The linebacker position is, personally, my favorite position in football (TE is second), and the linebackers play a very major role in how well the defense succeeds. They must possess every ability that a defender can possess, from shedding blocks to covering receivers. In a 4-3 defense, which the Broncos ran last year, they are even more important and must be adept. I’m going a bit against the grain and will analyze a painful game this time. Let’s revisit the Patriots.
For this part, I watched every defensive play of the first half against the Patriots in the playoffs, focusing primarily on the LB’s. Based on how the game progressed this would probably be a better game to study the DB’s, but alas without coaching film this is essentially an impossible task. After the play-by-play is an overall analysis on the linebackers (as well as some other observations), so if the in-depth analysis does not suit you, you can skip down to the general portion. I am doing these write ups as if they are each a project; I hope that you can read them with the same view. There is a key at the very bottom covering some of the terms I am using. If I miss something and you would like info on it, or if you have any other requests or concerns, feel free to leave a question or comment in the comments section. Let’s get to it!
Play 1 (Q1 15:00) (1st and 10, own 20 yard line) (I-formation w/ 2 wide; pass play) - Von in 5-tech (weak), DJ and Mays in 40- (weak) and 20-tech (strong), respectively. Miller still has a type of cast on his wrist and thumb. Von tries to get speed on outside, then cuts back inside and blocker stays on him and takes him out of play. DJ and Mays drop into zones 10 yards off of the LOS in the middle of the field. QB passes to RB over the middle on a check-down 5 yards off of the LOS. DJ and Mays come up to both tackle the RB. Gain of 8 yards.
Play 2 (Q1 14:35) (2nd and 2, own 28 yard line) (Single back w/ 1 wide (all 3 other receivers bunched near LOS); off-tackle run on strong side) – Von in 7-tech (strong), DJ and Mays in 40- (strong) and 10-tech (weak), respectively. Von gets engaged in a block almost instantly, holds a position where he could break to outside run containment, but is taken out of the play. Mays avoids getting blocked on a LB stunt play by hesitating and gets first contact on the RB, although he doesn’t wrap up and another defender has to finish the tackle Mays started. DJ blitzes the B gap on the weak side, and as such is out of the play (although any run to the B gap and he is there). Smart play by Mays, but his lack of athleticism showed. Gain of 5 yards, 1st down.
Play 3 (Q1 14:07) (1st and 10, own 33 yard line) (Shotgun (left) w/ 4 wide; pass play) – Von lined in 6-tech wide of LT, DJ and Mays lined in 50- (over LT) and 40-tech (over RT). Von attempts a stunt with the DT and gets double teamed and neutralized (DT gets well-blocked, too). DJ plays man on the HB (Hernandez), has him well covered. Mays plays man on Gronk and has him covered until the TE cuts to the outside and Mays falls behind him. Brady throws a dart to Gronk, but as the TE tries to turn the corner Mays takes a good angle and makes the tackle while Gronk hesitates in seeing a DB coming up. May’s coverage overall wasn’t terrible; had good instincts but fell behind and a great pass from the QB. Gain of 17 yards, 1st down
Play 4 (Q1 13:51) (1st and 10, 50 yard line) (Single-back w/ 3 wide; off-tackle run (strong)) No Von, DJ and Mays in 10- (weak) and 30-tech (strong). DJ takes out the cut-back lane and avoids a cut block, but cut block keeps him from heading towards the play. Mays reads the play well and slides off of a block in the second level, but he can’t get in the running lane as such, but could have made the play if he wasn’t blocked. With Mays being blocked, a Safety is left free to make the play but he whiffs the tackle, resulting in a big play. Gain of 43 yards.
Play 5 (Q1 13:15) (1st and GOAL, DEN 7 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 5 wide; pass play) - Von in 6-tech wide of LT, Mays lined up over a TE, Mays’ about 4 yard off of LOS, DJ in 40-tech (over LT). Von uses speed to get deep into the backfield, then places his hand on the OT’s shoulder and pushes him close to the QB, putting pressure on Brady. He tried to go around the OT but to no avail. Mays plays man on the TE, and overall as pretty good over coverage. DJ plays physical man coverage on Gronk, has him pretty well covered and puts him in a place where the defensive scheme overall has him covered. Gronk’s position takes Harris away from being right on his target, which ends up being the killer in the play. Brady passes complete for a touchdown.
