Worst of the Worst -- Denver Broncos Allow Penetration in the Running Game

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 19: Running back Correll Buckhalter #28 of the Denver Broncos ruushes for a one yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at INVESCO Field at Mile High on September 19 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Consider this to be a worst case scenario analysis of the Broncos current runblocking issues.

Every player on offense factors into runblocking to some degree.  Coaches, outside of teaching runblocking skills, have little to do with runblocking, though they may be behind the strategy of calling particular plays over others.  But the basic act of runblocking is done on the field of play, between the lines.

Wide receivers, while important, will receive little love in this post, and that is because WR blocks really only affect plays that make it past the line of scrimmage.  Offensive linemen, of course, are the focal point of this analysis, but tight ends too factor in heavily, as well as the fullback play, the running back play to some degree, and even the quarterback.

You see, this is going to be an anlysis of the plays in the first quarter of the season where the Broncos' running game allowed penetration into the backfield.  These are the stops of stops, the worst of the worst.

Cover your eyes Bronco fans, and hold your noses.

This ain't gonna be pretty.

I want a format for this that isn't going to scare you all away.  Obviously there is no silver lining I can offer up, as this is an anlysis of busted plays, but there is a way to present this info in a way that may give hope.

So far, through 4 games of the season the Broncos have had 25 total plays where penetration was allowed in the backfield, and where the play resulted in zero or fewer yards.  Note, that these are not the only plays where penetration was allowed, but the only ones where there was also a loss of yards.  This really isn't meant to be an anlysis of the running ability of our backs, which is the main reason that teams can make the best of penetration plays.  The focus here is blocking ability, and the running backs are only included in so far as they are responsible on any given play for making one guy miss at the line of scrimmage.  Otherwise, they are left out of the discussion.

Of those 25 plays, 6 were from the goalline, and are an interesting discussion in their own right, and oddly, I found a glimmer of hope down there.  These will be looked at separately tomorrow.  For now, lets look at each player who has had a hand in the runblocking, and see how often their names came up when defenses got into the backfield.  We will start with "best" of the worst, though I should mention that these are not rankings.  That being said, you still don't want to be at the bottom of the list...

Nothing Serious Here

note: the number in parentheses after a players name is the number of demerits, or ciritcal mistakes, that they earned in this analysis.

1) Wide Receivers
As mentioned above, the WRs really don't come into play when plays are blown up early.  To the degree that any receivers have been involved, it has been Royal in the slot and Thomas lining up as a TE in a 3 point stance.  Both get a mention, later when we look at Goalline and Orton, but neither is directly related to the problems the Broncos have had allowing penetration.

2)Moreno, Buckhalter and Maroney(1)
On these kinds of plays, you look for RBs choosing the wrong hole, or exhibiting significant slowness that allows LBs to close at or behind the line of scrimmage.  And while I know the big criticism leveled on Maroney is that he is slow, none of these busted plays were a result of the running backs, and all three had plays where they made something of nothing.  Zone runs required the most analysis, since there could be options for the running lane, but there was really only once where there was some question, which we will look at in Goalline.

The one instance that can be pointed to however, involved Maroney in a one on one against Alteraun Verner.  The play was a well designed pulling play, with bunch-trips WRs acting as a strong side seal, while the entire left side of the line, including a TE pulled to lead the way on a toss-sweep for Maroney.  The result was downfield devestation, with Mroney being accountable for the strongside CB, in this case, Verner, at the line of scrimmage.  Maroney had options, and plenty of room, and he elected to lower his shoulder and pound on Verner.  Was this a mistake?  It could go both ways I think.  Blowing Verner out of the way and rumbling for another 15 yards would have been awesome, and effective on many levels, and as a rookie, he was a bit of an unknown.  But he was clearly broke down in the hole, and in prime position to make the tackle, so juking (Moreno would have used a stiff arm, BLAM) or any other kind of move wouldn't have been a bad choice either.  As it was, Maroney gets a demerit for not dominating a rookie CB with a power move.  They made good contact, but it was Maroney that buckled, not Verner.

3)Chris Kuper (2)
In my mind, Kuper didn't make any mistakes, and never let anyone by him into the backfield.  However, he did get beat twice, I just don't think they should count.

The first time was the first play against the Titans.  Kuper was releasing from the snap to block at the 2nd level, going by a slanting Jason Jones.  Normally a DT is taught to chip the releasing OL a little bit, to slow him down, which Jones did, by grabbing Kuper's facemask and pulling his head around.  Are you starting to get mad?

The second time, late in the same game, Kuper was one on one vs. Jones when Jones used his signature move, hands to the face, to squeeze by Kuper.  This was the play where he ripped Kupers's helmet off and Finnegan gnatted him.  So, no.  Neither play really counts against Kup in my opinion.

