The Dude Abides: Week 6 Spotlight on Mike Nolan (and his adjustments)

With the bye, it gave me ample opportunity to watch every play of the San Diego/ Denver game again.  Usually I do this Spotlight post on Saturday Nights/Sunday Mornings so that people will have something to read before the game.  I decided to continue this trend, even though two weeks have passed since this game, and much of what I saw when I looked at the game again has been mentioned by others.  So I certainly don't want to take any originally credit for all of these points.

This week, I had intended to look at Chris Kuper and Robert Ayers.  However, after another week of adjustments by by Mike Nolan, I simply couldn't resist looking at what he was doing.   Everyone in the MSM continues to talk about Denver's adjustments in the second half, but what exactly did they do so differently from the first half?  Did the players just play harder? Did Phil Rivers eat a bad hot dog at halftime?  Did Dumervil find a phone booth and put on a cape?


In reality, Nolan did make some significant adjustments which helped Denver win this game in the 2nd half.  But before we get to these, however, I want to point out a a few interesting, but equally significant points that perhaps you have not heard before.  These points give a big picture view of what Nolan did without even getting down to the player level:

1st Half

  • San Diego ran 31 plays.  I calculated that Mike Nolan blitzed (rush blitzes/pass blitzes/delayed blitzes) on 14 of these plays, or 45% of the time. 
  • Of these 31 plays, Denver used its base 5-2 formation 23 times (74%).
  • Of these 31 plays, Denver used its "small" nickel package (Jack Williams or Alphonso Smith) 5 times (16%)
  • Of these 31 plays, Denver used its "big" nickel package (Josh Barrett) 2 times (7%)
  • Of these 31 plays, Denver showed a 4-3 look 1 time (3%)
  • Of these 31 plays, Elvis Dumervil lined up at Right End/Side 24 times (77%), Left End/Side 6 times (19%), and at a pure Left Outside Linebacker 1 time (3%) 

2nd Half

  • San Diego ran 28 plays.  Mike Nolan blitzed on 11 of these plays, or 39% of the time.
  • Of these 28 plays, Denver used its base 5-2 formation 13 times (46%)
  • Of these 28 plays, Denver used its "small" nickel package (Jack Williams or Alphonso Smith) 9 times (32%)
  • Of these 28 plays, Denver used its "big" nickel package (Josh Barrett) 5 times (18%)
  • Of these 28 plays, Denver gave a pure 4-3 look 1 time (4%).
  • Of these 28 plays, Elvis Dumervil lined up at Right End/Side 16 times (52%), Left End/Side 7 times (25%), a pure Left Outside Linebacker 1 time (4%), a pure Right Outside Linebacker 1 time (4%), and at Middle Linebacker 1 time (4%).
  • He was not in on 2 plays (7%).

Simply looking at these big picture numbers can tell you a few things (aside from the obvious things like time of possession and that San Diego had to pass more in the second half):

  • Josh Barrett's role increased to combat Antonio Gates (in fact, I did not see a Gates completion with Barrett on him, but I could be wrong).
  • Mike Nolan did not stop blitzing in the 2nd half.  In fact, he did it almost the same amount of times.
  • Elvis Dumervil was moved around more in the 2nd half.

Well this is all interesting stuff, but how did it result in more sacks and better pressure in the 2nd half?  First, without Gates as easily available, Rivers could not lock on to him (at least on big 3rd downs).  Second, Dumervil shifted around even more in the 2nd half as Nolan tried to create mismatches.  And third, the blitzes kept coming, but from different places than in the first half.  As MHR member Rain states in an excellent post:

If you remember San Diego’s opening drive. Rivers was torching us behind our blitzing, they marched down the field. Most defensive coordinators would have abandoned the blitzkrieg… Not Nolan.

He simply changed up the look, delayed a man, ran some zone blitzes. But the pressure remained. By the fourth quarter, the pocket was collapsing on almost every play.

Jubei, another MHR regular, points out:

One of the many things that strikes me about this defense is that they are SO good at both showing blitz and backing out, and masking the blitz when it’s coming...You just don’t know where the pressure is coming from, or sometimes more importantly, WHEN it’s coming. And Nolan does a great job of not establishing his tendencies.

And finally, our resident MHR Vulcan, Spock, drops some more knowledge:

Nolan did a nice job of probing their blocking scheme until he found the A-gap weakness. By bringing both ILBs up into the two A gaps, he forced the center to decide who to block, and whichever one he chose the other went free. (And the one he slid over to block probably dropped back into coverage.) That prevented Rivers from stepping up in the pocket, thus exposing him to the outside rush. Nolan figured Rivers didn’t have enough mobility to escape to the outside.

These three quotes from MHR members (and others)  were spot on when I looked at the tape.  The 2nd half adjustments were essentially:

  1. Taking away the pick plays of Gates on 3rd down with Barrett
  2. Running a LOT more delayed blitzes (in the first half there were only a few delayed blitzes).  This is possible to do with the Chargers because they have a vertical passing game and it takes more time for their receivers to get through their routes.
  3. More zone blitzes
  4. Blitzing up the middle more often than in the 1st half (both with delays and stunts)
  5. Moving Dumervil around the formation

I also want to mention something that appeared to me on tape, but I certainly can't verify.  Vonnie Holliday indicated several weeks ago that he saves certain moves for special game situations and specific offensive linemen.  I have a suspicion that Elvis Dumvervil does this too, but not with certain moves.  I think he saves an extra gear specifically for the 2nd half, and more specifically, for 3rd downs.  Without asking him, I can't be sure, but it certainly appears this way.  Of his 10 sacks this season, 9 of them have come in the 2nd half.  And on tape, he just "seems" faster in the 2nd half.  If this is the case, Elvis is becoming a clever veteran before our eyes.

Overall Grade: 10 out of 10.  Of course!  Phil Rivers was sacked more than any other time in his career and he whined about Denver talking too much after the game.  So these 2nd half adjustments should get the seal of approval from any Bronco Fan.

Go Broncos!!!

Originally posted at MHR

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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