Play 6 (Q1 10:07) (1st and 10, own 41 yard line) (Lone Shotgun w/ 5 wide; pass play) – Von in 5-tech over LT, Mays lined up over a TE in about 7-tech (near LT), DJ in 20-tech (over RG). Von bounces off of a cut block, but the LG is right there to take him afterwards, but Von puts good pressure on Brady, who would have been sacked had it not been for getting rid of the ball quickly. Mays plays man coverage on the TE, but again falls behind as the TE cut to the flats, but pass did not go to his target. DJ blitzes on a type of DL/LB stunt play, and uses good vision to find his way, but he gets blocked by an O-Lineman, and while he used a good cut-back move, Brady, again, launched a pass for a 8 yard completion before DJ was anywhere near him.
Play 7 (Q1 9:35) (2nd and 2, own 49 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide in trips; off-tackle to weak) – Von in 6-tech (strong), DJ in 3-tech (strong), Mays in 2-tech (weak). Von pushes aside Gronk, which catches the LT by surprise and he attempts and fails to get his hands on Von, who takes away any cut-back opportunity. Great play by Von. DJ backs off the LOS, avoids being blocked, and moves toward the running lane. DJ gets first contact on the HB but makes a terrible tackling attempt as the HB gets by him. Mays blitzed and took up the pulling guard, although he could not disengage. He freed up DJ to make a play, who couldn’t. Gain of 5 yards.
Play 8 (Q1 9:01) (1st and 10, DEN 46 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; pass play) – Von is in 6-tech wide of the LT, DJ in 30-tech (weak) about a yard off of the LOS, Mays in 30-tech (strong) about 2 yards off of the LOS. All 3 LB’s blitz/rush. Von stunts w/ DJ, where Miller uses his speed to slip by the LG and land a hit on Brady. DJ first hit the LG, which drew the LG with him, and then went into the LT to keep him from hitting Von. DJ drew the Guard enough so that he couldn’t get back and Von could get by. Brady and his quickness had the ball out of his hands before Von could pop him. A lesser quarterback would have probably taken a brutal hit for a sack. Mays stunted w/ Doom, where he first chipped the RG (the RG got back on Doom) and then launched into the RT, which gave him separation and open space between he and the QB. This play is a keeper. Gain of 4 yards.
Play 9 (Q1 8:28) (2nd and 6, DEN 42 yard line) (Lone Shotgun w/ 4 wide; WR screen) – Von is in 6-tech wide of the LT, Mays in lined up on a WR, DJ is in 10-tech (weak). Von rushes the B-gap, but does not read the screen and as such lets the O-Lineman by to block someone on the second level. Mays blitzes on the side of the screen and gets his hands up, but Brady throws it over him. DJ is smart here and appears that he initially was supposed to blitz, but he held back, took up a blocker while still being able to almost instantly disengage, bounced off of another blocker’s attempt, and helped make the tackle. Great play by DJ. Gain of 9 yards, first down.
Play 10 (Q1 7:57) (1st and 10, DEN 33 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 2 wide (both TE’s on same side); fake draw PA pass) – Von in 6-tech (strong), Mays in 20-tech (strong), DJ in 10-tech (strong). Von fakes the outside speed rush, gets a good one-handed push on an off-balanced LT, and gives himself free space between the QB and himself. Brady releases it before Von can get the sack, but he puts a hit on Brady. Mays drops in a strong side zone about 8 yards off of the LOS. He starts his coverage well but as the play goes he ends up covering nobody. DJ plays a zone right in the middle of the field about 2 yards off of the LOS, and he effectively has the RB covered. Questionable coverage by Mays, good plays by Von and DJ. Pass complete for 16 yard gain.
Play 11 (Q1 7:17) (1st and 10, DEN 17 yard line) (Single back w/ 2 wide: off-tackle run by LT) – No Von, DJ in 10-tech (over Center), Mays in 30-tech (over RG). DJ reads play well but gets blocked by an O-Lineman. He tries to shed the block but cannot as he tries to go through the lineman after initially disengaging. DJ loses his leverage and gets pushed to the ground by the blocker. Mays keeps containment on the other side of the field until the RB commits, when he then goes for the play. He gets caught up in the lineman-DJ engagement and is taken out of the play. Gain of 7 yards.
Play 12 (Q1 6:48) (2nd and 3, DEN 10 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; pass play) – Von in 7-tech (strong), DJ in 4-tech (strong), Mays in 2-tech (weak). Von navigates through oncoming receivers going out for routes, and engages in a bull rush on the LT, where he pushes the LT back a bit and puts some pressure on the QB. DJ drops back into a zone in the middle of the field about 4 yards off of the LOS, and puts himself in a good position where he could potentially jump 2 routes. Mays also plays a middle zone about 5 yards off of the LOS, where he initially lets a TE go by after covering him briefly then going up to cover an underneath receiver. Pass is complete for a touchdown away from the LB’s.
