged the league to change if they truly care about the safety of all players. Kevin was right. If they want to get serious about player safety, they need to protect all of them.

9. For those who asked - from what I can see after looking at it about 1,000 times - on Willis McGahee’s 4th-down run, Kuper didn’t hold his block, Spencer Larsen didn’t make his and Franklin stayed on his man. If Kuper holds his line, Denver gets the 1st. He wasn’t able to, and Denver turns the ball over on downs - it’s a weakness that McGahee will help with, but the Broncos still need something more in the blocking if they want to be able to count on this.

10. Julius Thomas, Eddie Royal and Eric Decker had four receptions each. Matt Willis had three passes caught, Brandon Lloyd had two and there were ten receivers in all. All are good numbers. You expect a lot of receivers in preseason, but it also shows that a lot of players were given a chance to shine, if only for a play. The coaches probably know 40 of the 53 final players - right now, they’re digging to find the last baker’s dozen.

11. Orton has actually been running, rolling out and such things. He’s moved surprisingly well, and he's been a solid passer in the preseason. He’s been moving out of the pocket, driving the pass when needed and looks to have improved his base. Miracles never cease. Next time he’s on the field, it will count.

12. Nate Jones gave the staff an easy way out with his play on Saturday - he didn’t look like he belonged in the game. I appreciate that he tried to be there when Denver needed a CB/Saf, but the job was mostly over his head. Maybe his body is slowing, maybe it’s something more, but he isn’t at the level that Denver needs right now.

13. Dennis Allen is an incredible talent at defensive coordinator. I don’t know how else to say it - he’s going to mean 2-3 wins by himself.

14. Sidebar: I don’t know if you caught this, but the official name of the stadium is now Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. I think that’s a slight improvement - you can call the field whatever you want, but it’s Mile High Stadium, now and in the future! Great call there, in getting some money out of the deal and getting the fans less irritated.

I think that we needed to get back to being Mile High. Now they’re also switching back to orange, which the fans have been calling for vociferously. I’ve gotta say - they’re at least making some good changes, perhaps in part to ‘rebrand’ as they call it. Okay - maybe for the right price, I might be persuaded. But I’d like to keep getting that right price for a while...

15. Finale

Andrew Mason at Max Denver had a fun question:

“(Allen) is a great coach. We all trust him in his calls,” said Miller. “He’s a wizard.”
The last two weeks, Miller and Dumervil have made Allen look like Dumbledore. But which one of the duo is the Broncos’ Harry Potter?

How can he ever ask? Only one of them has the dark rimmed glasses...

More to come on Wednesday. Go Broncos!

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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