Seeing the Stars Through the Trees

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"We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself." -- Lloyd Alexander.

    When I was in high school, I tended to be adopted as many of my friends' big brother (which kinda stunk when it came to dating, but that's another story).  Anyway, I was on a retreat at a conference center in the mountains outside of Denver one Labor Day weekend.  As often happens when you have a group of high school students kids together, one of my friends had a fight with his girlfriend.  Rather than continue the argument, he took off running into the woods.  Like a dutiful big brother, I chased after him to try to talk some "sense" into him.  I forgot one key fact: while I was a pretty good sprinter, he was both a cross country runner and on his school's track team.  By the time I finally caught up with him and got him to see some sense, we found that we were well lost in the Colorado woods.  We did what any sensible kids would do in such a situation: no, we did not stay in one place and wait to be found.  We wandered off to see if we couldn't find our way back to the conference center.

    Needless to say, our attempt to rescue ourselves did not start out well.  We found ourselves lost, in the Colorado woods well into the night.  Along the way, something strange happened.  We found we weren't scared.  Rather, we were fascinated by the glimpses of the stars seen between the trees.  At one point, we found ourselves traversing an open ridge high above the woods.  We found ourselves with an uninterrupted view of the night sky.  Words really aren't sufficient to describe the view.  If you have never had the opportunity to look up into the night sky, with nothing between yourself and the deep, with no man-made lights within miles, you should find the time for the experience.  You feel like you have been given the chance to see the entirety of the universe.

But, what does this have to do with the Broncos?  The answer after the jump.

SEEING THE WHOLE NIGHT SKY

    There have been a myriad of discussions going on here at MHR, and on other sites regarding which quarterback should be the Broncos' starter come September.  There are compelling cases being presented for both Orton and Tebow, with lesser arguments for Quinn and Brandstater.  I've written two articles myself -- one for Orton and one for Tebow.  I had planned to do additional posts on Quinn and Brandstater, but given the wonderful and numerous posts on the topic of quarterbacks that have appeared, I have become convinced that to do so would be to beat a dead carpe (if you're missing the joke, look here and here.

    Through the awesome posts and comments here at MHR, I've come to realize, or as my students would say "You've been schooled, Mr. Shrout," that while statistics are a useful tool for looking back to see what has happened in the past, they often leave much to be desired.  The use of statistics often takes on the tenor of looking up at the night sky through the trees and thinking that we are seeing the entirety of the universe.  There are so many variables that must be assessed when attempting to come to a conclusion regarding the effectiveness of a given player, that the task can be daunting to say the least.  One of the largest points of disagreement in statistical discussions is the inability to agree upon which statistics are the vital, or essential, ones for the discussion.  Without a concession on that key issue, it is very hard a person to see the merit in a differing opinion.

    The easy answer is to simply include all of the statistics in any discussion.  However, that is a bit out of reach of most of us, for the simple reason that there are way too many factors, and hence too many statistics to realistically think we can include them all.  Think about it:

In 2009, according to NFL.com, the Broncos ran 1032 offensive plays, while Denver's opponents ran 1007 offensive plays. 

This means, that for the season, the Broncos and their opponents had players on the field for 2039 plays -- not counting special teams plays. 

Now consider the fact that there would have been 22 players on the field for each of those 2039 plays. 

This means that there were 44,858 man-plays for the season. 

In other words, 44,858 opportunities for players to do something right, or to do something wrong. 

Let's put this another way, Denver averaged 64.5 offensive plays per game, while allowing the opposing teams to run an average of 62.9 plays per game. 

This means that there were an average of 127.4 plays per game (again, not counting special teams plays).  With 22 players per play, that's 2802.8 man-plays. 


Or stated another way: Twenty-eight hundred opportunities to either get it right or wrong each game, and a statistic for each of those opportunities.



THE MONUMENTAL TASK BEFORE US

    Statistics have been compiled by a variety of organizations in an attempt to better understand the game of football, and to attempt predictions of future productivity by players and teams.  The problem again is found in trying to decide which statistics to include and which to ignore.  For example, NFL.com lists 19 distinct statistical categories on their Total Offense page.  That same site lists 16 categories for passers.  Over the years, the NFL has developed a statistic called "Passer Rating" to give a single numerical value to each passer.  The shortcoming of this system is that it only looks at attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions.  Another problem is that often no-one has bothered to record information regarding factors that contribute to the success or failure of a play.  For example, it is only within the last few years that anyone has begun keeping statistics on the performance of the offensive linemen. 

    So the issue that lies at the core of most disagreements regarding an assessment of a given player is which statistics to include, or at least which ones to focus upon.  I would suggest, however that there is an even more fundamental issue that must be addressed: Do the statistics, in and of themselves, tell the whole story?  For example, ESPN records that Brandon Marshall was targeted 154 times in 2009, but caught only 101 of those passes.  What happened on the 53 misses?  Were the balls uncatcaible?  Was there a defender that broke up the play?  Did Marshall simply drop the ball?  What other ways did Marshall contribute?  Were there plays where his role was simply to be decoy, and did such an action open up another receiver who caught the ball?  Were the times when he threw a block to spring a teammate, or times when he missed a block and his teammate was tackled prematurely?  How many of these factors should be included when trying to judge the effectiveness of a player?

    There are those who would take the position that the only meaningful statistic is the wins/losses stat.  While it is true that the win/loss stat is probably the bottom line statistic, it is less than complete, however, when we want to look at individual players, and/or the team,  in order to discern places where a player, and by implication his team, needs to improve, and thus improve the win to loss ratio.  Consider the following example:

in the Week 1 game in Cincinnati, there was a play in which Orton was sacked.  This could be used along with other instances of Orton being sacked as proof that Orton is not a mobile quarterback.  Please understand, I am not making a case in either direction here, though I do tend to agree that he is not the most nimble quarterback I've ever seen. 