Play 13 (Q1 3:26) (1st and 10, own 13 yard line) (Single back w/ 1 wide; incomplete pass play) – Von is in 7-tech (strong), DJ is in 30-tech (weak), Mays is in 3-tech (strong). Von appears to misread the play or start the play poorly, as he goes up-field a bit (might have had run containment, but it wasn’t a run), and lets his man run by him after a poor bump, putting him in a bad spot and leaving his man open by about 5 yards. He broke the cardinal rule of jacking, which is moving forward to hit, although it’s hard to tell if he intended to jack at all. Fortunately the QB didn’t see the open man, but it could have been a long touchdown. DJ hit the B gap on the strong side in a blitz and was open until the blocking RB came out and make contact with him as the QB threw the ball. Mays also blitzed and took the block of the RG, leaving DJ free of an O-Lineman. Good play by Mays and DJ, very bad and lucky play by Von, but it’s worth noting that once Von got up to speed he was as fast as or faster than Gronk. Pass fell incomplete.
Play 14 (Q1 3:22) (2nd and 10, own 13 yard line) (Single back w/ 4 wide: off tackle run off of the RT) – Von in 6-tech wide of the LT, DJ is in 10-tech (over Center), Mays is in 30-tech (over RG). Von has 2 blockers hesitating on him, then he shoots between them and contains any run backs, but play is not in his direction. LT was surprised that Von got through, tried to jump back, and failed. DJ initially plays a zone as he reads the backfield but then comes up, hits the pulling LG, and powers his way to get first contact on the RB, which helps slow up the play. Mays initially takes a bad angle going away from the play and finds himself out of the running lane and being blocked by the RT. He holds his ground, and DJ pushes the RB in his direction. Mays teams up with a DT to make an assisted tackle. Gain of 5 yards.
Play 15 (Q1 2:42) (3rd and 5, own 18 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; pass play) – Von is in 6-tech wide of the LT (weak), DJ is in 20-tech (weak), Mays is lined up over the TE. Von fakes the speed rush then goes in for the bull rush. He initially is good with his hands but gets eaten up in the block, applying some pressure on Brady. DJ blitzes and stunts with the DE, and DJ goes directly into the RT but cannot move him and gets neutralized by the block. Mays plays man on the TE, attempts jam him but it isn’t very effective, and falls behind the TE once again when the TE made the cut. Pass is not on mays target but goes complete for 7 yards.
Play 16 (Q1 2:11) (1st and 10, own 25 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; INT) – No Von, DJ in 2-tech (over LG), Mays in 2-tech (over RG). Both LB’s fake the blitz and drop into a zone in the middle of the field, about 5 yards off of the LOS, taking out a potential crossing route, but Brady tries to loft it over them anyway and fails. The QB throws a rare errant pass right to Q. Carter, who comes up with the INT.
Play 17 (Q2 14:46) (1st and 10, own 40 yard line) (Single back w/ 3 wide; off-tackle run (strong)) – Von in 6 tech (strong), DJ in 20-tech (weak), Mays in 30-tech (strong). Von consumed two blockers while holding ground and moving his way towards the running lane. By the time the TE broke off of him, there were open defenders, and he still kept the LT going sideways. He helped force hesitation by the RB. DJ followed the play but was never really involved. He got pancaked by an O-Lineman. Mays kept upright and got himself in the running lane, taking up a blocker, which allowed a D-Lineman to help make the tackle. Good play by Mays and Von. Gain of 1 yard.
Play 18 (Q2 14:25) (2nd and 9, own 41 yard line) (Single back w/ 4 wide (all near the O-Line); pass play) – Von in 6-tech wide of LT, Mays in 20-tech (over RG), DJ in 30-tech (over LG). Von sped by the LT by using his hands to keep separation and way fast enough to avoid a block by the RB. Would have been a sack if not for Brady being Brady. He kept his pace and could have made the tackle had a DB not come up and done so. Mays blitzed the B gap and got in a potential position to separate, but was out of the play when the QB threw it. DJ had coverage on the RB but started to blitz once the RB stayed to block, but was out of the play when the QB threw it. Would have been a great play if the first DB could’ve made the tackle. Gain of 10 yards, 1st down.
Play 19 (Q2 14:10) (1st and 10, DEN 49 yard line) (Single back w/ 3 wide; off-tackle run (strong)) – No Von, DJ in 10-tech (weak), Mays in 40-tech (strong). Mays got himself in position to easily disengage from his first blocker, but ran into a second blocker while being behind the play. He left DJ free. DJ showed his speed and moved freely towards the running lane and got good first contact on the RB, helping to bring him down. Could have tackled better but overall good play by both LB’s. Gain of 4 yards.
