Happy Thursday, friends. It's somehow been a week, and I didn't get to the All-22 video until Wednesday night. When you're going back to Cali to play golf all weekend, and you're not bringing the girlfriend, it turns out that she wants some substantial attention when you get back. Who knew?
Anyway, better late than never, right? I watched the All-22 last night, and the one downside of the Broncos having run a ton of plays is that the film take forever to watch. Since they show each play twice, and they also show the down, distance, score, and time remaining for a few seconds before each play, it took upward of two hours to get through the whole game.
Who’s ready for some (20-20) observations? Ready… BEGIN!!
1. I’ve been beating the drum for a while that the Broncos are not in fact playing a “4-3 defense.” For one thing, there’s no such thing as a monolithic 4-3 defense. For another, the Broncos vary the hell out of their personnel groupings and alignments up front.
As I watched the beginning of the game, something very noticeable jumped out (Well, it’s noticeable if you know what you’re looking at). When the Ravens drove the field for their first touchdown, the Broncos played almost the entire series in a three-man front. Literally every snap except for one had only three down linemen. If Mark Kiszla had known, he’d have been ecstatic. Remember when some rude guy clowned Kiz over that silly article? No, I don’t mean John Fox; he was relatively polite.
As the game went on, they used more four-man stuff, but they mixed it up a lot, like they usually do. I decided to start taking some screenshots to demonstrate what I’m talking about. As we go through, let me be very clear with my overarching point, for the slow Legwolds of the world.
The number of down linemen is of minor strategic importance. The alignment of them is of major strategic importance. The Broncos gain strategic advantage by constantly varying the alignment of their defensive front players.
Here we see a one-technique NT (Terrance Knighton), a 3-technique DT (Kevin Vickerson), and a 7-technique DE (Derek Wolfe). Standing up on the defense’s right side is OLB Shaun Phillips. As you see, the offense is in 20 personnel, with the 2 backs in an I formation, and no TE. On the back end, the Broncos are in nickel to account for the three wideouts.
This design is trying to be stout with a six-man box against six blockers. Unfortunately, Phillips gets hooked, and Danny Trevathan can't get off his block, so Bernard Pierce gets a 14-yard run to the offense’s left side.
I would call this the Broncos’ base grouping, with Robert Ayers (9T) and Wolfe (8T) outside, and Knighton (1T) and Vickerson (3T) inside. The alignment seems designed to contain a potential run play at the edges, and also to allow Ayers and Wolfe to speed rush off the outside.
This looks a lot like a traditional 3-4 alignment, with Vickerson (3T) and Knighton (1T) inside. Wolfe has an interesting alignment, as he’s in what most coaches call a 4i technique. The “I” is for inside shade, and if you look at Wolfe’s right hand and helmet, they’re aligned on the inside shoulder of the right tackle (A 4-technique would be head-up on him).
What’s more interesting to me here is the alignment of the four linebackers. The two outside linebackers (Phillips and Nate Irving) look like they could be playing for the 1986 Giants. The ILBs are stacked behind the two ends, most likely to make it hard for the guards to come out and block them.
Look at how wide the linemen are here. (This is a blitz call, and Chris Harris is coming from the upper left corner of the picture.) Wolfe is a 7-technique, which keeps with the theme of him taking outside alignments a lot early in this game. That wasn’t very common last season. Sylvester Williams is a true 0-technique NT, head up on the center. Ayers is a wide-9 on the open side, which is what Elvis Dumervil spent a lot of time doing last season. Shaun Phillips is standing up on the closed side, playing the Von Miller role.
Here, the Broncos have their three linemen aligned tightly again, in what is pretty close to a bear front look. Unusually, Wolfe is on the open side as the 3T, with Knighton on the nose, and Malik Jackson playing a 4i-technique as the closed-side end.
The interesting thing here is that the Broncos seem to have adjusted to the success the Ravens had early in the game getting their run game blocked with Vonta Leach. To combat that, they’ve dropped Duke Ihenacho down close to the box in response to the fullback and tight end on the field.
Here’s an interesting look for you. Ayers is coming from the wide side of the field as a 9T, with Wolfe as a 3T on the same side, and Knighton as a 1-technique. There are no linemen to the offense’s right of the right guard. I’m telling you, the Broncos mix this stuff up like crazy.
Another interesting note is RG Marshal Yanda’s (73) left hand. Throughout the game, Yanda triggered the C Gino Gradkowski to snap the ball by tapping his right hip. I’d like to think the NT noticed that, and got off the snap more quickly on that key. As for why the Ravens were doing this, I wonder if Gradkowski has trouble hearing.
