Denver Broncos: Stuffing the Run?

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

How has the Broncos' run defense fared in 2012?

Here we are, six games into the 2012 season . . . and I still find myself hearing some of the same questions that were raised at the end of the 2011 season and throughout the off-season. These questions have arisen both in casual conversations with family, friends and co-workers and in reading the comments sections of online football discussions. Those questions center on speculation as to why the Broncos did not choose to invest heavily in defensive tackles during the off-season and why the Broncos are still struggling to stop the run. Most often those discussion point to the New England game in which the Broncos' defense was torched for 251 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. These discussions prompted me to take a closer look at Denver's run defense.

If you go to NFL.com, Denver's rushing defense stat line looks like this:

185 attempts for 691 yards, a 3.7 yards per attempt average, a 115.2 yards per game average, 4 rushing touchdowns allowed, the longest run from scrimmage is 24 yards, 36 first downs by rushing, a 19.5 first downs by rush percentage, 4 runs of 20 or more yards allowed, 0 runs of 40 or more yards allowed, 3 fumbles recovered.

In the arena of the league, the Broncos' rushing defense stacks up this way:

18th in rushing yards per game allowed (115.2). It is worth noting that the #17 team is Green Bay with 109.9 yards per game allowed. The #10 team is a tie with San Francisco and St. Louis at 98.9 yards per game. So, to get into the Top 10, Denver would need to shave 16.4 yards per game off its average.

This does not, however, give us a particularly complete picture of Denver's rushing defense. Let's look at the other statistics included at NFL.com:


5th in yards per attempt (3.7). Tampa Bay is in 1st place with 3.1 yards per attemwhpt.
11th in rushing TDs allowed (4). There are three other teams with 4. Houston is in 1st place with 0. There are two teams with 1, four teams with 2 and three teams with 3.
14th in first downs surrendered by rushing.
9th in first down percentage by rushing.
13th in runs of 20 or more yards allowed (4). There are seven other teams with 4. There are two teams with 0, three teams with 2 and seven teams with 3.
1st in runs of 40 or more yards allowed (0). There are fifteen other teams with 0.
13th in fumbles recovered on rushing plays (3). There are five other teams with 3. The 1st place team has 7. One team has 6, four teams have 5 and six teams have 4.



By and large, then, based only on those stats we have a rushing defense that while it is in the bottom half of the league in terms of yards per game, it is pretty much solidly in the middle of the league in most of the rushing defense statistical categories. A bright spot is the stat that shows that Denver is in the Top 5 in yards per attempt.

While this is somewhat satisfying, let's look a little deeper by reviewing the Broncos' rushing defense performance on a game-by-game basis.

Team

Attempts

Yards

Average

Touchdowns

Pittsburgh

26

75

2.9

0

Atlanta

28

67

2.4

1

Houston

34

152

4.5

0

Oakland

16

56

3.5

0

New England

54

251

4.6

3

San Diego

27

90

3.3

0


An initial impression is that when teams are held to under thirty rushing attempts, the Broncos' defense fares well: 97 rushes for 288 yards in four games. That's 24.3 attempts per game for 72 yards per game, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt and just one touchdown. A second impression is that when the defense faces over thirty runs in a game they struggle: 88 runs for 403 yards in two games. That's 44 attempts per game for 201.5 yards per game, an average of 4.6 yards per attempt and 3 touchdowns.


Another way to look at the rushing defense is to look at play direction. My understanding of play direction is as follows (and I realize that these are greatly simplified explanations):

Middle (M) - the point of attack for the RB is immediately to the left or right of the center.

Left Guard/Right Guard (LG/RG) - the point of attack for the RB is just inside the offensive guard's inside shoulder (the shoulder closest to the center).

Left Tackle/Right Tackle (LT/RT) - the point of attack for the RB is between the outside shoulder of the guard and the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.

Left End/Right End (LE/RE)
- the point of attack for the RB is outside the offensive tackle's outside shoulder (the shoulder farthest from the center).


