Scouting the Broncos: Back to basics

As usual, I’ve been looking over the film of the first game with regard to the offensive line. Health issues prevented my spending the time necessary to fully cover the second game, but I did a little poking around in the stat pile as far as where the Denver OL stands in general.

I’ll work in what I found in the first game - as you’d expect, the stats were better in that contest, simply because the line played very well. Here are just the bare bones of the second game, using the figures over at Pro Football Focus:

  Sacks Hits Hurries Penalties-Accepted
Ryan Clady 0 1 0 1-0
Zane Beadle 0 0 2 1-0
J.D. Walton 0 0 1 1-0
Manuel Ramirez 1 0 1 2-1
Orlando Franklin 0 1 0 1-1
Totals 1 2 4 6-2

Not that bad, with one exception: no offensive line is going to commit six penalties in a game and not deal with the consequences. The fact that only two were accepted only means that other mistakes on the same plays were more egregious and led to the play being accepted as it was played, rather than taking the penalty. That’s just bad.

Only surrendering one sack (with the other two on Knowshon Moreno and on Peyton Manning himself) is just fine. Four hurries is not a heinous level of play. Manning was only hit twice, and that’s easily acceptable, too. Overall, the line didn’t do a bad job in pass blocking - they just shot themselves in the foot on penalties.

A couple of positives: First, the work of the tackles has improved dramatically over last year. Part of that is the move to Manning - the OL was toasted by causes beyond their control last year. ‘Big O’ Orlando Franklin has shown substantial improvement in his pass blocking over these two games, with his footwork, movement, stance, and technique all a step or two up from his rookie campaign.

Franklin's strides are so great that I have to reconsider whether improving the interior by kicking him inside is worth what would be lost on the edge, if he can continue this level of play. Denver brought him in to mold him as a right tackle. They might have been smart in doing so - he’d never played the position, so they couldn’t have known how he’d adapt. But it’s worth looking at his background to understand why he might have made such a steep jump (at least so far).

To explain that, Franklin was born in Jamaica. His family moved to Canada, but he wanted to play American football. The family moved to Florida so that he could get the level of training that he needed, and he joined Atlantic High School in Delray Beach, Florida. He had only one year there, but he didn’t allow a single sack while playing left tackle. He played 51 games (39 starts) for the University of Miami, twice earning All-Atlantic Coast Conference recognition. Orlando was at left guard until he was the best player on the line, at which point he moved to left tackle once again (as he did in HS).

Franklin’s overcome opposition at every turn, so watching him pick up a deeper stance, use his feet better, kick out faster, and move with his hips lower, doesn’t surprise me as much as it otherwise might. Denver believed that he could be molded into a top right tackle: right now, he’s on the way. It’s early in the season and things could change, but so far, it looks like Denver made a good choice in putting him on the edge.

They need help on the interior, but that’s a separate issue. Franklin has given up one hit and one hurry, and no sacks, in two games against good competition. That’s quality production. His counterpart, Ryan Clady, has given up one QB hit and no hurries or sacks. It’s what I'd hoped to see from Clady, who’s playing in a contract year.

The key reasons that Franklin was chosen for the right tackle slot was that he brings two essentials to the game. First, he’s got more than a little bit of mean to him on the field. The front office felt that the line was tending too much toward finesse, and not enough toward being physically dominating. Franklin’s done a lot to improve that. Proof?

Last season, he had an average of 6.0 yards per carry up through the right tackle slot. It was the best average on the team, despite his rookie status. We're only two games into the season at this point, but I can’t ignore that so far he’s averaging 8.4 yards per carry through his slot. Sure, it’s a small sample, but it’s the only one we have to work with, and it’s damned good. The closest thing is the middle left slot, at 4.0 yards per carry.

The right tackle is often helped out by the tight end at need, so you can’t take these numbers as if they’re gospel - they aren’t. They’re pieces to the puzzle, and if they don’t match the film, they’re immaterial. In this case, they do match the film. Franklin has improved visibly when I watch the film, and his numbers suggest the same outcome. 

The worst performance in the MNF game came from the backup, Manny Ramirez, a player many fans were declaring as better than Chris Kuper (the man he replaced) just last week. Ah, how quickly they change their minds. Manny is a very good backup who had a poor game; he's given up one sack and two hurries in two games. It’s not perfect, but it’s a long way from terrible. In the Pittsburgh game, he didn’t give up a sack, hit, or hurry. I can’t complain about that. He had a bad game in Atlanta. Right now, he’s one out of two. Kuper will return soon.

The only thing that this game really resolved was whether Manny is an immediate threat to Zane Beadles's starting job. Beadles has given up a total of two hurries in no games. No sacks, no hits - just two hurries. I can’t complain about that. He’s playing pretty well, and his trap and pulling work in the opener was excellent.

How about J.D. Walton? Some folks asked me about him last week before I did my OL runthrough on film. The fact is, he generally did a nice job on Casey Hampton, handling him in the run and the pass blocking game. In Atlanta, he had a penalty that wasn’t accepted and one QB hurry - no sacks, no hits. That’s a pretty good start. Actually, I thought that his movement was better and his pass pro was also good. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, of course. Sam Monson over at PFF commented,

We took some heat last season by consistently grading the Denver offensive line poorly despite some big numbers put up by the Denver running game. In reality much of that was manufactured by the option attack and Tim Tebow, but this season there has been a notable improvement from LG Zane Beadles (+0.7) and J.D. Walton (+1.4) in particular. They combined to allow three hurries, although neither allowed Manning to hit the floor, but each had an impressive performance run blocking, getting the better of Falcons defensive linemen and linebackers several times.

Walton showed impressive strength at the point of attack while Beadles was able to locate and move linebackers at the second level as Denver used him to pull and act as lead-blocker for runs in the hole throughout the game. This marks the second successive game that both players have graded positively, having since been languishing down at the bottom of our rankings in previous seasons. Peyton Manning makes any offensive line look better, but this version of Manning will be thankful for the uptick in performance of those linemen.

I took a bit of heat back then as well, at first - folks who know me less tend to ask me why I ‘don’t like’ certain players. Actually, there are few that I don’t like, but many whose level of play I find to be substandard. I like to be honest about that, because when a player steps up and improves, I’m going to talk about that, too. When they play poorly, well, that’s what there is to mention. From what I’ve had a chance to watch, Walton and Beadles had some very nice plays against the Falcons, and they each played well against the Steelers, too.

I’m going to pick this back up in a couple days and show you some of the things that have changed what I’ll tell you from ‘There are some fairly concerning problems with the OL,’ to ‘I’m impressed with the difference in the OL so far.’ They aren’t hard to notice, once you know what you’re looking for. See you then.

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

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