4)Graham (1)
First let me say that Graham is just as awesome of a blocker as he has always been.  His blocking on the edge simply can't be overrated.  The one play where he got beat into the backfield, he was the backside of a zone play, essentially lining up as an OT against a DE in the Titan's game.  On that play the DE faked a speed move outside, got Graham going that  way, and then bulled by him on the inside, making the tackle in the backfield.  It is the only play where I saw Graham isolated like that, which is why he is a TE and not an OT...

5)Harris (1)
Granted, Harris only had one game of action, but it was against a great DL.  His only error?  The guy missed a diving cutblock on the first play of the Titan's game.  He was solid thereafter.  Despite the poor effort in the running game overall vs. the Titans, I think we can be quite happy that Harris is back.

6)Larsen (1)
I have to admit, I have not been impressed overall with Larsen so far this season, but when it came to the biggest mistakes, he could usually be found doing his job well.  Only one time was there an error I attributed to him, and in the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, i looked at that play about twenty times tracking down everyone and trying to find the key mistake that made it all go bad.  It was goalline, which we will talk about tomorrow, but I finally concluded that due to a good defensive read by the Jaguars MLB, Larsen should have changed his blocking assignment.  As it was, Larsen made a decent block, but on a defender that was out of the play, while the MLB made the tackle.  On the play, Knowshon was responsible for the outside guy, where the hole was, and Larsen needed to seal off the inside.  The outside got sealed (and blocked off at the same time) and the inside guy made the tackle.  But it was a tough call, since I have a suspicion that one of the guards was supposed to have released to the second level, in which case, Larsen did his job perfect.  We will get to my suspicion in the goalline section.

Something to Think About

7)Gronkowski (2)
Gronk was the #2 TE before Larsen got hurt, but moved to H-back after Larsen's injury, and he was rarely to blame for the huge miscues that led to penetration.  Usually this was because he was responsible for blocking a corner on the edge of a 3TE formation, which he should dominate all day, every day, and he did.  However, he messed up on a pulling play at the end of the Hawks game, and didn't find the DE fast enough in traffic.  The result was a huge hit in the backfield.  His second mistake could have gotten Orton killed:  in the first quarter of the Titan's game, he is in motion behind the line of scrimmage, and once again fails to find a charging DT (our friend Jason Jones) who blasts into the backfield.  Orton had already been running playaction, which the call was designed to attack, but luckily on this play he handed the ball off.  Gronk's error wasn't the reason the reason the play was stopped in the backfield (a different breakdown actually corralled the play), but the total whiff could have been a disaster if Orton holds the ball...

8)Clady(2)
Like Harris, Clady also missed a cut block against Tennessee.  His occurred at the second level though, against an OLB (Winborn actually), so it isn't something I would harp on.  What is more concerning is that as dominant as he can be at the goalline, there was one play in the Seattle game where Brandon Mebane clearly exposed Clady's bum wheel.  Normally when Clady gets beat off the snap in a tough running situation he just athletically sort of twists or hooks the defender around and out of the play.  But on this play he was steadily bent back until he was leaning into the running lane where he ran into Moreno and his blocking FB.  This is a solid play that Denver needs to be able to rely on, running behind Iron Clady.  Nothing worries me much with the Big Guy, but it was clear on that play that he is less than 100%.

9)Orton (3)
Again, I wouldn't call this a problem, but it sure is interesting.  The Titans were very creative trying to find ways to pressure Orton, especailly once the Broncos switched over to the quick release game making it less worthwhile for the DL to molest our offensive line.  One of the things they did was bring a TON of CB and safety blitzes.  Orton handled the situation well, over-all, but he did have 3 miscues against the CB blitz vs. the Titans.  In the first instance, the nickle back lined up over Royal in the slot was about 3 yards off the line of scrimmage, shaded in about a yard from Eddie, feet pointed into the backfield in a runner's stance, with his head looking straight at Orton.  And Orton looked right at him.  I won't say that I know the exact thing to do in that instance, but I know two things that could have happened to prevent the blitzing corner from making a stop in the backfield.  Firstly, you can check out of the play.  But a better option, especially since Royal was going to block the nickleback anyways, would have been to call Royal in motion tight against the formation.  As it was, Royal took off at the snap hoping to intercept the DB, but he was too far away, even for his speed.

On another play, the CB cheats up on the left as Orton looks to the right, and Orton never sees him.  Because the blitz is weakside, there are no blocking assignments that can change, and there is only one RB in the backfield.  In that case the only hope is that Orton sees the blitz before the snap and checks into a different play or packaged sidecall.  The third time, the Titan's were really getting creative.  They brought a safety on the left and the nickleback on the right.  I think Orton only noticed one of them (the safety did a good job of sneaking up).  The run was to the weakside against the safety, and Royal was in the slot.  Royal could have been called in motion over to the weakside to account for the extra guy, but was left to pickup the corner blitz on the right side, and so the safety made the stop in the backfield.