However, on this particular play, the sack came because the right tackle failed to hold the block, allowing the left defensive end to blow past himself.  In fact, the tackle was knocked to the ground and sat on his butt watching the play unfold, as the rusher made an unobstructed run at Orton. 

Another example comes from the Washington game where Orton and Marshall hooked up for a 75 yard touchdown play.  This would seem to raise both players' effectiveness stock.  While I would say that it did show what that particular pair could accomplish, we also have to credit the offensive line for the time they gave Orton to throw, and criticize the Washington DB who bit Marshall's fake to the outside and ended up leaving Marshall uncovered.  By the time the DB figured it out and turned in pursuit, the ball was already well on the way.


I'm inclined to believe the majority of us want to dig deeper into the hows and whys of the game.  After all, if we didn't have a deep and abiding interest in the Broncos, why would we spend so much time reading and writing posts and commenting on other people's posts?  We want to know more than simply who won and who lost.  We want to understand what broke down and what can be done to fix it.  Statistics can serve as a starting point.  The raw individual statistics, such as pass attempts, pass completions, yards, touchdowns, and the like can give us a generalized view of what happened, but do not always provide us with a firm understanding of how they fit together with other statistics to show the reason behind the results.


COMPLEX SYSTEMS

    As mentioned above, there are many sources for more complex systems (for some reason I just can't use the term "metrics" -- maybe it's because I'm required to teach students to use the metric system of measurement, even though it is unlikely that they'll ever have to use it in real life in my lifetime.  But I digress).  Advancednflstats.com, footballoutsiders.com, hosted.stats.com, and profootballfocus.com are just a few examples of groups attempting to provide fans with a more in-depth analysis of the raw statistical data behind a football game.  MHR's own TJ Johnson has done a great deal of work using the concept of Expected Points Value.  The hard part in determining which system to use is figuring out how they arrived at their analysis.  Some sites offer detailed explanations of the "method behind the madness."  Most don't. 

    One such system that I've begun exploring is pro-football-reference.com's "Average Value."  AV is an attempt to assign each player in the game since 1960 with a single, numerical value which can be used to compare players, and to compare a player's productivity from year to year.  It uses a fairly complex formula to quantify a player's contribution to his team.  For example, the formula for a passer's value is:

team_points_for_passers = (team_points_for_skill_positions - team_points_for_rushers) * .26


This looks simple, until you realize that "team_points_for_skill_positions" includes a share of the offensive points scored by the team, a share of the offensive line's contribution, a share of the wide receivers' and rushers' contribution, as well as additions/penalties for how the player ranked in relation to the league average for yards/attempt.  If you'd like to read about how pro-football-reference.com calculates their values, there is a four part blog that begins here.

IT'S A DAUNTING PROPOSITION


    This has been a rather long-winded way of saying that, at best, it's a daunting proposition to provide a purely statistical evaluation of any given player.  This is why I'm beginning to lean more towards using stats combined with film study to gain a deeper understanding of how a given player performed in any play, game, or season.  A word here: film study is not simply a case of watching a game from beginning to end -- while running out for more chips and beer during the commercial breaks -- and then forming an opinion of what we saw.  As in, "Hey TJ, did you see that game yesterday?  Wow, were we fantastic or what?"  It's not point out a handful of plays -- remember Denver averaged 64 offensive plays per game, while the defense was on the field for an average of 62 plays per game -- that either worked, or didn't. 

    Film study involves watching each play multiple times in an effort to discern the various players' contributions to the success or failure of the play.  For example, on a running play, did a blocker get a good push and force his assignment off the line of scrimmage, forcing the defender in the direction the offense wanted him to go, or did the blocker get stood up and pushed into the backfield, effectively filling the running lane?  Another example:  in the Cincinnati game, Orton made a throw that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, then fell incomplete at the feet of a receiver who was double covered.  At first glance this would appear to be a simple case of a quarterback who lucked out.  However, when you look at it a bit more closely, you find that there were additional factors in play:

The play began with the line provided good pass protection.  As Orton began his throwing motion, Weigmann was engaged with a rusher slightly to Orton's left, opening a throwing lane directly in front of the quarterback.  As Orton's arm came forward, Weigmann's assignment threw the center further to Orton's left and into the back of the left guard, taking both blockers out of the play.  This motion shifted the defender into the previously open passing lane.  The defender was also able to use the move to launch himself upwards directly in front of  the quarterback where he was able to tip the ball.  The ball fluttered forward after the tip.  Stokley and two defenders all changed their paths to try to make a play on the ball, converging just as it fell low in front of Stokley.


Without watching the play more than once, even in the slow motion replay offered by the network, the finer points of plays like these are lost due to the speed of the game, and the fact that often times, even the announcers are focusing on the wrong part of the play.  As fans, we often just go along with what the announcers tell us we should be looking at.

MERGING STATS AND FILM STUDY

    The key to using stats is to use them as a starting point.  Use them to look for patterns in the play of a given individual, and/or the team as a whole.  If a pattern is discovered, that pattern then needs to be examined in the context of the performance of the rest of the players, the weather conditions in the stadium (if applicable), whether the named starters are on the field or are there backups in the game for some reason, etc.  All of these factors need to be looked at in order to determine the "why" of the results recorded by the statistics.  This is where film study can come in and provide additional clarity.  For example, agentj007 did a nice job of showing how, in the fourth quarter of 9 games, Orton was just 2 out of 25th in 3rd down conversions (counting only those that he passed or personally ran the ball).  That's an important pattern to note.  For me, personally, that type of statistic raises the question of what went wrong.  Is it simply a case of Orton stinking it up in the fourth quarter?  Or were there other factors that contributed to the unsuccessful conversions?  What went wrong on the 23 failed attempts at a conversion?  What was the game situation -- was Denver ahead or behind?  What went right during the quarters with those 23 failed attempts, since agentj007 indicated that Denver won four of those games?

