MHR Chalk Talk -- Week 16 - Buffalo at Denver

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IN DENVER BRONCO PRE-GAME ANALYSIS

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This is it!  Denver would have had a hard time clinching against Carolina last week, but this week Denver has a game that they should win.

If Denver wins, Denver makes the playoffs.  If not, all the cards fall into one game, and that's Denver at SD.  While Denver is better than SD this year, it can be hard to win on the road, and hard to beat a rival division team.  I'm looking at this game as the game where Denver needs to take the big gamble and throw in players that may not yet be 100%.  With a win, we have a better chance this week and can use next week to rest key players.

Despite our problems with injuries and some weird playcalling, Denver is poised to make a playoff appearance this year.  I don't think we will do well once we get in (er, if), but playing in a big stakes game will go far in preparing our young players for the future.

There's just one catch...

The Bills aren't going to roll over and die for our benefit.

When I coached, I was blessed to be with a winning program.  My biggest concern for preparing players was getting them to take the competition seriously.  My motto was "Hard Work beats Talent, when Talent doesn't work hard".  If Denver doesn't play hard, the Bills will win this game.  This game will determine how badly Denver wants the post season.

More below the fold...

The Bills on Defense

The first area to look at is the Bills defense.  They still play a Cover 2 defense, but with personnel that don't seem to match the system very well.  Some time ago I wrote an article about the Cover 2 (found here).  At that time, a Bills fan wrote the following:

Buffalo and the Tampa 2

Great post. I’m a Bills fan and noticed your statement that Buffalo is moving away from the Tampa 2. Buffalo Rumblings has been a very active blog as always but I haven’t seen anything indicating this to be the case (although more than one Bills fan has stated there displike of the Tampa 2).

So I’m just wondering how you came to this conclusion? Thanks!

by Zumone

I replied:

There have been some grumblings about changes...

Dan Leberfeld (who covers the AFC East) was on SIrius NFL Radio not too long ago and said that Ralph Wilson is not happy with the system and wants bigger players in the front 7. The signings of Marcus Stroud and Kawika Mitchell would seem to verify the movement away from a T2 in that respect.

Back in 2006 I read this story (it took me awhile to find it again). Knowing the bad rush defense the team was having for a couple of years, I started to follow the Bills from a scheme standpoint (football systems are a kind of hobby with me, especially historical ones). Even the 2006 article was wishy washy on the team being “all in”.

With the recent report by Leberfeld, the track record of the program, and the recent signings, I think the Bills are signaling a transition out of the Tampa system. I could be wrong, but watch the defensive line this year, then watch for major personnel changes over the next two years.

It’s my opinion, but it sure looks like a transistion to me.

While the Bills are still playing a Cover 2, it looks less and less like a Tampa 2.  The front seven are more built to stop the run, and the LBs are not the speed types one would want in zone coverage.  There is likely a disconnect between the coaching staff, and the managment.  This statement from Brian of Buffalo Ramblings seems to verify this point to me:

We currently have no GM; we have a COO (Russ Brandon, not a football guy) and VPs of Pro Personnel (John Guy) and College Scouting (Tom Modrak). In short, it’s the most convoluted and strange front office structure in the NFL.

The Bills do not have an effective pass rush with the front four, and need blitz support if they are going to have a chance at getting to Cutler.  While the Denver OL is the best pass blocking unit in the League, there is a chance that Clady and or Kuper might be out this game.  The trenches should be interesting this game.

If Cutler keeps his passes short and medium, he'll take apart the Bills defense.  If he goes long too many times, the Bills will use the zones of their CBs and SAFs to get a pick or two, and that could cost Denver the game.

As far as the run game goes, I have a lot of respect for the BUF DTs.  Stroud is, well, Stroud.  But I like Kyle Williams a lot too, and he doesn't get a lot of notice.  Despite being a "Cover 2" team, the personnel in the front seven are not Tampa 2 based.  They can be effective with stopping the run, particularly up the gut.

