What To Watch For: Monday Night Denver vs. Tennessee

I've been out of town since Monday, so my prep (for our game against TENN) is later than usual.  Before I get started I want to give a couple of shout outs for two terrific articles I read at Milehighreport.com when I got home.

Everything I read at MHR is high quality, and I love the opportunity to interact with authors (something you can't do at most sports media sites).  Because of my long absense I missed the chance to jump in on the conversation on the article by MattR "In The Year 2000 (and 10)".  It was based on a diary I wrote, and MattR took it the extra mile and did a slam dunk job.  Great job!

Also, Styg50 did some terrific opposition research on TENN in his article "On The Radar: Tennessee Titans".  I'm going to steal a point he makes, to wit: Denver's match-up problem with a no-huddle approach that TENN likes to use from time to time.

Let's get on to business.  We'll break down the Xs and Os and create a game plan for both teams, then see where it takes us.  As always, jump in with your comments and questions.  This looks to be a good game.

TENN rush offense versus DEN rush defense

The question always seems to be, "Which rush defense will show up for Denver?"  Will it be the defense that showed up against KC, or DET?

There is no way to know for sure, but a couple of things point in favor of the better Broncos defense.

  • With time Denver has more opportunity to learn the "Run Contain" system.
  • Denver's "call out" at practice one day without the coaches present seemed to boost this rush defense dramaticly.
Denver has tweaked and moved away somewhat from a true run contain system, so it is hard to determine the first point (above) about Denver learning the Bate's scheme.  But the motivation factor of the second point should carry on through this game.

Assuming Denver does keep aspects of the run contain, Denver matches up very well against TENN.

Vince is a scrambling, exciting young QB.  He is fun to watch, and should have a terrific future.  But a plus of the run contain system (Bate's scheme) is that there is no need to assign a LB to cover the QB.  (A player assigned to cover a scrambling QB is called a "spy").

When a spy is assigned there is a breakdown for the defense in almsot every system.  But in the run contain there is already a MLB assigned to a run zone in the center, and the draws and delays are blocked by the DTs locking the center of the line.  The scrambling QB ends up vectored into the same lanes in the manner as any RB by the DEs and OLBs.  In short, a system advantage for DEN is that QB runs, as well as an unexpected handoff to a FB doesn't effect the defense in a negative manner.

Vince needs to focus on improving his 68 QB rating and leaving the rushing aside.  I think most TENN fans want to see the QB rush, but this isn't the match-up (even against a weak rush defense) because of the Denver scheme.  Never the less, even if it isn't designed, Vinny is a natural and effective runner and will run if pressured.  If Denver stays disciplined (each man plays his role) the system should benefit DEN.

How about L. White?  He is a good rusher, but won't have the advantage of having Henry (TENN's Henry) to spell him (remember Mile High air).  He is coming off of injuries, but should be ready to go.  Can he damage the weak but surging DEN rush defense?  It depends on how Norm Chow (TENN OFF coordinator) approaches this game.

TENN needs to run several no-huddles.  The weakness of the run contain scheme is the need for heavy DTs and their weakness against no-huddle.  No-huddle kills a run contain set up.  And TENN has this technique in their bag of tricks.

TENN not only needs to wear down the DTs, but they need to play the "run first" and conservative pass game that Coach Fisher is known for.  If Fisher and Chow stick to the run they should eventualy wear down the DEN def, and the short passes should make the LBs bite enough times to get out of position when Vince plays occassional play action.

The DEN OLBs should be focused on vectoring the run to the middle, not playing against the pass.  But with Lynch back (and playing in the box) and with the sheer number of runs TENN should make, the short passes should become effective.

Ok, that segues nicely into:

TENN pass against DEN pass defense

Advantage Denver.  TENN has good, solid WRs.  Gage and Moulds are terrific possesion receivers, and Brandon Jones is effective in the slot.  But Bailey and Bly are not only an awesome tandem, they have particular advantages over their assignemts Monday night.

  • With Hamza getting the nod to play at safety (at last), Bailey and Bly get the speed/range back-up they need to take chances.
  • Denver should win the pass rush battle on the line.  We'll miss rookie Moss at DE, but Doom and Crowder still have the edge (gotta love the DE depth).  Vince should see a lot of pressure this game.  He has an excellent opportunity for interceptions.
  • As Styg50 points out in his article, neither TENN WR is known for YAC.  Yards after carry for Gauge and Moulds indicates that they fight hard for the ball, but lack either the break away acceleration or agility to get going right after the pass.  Even when Vince connects, speed demons Bailey and Bly should be right there to make immediate tackles.
  • I expect Foxworth (not Paymah) to cover Jones.  This should be an even match-up, but not common since TENN should runn often and use (mostly) run formations without a slot.  TENN will focus on the run unless they get in trouble early.
DEN rush offense vs. TENN rush defense

TENN has a great rush defense.  They don't have any weaknesses at LB or on the D-line.  On the other hand, Denver features an effective rushing attack.  Who wins this match-up?

I believe the key to this game is Haynesworth.  If he doesn't play (injury) then the TENN defense breaks down (much in the same way the DEN run contain scheme breaks down without effective DTs).  If he does play the match-up is even.