Sound the Alarms!

10)Walton (4)
Walton's saving grace here is that he has taken every snap so far this season.  Let's get right to the breakdown:  He missed a cutblock at the second level vs. Seattle, and allows a DT to blow by him with a rip move later in the same game.  In the Titan's game he showed a weakness vs. slanting DTs, this after McD gave him praise the week before for how well he has been "hooking" DTs.  Twice he was beat by DTs slanting away from him, and he was unable to get his feet around quick enough to hook them.  This will be an area of his game worth watching in the near term.

11)Hochstein (3)
Hochstein had one fewer error than Walton did, but in only a fraction of the reps.  Firstly, hochstein plays much lighter than his listed 305 lbs.  Twice he was driven straight back, once from the TE position against Seattle, and once as a G against the Colts.  He also got lined up as a FB in the Titans game, and whiffed (re fell down) on a speedy DE coming around the corner.  Luckily the DE was taking himself out of the play, and Buckhalter easily cut inside him.

12)Beadles (4)
Again, unlike Walton, Beadles hasn't taken as many snaps, so his errors are more compact.  To make matters worse, the Broncos kept Graham in consistently to help Beadles, especially by having Graham chip Beadles guy on his way to his own block.  Against the Jags, Beadles missed a 2nd level block against an OLB, because he wasn't able to find his guy in time. Later in the same game, Orton makes an "alert" call for the linemen to pick up an extra blitzer.  Beadles ended up releasing to the second level on the play, blowing right by the blitzing lineman, and of course, there was no one to block on the 2nd level, since he was already in the backfield.  Finally, on the goalline vs. the Colts Beadles got his hands on a MLB who stood him up and got Beadles going backward.  Not good, since the MLB also shedded Beadles and made the stop for no gain.

13)Daniels (9)
Unlucky number 13.  To say Daniels has struggled would be a bit of an understatement.  Rather than recount each and every play, we'll cover the trends and highlights.  First off, he did very well vs. the Jaguars.  But come Seattle, and something switched.  He lost a technical handwork battle, and then later got DOMINATED by Mebane, on the play that Knowshon injured his other hamstring on.  Knowshon had to leap over the sprawling Daniels and got creamed in midair by Mebane, coming down on an outstretched leg.  It is one thing to get blocked back, but it is another for the RB to work as hard avoiding you as he does the defenders.

Against Indianapolis, Daniels missed a 2nd level block on a SS, which isn't the worst thing, but he also missed a cutblock at the goalline.  Against Tennessee, where 10 of the 25 plays I'm charting here occurred, he gets pushed back repeatedly and loses the LOS significantly, and also give up an inside speed move to Justin Babin.  Overall a tough day for him.

Solutions?

Obviously, the beadles/Daniels situation isn't ideal.  They are both big, and have decent quickness and athleticism, and both are very inexperienced.  Despite the significant "edge" that Daniels has in demerits for this analysis, there is more to the game than just the worst plays, though it doesn't help that he has been there for most of the backfield penetration.  Additionally, you factor in that both Beadles and Daniels were relatively even prior to Beadles being replaced by Harris (4-5 respectively) and the argument that Beadles is an upgrade over Daniels isn't a very strong one.  In a lot of ways it boils down to one guy being known and the other being a relative unknown, when I hear the comparisons.

Also, factor in that Beadles saw a lot of help from Daniel Graham on the outside, and the line gets blurrier still.  The point will also be brought up, that Beadles isn't really built for the tackle position, and should play better at guard, but to me this is just an extension of the predraft talk, where the focus of scouting reports is on pass blocking when it comes to evaluating tackles.  When a scout would say "projects inside as a guard" 9 times out of 10 he is talking about a projected OT who moves well but isn't a great pass blocker.  We are looking solely at run blocking in this analysis, and I don't see him projecting inside any better as a run blocker than outside.  He gets too high in his stance, and goes back esily when he does.  To be fair, so does Daniels.  One thing is for sure, neither player will be kept in the starting lineup based solely on how they have played so far.

In the end, though I can see arguments against and in favor of both players manning the LG spot, I lean towards keeping the current formula, for two reason:  the first is to prevent any more delays in building chemsitry and timing on the unit.  The second, is that all else being equal, Daniels is a better somatotype to have at the Guard posiiton (6'4", 320lbs vs. 6'4", 305lbs).  You think this take on things is shortsighted and foolish?  Let it fly in the comments!

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