My guess is that Denver will not get consistent yards, but is very capable of getting a few big plays in the run game.  With slow guys in zone, one key runblock can spring a fast runner for daylight.  Despite our woes at HB, the speed backs we have left may be the right answer for a slow moving defense.

This would be a good game to run screens and wide runs, as well as the bootleg.  This would not be a good game to run up the gut, or to throw the ball deep too often.

The Bills on Offense

There are several major points on the Bills offense.

  • They have a huge offensive line, and despite this, they zone block quite a bit.
  • They have two very effective runners.
  • Their QB is coming off of an injury, and his back-ups are terrible.

The Bills have a big OL (the biggest in the League).  They create lanes for Lynch and Jackson, and both of those guys are excellent RBs.  On short yardage, they can bull ahead.  I give them a huge edge over Denver's front four.  Denver may adjust by playing a 4-4 (as with Woodyard against the Panthers), or by playing a SS in the box.  But then Denver faces Evans in the receiving game (much as Denver faced Smith in the Carolina game).  This could be a disaster in the making.  Thus, a major key would be the return of Champ Bailey.

It is earily familiar.  An offense with a great pair of RBs, a mediocre QB, and a standout WR.  Carolina and BUF share the similarities.  Denver needs to find a way to cover Evans effectively while ensuring that the Bills don't get their run game going.

Edwards is likely to play.  He started off fast this season, but teams adjusted and took away the threat of Evans.  Since that time, Lynch and Jackson have started running over teams.  Again, the best chance is the return of Bailey to allow the defense to take away the run.

Special Teams

Just some quick thoughts.  Denver will need to play effective coverage against the return games of BUF.  They have effective returners, and Denver has a reputation for getting burned in coverage.  Also, Buffalo's punter (Moorman) is a consistent threat in the field position battle.

Match-ups

A lot of this is hard to quantify.  There are several injuries that are up in the air.  Here's my thinking:

QB - Broncos (Not many Bills fans would argue the point)

RB - Bills (Not many Broncos fans would argue the point)

OL - Pick (It all comes down to whether Clady and / or Kuper can play)

TEs - Broncos

WR - Broncos

DL - Bills

LB - Bills

DBs - Pick (Denver has the talent, but the scheme ruins it)

STs - Bills

Keys to the Game

Denver -

  1. While not as good as the Panthers, the Bills have a similar offense (very good offensive line, two good RBs, a mediocre QB, and a standout WR).  Denver needs to learn from the mistakes of last week to approach this team.
  2. Use speed to the outside on runs (the Bills are slow run pluggers up the gut), use the TEs to exploit the seams (a weakness in the Cover Two, and the Bills aren't likely to get a good pass rush to neccessitate keeping the TEs in).
  3. Make sure Evans gets covered over the top.

Buffalo -

  1. Win the turnover battle.  The Denver RBs are light, and Cutler can be too aggressive at times.  Make sure you don't mess up an opportunity when Denver fumbles or makes a bad pass.
  2. A good ground game keeps Cutler off the field.  Winning time of possession keeps Denver's Pro Bowlers on the bench.
  3. In a game of inches, STs may be key.  Winning the field position war makes Denver more likely to play over aggressive, and more likely to turnover the ball.

Overview

MHR Editor in Chief Guru wants the Chargers to beat TB so Denver can win the division with glory.  I agree.  However, I think Denver will likely get in the playoffs by beating the Bills, and even if the Broncos lose, the Chargers will likely lose.  I think Denver clinches the division either way, and next week will allow Denver to rest some players.

If Denver shows up to play, they will win this game.  Denver could be stunned if they take this game off, because the Bills are not as bad as their record says they are.  If Shanahan can keep the players from knowing the SD / TB score, the players hard darned well better play for their lives in this game.  Playing flat in this game, with so much on the line, would be inexcusable.

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