Play 20 (Q2 13:45) (2nd and 6, DEN 45 yard line) (Lone Shotgun w/ 5 wide; incomplete pass) – Von in 5-tech (over LT), DJ in 20-tech (over RG), Mays lined up as a CB over a wide TE and is about 5 yards off of the LOS. Von gets stopped by a high cut-block but stays on his feet and jumps at a thrown ball, but overall is out of the play. DJ takes a delayed blitz to the B gap near Von and also gets a hand up near the ball, but is overall out of the play. Mays plays the route fairly well and shows good instincts in man coverage on Gronk, and as a DB inadvertently but legally takes out the receiver Mays drops an easy INT thrown right to him. Missed opportunity but still a good play by Mays.
Play 21 (Q2 13:41) (3rd and 6, DEN 45 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; incomplete pass) – Von in 5-tech (strong), DJ in 20-tech (strong), Mays in 30-tech (weak). Von goes inside on a stunt w/ DJ but gets well blocked by the LG, and only after a second can get start to push up-field. DJ blitzed and stunted w/ Von, but after a good first push got tangled up in the block by the LT and didn’t get much penetration. Mays attempted to blitz the B gap on the weak side and stunted w/ Doom, but it wasn’t well executed and he had to jump back to avoid Doom, which effectively took him out of the play. The stunts gave the DT a 1 on 1 matchup with the Center, and he got great penetration and put major pressure on the QB up the middle, forcing the errant pass. Punt is forced.
Play 22 (Q2 11:17) (1st and 10, own 48 yard line) (Single back w/ 4 wide; counter run, final direction towards LT) – Von in 6-tech wide of RT, Mays in 30-tech over RG, DJ in 40-tech over LT. Von keeps his containment assignment and takes on a pulling TE, although he is not in a good position at this point to take out an outside run. Von uses leverage to stay upright and off of the blocker, and the RB goes right into his direction, and in attempting to cut to the outside he hits his TE, and is slowed down enough for a DB to make a good tackle. DJ takes the initial running lane and disengages from a block, where he runs towards the new lane and helps make the tackle. Mays takes out another potential running lane but gets put on the ground after the cut, which takes him out of the play. Good play by the LB’s. Gain of 2.5 yards.
Play 23 (Q2 10:52) (2nd and 7.5, DEN 49.5 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; pass play) – Von in 7-tech (strong), DJ in 20-tech (weak), Mays in 50-tech (strong). Von went into a double team and tried to take the outside, then used a good spin move to get by the TE and move inside by the RT. From this he got pressure on Brady, but the TE left on a route. DJ ran back in a Tampa 2 type of zone as the MIKE and had good position on a crossing route. Brady was initially looking that way but didn’t throw it there. Mays went up into a low zone in the middle of the field near the LOS, and as the play wore on he fell further back. He has very good instincts. He got first contact on the receiver and helped make the tackle. Gain of 9 yards.
Play 24 (Q2 10:20) (1st and 10, DEN 40 yard line) (Single back w/ 2 wide (both TE’s on same side); off-tackle run (weak)) – Von in 7-tech (strong), DJ in 10-tech (strong), Mays in 50-tech (strong). Von took up both TE’s with a very good push and disengaged well, but overall he was out of the play as he headed towards the running lane. DJ got himself in very good position while being blocked in the running lane, where he was able to disengage easily and make the tackle. Mays basically followed behind DJ and took out a different potential running lane, while also helping to push down the RB. Great play by DJ. Gain of 1 yard.
Play 25 (Q2 9:50) (2nd and 9, DEN 39 yard line) (Lone Shotgun w/ 5 wide; pass play) – Von in 5-tech over LT, DJ in 20-tech over LG, Mays in 30-tech over RG. Von used a speed rush but couldn’t dip and get past the LT, and as such ran himself out of the play. DJ dropped back into a middle zone and had great under coverage on the slot receiver. Mays also dropped back into a middle zone (about 7 yards off of LOS) and had no one to cover but put himself in position to eliminate some possible crossing routes. Pass goes away from the LB’s for a gain of 10 yards and a first down.
Play 26 (Q2 9:37) (1st and 10, DEN 29 yard line) (Single back w/ 3 wide; off-tackle run (strong)) – Von in 7-tech (strong), DJ in 30-tech (strong), Mays in 20-tech (weak). Von gets a great first push and takes up two blockers while getting great penetration in the backfield. He takes out a running lane and forces the HB to bounce to the outside. He can’t disengage quickly enough and is out of the play as the HB runs by. Mays attempts to blitz the nearest A gap but is taken down easily by a cut block, although he does manage to get back up and run towards the play. DJ takes on the LG but cannot get much of a push and can’t disengage, and as such gets blocked out of the play. Great play by Von. Gain of 10 yards, 1st down.