I don't expect Henry to play.  Young is an excellent starter, Hall is an excellent back-up (as is M. Bell), and Denver's banged up O-line is still running an effective zone block system because our back up players are doing so well.

Here's something I expect to develop.  I think Young (despite his speed) stays away from running sweeps.  Expect one cut runs up the middle most of the game.  This will aid the Mile High air in wearing down the TENN defensive line (read "Haynesworth"), and aid the bootleg for Cutler.

Denver pass offense vs. TENN pass defense

Shout out to TENN contributer DannoE.  He correctly points out the effective players of TENN's DBs.  I only disaree on one small point.  I wouldn't call them underated.  Maybe the sports media overlooks them, but I sure don't.  (See DannoE's comment attached at the tail of Styg50's piece on TENN players).

TENN features something I wish DEN had, two excellent safeties.  Hope and Griffin have the ability to cover the deep zones and allow for CB errors and to stop deep rushing plays.  

Finnegan is a heavy hitter, and should be covering Marshall (who is both big and fast).  Finnegan is not a big guy though, being both short and light he plays with a lot of heart and is known for a mean streak.  Marshall should win jump balls and speed contests, but if Finnegan plays off of Marshall and makes the hit on recpetion then Marshall will be one hurting unit.

With Harper out (I suspect this to be the case) Hill comes in.  If Walker were playing I would expect this to be an excellent advantage for Denver.  But Stokely has the start.  Both Stokely and Hill are good players that could start for most NFL teams, and both are filling in for #1 positions (at WR and CB repsctively).  This looks even to me.

Fuller is a terrific nickle back, and Martinez is an excellent slot receiver.

In short, we have good match-ups for both teams, since we feature good WRs against equaly good CBs from TENN.  Expect TENN to use their front four to go after Cutler, while keeping the LBs in run defense.  I don't expect TENN to blitz much.  TENN might play some dbl coverage by running safeties in front of DEN receivers, while the CBs play under.

Conclusion

TENN features a well rounded defense, anchored by Haynesworth.  If he is out I pick Denver to win this game (Yes, I think Haynesworth is that crucial).  If Haynesworth stays in...

Denver features a great pass defense that should be improved with Hamza now starting at safety.  I give the passing game edge to Denver on offense (Cutler and crew over Vince et al).  The running game for either team is a toss-up.

Edge - Without Haynesworth: Denver
       With Haynesworth: slight advantage Denver

Intangibles:

  • Denver homefield advantage
  • Extra day of prep and rest favors Mike's game prep skills and recpvery for key injuries to Denver over key injuries to TENN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now for some fun points.

  1. TENN Coach Fisher (good buddies with Coach Mike) used to be a Bears CB (a 7th round draft).  His special teams NFL career was ended by a tremendous hit from none other than former PITT Coach Cower, who was also an NFL player at the time.
  2. I just looked over at sportingnews.com and read the following article:
http://www.sportingnews.com/yourturn/viewtopic.php?t=262643

I disagree with many, many items and I thought it would be fun to point out why.  This might be a good lesson on why sports writers should understand schemes run by teams.

Better QB - Vince Young?  Nah.  Vinny's QB rating is 68, but Jay's is 82.

Titans key #1 - Yes, Olsen and Bell (TENN OGs) can move Adams and McKinley, but from a scheme peerspective I don't see center Mawae getting through to Williams (MLB).  More likely is for one of the OGs and Mawae to occupy the DTs while the remaining OG goes after Williams.  OLBs should be leaving their contain assignement once the run goes to the inside and would collapse to the center, and the better team wins the ensuing play.

Also in Titans key #1 - "...this should keep Denver from running a designated pass defense every down".  Wrong.  Denver's scheme doesn't run pass defenses.  The front seven are always playing containment (not to be confused with zone), and the CBs and safeties (or just one safety because of Lynch's speed) are always in pass (man to man for the CBs).

Titans key  #2 - I believe Foxworth is an even match for Jones.  Paymah nearly so.  All three players are underrated.  The SN author underrates Foxworth.

Titans key #3 - While I agree TENN doesn't need to blitz, the rest of the paragraph advises TENN to do obvious things (safeties must keep the play in front of them; play sound football, etc).

Broncos key #1 - Right after mentioning that Denver runs the zone block scheme, the author writes that Young can run behind Kuper, Myers, or Holland.  Uhm, you don't run behind blockers in a zone block scheme.  You one-cut to an open seam.  The blockers are either blocking to their sides or penetrating deep to block a zone.  The runner goes for openings, not following blockers.

Broncos key #2 - Good points on CB sizes, but one MAJOR omission.  The author overlooks an excellent pass coverage safety duo that TENN has.  Cutler will vary his passes, but the long passes will be full of danger.  Cutler may be play called to do some long passes here and there, but almost certainly not to set up the shorter passes.

Broncos key #3 - Blitz on obvious downs?  Well, first that is, uhm, obvious.  But second, it again shows a lack of knowledge for the run contain system.  The DE's always pass rush.  The DTs never pass rush.  Lynch will be in the box, and might blitz at rare moments, but Hamza will not monster blitz.  The LBs may blitz with the loosening of the Bate's system, but with Bailey, Bly, and Hamza in the backfield (and given Denver's scheme and rush defense weaknesses) don't expect it too often.  The blitz also plays into Vince's running abilities.

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