Greetings and welcome, Broncos Country. My name is Laxmatt in this is the first article of a weekly series that will focus on one particular aspect of the previous week's game, using the coaches film to break things down. As this is the first article, it is a little late, but hopefully you can still find the time to read it and glean some insight from it.
Any feedback is welcome and appreciated, as well as suggestions for future installments. That said, let's get to the Tale of the Tape.
For last Sunday's game against the Steelers, the two opportunities for analysis that jumped out at me were the success of the Broncos offense after switching to the no-huddle, and the abject failures of the Broncos defense on 3rd downs (particularly 3rd and long).
Since our offense and illustrious QB have received so much attention this past week, I thought it might be useful to focus on the defense for a change of pace, even if the focus is on what needs improvement.
The Steelers were a gawdy 12/19 on 3rd downs Sunday night (despite most stat references mistakenly saying they were 11/19). This equates to a 63% conversion rate! What makes it even worse is that the majority of these conversions were of 3rd and long. Both Steelers touchdowns also came on 3rd down. The following will break down each conversion and attempt to find the fault in the defense for each.
5:49 - 3rd and 9 from DEN 46
The setup: The Steelers come out with 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) and split one WR right, with the TE and other 2 WRs to the left. The Broncos are in Nickel and Chris Harris is covering the slot WR, Sanders.
The play: Chris Harris comes on a corner blitz, which leaves Sanders free to settle in the seam up the middle, right at the first down marker.
The result: Sanders for 13 yards and a 1st down.
The blame: None/scheme. Roethlisberger read the defense perfectly and took advantage of the vacancy left by Harris coming on the blitz. There wasn't much more the safety or remaining corner could do. If there is any blame on this play, it is on the scheme, but I would rather chalk it up to good offensive execution.
11:37 - 3rd and 2 on DEN 13
The setup: The Steelers are in 11 personnel (1 back, 1 TE and 3 WRs) with 1 WR split left, 2 WRs and the TE split right, with 1 WR and the TE in tight. The Broncos are in their base 4-3 defense.
The play: Brown motions from far right to tight with the TE and other WR. The play is a screen pass to him that goes for 5 yards, with the TE and WR lead blocking.
The result: Brown for 5 yards and a 1st down.
The blame: This was another well-executed play, but Champ Bailey (of all people) was playing pretty deep and reacted much more slowly than we are used to from him. He did do his job and keep good contain, however. He nods at the sideline right after, maybe acknowledging the mix up.
3:48 - 3rd and 3 on PIT 28
The setup: The Steelers are again in their 11 personnel and the Broncos are in the Nickel. There are 3 WRs/TE bunched tight right and one WR split far left. Big Ben audibles at the line.
The play: The RB is initially stuffed up the middle, but bounces outside to the left to convert the first down.
The result: Redman for 6 yards and a 1st down.
The blame: Joe Mays initially diagnoses the play well and steps up to fill the gap, but ends up getting caught up on the block and his fellow defenders. He had Woodyard flowing right behind him and would have been better served setting the edge for his fellow backer. Instead, he ended up essentially blocking Woodyard (who still made the tackle).
2:31 - 3rd and 11 on DEN 33
The setup: The Steelers are once again in their 11 personnel (a trend), with the TE and a WR right, and 2 WRs split left. The Broncos are in their Nickel 3-4.
The play: Brown runs a deep out behind the linebacker and in front of the corner. (Woodyard and Bailey in this case). Ben hits him perfectly for a first down.
The result: Brown for 23 yards and a 1st down.
The blame: This one is tough and the blame is probably pretty equally spread between Champ and Woodyard. The play was also just really well run by the Steelers, but that's no excuse. You'll see in the 2nd photo that Woodyard is playing underneath right at the first down marker, reading the QB. This is good technique, but Brown adjust and runs past the marker to the gap in the zone. Bailey still has his hips turned downfield when the ball is thrown, eliminating his ability to make a play on the ball. This has to do with the fear of Brown as a deep threat. Adams is protecting the middle of the field and doesn't affect the play. Champ is frustrated after the play, but with himself, Woody, or the coaching staff? I won't guess.
Editorial Note: This is most of them for the 1st half. Since this first article is late in the week and it took longer to get this far than expected, I'll postpone the 2nd half for now. Please leave feedback and comments!