Play 27 (Q2 8:59) (1st and 10, DEN 19 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; QB scramble) – No Von, DJ in 20-tech over LG, Mays in 30-tech over RG. DJ and Mays both fake a blitz and drop back into a middle zone about 5 yards off of the LOS. They both do a good job covering as the HB comes out on a route to the flats, where Mays breaks back into his zone and DJ changes be able to both put a good hit on the HB and take out a potential scramble. Downfield coverage is excellent as Brady has nowhere to throw and decided to take off, where DJ comes up and forces Brady to take a slide for a gain of 2 yards.
Play 28 (Q2 8:28) (2nd and 8, DEN 17 yard line) (Single back w/ 2 wide (TE’s both on same side of field); off-tackle run (strong)) – No Von, Mays in 10-tech (weak), DJ in 40-tech (strong). Mays avoids a potential block by the Center and shoots up the weak side A gap to take out any cut back runs. He shows good closing speed and gets close to the play. Mays hops to avoid a D-Lineman making the tackle while also putting a good push on the runner to help bring him down. DJ shows good lateral movement and avoids being blocked, smartly using a D-Lineman to help shield himself. He is able to hold up as an O-Lineman does get his hands on him but DJ is in perfect position to help make the tackle. Good play by the LB’s. Gain of 5 yards.
Play 29 (Q2 7:49) (3rd and 3, DEN 12 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide (trips on one side); pass play) – No Von, DJ in 40-tech over LT (on trips side), Mays in 40-tech over RT. Mays plays man on the RB and has fairly good coverage, although the RB is beating him to the outside in the flats. DJ has to hesitate to identify his man coming out of the trips, which ends up being a WR who speeds past him and had a very open look in the end zone. The awareness was poor and DJ was put in a bad spot. The QB threw complete away from the LB’s for a touchdown. Score at this point is 21-7 NE.
Play 30 (Q2 6:31) (1st and 10, own 48 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide (trips on one side); incomplete pass) – Von in 5-tech over LT, DJ in 50-tech over LT, Mays in 70-tech wide of the RT. Von uses his speed to get into the backfield, and then uses this hands to get good separation and put on a good spin move to the inside. The LG comes up and blocks him into the QB after this move is completed, although Brady has let the ball out already. Von and a blitzing safety put a good hit on the QB. Mays blitzes and goes right into the RT, where he uses a good push off to get some extra penetration in the backfield and help collapse the pocket, although he never fully disengages from the blocker. DJ takes man coverage on a TE coming out of the trips, and this time he jams the receiver to keep himself close and disrupt the timing. DJ keeps very good coverage this time. Good play by the LB’s. Pass fell incomplete towards a deep receiver.
Play 31 (Q2 6:25) (2nd and 10, own 48 yard line) (Sweep run) – The camera doesn’t catch the line ups on this play. No Von. DJ gets put on the ground after a great push by the O-Lineman, where DJ lost his balance, and his let the O-Lineman move further up-field and could have resulted in a bad play. Mays sidesteps by a cut block and is not fast enough to fully make the tackle but is able to get his hands on the runner and help the CB to get his arms around the RB’s legs. Gain of 3 yards.
Play 32 (Q2 5:57) (3rd and 7, DEN 49 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 3 wide; incomplete pass) – No Von. Mays in 30-tech (strong), DJ in 20-tech (weak). Mays comes on a blitz and fakes the B-gap and head to the A gap, and uses his arms to run by a block. Other blitzers are getting much more pressure and he is not really in the play. DJ drops back into a middle zone near the first down line and helps to take out a medium route. This was a very good blitz scheme overall that forced a bad pass. LB’s weren’t really in the play. Pass fell incomplete towards a deep receiver, punt is forced.
Play 33 (Q2 2:27) (1st and 10, own 28 yard line) (Single back w/ 3 wide; off-tackle run (weak)) – Von in 6-tech (strong), DJ in 50-tech (strong), Mays in 10-tech (weak). Von gets some penetration but can’t get past the LT for a second or two, but eventually he disengages and begins to provide containment, but by this point he is well out of the play that never went in his direction. Mays gets caught behind a D-Lineman who is engaged in a block, and from this he is out of the open gap where the RB makes a cut to go to. Mays gets blocked as he tries to go towards the runner, and from here he is out of the play. DJ tries to get into the running lane but gets momentarily blocked by the TE. He easily disengages from this block but is barely not fast enough to make the tackle, although he stays on his feet and is able to continue up-field in the direction of the runner. DJ’s presence forces the RB to head towards other defenders and get tackled for a gain of 11 yards and a 1st down.