In general, the Broncos tended to prefer to play a big man (typically Wolfe) as the closed-side DE. That was why Ayers stopped being the starter over there, and played behind Dumervil, because Jack Del Rio wanted a big two-gap-capable guy over there. In this look, which was used pretty frequently from the second quarter on, the Broncos returned to more of a Dennis Allen-style look, including Ihenacho in the box (lower-right corner).
Phillips has his hand on the ground as an open-side 8T, with Mitch Unrein (more of a mobile pass rusher than Knighton) on the nose. Wolfe is a 3T and Ayers is an 8T on the closed side. LB Wesley Woodyard (52) isn’t stacked here, and is playing over the bubble. This look has pass rushers, but still enough bulk to handle some run plays.
Next time one of the professional dullards tries to tell you the Broncos run a “4-3 scheme,” send them this article. Maybe they’ll finally get it. Probably not, though.
2. The Broncos played a ton of man-free, which is pretty typical for the skill set of their DBs. One interesting thing is how deep they played Rahim Moore. On most snaps, he started out 20 yards downfield, as here.
I’m sure this is in response to concerns with the Ravens’ ability to complete deep passes, but it’s also a luxury that’s available because of the speed of the Broncos’ underneath defenders.
3. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has gotten a lot of credit, and he did do an excellent job in man coverage. However, he did have a significant early bust in zone coverage that’s gone unnoticed. When Flacco found Torrey Smith for a 29-yard gain in the first quarter, DRC got caught looking in the backfield, and covering nobody.
I’m 99% sure from the film that he was supposed to have underneath coverage on Smith, with Harris over the top. Instead, nobody was underneath, and Smith caught a pass in front of Harris that he never should have had. You could see Harris’s frustration with DRC after making the tackle.
4. On the positive side with DRC, I fully expect him to block a couple field goals or extra points this year. With his quickness and length, he’s a force, and he came close twice last Thursday.
5. Nate Irving is quickly becoming one of my favorite Broncos defenders, and he had a nice game. I was especially impressed with his man coverage when he was asked to do it, but he did get lost in zone coverage once to give up a big early first down.
6. Eric Decker had a bit of a rough game, but at least one of his drops wasn’t really his fault. On the opening possession, Peyton Manning was clearly late with the ball after Decker had come open inside, and the DB played through Eric’s back to force the “drop.” I also don’t agree that Decker struggled with separation as much as most people were saying, after watching the All-22. Finally, Decker blocked well throughout the game. It wasn’t his best game, but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would have you believe, either.
7. Retired for John Elway (TYJE)
8. You know that Bear look I talked about before? When it was 35-17 Broncos, the Ravens had a 3rd-and-2 at their own 28, and the Broncos showed that look. This was a high leverage moment, because if the Ravens picked up the first down, they'd have a chance to keep moving toward a score to keep themselves in the game. Wolfe dominated his man and penetrated inside, tackling Ray Rice for virtually no gain. The Ravens
wimped out did what the coaching book said to do, and punted.
9. A lot of people like to hate on Knowshon Moreno, and hold the fact that he was a first-round pick against him. That’s asinine, because he’s a winning football player, a lot like Kevin Faulk was for the Patriots for 13 years.
Yeah, the dude isn’t a star runner, but he does winning things. Case in point: on 1st-and-10 in the third quarter, Moreno runs a play-fake from the left side of the shotgun to the right. He quickly sees that a free rusher is bearing down on Manning, and rather than let his QB take a nearly immediate free shot, Moreno adjusts and grabs the guy for a holding penalty. It’s first down, you’re up a couple TDs, and it’s situationally better to take a penalty than it is to let Manning get crushed.
On the ensuing first-and-20 play, Moreno gets open underneath, makes a good catch, and takes it for a 23-yard gain and a first down, finishing the play by going into the defender's chest. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if Moreno hadn’t gotten hurt in the playoff game last year, there’s no way the Ravens win that game. He may not be a star, and he most probably never will be, but you can do a lot worse as a nickel RB.
10. Julius Thomas had a breakout game as a receiver, but as a blocker, he needs a ton of work. He can start with learning a proper two-point stance, because his is atrocious. He stands way too upright, and he looks really tentative and uncomfortable. Thomas got dominated consistently, both as a pass-blocker and a run-blocker.
11. Orlando Franklin, on the other hand, had a pretty awesome game. I was really impressed with his work against Elvis Dumervil in the passing game. He's come a long way early in his career as a pass-protector.
I’ll be back later with a quick piece about a key play in the game, and why it worked. Also, check me tomorrow for some stuff on the Giants. Football, friends. #getsome