What happened on the field was nothing short of amazing! I was wrong, I thought it would be a shootout. No way our defense could stifle Brees and his high scoring offense. No way could we contain his weapons. We had to just limit them and hope for some luck and a few turnovers. HA!!! My most sincere apologies Broncos D---you played like a championship caliber unit and it was a pleasure to see you make the Aints punt so much!
The next thing, however unpopular it might be (you know since these guys are injured), needs to be said. We are better off without Joe Mays and Tracy Porter on the field. I'm sorry those guys are going through their injuries and no player should have a season severely shortened due to injury. Both these guys are class acts and I'm glad that they are Broncos. That aside, it isn't a coincidence that a resurgence in our defense has coincided with them missing in action. What we have seen the last two weeks is a defense that is playing disciplined and on the same page with each other. I haven't noticed the egregious breakdowns in the secondary as before and the huge plays off playaction have suddenly disappeared. Scheme wise, it seems like Adams is no longer being asked to help in coverage deep over the top anymore---that responsibility is now firmly Rahim Moore's.
Defensively, the Broncos chose to defend things by playing mostly man coverage with Rahim Moore deep in the middle to clean things up. All of the short crossing stuff over the middle was cluttered and when it was there, Brees placed the ball in bad spots that really hurt his WR's ability to get yards after the catch. There was a quick slant on a hot read that Brees threw too low---got the first down, but if he had hit his receiver in stride it would have gone for 6. Brees was off, his accuracy was pretty bad and on the few plays their guy beat our guy down the sideline---he overthrew them.
There was a sound clip on the radio and it was a Bronco defender talking about playing disciplined. This is the meat of a Jack Del Rio defense---sound fundamentals and discipline. Joe Mays had a hard time maintaining his gaps when he was in. When he went for a tackle, all too often he took the wrong angle or went for the knockout. Tracy Porter is and has always been somewhat of a gambler and in many of the big TD's and plays he's given up he was too susceptible to a double move.
Our defense has playmakers all over the field, but it's strength first and foremost is as a complimentary unit. We may have only gotten to Brees once or twice, but the pocket was pushed and moved enough to disrupt his throwing lanes and therefore his timing. And when the pocket was closing, it was because the guys on the backend stayed with their man an extra second or so to allow the guys up front to win their battles.
When you watch a game on TV, it is hard to see the speed of the game. In person, I can tell you that our defense was swarming all night. Here is just a short list of things that I liked seeing:
- Von Miller able to cover Lance Moore
- Danny Trevathan able to cover Jimmy Graham---even on some of the completions that were there he had good coverage.
- Wesley Woodyard making an impact in coverage, in the screen game, and behind the line of scrimmage.
- The creative mix of looks the Broncos gave Brees
- Chris Harris and Tony Carter making some great pass breakups
- Our linemen like big Vick getting their paws up to deflect passes
Offensively, I think the guys upfront deserve a huge amount of credit for the way they blocked in the running game. We ran one concept more predominantly than any other---the zone stretch. In it, essentially our entire blocking force gets moving diagonally to one direction and sucks the defense in, the handoff comes and the back cuts quickly to the backside to the 2nd level. It worked so many times I started to feel sorry for NO. Not only that, but we started to run effective playaction off of it on 1st down. Big passes to DT downfield came from the stretch playaction (with Ronnie Hillman in the backfield) on 1st down. Again the guys up front deserve so much credit because both times Peyton Manning had an eternity to let the deep route develop downfield before throwing the ball.
Having now witnessed the "Freaking" in action, I am truly amazed at how early he lets the ball go to a receiver in their route (before the break, before they are open)---99% of the time the ball is put into such a tight window where the receiver can get it. I'm also amazed at how much he trusts Demaryius Thomas. Though Thomas has had issues with drops, Manning is not afraid to throw it up to his big man in one on one situations.
I think I know the biggest reason why McGahee gets yards that Hillman doesn't. Seeing him stuffed on a few plays, Hillman is trying to do too much. He shifts too much East to West when there isn't a big hole instead of following his blocks and getting what is there. Sometimes it works and he makes a pretty good gain. Other times the speed of the D catches up to him. I think as time goes on he will learn to be more of a north south runner. McGahee is a pleasure to watch because he is a violent runner. He is going to bust like a stick of dynamite into the hole and if he gets 3-4 yards so be it---you'll be hurting on the other end;)
I don't understand the argument of Knowshon over Hillman. Hillman is pretty much doing Knowshons' job and is more explosive---Hillman managed to bust a run it took Knowshon a full couple of years to do with starting reps. I also don't understand the argument of Knowshon over Lance Ball. That 3rd RB slot is good for about 3-5 snaps per game on offense. But Lance Ball is a good special teams contributor that adds much more to the 3rd phase of the game. Let's face it, Hillman is taking over what the Broncos wanted Knowshon to do at the beginning of the year, and Ball gets to pick up some snaps in garbage time. Knowshon will be there if one of these guys goes down and will have an opportunity to get some playing time back. Until then, can the outrage. Gotta pick up that blitzer though rook...