    I'd like to illustrate this point by describing 2 drives -- both on the offensive side of the ball, 1 short failed drive and 1 long one. 

An Offensive Failure: First Quarter Denver at Cincinnati, Denver's Ball 1st & 10 at the DEN44


The Drive Summary

Received at
Time of Possession
How Acquired
Drive Began on
Number of plays
Yards Gained
Penalty Yards
Net Yards
First downs
Ball last on
How Given Up
1:44
1:37
Downs
DEN44
3
-1
0
-1
0
DEN43
Punt


This is nice, it gives the basic information, such as 3 plays, -1 yard, no first down, and time of possession.  But it doesn't help us understand why we went three and out.  So, we move on to the statistics from the drive.

The Statistics
    The statistics for this drive were very simple.  Orton went 1 for 1 for 8 yards, no touchdowns nor interceptions and was sacked twice.  Marshall had 1 catch for 8 yards.  There were no runs in the drive.  It ended with a 36 yard punt by Kern, which had an 11 yard return.  Just as with the drive summary, this does not help us to understand why this particular drive imploded.  The next logical step is to examine the play-by-play description of the drive.

The Play-by-Play
1-10-DEN44    (1:44)    8-K. Orton sacked at DEN40 for -4 yards (68-J. Fanene). CIN-68-J. Fanene was injured during the play.
2-14-DEN40    (1:20)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short middle to 15-B. Marshall to DEN48 for 8 yards (31-R. Williams).
3-6-DEN48      (0:34)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton sacked at DEN43 for -5 yards (98-A. Odom). Penalty on DEN-27-K. Moreno, Chop Block, declined.
4-11-DEN43    (0:17)    (1-B. Kern punts 36 yards to CIN21, Center-66-L. Paxton.  12-Q. Cosby to CIN32 for 11 yards (30-D. Bruton; 31-D. McBath)

    The play-by-play would appear to make it very simple to understand what happened -- Orton was sacked twice, effectively killing any chance at a first down.  The only thing to do now is to quickly survey the film record to see why Orton was sacked.  Was it simply a case of his lack of mobility?  Did the protection break down?  Did the receivers fail to get open?  In other words, what happened?

The Film Study
1-10-DEN44    (1:44)    8-K. Orton sacked at DEN40 for -4 yards (68-J. Fanene).
Formation: QB under center, TE on both ends of the line, 1 WR right, 1 WR left, 1 RB

1:44 - Ball is snapped

1:43 - WR on right is being bumped by DB, 1 yard upfield; TE on right side is sprinting, 2 yards upfield, being trailed by LB; QB fakes handoff to RB who moves to center of line as blocker; QB drops back 7 yards; 4 players to left of the center are double teaming 2 rushers; C/RG are double teaming 1 rusher; RT is one-on-one with 1 rusher.

1:42 - WR on right and DB are running 5 yards upfield, side-by-side; TE on right side is 4 yards up field; 4 defenders are dropping back into coverage 2-5 yards upfield; 4 players on left side are holding their blocks on 2 players, 1-2 yards behind line of scrimmage; C/RG are holding their block on a defender; RB is committing to assist the double team on the left side; defender on right end of line of scrimmage is 2 yards into the backfield, and is moving past the RT.

1:41 - WR on right is changing direction in response to the charge of the defender who is beating the RT; 4 defenders are continuing to drop back into coverage; TE on right is off screen, at least 7 yards upfield; QB has set his feet for a throw, 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage; everyone is holding their blocks, except the RT who has allowed the defender to get between the RT and the QB; the QB takes a step back and to his right, as if to try to get around the rusher coming from the right side of the offense, but is cut off when the RT pushes the defender into the QB's path.

1:40 - TE is off screen, the WR on the right is closely covered; defender on right is now within 1 yard of QB, with RT stretched out to reach him; QB tries to change direction and steps forward with his left leg; RT manages to force rusher off balance and he falls to the ground behind the QB; RT's momentum carries his hip into the QB's right leg as he tries to bring it forward on the 2nd step, preventing the QB from taking a normal running stride, throwing the QB off balance; QB manages to lunge forward in a dive to avoid losing additional yardage.


The sack is equally on the QB - for not reacting more quickly to the RT being beat, and on the RT for failing to blunt the charge of the defender.

2-10-DEN40    (1:20)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short middle to 15-B. Marshall to DEN48 for 8 yards (31-R. Williams).

Formation: 3 WR right, 1 WR left, 1 RB, QB in shotgun

1:20 - Ball is snapped

1:19 - WR on left is at the line of scrimmage; RB is sprinting out to the left, behind the line; the 2 WRs in the slot on the right are both 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage, with the WR closest to the o-line being bumped by a defender, middle and outside WRs on the right are 1 yard upfield, each with a defender within an arm's reach; 3 defenders are dropping into coverage in the middle of the field, 5 yards upfield; Safeties are 15 yards upfield; o-line has established a good pocket.

1:18 - O-line is holding a good pocket 5 yards in front of QB; QB is set 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage; both outside WRs are being bumped by defenders, 4 yards up the field; WR in middle on right has LB within an arm's reach; one defender is positioned 8 yards upfield in the middle of the field; another defender is 5 yards upfield and moving to cover the RB; Marshall is breaking across the field from right to left, 3 yards upfield; inside WR on right has broken free and is sprinting 5 yards upfield; pocket is holding; the DB covering Marshall breaks upfield to pick up the inside WR, leaving Marshall uncovered in the middle of the field.

1:17 - QB throws to a wide open Marshall; WR is sprinting on a line to provide a lead block for Marshall.

1:16 - Marshall catches ball in stride, 1 defender within 2 yards; 4 other defenders try to converge on Marshall.

1:15 - Marshall stops and pivots, causing closest defender to miss his tackle; 2nd WR provides a block for Marshall; Marshall sprints 3 more yards upfield as 3 more defenders converge on the ball.