Play 34 (Q2 2:06) (1st and 10, own 39 yard line) (Single back w/ 2 wide; PA pass play) – Von in 6-tech over L-TE, DJ in 40-tech over LT, Mays in 20-tech over RG. Von goes right into the LT who got a great jump off of the snap, and while he does uses his hands and eventually moves the LT it takes him a few seconds to do so, and once he does disengage he again is met by the LG who takes him out of the play. DJ took man coverage on the RB who went on a route to the flats, and he fell behind the receiver a bit much not as much as Mays typically does. Overall he has ok positioning on the RB but the pass is not to his target. Mays drops into a middle zone and helps to take out a route by being underneath a receiver, but the pass is not in his direction. Brady passes complete for a touchdown to a deep receiver who uses a little push but Goody wasn’t exactly clean either. Score is now 28-7.
Play 35 (Q2 1:09) (1st and 10, own 42 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; pass play) – Von in 6-tech wide of LT, DJ in 20-tech over RG, Mays is lined up over the TE as a CB. Von attempts to go around the LT as he is engaged in the block, and refrains from going inside towards the LG. He applies minor pressure on Brady but he can’t get free until the ball is thrown. DJ blitzes the B gap on his side and manages to get by the RG and a chipping HB, but the ball is thrown when he gets free. Mays plays man on the TE who runs a curl route, and could have been an open option for Brady but the QB went to another receiver, Mays came up and covered him as the TE stood in his spot. Pass complete for a gain of 8 yards.
Play 36 (Q2 0:48) (2nd and 2, 50 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; pass play) – Von in 6 tech wide of LT, DJ in 20-tech over RG, Mays lined up over a TE. Von initially attempted to go inside but got chipped by the HB, then attempted to push up field but never disengaged from the LT. DJ blitzed the C-gap by the RT and showed good speed, but the RT engaged him in a block and DJ didn’t break free and the ball was thrown. Mays played man on the TE and kept very good coverage this time as the TE broke to the outside. He uses his body well to prevent separation on the cut. Pass went complete away from the LB’s for a gain of 20 yards.
Play 37 (Q2 0:22) (1st and 10, DEN 30 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; incomplete pass) – Von in 6-tech wide of LT, DJ in 30-tech over RG and over the HB, Mays lined up over a TE. Von gets by the LT pretty well, and Brady steps up in the pocket while feeling the pressure a bit, forcing Miller to spin back to disengage, which is when Brady throws the ball. Mays and DJ both drop back into a zone directly behind where they lined up and about 10 yards off of the LOS. The camera doesn’t show them at this point, although the QB chooses to throw deep and incomplete as opposed to one of the lower routes.
Play 38 (Q2 0:17) (2nd and 10, DEN 30 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide: pass play) – Von in 6-tech wide of LT, Mays lined up over a TE, DJ lined up in 10-tech about 6 yards off of the LOS. Von goes into the LT after getting a few yard into the backfield and attempts a bull rush, but he doesn’t get much push and is essentially neutralized. DJ and Mays both drop into a middle zone again near the first down line and directly behind their initial line up. DJ can’t be seen, Mays appears to have questionable coverage but the ball goes to another receiver near him. As the DB fails to make the tackle Mays comes up and takes out the receiver. Pass complete for a gain of 11 yards and a 1st down.
Play 39 (Q2 0:10) (1st and 10, DEN 10 yard line) (Shotgun w/ 4 wide; pass play) – Von in 6-tech wide of LT, DJ in 20-tech over LG, Mays lined up on a TE. Von fakes the outside rush and puts a great spin move on the LT using great leverage. He wants this play. Brady again has the ball out of his hands before Von can touch him but Von does put a hit on Brady. Mays drops back into a zone and initially has the TE covered, but switches over to help cover a WR on the outside. Mays is caught trying to help cover two receivers. DJ also drops back into a zone and plays his very well, effectively helping to take out one of the receivers, although he may have covered the wrong receiver, but it looks unclear. A safety is unable to get back in time to cover one of the receivers near Mays, who makes the catch for a touchdown. Amazing rush by Von. Score is now 35-7. Ouch. Halftime.
Von was having a pretty good game, although he was being taken out semi-frequently. He used some amazing rush moves and put good hits on Brady. The LT had a much better handle on him than the RT in the Chicago game, and the intelligence of the Patriot O-Line really showed in negating the rushes overall. He uses his leverage and hands very well to keep positioning, and in this game he showed a strong spin move. He was really taken out when he attempted a bull rush, however. Similar to the Chicago game, the Patriots had a tendency to run away from Von; it is clear that he is a lot to handle in both aspects of the game and has the ability to get penetration and apply pressure. If Brady wasn’t such a good quarterback he would have had a few sacks. He used better moves in this game than the Chicago game but overall he didn’t play as well. One thing to note is that he also never dropped back into coverage and was always on the line as a DE.
