The Playbook Abides - When a good run goes bad

This week, thanks to the bye, we're taking a look at a series of interesting plays from Denver's first eight games.  Hopefully, we'll learn a thing or two about what makes the Broncos tick,  and further, what makes them go tick...tock...boom.

Yesterday, we looked at the Broncos' longest run from scrimmage--a 17-yard gain which took place during the season opener in Jacksonville. 

Today, we'll look at a similar situation, but this time, we'll see what happens when a run with perfectly good intentions just goes horribly bad.  

I think you'll be surprised--with a little dash of aggression--just how easy it is to cause disruption in an opponent's running game.  Moreover, I think you'll walk away with a new appreciation for wide receivers.  Finally, I'm guessing that you'll question the call by Josh McDaniels on this one.

So let's get to it.  This play is from the Baltimore game in Week 4.

Denver @ Baltimore, Week 4

This little diddy took place with 8:50 to play in the 1st quarter, on Denver's first possession of the game.  Baltimore had just eaten up a lot of clock but had failed to score in the red zone.  So the game was scoreless, and Denver faced a 2nd-and-5 from its own 20-yard line.  

Denver wanted to do something they hadn't done the previous year against the Ravens--cram the ball right down their throat.  They wanted to show the Ravens that they were a finesse team no longer.  Take that, Ray Lewis!

Josh McDaniels decided he wasn't going to mess around.  For this play, he brought in a Jumbo (goal line and full house also work as terms) personnel package, which included an extra offensive tackle (Zane Beadles), two tight ends (Daniel Graham and Dan Gronkowski), the most physical WR the team had (Demaryius Thomas), and finally, Laurence Maroney.  One might even call this a 131 package (1 RB,3 TE,1 WR) if one thinks about Beadles as an extra-large tight end.  

Maroney was the single back.  McDaniels overloaded the right side of the formation with Beadles and Graham.  Thomas started out split left, but motioned to the right side of the formation so that before the snap, the right side included Thomas on the outside shoulder of Graham. 

With Ryan Harris, Beadles, Graham, and Thomas split so closely together on the right side, you didn't need to be a defensive coordinator to see the Broncos had no intention of passing the ball on this play.  McDaniels might as well have marched into the field of play with a bullhorn and shouted, "Pound the right side!"

The Ravens, of course, saw it too, so they countered by putting 10 men into the box out of their base 4-3.  They left their free safety behind the defense just in case. Well, that was nice of them.

Despite this, the Broncos had a good play drawn up.  Here's how it was supposed to work from the Broncos' perspective:

DenBal131

The idea, as we see here, was to essentially double-team the three interior lineman, pushing them back, and creating a lot of traffic for both inside linebackers to deal with.  Gronkowski would seal on the backside, while Graham would have to win his one-on-one battle to make the play work.  Demaryius Thomas, for his part, needed to get to the strong safety and take him out of the play.  If all of this happened, Maroney would (perhaps) have to deal with a cornerback and once he had some daylight, he would have to deal with the free safety.  

Easy enough, right?

Right.  As anyone who has ever coached youth football can tell you, a football play sometimes just doesn't happen the way you draw it up on the board.  John Elway made a career out of such plays.

Here's how the play went down, friends:

So what went wrong?  A few things.  First,  the Ravens are an awesome defense, so when Thomas motioned to the strong side of the formation, they immediately brought the strong safety down into the box and shifted the free safety to the strong side behind the formation.  This effectively put 10 men into the box.  Not a bad way to start off a play against a 9-man front.  Second, the strong safety, in this case Tom Zbikowski, read the play perfectly; he got to the line of scrimmage like he was shot from a high-precision Jared Allen-issued rifle.  Zbikowski got to the hole before Maroney; Demaryius Thomas had no chance to get close to blocking him.  It was as if he almost knew the play.  Third, although Gronkowski did a decent job of sealing off the backside, he couldn't hold his block forever, and his man was able to close on the play when Maroney tried to cut the play back to avoid Zbikowski.  Fourth, because there were no receivers split to the weak side of the formation, the weak side cornerback read Gronkowski and, upon realizing it was a run, crashed unabated from the weak side on Maroney.  In the end, three tacklers bottled up Maroney right at the line of scrimmage in what was, at least on the chalkboard, a good play.  

If you watch this play on tape, the positive sight was the Broncos' line absolutely destroying the Ravens up front on all of the double-team blocks, which had the added bonus of pushing the defensive linemen right into both middle linebackers.  But the formation led the Ravens to really attack the box with 10 men because they didn't fear the pass.  Zbikowski made one heck of a play as well, and when the back side was closed off, Maroney had no chance.

This brings us to a point from yesterday, which can't be repeated enough.  The offense is never going to outnumber the defense on a play like this.  It's imperative that a team's running back be able to break tackles--in the hole, on the cutback, out on the edge.  Without such a back, a team like the Broncos has to both block perfectly and to hope to fool the defense, which a formation like this simply wasn't going to do.  McDaniels might have done better.  

This isn't a judgment on Laurence Maroney - in fact, it's far from it.  None of Denver's backs could have broken free on this play.  Heck, neither Adrian Peterson nor Chris Johnson would have stood much of a chance on this play.  But that doesn't make the point any less important.  Running backs matter in this league--a lot.

Tomorrow we'll be looking at one of  Tim Tebow's runs.  We'll see how the offense can begin to even the odds with respect to the numbers game.  So check back with us soon.

And since I haven't done this for awhile...GO BRONCOS!


If you like to see The Dude slack off 24/7, you can always find him on Facebook and Twitter. Or you can email him at: tjthedudejohnson@gmail.com.  He assumes you are following It’s All Over, Fat Man! on Facebook and Twitter, but if you are not, that’s nihilistic.

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

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