1:14 - Marshall tries to cut to his left to avoid another defender; defender gets an arm in front of Marshall's right leg, tripping him up; Marshall falls forward an additional 2 yards.


This was a well-executed play from beginning to end.  The O-line held the pocket intact and gave Orton enough time to throw.  Marshall did a good job of picking up additional yards after the catch.

3-6-DEN48    (0:34)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton sacked at DEN43 for -5 yards (98-A. Odom). Penalty on DEN-27-K. Moreno, Chop Block, declined.
Formation: 2 WR right, 1 WR left, 1 RB, QB in shotgun, TE on left side of o-line; 6 defenders are on line, one defender on each WR, 1 defender in slot on left, 1 safety 11 yards deep.

0:34 - Ball is snapped.

0:33 - Defense rushes 7; Outside WR on right is being bumped at line of scrimmage; Slot WR is at line of scrimmage, defender is 4 yards upfield; WR on left is 2 yards upfield;, defender is 2 yards off the receiver; deep safety has slid to cover WR on the left.

0:32 - Outside WR on the right is 7 yards upfield, DB matching him stride for stride; Slot WR has made a sharp turn to his right 4 yards upfield, and is being bumped by a defender; safety has dropped 14 yards upfield; WR on left is 8 yards upfield, defender right next to him and between the QB and WR; pocket is collapsing.  RT has been knocked to the ground; RG shifts to pick up RT's man, but this leaves RG's assignment with an unobstructed line to the QB; RB has come up to engage blitzing LB the middle of the line; LT and LG have each engaged a defender and are holding their blocks; TE has let his assignment slide around him to the outside.

0:31.5 - All 3 WR have a defender within an arm's reach of them; RB is laying on ground with defender on top of him; RT is sitting on his butt watching the play unfold; RG is pushing RT's assignment behind the QB; TE has lost his man who is now rushing from behind and to the left of the QB; RG's man is 1 yard in front of the QB; Center is standing watching the man on top of the RB; LT is holding his block; LG has lost his man who is now ahead of and to the right of the QB; QB now has 2 defenders behind him, 2 defenders in front of him, his RT sitting on his butt to the QB's right, and his LT battling a rusher to his left.

0:31 - QB tries to break forward past the RG's man, but is hit simultaneously by the RG's man and the LG's man.


This sack was a combination of several factors: (1)Great coverage by the defense, at no point were any of the WRs uncovered.  (2)The TE, the RT and the LG all failed to hold their blocks, which allowed the defenders to bracket the QB.  (3)The RG's decision to shift to the RT's man meant that the QB did a lane to step up into.  (4)The RT not only was put on the ground, but he then simply rolled onto his butt and watched the play unfold.  (5)The QB could not simply throw the ball away because he was still in the pocket, his RB was on the ground, and his other three receivers were all cover very well, which means that a throw away would have resulted in an Intentional Grounding Penalty.  As a side note, Moreno was flagged for an Illegal Chop Block -- hitting a defender below the thigh when the defender is already engaged with another offensive player.  The replays, when viewed in slow motion show that Moreno had already started his motion to block the defender and the defender had begun to ward him off prior to Weigmann making contact with the defender.

4-11-DEN43    (0:17)    1-B. Kern punts 36 yards to CIN21, Center-66-L. Paxton.  12-Q. Cosby to CIN32 for 11 yards (30-D. Bruton; 31-D. McBath)

    This drive overall was a failure on multiple levels.  On the first play, Orton failed to react quickly enough to avoid the pressure.  The LT was beaten twice on the drive, in both cases this directly contributed to the quarterback being sacked.

An Offensive Success: Fourth Quarter New England at Denver, Denver's Ball 1st & 10 at the DEN2

The Drive Summary

Received at
Time of Possession
How Acquired
Drive Began on
Number of plays
Yards Gained
Penalty Yards
Net Yards
First downs
Ball last on
How Given Up
9:59
5:21
Punt
DEN2
12
87
11
98
6
NE11
Touchdown


This was a long sustained drive which resulted in a touchdown.  The drive summary, as with the previous example lets us see what happened, but does little to enlighten us as to why this drive was successful while the one in the previous example failed.

The Statistics
    When we look at the statistics for this drive, we see that Orton completed 6 out of 9 passes for 76 yards with 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions and 0 sacks.  He completed passes to 4 different receivers on the drive: Gaffney - 1 catch for 14 yards, Royal - 3 catches for 24 yards, Moreno - 1 catch for 27 yards, and Marshall - 1 catch for 11 yards and a touchdown.  Moreno also had 2 runs for a total of 11 yards.  The drive was further helped along by a Taunting penalty on the defense which netted the Broncos 11 additional yards.

The Play-by-Play
1-10-DEN2    (9:59)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete short left to 27-K. Moreno.
2-10-DEN2    (9:55)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short middle to 10-J. Gaffney to DEN16 for 14 yards (31-B. Meriweather).
1-10-DEN16  (9:14)    (Shotgun) 27-K. Moreno right tackle to DEN20 for 4 yards (59-G. Guyton)
2-6-DEN20    (8:41)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short right to 19-E. Royal to DEN31 for 11 yards (29-S. Springs).
1-10-DEN31  (8:04)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete short right to 19-E. Royal.
2-10-DEN31  (7:59)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short right to 27-K. Moreno to NE42 for 27 yards (30-B. McGowan; 29-S. Springs).
1-10-NE42    (7:16)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short left to 19-E. Royal to NE35 for 7 yards (23-L. Bodden).
2-3-NE35      (6:43)    8-K. Orton pass incomplete to short left to 19-E. Royal (95-T. Banta-Cain).
3-3-NE35      (6:39)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short left to 19-E. Royal to NE29 for 6 yards (23-L. Bodden).
1-10-NE29    (6:06)    (Shotgun) 27-K. Moreno up the middle to NE22 for 7 yards (30-B. McGowan).
2-3-NE22      (5:32)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete deep left to 19-E. Royal (23-L. Bodden); Penalty on NE-31-B. Meriweather, Taunting, 11 yards, enforced at NE22
1-10-NE11    (5:27)    8-K. Orton pass short left to 15-B. Marshall for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
5-M. Prater extra point is GOOD, Center-66-L. Paxton, Holder-1-B. Kern.

