The Playbook Abides - When a run comes together

After a bye week, you'd think there wouldn't be much Broncos football to talk about.

But you'd be wrong.  Here at Fat Man, we're always on a quest to give you the largest portions of Broncos analysis around.

So this week we're introducing a series of pieces entitled The Playbook Abides, the premise of which is to review the playbook behind a critical play from the previous week.  But because we don't have a game to review, we'll use this week to look at a variety of plays from Broncos games earlier in the year.

We can't splice and dice NFL game tapes, but you'll get the next best thing--we're going to draw them up on our own chalkboard.

Our first lesson?  What happens when the Broncos (on rare occasions this year) run the ball well.

Before we get to our first play, it's important to reiterate again that the Broncos have been very poor at running the ball thus far.  Yes, I know.  That's an understatement.  However, you may not know that it's gone so bad for the Broncos that they've only run 12 plays this year over 10 yards, ranking them last in the league.

Therefore any play that went for 17 yards--the longest running play for the Broncos this year--is a play worth studying.  It can teach us a lot about the Broncos' running game--why it occasionally works and why it usually doesn't.

Denver - Jacksonville - Week 1

This play took place at the 5:37 mark of the 3rd quarter.  Denver faced a 1st-and-10 at the Jacksonville 25-yard line.  The Jaguars were ahead 14-7, so the Broncos were still very much in the game and had a full playbook from which to work--run or pass.

The Broncos brought out their 221 personnel package (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR), which included Knowshon Moreno (27), Spencer Larsen (46), Daniel Graham (89), Dan Gronkowski (82), and Jabar Gaffney (10).  A package like this screams run, especially in Josh McDaniels' offense, which is heavy in 3- and 4-wide receiver sets.

The Broncos lined up in a Power I Right  formation, placing Graham and Gronkowski on the right side of the line.  Larsen also lined up strong-side right.

Jacksonville countered with their base 4-3 defense, but brought an OLB to the line of scrimmage--providing the Jaguars with a 5-man front.  Given the lack of wide receivers, they also rightly brought a cornerback and their strong safety much closer to the line of scrimmage.   

All of this gave a very tight look to both teams.

From the Broncos' side, this is how the play was drawn up:


Everyone on the line--outside of LG Stanley Daniels--blocked man-to-man.  Daniels pulled and came around the end to seal off the inside linebacker.  Both tight ends took their men to the inside, while fullback Larsen took off like a missle at the defenseless strong-side cornerback.  Jabar Gaffney kept the weak-side corner and free safety occupied with the idea of a pass--if only for a moment.  

Remember, this play went for 17 yards, which is a gargantuan run for the Broncos this year.  So what can we learn?

The shaded area is the key.  There are four blocks that were absolutely critical to the success of the play.  The first two were Graham and Gronkowski's blocks.  If they don't get those blocks, the play either gets blown up, or Daniels is forced to block a tackle or an end.  The next-most important block was Larsen's, and he absolutely destroyed the cornerback on this play.  If he doesn't make his block, the cornerback gives Moreno a lot of trouble.  Fourthly is the block  by Daniels.  He effectively seals one of the linebackers to the inside, reducing further the potential tacklers who could get at Moreno.  Yet, even with four completely successful blocks, the play might have went for only 4 yards--a good run, but not great. 

The key here is Moreno.  He accelerates through the hole and then breaks the tackle of the diving safety.

Here's the play animated on the chalkboard:  

Or if you prefer, watch the highlight of Moreno's run on

There's an important set of lessons to take away from this particular play.  First, the offense can never truly outnumber the defense in the running game.  In what might be an obvious point, the quarterback and the running back aren't blockers.  On this particular play, Orton hands the ball off; Moreno runs the ball.  Neither are blocking.   Thus, the defense has an extra two bodies that (generally) go unblocked.  This is why it's so important that a team's running back be able to break tackles as Moreno does on this play.  Rarely is he going to be untouched, unless the defense is lazy or fooled.  Second, a weak link--especially in man blocking--can kill a play.  If only one of these four blocks would have failed, the play may have gone for little or no yards.  Each and every player has to do his job to be successful.  Finally,  the defense matters.  We see from this play that Jacksonville did adjust their personnel to the strong side, but when the Broncos went to a two-tight end set, they could have substituted an extra defensive linemen.  When they didn't, the Broncos had more beef up front and stood a better chance of succeeding.

Tomorrow and later in the week, we'll see some other running plays that didn't go so well.  We'll see how other teams adjusted to the Broncos' running game.  Further, we'll see just how important a running back can be.

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

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The Playbook Abides