This aspect of the game is very difficult to assess in the pre-season because for whatever reason the starting defenses don’t seem to blitz a whole lot on the starting QBs. It’s like an unwritten rule. Sure there is the occasional grudge match like a couple of years ago when Dallas blitzed Jay Cutler and the Broncos sideline was going nuts. The following year they played again in pre-season and Denver returned the favor.
For the most part teams really just want to get through the pre-season without injuries to their best players which usually includes the QB. So there must be an agreement between coaches that says if you don’t come after my Peyton Manning, I won’t go after your Brett Favre. After the starters go out though, it’s no holds barred sack the backups. Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow saw a fairly large amount of blitz packages. It kind of makes you feel a little sorry for the backups such as Quinn who are just trying to make the team and learning a new system are feeling the heat game one, play one.
Picking up the Blitz
For Denver to have a successful offense this year the blitz has to be picked up for the quarterback. Kyle Orton has even said himself that he believes the line’s job is to block, and his job is to throw, meaning he doesn’t feel scrambling out of the pocket to avoid the blitz is part of his job description. In the scenario of one or two defenders blitzing, Orton’s success comes down to the five man line picking up every man, and the running back picking up the sixth man or shipping the correct blitzer. On the plus side I believe Orton is smart enough to see the blitz coming, and knows that the ball has to come out quickly. Even so, Kyle still has to have enough time to set his feet and get the ball out of his hands. For everyone on this blog who is just waiting to tell me “I told you Kyle Orton is a stud QB you Tebowlover”, his line has to be one of the best at picking up the blitz on a consistent basis. If this happens than Kyle doesn't need to be the playmaker with his feet. He just needs to maek the right read.
Concern 1 – The Backup Tackle
The backup tackle becomes the biggest issue for the offense if either Clady, or Harris don’t play. Based on recent history, heck training camp, the backup tackle will be starting for at least three or four games this season. I believe that our offensive line can be very good in picking up blitzes. I liked what I had seen from our rookie interior players so far in Walton and Beadles. The big issue though is going to be at tackle. Clady and Harris form one of the best, if not the best, bookend tackle combinations in the league, but both tackles are an injury concern in the upcoming season. Clady, of course, is coming off of a serious injury. He should be back for Week 1, but we don’t know how effective he will be early on. Harris has had his injury issues last year, but seems healthy so far.
#68 Zane Beadles – Even though Beadles may be the best option at tackle he as of now is the starting left guard. I don’t know if he will be moved to start at tackle. Though this would be my preference for pass protection scenarios if that is the case. Tackle is his natural position that he played in college at Utah. He is quick and moves well laterally. Picking up a blitzing linebacker on the edge is one of Zane’s strengths. If he plays tackle in the pre-season it should be fun to see how he does against NFL caliber pass rushers. He played left guard during the entire second half including the scoring drive where Tebow was able to complete several pass where Beadles kept rushers off the QBs back.
# 77 Tyler Polumbus – Dear God please let someone else beat out Tyler Polumbus. I didn’t like what I had seen from him last year and haven’t hear great things about him in camp this year. If Polumbus is starting at left tackle than Orton will need to up his life insurance. This in my opinion is the worst case scenario for Denver. Polumbus is slow to kick out side and prevent speed rushers from getting to Orton. He also doesn’t always pick up the correct assignment. Several times when Quinn and Tebow were getting blitzed on the left side he looked to pick up in the inside guy only to realize he wasn’t blocking anyone and the RB was trying to block two pass rushers. This is exactly what happened on the play when Tebow had the fumble (It was over turned as an incomplete pass). Not to make excuses for Tebow, because he did hold the ball a little long, but he should have been given a split second more time if the blitz was picked up correctly by #77. Polumbus should have immediately picked up #44 and that would have allowed for the RB to block #45 who ended getting to Tebow to cause the fumble. Obviously Polumbus was playing as the second and third string guy and may not end up being the primary backup at left tackle, but I wanted to point out that he should only be an emergency option. If he is playing I bet the opposition will be coming at him all day long which makes for a rough day as Kyle Orton.
# 69 Eric Olson—Olson has been playing on the right side of the line. He seemed fast enough to pick up the edge rushers, but he got bullied even when he received help from another blocker. He is a rookie and sop hopefully he can learn from film and improve.
Concern 2—The Running Back
Because the starting Bengal defense didn’t blitz it was hard to judge how Hall did on blitz pick up. Really the guys that will be responsible for this will be Moreno, and Buckhalter. The guy I want to see do well is Lendale White. He is the biggest back we have and should be a great fit to pick up the blitz. With all of the injuries though this could be a huge issue if the starters don’t play. Who knows maybe Justin Fargas is a stud at this task. This is something to watch throughout the preseason when the second teams start and the blitzing packages begin.
Blitzing the opposition
This is where I think we will have to wait until the regular season to judge anything. Josh McDaniels doesn’t appear to be interested in blitzing, but again it’s pre-season. Maybe Denver wanted to see how their base defense was working before trying to work on blitz packages. I really would like to see how creative Wink is going to get with his looks and who he is going to bring on passing downs. Again maybe the Denver D doesn’t want to show their hand until Week 1. That was the case last year when Denver became a pressure defense that smothered QBs in the first six weeks. They slowed down on the blitzing over the last ten games which I think tremendously contributed to the losing streaks.
I plan on blaming Kyle Orton for all of the problems last year just to tick off Bears fans that troll this forum, but in all reality the defense was not the same after they stopped blitzing contributing grealty to the decline of the 2009 Broncos playoff hopes. Maybe it was because of the injury to Ryan McBean. Maybe Mike Nolan thought he had a better front line than he really did. Maybe it was because we got gashed by the running game. For whatever reason Denver let off the gas on bringing extra man, and that led to opposing passers having better days in the second half of the season. Without pressure most NFL QBs have the ability to eat up any defense, even against a great secondary like Denver’s.
Where will the sacks come from in 2010?
Just looking at where sacks came from in 2009 it is apparent that Denver isn’t bringing heat from the secondary. The outside linebackers are the primary weapons while the defensive line and middle linebackers are the secondary weapons. The guys that represent 25 ½ of the 29 sacks won’t be playing for the Broncos in the regular season. Dumervile may be back for the last five aor four games, but he may not. So that leaves Ayers, Haggan, Moss coming in from the OLB position and McBean, Bannan, and big Jamal Williams to pick up the slack of the departed sack leaders. DJ Williams is still here, and maybe he will come up the middle more often than last year. Reid is still on the team, but he plays second string in the rotation. Really the ability of these players to get pressure comes from the play calling as much as skill level, but even on non blitzing downs these players have to produce.
2009 Denver Stats
Sacks 39 (10th in the NFL)
Sacks Allowed 34 (15th in the NFL)
NFL Most Sacks Allowed Indy 8
NFL Sack Leader Minnesota 49
2009 Denver Individual Sack Leaders
17 Elvis Dumervile OLB
5 Vonnie Holiday DE
4 Darrel Reid DE
3.5 Andra Davis ILB
3.5 DJ Williams ILB
2 Renaldo Hill CB