The play-by-play gives a little better picture of the drive.  We can see that Orton's incompletions were all thrown to the left side of the field -- 2 short and 1 deep.  We can see how the drive was extended 4 times by passes and 1 time by a defensive penalty.

The Film Study
1-10-DEN2    (9:59)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete short left to 27-K. Moreno.

Formation: 2 WR right, 1 WR left, 1 RB, TE right; defense has 4 on line of scrimmage, 1 LB tight on each end of the d-line, MLB 5 yards upfield in middle, DBs 8-10 yards upfield, safeties off screen, at least 14 yards upfield.

9:59 - Ball is snapped.

9:59 - All 3 WR sprint straight up the field; RB swings out to left; DBs hold position while 1 LB picks up the slot WR to right, other outside LB picks up the RB coming out of the backfield; MLB holds position; Safeties still off screen.

9:58 - Slot WR closely covered by LB; No defender within 7 yards of WR right; WR left has defender within 3 yards; RB has LB within 2 yards; defense rushing 4; LT & LG 1-on-1 with defenders; C/RG double teaming 1 defender; RT/TE double teaming 1 defender.

9:57.5 - TE releases to go into pass pattern; QB 8 yards deep in end zone; LT & LG being pushed back by defenders, all are 4 yards into the backfield; C/RG holding position 2 yards behind line of scrimmage; WR left is being closely covered 8 yards upfield; RB is being bumped by LB at line of scrimmage; Slot WR is being bumped by LB 4 yards upfield; WR right is 8 yards upfield, defender is off screen, so is at least 2 yards away.

9:57 - RB breaks left, towards the outside; Slot WR breaks back towards the line of scrimmage; TE stops and turns towards QB, 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage; WR right is off the screen; RT, RG/C are holding their blocks in position; LG and LT have been turned sideways by the defenders who are slipping the blocks, all 4 players are within 1 yard of the QB.

9:56.5 - QB dumps the ball off to the RB as he gets hit by the LT's assignment; RB is 3 yards upfield; TE is behind the line of scrimmage watching the play unfold; all other receivers are off the screen.

9:56 - RB is breaking to the left, defender is slightly behind him to the inside; ball is thrown to the outside where only the RB can make a play; RB lays out in a dive and barely misses making a catch.


This play is a result of good coverage downfield, along with the left side of the pocket collapsing very rapidly.  Orton made a throw to Moreno coming out of the backfield, placing the ball where only Moreno had a chance to make the play.

2-10-DEN2    (9:55)   (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short middle to 10-J. Gaffney to DEN16 for 14 yards (31-B. Meriweather)
Formation: 2 WR right, TE right, 1 WR left, 1 RB, Shotgun; defense in same formation as previous play.

9:55 - Ball is snapped.

9:54 - All receivers are sprinting straight upfield; RB swings out to left; defense is rushing 4; tackles and guards are all blocking 1-on-1; C is angled to support right side of the line.

9:53.5 - WR right angles for a slant route 3 yds upfield; TE is at line of scrimmage, heading straight upfield; Slot WR has turned parallel to the line of scrimmage, 3 yards upfield; RB is at line of scrimmage, headed straight upfield; WR left is at line of scrimmage heading straight upfield; Right side of o-line is holding position 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage; LG has his defender blocked at line of scrimmage; LT has good position on his assignment, 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage; All receivers are closely covered.

9:53 - All receivers are closely covered; RB is being bumped off balance by a LB; Right side of o-line is holding position; C has committed himself to assisting RG; LT is standing his man up 1 yard behind the QB's back.

9:52 - RB has been turned to face QB by bump; O-line is holding blocks; WR right and TE right are paralleling the line of scrimmage 5 yards upfield; QB throws to Slot WR who is paralleling the line of the scrimmage 9 yards upfield.
 
9:51 - WR catches the ball at the First Down line and slants forward, shedding 1 tackle, for an additional 4 yards before getting hit by a 2nd defender.


This was a well executed play.  It briefly looked like the RDE was going to escape the LT's block, but the LT was able to recover and push the DE out of the play.

1-10-DEN16    (9:14)    (Shotgun) 27-K. Moreno right tackle to DEN20 for 4 yards (59-G. Guyton)
Formation: same as previous play; defense is in same alignment with the exception that the LB who was on left side of O-line in previous play is behind the D-line and more towards the middle of the field.

9:15 - Ball is snapped.

9:14 - LG is pulling to right; TE is on right, setting up to block; QB hands off to the RB who heads to the right; Outside WRs are sprinting straight up the field; LT is holding block at the line of scrimmage, sealing the backside of the play; LG has is leading the RB; C is turning defender to left side of the play; RG/RT double teaming a d-lineman; TE is pushing defender to right of play; Slot WR is setting up to block let OLB; 2 remaining LBs are starting to pursue the play.

9:13 - Outside WRs positioning themselves to provide blocking; LT is on ground, but has taken d-lineman out of the play; C is pushing a d-lineman deeper into the backfield and away from the play; TE has d-lineman off balance and is pushing him away from the play; RG is holding block on a d-lineman at line of scrimmage; RT has released his man to the pulling LG and is moving to block a LB; Slot WR has broken to the outside on the right and is pulling a LB away from the play; RB hits the hole opened by the O-line and the TE.

9:12 - Defenders force blockers on the right side of the line to the right side of the play; RB runs into the pile and spins away, 3 yards upfield.

9:11 - RB is facing backwards, backpedals as he's being hit to gain an additional yard before being tackled.


The o-line did a good job of opening a hole for the RB.  The RB was able to hit the whole quickly and was then able to spin off the pile when it shifted in front of him to pick up additional yardage.