DJ was solid overall. He does everything one can ask of a linebacker; he can blitz, play the run, and cover. His greatest asset is his speed; it allows him to be an effective blitzer, it lets him get to just about every possible running lane, and it allows him to cover well. DJ is exceptional in coverage. Most of the time, another great asset of his is his football IQ, especially against the run. He knows which gaps to hit when he blitzes, and he knows which lane he should go after during a running play. When he gets near a runner, he knows how to break off of blocks and make plays. He had two bad potential lapses in coverage, but overall he did well there, too. He wasn’t thrown at and he wasn’t bad in the running game; there are few bad things to say about DJ in this game.
Mays was ok, but it is clear that he is not as fast or smart as DJ on the field. He is very instinctual, and sometimes this works in his favor while other times it doesn’t. Too many times in the running game he was too slow to get in a good position to make a play, and in coverage Brady could have picked on him. In the running game, he would often fall behind and got blocked when he could have been in a much better position with speed. He showed some good stuff in zone coverage, and he generally knew where to be in those instances. In man coverage, however, he is not enough of an athlete and often falls behind the receiver. When he can go in a straight line he can get some speed going, but even in this case he lags behind often. I would like him much more in a 3-4 defense where he wouldn’t need to be as rangy and could play a lot of zone coverage. He also doesn’t seem to be the best block shedder, which is surprising considering his size. When he does get his hands on the ball carrier he does help to bring the ball carrier down, but he is not in this position enough times. The Patriots ran to the outside almost exclusively, and this exposed Mays a bit. He isn’t a terrible LB, but he isn’t a great fit either, at least against the Patriots. I would have preferred Woodyard in this game.
The Broncos gave 3 main looks; 4-3, loading the LOS, and complex 3-DL sets. They never went to a package any lower than a Nickel (5 DB’s), and on the 4-3 looks Harris was lined up like a LB. Harris had a solid game; he allowed some passes but he tackled very well and helped in the running game. One observation was that it seemed that 3-man rushes worked really well (the lone INT came off of one of these plays), especially when defensive players went into coverage after showing a blitz. The more that Denver took out the underneath routes, the better the defense was. The Patriots very rarely throw a deep ball, and as the game progressed it seemed that Allen adjusted to take out the low to mid routes. The LB’s typically zoned about 5 yards or more off of the LOS, which was good for what the Patriots ran. It seemed that when the middle of the field opened up, Brady lit up the defense, but when it was shut down the Patriot offense struggled. The key seemed to be that this is a quick passing offense, and the quick passes happen in the 5-15 yard range. When these routes were taken out, the timing became messed up, and the offense hit snags. Something interesting was that bump and run coverage was rarely seen; I think it should have been used more.
The game overall was interesting in the first half. The tempo of the Patriots offense was much, much higher than the tempo of Chicago’s offense, and that made a massive difference; the defense had to struggle on every play. On the first two drives this really hurt the Denver D, but as the game progressed they got set quicker and compensated. They played the gaps poorly in the running game early, which let the Patriots drive the ball down the field. The quick passing game was also insane on those first two drives, and the defense had no answer until later. This was actually a game in the first quarter (and it seemed like it in the 2nd as well), and as the game continued the teams became somewhat more even. The missed INT by Mays could have really changed the game if he caught it. The Broncos moved the ball pretty well early, but they couldn’t finish drives and did not have good field position. The Patriots won the field position battle and dominated with it. The Broncos offense stuttered at the worst times, and this cost the team overall and put massive pressure on the defense. Tebow made poor decisions in the passing and running game that resulted in poor drives. The defense would have needed perfect execution to even attempt to stop the high-powered Patriot offense, especially early on. The 2nd quarter seemed closer than it turned out to be; Allen made great adjustments and the defense held its own until the questionable long touchdown pass. This game was being lost by the DB’s, which made very poor attempts at tackles and left open receivers in the quick passing game. The safeties played poorly and Goodman had a game to forget (I’m very glad that he will no longer be starting with Denver). I learned that safeties are more important than I previously thought, especially when they are used in more than just deep zones. A lack of effectiveness by the SAF’s ruins defensive execution, and this was the main reason Denver fell so far behind in this game. The trenches also became irrelevant in the passing game with Brady back there, putting all of the pressure on the DB’s, who couldn’t get it done.
The Patriots’ offense is something else. They effectively use crossing routes, their TE’s, and trips formations to create open receivers. The speed and power blend in the TE’s is something that I know appreciate much more; these special TE’s are able to get open, run downfield, and, best of all, use their size/speed combination to break tackles very, very well and scare DB’s into making poor tackling attempts. This offense, however, runs through Brady. His best asset is the speed with which he gets rid of the ball, in combination with his mind. He is a master at dissecting a defense while also neutralizing the pass rush. From this game I am drawing the conclusion that timing and the mind are what make a good QB more than anything else. Tebow lacked this and that is why the offense struggled through 3 quarters every game. This concept of the QB, however, gives me great hope for the Denver offense with Peyton; his mind is superb, and he also possesses the quick release. Peyton will still take some shots, but even if he is not 100% he will be very effective so long as he can still rid himself of the ball very, very quickly.