When we look at Denver's rushing defense from a direction of play perspective, we find the following:

Team

LE*

LT*

LG*

M*

RG*

RT*

RE*

Game**

TD

Pitsburgh

7/19

3/18

3/4

7/18

3/9

1/0

2/7

26/75

0

Atlanta

5/11

3/4

6/18

2/8/1

2/2

3/6

5/21

28/67

1

Houston

5/46

1/0

7/22

4/6

6/17

9/46

2/15

34/152

0

Oakland

3/7

1/3

1/8

3/20

1/-3

4/13

3/8

16/56

0

New England

6/62/1

9/38

10/31/1

12/38/1

4/21

2/-4

7/57

54/251

3

San Diego

4/9

1/3

1/0

14/55

1/1

3/14

3/8

27/90

0


*(Rushes/Yards/Touchdowns) **(Rushes/Yards)


LE - 30 rushes for 154 yards and 1 touchdown
I believe that it is important to note that 62 of the 154 yards (or 40%) came in the New England game and that 108 of the 154 yards (70%) came in just two games (New England and Houston). In the other four games, Denver allowed an average of only 11.5 yards on runs to the left end.

Given the Broncos' current depth chart/defensive alignment. Runs to the left end would have typically run at Dumervil and Ayers(DE), Bannan and Unrein (DT) on the line, the linebackers (Miller, Brooking, Woodyard and Irving, Mays, Trevathan) would change around some based on which side of the offensive line was the weak side on any given play. There would be a similar variation in among the defensive backs (Bailey,Porter, Adams, Moore and Harris, Carter, Bruton, Leonhard) based on how the opposing team's receivers had set up.

That said, on runs to the left end, we find that Woodyard has five tackles. Dumervil and Moore each have four. Brooking, Porter, Adams and Miller have two each. Ayers, Unrein, Carter, Harris, Mays and Bailey have each tallied one.

Another way to look at it, on runs to the left end, six tackles were made by the defensive line (DL), ten were made by linebackers (LB) and eleven were made by defensive backs (DB).


LT - 18 rushes for 66 yards
Nine of the eighteen rushes (50%) and 38 of those 66 yards (58%) came in the New England
game. The Denver defense gave up just 28 yards on 9 carries (a 3.1 ypa average) in the other five games.

These runs would have been at the same personnel as mentioned in the discussion of the LE runs. With that in mind, we find that Vickerson has 3 tackles on runs behind the LT. Porter, Adams, Mays and Moore each have 2. Ayers, Woodyard, Brooking, Bannan, Bailey, Dumervil, Harris, Jackson, Miller and Wolfe have 1 each.

By unit, the DL has 8 tackles, the LBs 5, and the DBs 8.


LG - 27 rushes for 83 yards and 1 touchdown
This area has been the second-least productive play direction for Broncos' opponents. The most yards by any one team was 31 -- by New England, and even then, they only had a 3.1 yards per attempt average when running to the LG.

These plays would have been running more at Bannan/Vickerson and Unrein (Siliga, next on the depth chart behind Vickerson has been on the inactive list for all six games) for the DL. Dumervil/Ayers would have also been on this side of the DL. The LBs and DBs would have been moved around depending upon the offensive formation.

Therefore, it is probably not surprising that Bannan leads in tackles on runs behind the LG with 7. Mays, Vickerson and Moore each have 4. Dumervil, Miller, Woodyard and Brooking have 3 each. Wolfe, Adams, Porter and Unrein have contributed one each.

The DL has 16 tackles on plays in this direction, the LBs 13 and the DBs 6.

M - 42 rushes for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns
It should be pointed out that 55 of those 145 yards (38%) came in the San Diego game. The San Diego and New England games accounted for 93 of the 145 yards (64%). Both touchdowns came in the New England game. This means that the other four games averaged just 13 yards per game when running up the middle.

Vickerson/Bannan and Unrein would have stood in the middle of this attack along with LBs Brooking and Mays.The DEs, outside LBs and the DBs would have contributed as needed. Given that fact, it is rather interesting that DE Dumervil leads in tackles on runs up the middle with 9.

Rounding out the tackles: Woodyard has 7. Bannan and Miller have 6. Adams, Moore and Wolfe each have 4. Brooking and Trevathan have 3 apiece. Unrein and Vickerson each contributed 2. Warren, Leonhard, Ayers, Jackson, Harris, Mays and Porter each have 1.

The DL contributed 26 of the tackles, the LBs 20 and the DBs 11.


RG - 17 rushes for 47 yards
This has been an area of relative strength for the Broncos' rush defense. It represents the fewest number of attempts as well as the fewest number of yards. Denver actually held Oakland to negative yardage on the one run that the Raiders tried in this direction. The players responsible for this area would largely be the same as those responsible for runs to the M and LG.

Tackles by the defenders break down as follows: Wolfe had the most with 5. Woodyard had 4. Bannan and Vickerson each had 3. Brooking had 2. Mays, Adams, Moore, Unrein, Dumervil and Trevathan each had 1.