2-6-DEN20    (8:41)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short right to 19-E. Royal to DEN31 for 11 yards (29-S. Springs)
Formation: 2 WR left, TE left, 1WR right, 1 RB, Shotgun; defense has 6 men on line, safeties 13 yards deep, 1 LB & 1 DB 6 yards deep, 1 DB up close to line of scrimmage across from WR on right.

8:41 - Ball is snapped.

8:40 - DBs and Safeties drop into deep coverage; LBs blitz from the left side of the o-line and up the middle; RB swings out to right; All WRs and TE sprint straight upfield; 2 WR left turn parallel to line of scrimmage 4 & 5 yards upfield; TE heads straight upfield, 4 yards past line of scrimmage; WR right is heading straight upfield, 4 yards past line of scrimmage; QB drops 8 yards behind line; DBs dropping back into coverage; O-line is holding position 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage, but the RG is faced with 2 men to block due to the blitz.

8:39 - LT is being thrown aside by defender; RG picks up inside defender, allowing LB an unobstructed line to QB; RB has set up to block on right; WR left has broken off his route and is coming back towards line to assist QB; QB spys the blitz and scrambles to his right.

8:38 - LT reestablishes his block while the rest of the O-line holds the position in the pocket; RB supports the right side of the o-line with a block; QB steps up and begins to throw, forcing the trailing LB to stretch out to try and reach him; QB successfully releases ball in a pass to the right.

8:37 - WR right has started to retreat back towards the line to assist the QB; DB is trailing the WR right by a yard.

8:36 - WR right makes a catch 11 yards upfield as he's being hit from behind.


This was a play where we saw the offensive line hold their blocks throughout the play.  Even when the LT's assignment momentarily shed the block, the LT kept with him to reestablish the block.  We also saw a case in which the QB adjusted by scrambling to the right to gain some additional time, and the WR's adjusted to the blitz by coming back towards the line of scrimmage.

1-10-DEN31    (8:04)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete right to 19-E. Royal.
Formation: same as previous play; Defense has 4 on the line with 1 LB close to left end of O-line, 2 LBs in the middle, both safeties 12-14 yards deep; DBs close to line of scrimmage.

8:04 - Ball is snapped.

8:03 - RB stays in to block; WR left heads straight up the field; Slot WR left turns into a slant route 2 yards upfield; TE heads straight upfield; WR right heads straight upfield; defense rushes 4, DBs and LBs drop back into coverage; O-line picks up all rushers and holds blocks.

8:02 - RB releases into pass route; defenders have shed blocks by RT and LT, both defenders are within 1 yard of QB who starts to throw.

8:01 - Ball is thrown before defenders can hit QB; Ball is thrown to WR fight who is 23 yards upfield; WR right has a defender within arm's reach of him; defender is slightly upfield and to the inside of the WR; Throw is to the outside and low where only the WR has a chance to make the play; Ball lands just in front of the WR; WR protests to the officials that he was held; no penalty was called.


This was a play where the QB had to throw the ball before he wanted to due to both tackles being unable to hold their blocks.  He made the best choice by throwing to spot where only his receiver could catch it.  There was no replay on that play, and the receiver was off the screen until just before the ball got to him, so there is no way to determine if he was held or not.

2-10-DEN31    (7:59)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short right to 27-K. Moreno to NE42 for 27 yards (30-B. McGowan; 29-S. Springs)
Formation: both offense and defense are set in the same formations as the previous play.

Prior to the snap - Slot WR left goes into motion, moving to the right side of the offense; WR stops behind the TE.

7:59 - Ball is snapped.

7:58 - All receivers sprint straight up the field; RB swings out to the right; TE turns to parallel the line of scrimmage at the line; defense is rushing 4, rest of the defenders are dropping back into coverage; LT, LG, C, RT are all 1-on-1 on defenders; RG has released to move upfield towards a LB

7:57 - C drives his man to his knees 3 yards behind the line then releases to move upfield; Rest of O-line allow themselves to be driven back by the defenders; QB throws over the head of the defender engaged with the RT; WRs still heading upfield; RG is setting himself to throw a block on a LB at the line; RB catches ball 6 yards behind the line; all 4 d-linemen are now behind the RB; RG misses the block.

7:56 - In eluding the RG's block, the LB has moved too far to the outside to be able to make a play on the RB; the d-linemen are all at least 2 yards behind the RB at this point; RB is sprinting straight up the field; C is ahead of the RB, leading him upfield.

7:55 - RB is 4 yards upfield with C leading the way; WR right is holding a block on the DB 15 yards upfield; rest of players are moving in support or pursuit of the RB.

7:54 - RB is 15 yards upfield; C is setting to block the safety on the right side of the field; WR right is holding the block on the DB; 3 defenders are pursuing from behind with the closest one is 3 yards away and is taking an angle to intercept the RB.

7:53 - C blocks safety to the ground, then falls himself, almost directly in front of the RB; RB is now 24 yards upfield; DB has shed the WR right's block and is moving towards RB; 2 other defenders are closing from behind.

7:52 - RB is hit by 2 defender, but is able to fall forward for an additional 3 yards.


This was an example of a well-executed screen play.  The O-line did a good job of letting the rushers penetrate, even as the RG and C pulled to move upfield in blocking support.  All blockers were able to sustain their blocks long enough to let the RB break into the secondary.

1-10-NE42    (7:16)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short left to 19-E. Royal to NE35 for 7 yards (23-L. Bodden)
Formation: 2 WR left, TE right, 1 WR right, 1 RB; defense has 4 on the line, 1 LB up on the line on the left side of the offense, 2 LB in the middle, DBs are 7 yards upfield, Safeties are 12-14 yards upfield.

7:16 - The ball is snapped. 