The new Denver offense paired with the defense will be something special if the offense can run well. The defense can be more aggressive, and best of all they will likely not have anywhere near as much pressure on them as last year. From this game I found that there are two key aspects that lead to great defense, and they are gap control in the running game and the disruption of timing in the passing game. Gap control is more important than any penetration into the backfield in the running game; when the gaps are controlled, and tackling is good, the running game is shut down. No quality is more important. In accordance with my new philosophy on the QB, disrupting timing is the most critical aspect. This can come from a great pass rush, effective bump and run coverage, and taking out synchronized routes. This is a very simple take, but I believe that the premise holds true. I didn’t have the opportunity to watch this game live since I had to work, but after watching it I’ve learned a lot and have a completely different take on the game than I first did. This was a team loss much more than just a loss by the defense.
In this upcoming Patriots game, if I were the defensive coordinator, I would have the following line up for a great portion of the plays – Ayers, Wolfe, and Doom on the DL and playing 1-gap, Von in a LB position close to the LOS, 2-3 defenders near the LOS total who are not D-Linemen, Woodyard as the other LB, and 5 DB’s total (I’d take out a DB for DJ if he weren’t suspended). There would be a good number of 3-man rushes, and a few complex blitz schemes. Von may or may not rush often; it would depend on how well he is covering in that game. The 2-3 players near the LOS would be critical in gap control in the running game, and could easily drop into a middle zone to take out routes.
How would you approach the next game, MHR? Also, a question on defensive philosophy; should I have included Von in this write-up? He is technically our SAM, but he was exclusively a rushing DE in this game. What is your opinion on this? Thanks for reading; part 2 will cover the 2nd half. It was not my intention for this part to be this long, but hopefully it was very informative.
The strong side is the side with the TE. The weak side is the side without the TE. In the Gap letters below, the side with the TE and with the C and D gaps visible is the strong side. This could also be flipped and be on the left side; it is not exclusive to the right side. When I say "(strong)" or "(weak)," it is short for strong side or weak side.
Single back indicates that there is only 1 RB in the backfield. I-Formation indicates that there is a FB lined behind the QB and a RB is lined behind the FB. Offset-I indicates that there is a FB lined behind one of the Guards on the Offensive Line and a few yards further in the backfield than the QB, and that there is a RB lined behind the QB and a few yards further in the backfield than the FB. Strong Offset-I indicates that the FB is lined up over the Guard that is on the strong side. Dual backs indicates that there are two RB’s split a few yards wide of each other, and both are the same distance in the backfield behind the QB. All of the above imply that the QB is directly underneath the Center.
Shotgun indicates that the QB is a few yards in the backfield behind the Center, and that there is a RB on either side of him. Dual-back shotgun indicates that there is a RB on both sides of the QB. Lone shotgun indicates that the QB is lined up as if it is a shotgun but there is no RB or HB by him.
"w/ 3 wide" indicates that there are 3 receivers that are not close to the O-Line. "w/ 2 wide" indicates that there are 2 receivers not close to the O-Line (wide of the O-Line).
"Single back w/ 2 wide" indicates that there is one RB in the backfield with 2 WR’s split wide and 2 TE’s lined up next to the LOS. Unless otherwise noted, assume that there is one TE on each side of the Offensive Line when there are 2 TE’s present.
LOS is the Line of Scrimmage.
An off-tackle run is a run where the running lane is in the B gap, between a Guard and a Tackle. A sweep is a run that goes far to the outside of the O-Line. A draw is where the QB fakes the pass for a second and then hands off to a RB for him to run.
A motion is when an offensive player leaves his initial position and moves elsewhere or starts to move and moves back to his initial position.
A stunt is where two defensive players rush and in the process cross directions; say, for example one player is lined up over the LG and another over the LT. The player over the LT takes the B gap; the player over the LG takes the C gap.
In this write up, a HB is a player lined up like a RB but is not a true RB. In this game, that player is A. Hernandez.
Over coverage is when a defender covers a receiver by being in between the receiver and the end zone. Under coverage is when a defender covers a receiver by being in between the receiver and the LOS.
The Gaps (by letter)
Gap Techniques (technique is based on the shoulder of the blocker which the D-Lineman lines over. The number system is the same for linebackers, but a "0" is added to the end of the first number.)