The DL had 13 tackles, the LBs 8 and the DBs 2.


RT - 22 rushes for 103 yards
While this play direction yielded the fourth most yards for Denver's opponents, it is worth noting that 46 of the 103 yards (45%) came in the Houston game. The other five games averaged just 11.4 yards per game in this direction. These runs would have been primarily at Wolfe/Vickerson and Jackson.

Interestingly enough, Brooking had the most tackles with 5. Bailey, Bannan, Dumervil, Unrein and Vickerson contributed 3 each. Wolfe, Harris, Miller and Woodyard added 2 each. Adams and Mays each contributed a tackle.

The DL had 14 tackles, the LBs 10 and the DBs 6.


RE - 22 rushes for 116 yards
This was the third most productive direction for opponents. Yet, it is helpful to note that 57 of those 116 yards (49%) came in the New England game. The New England and Houston games produced 78 of the 116 yards (67%). The other four games averaged 9.5 yards per game in this direction.

Woodyard and Adams led all tacklers on plays in this direction with 6 each. Moore added 3 tackles. Miller, Harris, Porter and Irving each had 2. Vickerson, Bailey, Brooking and Bannan had 1 apiece.

The DL had 2, the LBs 11 and the DBs 14.

When we look at Denver's run defense game-by-game, a reasonably clear pattern begins to emerge. Pittsburgh had success when running to LE, LT and M. The following week, Atlanta
struggled with those directions but found their success when running to RE and LG. In Week 3, Houston found success running to LE and RT. Oakland was more or less shut down in the running attack, but their best performances came when running to M and RT. New England pretty much shredded Denver's defense with their hurry-up, no-huddle attack. Their greatest successes came on runs to LE and RE. San Diego did not do well when trying to get outside, but had some success with runs up the middle. Let's provide this look in a different way:

Team


LE

LT

LG

M

RG

RT

RE

Pittsbugh result

19

18

4

18

9

0

7

Atlanta result

11

4

18

8

2

6

21


change

-8

-14

+14

-10

-7

+6

+14

Houston result

46

0

22

6

17

46

15


change

+25

-4

+4

-2

+15

+40

-6

Oakland result

7

3

8

20

-3

13

8


change

-39

+3

-14

+14

-20

-33

-7

New England result

62

38

31

38

21

-4

57


change

+55

+35

+23

+18

+24

-17

+49

San Diego result

9

3

0

55

1

14

8


change

-53

-35

-3

+17

-20

+18

-49



From game to game, can see the defense to adjust to emphasis the weak points from the previous week while the opposing offenses adjusts to other points of attack.



An Outlook for the Remainder of 2012

The first thing I'd like to point out is that the Broncos have had only two bad games when it came to their rushing defense -- Houston and New England. In those two games, Denver surrendered 403 yards on 88 rushes, a 4.6 yards per attempt average, and gave up 4 rushing touchdowns. It should be pointed out that New England is currently 5th in offensive rushing yards per game and Houston is 6th.

When we look at the other four games, the Broncos have given up 288 yards on 97 carries, an average of 3.0 yards per attempt and no rushing touchdowns. Their opponents rushing attacks rank in the NFL as follows: Pittsburgh #26, Atlanta #29, Oakland #31 and San Diego #17.

One final word on the New England game: I am left wondering if that game is a true exposure of the weaknesses of Denver's run defense or more of an aberration. Certainly none of the other five teams has demonstrated an ability to run the same kind of devastating, hurry-up, no-huddle offensive attack as the Patriots. Until another team runs that same kind of attack, it will be debatable about the reasons for Denver's poor performance in the New England game.

So, is there any good news? Absolutely. While Denver struggled when playing two Top 10 rushing teams, they did well when facing teams in the bottom half of the league,

In their remaining ten games, the Broncos face only one Top 10 rushing attack (albeit they will play them twice) and that would be #3 ranked Kansas City. They also only face two other teams which are in the top half of the league: #13 Carolina and #16 Baltimore. They face two teams who are tied at the top of the bottom half -- #17 San Diego and #17 Tampa Bay. The remainder of their opponents are well down in the rushing rankings -- including the current three worst rushing attacks: #21 Cincinnati, #30 Cleveland, #31 Oakland and #32 New Orleans.

Given what we've seen so far, and if the Broncos can avoid any lengthy injuries to defensive starters, they should fare reasonably well when it comes to defending against the run the rest of the way out.

Go Broncos!!!!

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