7:15 - All receivers head straight upfield; RB releases to left; WR left is 1 yard upfield; TE is running straight up the field 2 yards past the line; WR right is at the line; defense is rushing 4; the rush is being picked up effectively by the O-line; QB sets up 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

7:14 - QB throws to the left to a WR who has stopped 7 yards up the field and turned back to face the QB; nearest 2 defenders are 3-5 yards away.

7:13 - WR spins and jukes side to side in an attempt to elude the 2 nearest defenders; defenders stop the WR at that point for a 6 yard gain.


This is an example of a quick throw and catch for a short gain.  WR sprinted straight up the field driving the DB back, then stopped and turned around for the throw.

2-3-NE35    (6:43)    8-K. Orton pass incomplete to short left to 19-E. Royal (95-T. Banta-Cain)
Formation: 1 WR left, 2 WR right, TE right, 1 RB; defense has 4 on line, 2 LB middle, 1 LB covering Slot WR right, Safeties 10-16 yards deep.

6:43 - Ball is snapped.

6:42 - WR left is being bumped 1 yard upfield; Outside WR right is running straight upfield 3 yards past line, covering DB is playing back, 7 yards upfield; Slot WR right is turning to the right, covered by LB less than 1 yard away; LT & LG are blocking defenders 1-on-1; C & RG are double teaming 1 defender; RB is heading straight towards line of scrimmage; TE is 3 yards upfield, covered by LB 1 yard away; Defender has put RT on ground.

6:41 - WR right is covered by defender within 1 yard; Slot WR right is covered by defender within 1 yard; TE is double covered; WR left has greatest amount of separation at 1 and 1/2 yards; Defender has blown past RT and is charging QB from 2 yards away; Defender has put LT on the ground; QB throws to left; Defender who has beaten LT leaps into air, directly between the QB and the WR on the left side.

6:40 - Ball is batted down by leaping defender.


This is a case of the QB having nowhere to run to -- the majority of the O-line is holding the pocket directly in front of him, but the two tackles have both been beaten with the defender to the QB's right having an unobstructed line to him.  His receivers are well covered, but he tried to squeeze it in to the WR on the left.  The RDE was able to make a strong leap to bat the ball down.

3-3-NE35    (6:39)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass short left to 19-E. Royal to NE29 for 6 yards (23-L. Bodden)
Formation: 1 WR left, 2 WR right, TE on right but away from the O-line, 1 RB, QB 5 yards deep; Defense has 5 on the line, DBs covering the outside WRs, LBs covering the TE and the Slot WR, both Safeties are 5 yards upfield.

Pre-Snap: Slot WR right goes into motion to the left, LB follows, Slot WR turns around and lines up behind the TE.

6:39 - Ball is snapped.

6:38 - Defense rushes 5; all WRs head straight up the field and are at the line of scrimmage; LT, LG and RT are blocking 1-on-1; C & RG are double teaming one defender which leaves 1 defender unblocked; RB moves to support the blocking.

6:37.5 - WR left is covered at line; RB picks up the unblocked rusher; all blockers are holding their blocks; TE and WR right are sprinting straight up the field with defenders in pursuit.

6:37 - All receivers to the right are covered closely; defender escapes RB's block and charges the QB, while all other blockers hold their blocks; QB throws left.

6:36 - WR left has stopped and turned to face the QB, 6 yards upfield; ball arrives before the DB can move close enough to break up the play; WR is tackled at that point.


This is a good example of a quick pass for a first down.  The WR made sure he was past the first down marker, then turned to wait for the QB's throw.  If you watch the QB closely you can see that after a quick glance to the right, he pretty much locks onto the WR on the left.  Had the DB been a little quicker to recognize that, he could have broken up the play.

1-10-NE29    (6:06)    (Shotgun) 27-K. Moreno up the middle for 7 yards (30-B. McGowan)
Formation: 1 WR left, 2 WRs right, TE on right & separated from the O-line, 1 RB; Defense has 4 on the line, 2 LBs in the middle, 1 LB on the Slot WR to the right, 1 LB up on the line just outside the LT, 1 DB 7 yards upfield on the right; Safeties are playing 11-14 yards upfield.

6:06 - Ball is snapped.

6:05 - All 3 WRs sprint straight upfield; TE stays in to block; LG pulls to right as QB hands off to the RB; WR left turns to block DB; LT and C throw blocks to seal off the back side of the play; RG releases his man to the LG and moves upfield to block the MLB; LG and RT block defenders back towards the middle of the line of scrimmage; TE blocks the DE on the right side of the offense to the outside; Slot WR right throws block on LB; WR right continues straight upfield.

6:04 - RB hits hole created by the O-line and the TE;  RG is 5 yards upfield blocking the MLB.

6:03 - Safety comes up to make an ankle tackle after RB has covered 7 yards.


This play is a repeat of the third play of the drive back at Denver's 16 yard line.  This time, the hole is held open just a fraction longer which springs the RB for a longer gain.

2-3-NE22    (5:32)    (Shotgun) 8-K. Orton pass incomplete deep left to 19-E. Royal (23-L. Bodden); Penalty on NE-31-B. Meriweather, Taunting, 11 yards
    enforced at the NE22.

Formation: both offense and defense are lined up in the same sets as the previous play.

5:32 - Ball is snapped.

5:31 - All WRs head straight up the field; RB swings out to the left; TE stays in to block; defense rushes 4; LT, LG, C and TE are all blocking 1-on-1; RG and RT are looking to see who needs support; Slot WR right is being bumped at line by LB.

5:30 - RB has stopped 2 yards upfield and turned back to face QB, defender covering has slipped and fallen; Slot WR right has turned to the right and is being closely guarded by a LB; TE & RT have double teamed a defender; C & RG have double teamed a 2nd defender; LG is blocking 1-on-1 and being pushed backwards; LT is blocking 1-on-1 and has been pushed backwards, almost into the back of the QB; Other WR's are off the screen; QB throws to the left.