Now, I have something to admit here. I thought the guy who caught a screen and rumbled and hurdled his way to a 30 yard gain was DT. What a shock it was to me when I saw "85" on the front of the jersey! Virgil Green is here folks. He can block, he can be moved around like an H-back, he can catch, and he presents some matchup problems for the defense. I am really excited to see him get more playing time and opportunities as the season progresses. I kicked this idea around with some of the staff and though it might not be on the docket, I can envision some very creative looks with Thomas, Tamme, Dreessen, Green, and Decker all on the field in the same package. That jumbo look would be a nice wrinkle in the Redzone for sure!
Special teams. I'm glad Holliday got another chance. He had a couple real nice returns (one called back due to penalty). His straight line speed is amazing and he was able to wiggle through and juke his way in traffic. When the Saints were punting closer to midfield, the Broncos put Leonard back there to field punts since he has the sure hands. I'm fine with alternating them right now. Get the little guy some more reps to get comfortable while ensuring that we hold on to the ball deep in our territory.
Looking at the team as a whole the last six quarters, we have forced six turnovers and outscored the opponents 69-14. Now to answer the questions I had coming into the game.
1) Will our entire team quit coughing up the football?
Quit carrying the ball like a loaf of bread Willis.
2) Will our running game get back on track?
Nice game all around. 225 yards on 41 carries (5.5 Avg). McGahee had 122 yards and the rookie Hillman had a nice game with 86 yards on 14 carries. Even taking away his 31-yarder, he still averaged 4.2 YPC which is up significantly from his season average.
3) Will Ronnie Hillman be used more...and properly?
The properly part was to get him the ball in space. To that end, he only had one opportunity in the passing game on a screen and it got blown up for a 4-yard loss. I like that he received more carries early on in the game.
4) How will our defense defend the Saints?
Like a blanket. Predominantly man with some zone underneath by our LB's. Some nice blitz calls (Woodyards strip sack), and some meandering around the line presnap. Del Rio has had his team prepared well the past couple of games and is in a playcalling groove.
5) Who plays what and when at LB?
Brooking was in rushing downs, Trevathan came in to cover, and it all worked out beautifully. I didn't notice Nate Irving getting any time, perhaps he had a few snaps here or there. Trevathan can stick with his man and had some great coverage on Jimmy Graham.
6) Can Tracy "Porter" Drew Brees just like he "Portered" Manning in the SB?
That question was asked before we knew the extent of Porter's illness. Hope you get well soon man!
7) Can our defense limit redzone opportunities?
Really underscores the dominance of our D---the Saints only had one RZ opportunity all night. Excellent job Orange Crush!
I did a quick write up on what it would take to disrupt Drew Brees on gameday and in it I identified the following things: Give a relentless effort every play all game, create some confusion presnap, win your matchups up front, get your arms up and clutter passing lanes, remain disciplined in your assignments, force some turnovers, get lucky. We hit every one of them Sunday night.
Finally, I want to highlight what Manning has done so far
176-257, 68.5%, 2113 yards (301.9 per game, 8.2 yards per attempt), 17 TD, 4 INT, 109.0 QBR....that makes him:
- 4th in the NFL in completion percentage (Alex Smith, Rodgers, Ryan)
- 5th in the NFL in yards (Brady, Brees, Manning, Rodgers)
- 1st in the NFL in yards per attempt
- 2nd in the NFL in yards per game (Brees)
- 3rd in the NFL in TD's (Rodgers, Brees)
- T-2nd in the NFL in least amount of INT's
- 1st in the NFL in passer rating
I dare say that we probably have never seen this prolific a passer at this stage in his career. In a radio interview, Manning said he's not the same player he once was. Maybe he is speaking of his physical limitations, but there is no doubt in my mind that this guy is the sharpest mind in the game. Looking forward to the next 9 games for sure!
Sunday was pretty special for me, yeah the Broncos won, but that was just the cherry on top. I got to take my dad to see the game. This man has been there for me through just about everything. I'm glad I could share those memories with him, they will remain with me to the day I die. Love you Pal, thanks for being such a wonderful father!
I know that I didn't include any film here, but I want to leave you with one last stat...the Broncos defense held the Saints to just 1/12 on 3rd down. Guess what? I'm going to do some film study on why we were so dominant, so be looking for that within the next couple of days Broncos Country, GO BRONCOS!!!