5:29 - WR left turns to make the catch 15 yards up the field; DB who is trailing the WR by about 3 yards leaps and managed to tip the ball slightly; WR jumps as the safety closes in on him.

5:28 - Ball bounces off WR left's hands just before he is hit by the safety; one official throws a flag for pass interference on the defender -- which is negated because the ball had been tipped; however, the defender is flagged for Taunting the WR after the play.


This is play where the Broncos lucked out.  Orton did not get quite enough air under the ball to get it over the DB and drop before the Safety could get there.  Given the angle of the film, it is not possible to see whether or not Clady's being pushed into his back had any effect on the throw.  Even so, Royal almost made the catch.  What made the play lucky is that Meriweather was flagged by two different officials -- one for pass interference (which the tip nullified) AND the taunting call by the 2nd official.  The penalty was assessed as half the distance to the goal.

1-10-NE11    (5:27)    8-K. Orton pass short left to 15-B. Marshall for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Formation: 1 WR left, TE left, 2 WRs right, 1 RB; defense had 4 on the line, with a LB close to the line outside the LT, a LB on the Slot WR right, DBs on the outside WRs, MLB was 6 yards upfield, Safeties were 10 yards upfield.

5:27 - Ball is snapped

5:26 - All WRs head straight upfield; TE stays in to block; RB heads straight up the middle into a passing route; defense rushes 6 as QB drops 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage; TE, RT, RG, and C are all blocking 1-on-1; LG and LT double team one defender, leaving 1 defender unblocked; Slot WR right turns to outside; Outside WR straight up the field; WR left slants a bit towards the middle of the field before turning upfield; All O-linemen hold their blocks, though the LG and LT shift with the LG taking the defender 1-on-1 so the LT can intercept the unblocked blitzing LB; QB throws left.

5:25 - WR left turns to make the catch 6 yards upfield with a DB pursuing him from 1 yard away and the Safeties 5 yards away as they close on the play.

5:24 - WR left spins to outside as DB attempts to tackle him around the waist; Safeties are 2-3 yards away as WR breaks the tackle; WR is off-balance and lunges towards the goal line.

5:23 - WR left stretches the ball out just as the closest safety hits him; Ball breaks the plane of the goal line before the WR hits the ground for a touchdown.


This was another example of a well executed, quick pass.  Marshall displayed his strength and balance by breaking the tackle and the plane of the goal line.  It was especially impressive to see how well the LT and LG worked together to shift what they were doing and pick up the blitzing LB.

    This was an impressive drive.  It began with the New England punt that was downed at the DEN2.  The game tape showed a shot of Orton after the punt was downed -- he rolled his eyes, shook his head, then gave a little smile as he started for the field.  Passes and runs were successful when they needed to be.  Overall, the pass protection was very good.  Orton and his receivers showed some promise in the way they adjusted to one another.  Interestingly enough, it was Royal who was the go-to guy on that drive.  Most importantly, however, the drive finished with a touchdown. 

A FINAL THOUGHT

    So where does this all leave us?  I can imagine some of you are probably saying "He can't be seriously proposing that we all engage in film study whenever we want to discuss/debate how well or poorly a given player has played."  Sure I am. 

Just kidding.  Somewhat.

    What I've learned over the past few weeks as the great QB debate has gone, not only here at MHR but in the MSM as well (were you all aware that ESPN now has a web page called the "Tebow Tracker"?) is that while statistics can point us in the direction of understanding how a player has performed, they are often lacking in helping us to understand why that player performed the way he did.  This is were a film study can come in handy.  By going back and watching the player's performance several times, we can begin to better understand why things played out the way they did. 

    However, it is important to remember that, just as with statistics, it is not sufficient to look at just one play or a handful of specifically selected plays to make a point, or a highlight reel.  For example, if you want to evaluate how Elvis Dumervil performed in 2009, you would want to look at every play where he was on the field.  You would want to see what he did well, and where he struggled.  Even then, it is important to put each player's performance in the context of the other 10 men on the field.  It is hard to fault a QB for being sacked when his RT is sitting on his butt watching the DE run past him, or to criticize a WR for not making a catch on a ball that was tipped away from him.  This is why I'm very much in favor of McDaniels' team-first mantra.  When you watch a lot of game film, you start to see how it takes all 11 players on the field to make a play work, or fail.  Statistics can point us in the direction of the patterns occurring within the play of our team, while film study can help us delve deeper and better understand those patterns.

    One word of caution here: Film study is a very time intensive exercise.  There are also some folks who have expressed an opinion that they are "not smart enough" to do a film study.  I've got news for you: if you enjoy watching the Broncos play football, and have a way to record the games (or have access to a service like NFL Game Rewind), you're smart enough to do a film study.  I'd never done one prior to becoming involved with the Upon Further Review project here at MHR.

    One word of encouragement: film study can be a lot of fun, and it can help you gain a deeper appreciation of what all goes into even a single play on the field.  You start to understand more about how the game works, why a given play might be successful in one instance, and a total flop in another.  As Emmett Smith once shared with me:

I have had the same response - the more I watched film, the more I understood what I was seeing, the more I realized how little of the actual game most folks seem to be catching. It wasn't that I suddenly felt smarter - I just realized how little I'd known, compared to what i 'thought' I saw during games. Your emotions, or so I found, catch you up; you suddenly find that you're over-responding to incidents without catching the overall patterns involved. You think that you saw X, but when you catch the replay from 3 angles and replay them a few times each and all of the sudden it's not even the same game that I thought I caught. Over time, it's quicker to recognize patterns, and you add vocabulary - drag routes, hook vs curl, fade vs. slant, etc. You realize that maybe 1/2 the people who use the term 'bubble screen' even really know what it means. Sky vs cloud coverage is an essential concept, but not that many people have even heard the term. Rip vs. swim moves? Maybe some folks recall. Others don't.

  It's in the doing, the sharing, the discussing and the debating that we learn and grow in our appreciation of the game.  Thanks for going along with me on the ride.

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