Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that Jim Irsay's insult against our treasured QB was not meant to make Irsay feel good about himself, offend Peyton Manning, or get the Broncos to play angry this weekend. Fair friends, this man is a genius:
Here's the deal: Jim Irsay is trying to take the wind out of Von Miller's sails. That's what this whole thing is about.
Think about it a minute. Von Miller loves the moment. He loves the spotlight. He loves the challenge. He's been waiting a long 6 weeks to get back and right as he's about to take the spotlight to get amped up before his 2013 season debut this happens. The spotlight is now on our slighted QB.
Irsay is a wise man and I'll tell you why. The game on the defensive side of the ball is about to completely change and this is the only thing that Indy can do to keep it in check is to mess with Miller's mind. These gaudy stats that the Henne's and Romo's of the NFL have been putting up are coming to an end. We've all talked about it and several of us have chimed in on what will happen. Let me add my thoughts on the subject because it adds a little flavor you might not have heard from the great work done by Bronco Mike, Rodney, and others.
Let's start with a quick, no-bull review of our boys that have been seeing the field so far this year, and some things I've noticed about their play so far. I'm leaving Sly out of this because of how low his snap counts have been so far. He doesn't factor in in a big way yet (nor do I expect him to being a rookie DT). I'll bring up snap count percentages (from our fantastically useful Library section: Much respect to Topher!), typical role, strengths and weaknesses that stand out to me about each. (Note: my difference between the words power and strength in this discussion is that power is the ability to moving others...strength is the ability to stand your own ground...couldn't think of anything else )
Disclaimer: I'm no end-all, be-all of D-Line play. Much like my reviews, this is me sharing what I see. Keep in mind this is what I see watching the games and video I find online. I don't currently have All-22 like I did last year. That being said, I do focus on the line play as I watch our defense (I tend to find it much more interesting than watching a QB drop back and throw).
Shaun Phillips - RDE
Role: Primarily a speed pass rusher, though we expect him to hold his edge in the run game. His game is similar to Dumervil's in effect, though he's more versatile from what I've seen.
Strengths: Speed, Bursts of quickness, Experience
Weaknesses: He's honestly not looking as powerful as he has in the past. I've noticed that once guys have paws on him, he has trouble breaking free (disengaging blocks).
Derek Wolfe - LDE
Role: One man edge setter and pocket crusher. He doesn't lose ground...he's a rock for the front 7 to stand on.
Strengths: Size, Power, non-stop motor
Weaknesses: He's not speedy...his build and play fits UT more than it does DE. He is tough to replace because of his endurance - the dude just never seems to stop or slow down (I'm sure he does, but you can't tell by looking).
Robert Ayers - DE / UT
Snaps: 72.3% healthy
Role: Solid Rotation Lineman
Strengths: Power, Quickness
Weaknesses: Speed - his lack of top gear makes him better suited to collapsing pockets from the inside which he does well.
Terrance Knighton - NT
Role: Gap Controller
Strengths: Size, Strength
Weaknesses: Speed / little pass rush ability
Kevin Vickerson - NT / UT
Role: Gap Controller with a sprinkle of pocket crushing
Strengths: Size, Power, Sneaky Speed
Weaknesses: Lower motor (Less endurance).
Mitch Unrein - NT / UT
Role: Rotation for either T
Strengths: Size, Strength
Malik Jackson - DE / UT
Role: Rotation for UT or either E
Strengths: Size, Power, Sneaky Speed
Weaknesses: Inexperience (though that appears to be getting addressed)
Cool Thoughts Bro, But Put Some Meat on Those Bones!
Here's the skinny boys and girls: D-Line play doesn't always fit into nice, neat little containers. Not all 4-3 defenses are the same. Not all LDEs are the same. Guys up there won't always have the same job to do from play to play or from game to game. So now that we know the players, let's talk about what we to date have typically done.
#1 Stop the Run
There is a reason our defense ranks so highly at stopping the run and it isn't because teams have to pass all the time on us (though that does help). The biggest reason that we are so good against the run is because that is how Fox and JDR have designed the defense.
Start right up above...do you notice any trends with the majority of our D-Line? Size and either Power or Strength jump out to me as being a common thread. Go take a peek at our roster and look at weights for our D-Line some time. There is some junk in that trunk baby...and it isn't the flabalanch type, girlie-men!
This line is not about finesse. This is line is about being an unmoveable force that the offensive line must reckon with. Teams don't run the ball well against us because our guys are very difficult to handle once the ball is snapped. This trait holds true no matter how JDR manipulates our fronts for the different looks he gives the other teams. Lines like this keep teams from running rampant because they can't open lanes for the RBs to run through easily. The big advantage it gets us is not needing to bring extra defenders into the box to defend the run. Since the front 4 can hold their gaps, the LBs behind them have little difficulty attacking runners due to their speed.
Pressure that Passer
Here's the place where things don't look healthy. All this meat, but there isn't much sizzle out there to cook with. Denver's defense has looked poor against the pass because we lack enough weapons to truly do the flashy part everyone likes form the D-Line properly. We can collapse a pocket given time, but when you only really have one truly speedy guy coming at the passer, you probably won't see a ton of sacks / pressures.
Truly we've done decently in my eyes other than the Dallas game. The combination of a super O-Line play from Dallas and a good scrambling passer in Romo was deadly. I don't really count the Oakland or Philadelphia games as knocks against our pass rush because of what I pointed out in both those reviews: our front 7 were playing to contain the good scrambling runners (Pryor, Vick). They were not tasked that game with going after sacks...they were tasked to establish a controlled pocket around the QB and then collapse it in a controlled manner.
So how good are they really? Not as bad as the haters will point out and not as good as the kool-aiders will cheer. To me we looked decent, but there is a lot of room to improve.
The skinny here is that you can't do everything in a game like football without supremely talented players. So with a focus so heavily on being able to consistently stop the run it means we need size. That size comes at a cost...and that cost is speed. Other than Shaun Phillips, we have no large threat to break a play up fast enough to be impactful.
The solution so far has mostly been to have sound coverage on the back end (which has been hit and miss with our injuries) and win up front by eventually getting there. This worked pretty well in the first couple of games as we for the most part generated enough pass rush to be disruptive, especially when JDR started blitzing creatively knowing he could have a few of the guys on islands and they would hold their own.
Some of you have noticed a neat trick that JDR has been employing: They stunt an awful lot on pass rushing. Stunting is where instead of launching forward to attack, you switch which gap you attack with another D-Lineman. This typically is done as more of a way to defend the run (it is harder to run block when your guy doesn't engage you right away).
One reason that we've been using this strategy in the pass game as a way to maximize the capability of our personnel. Size and power are very hard to stop once there is momentum behind the player...stunting allows our guys to get trucking so they can over power their defenders more easily. Where an O-Lineman may be able to slow you down mightily if you engage straight-forward at the hike, but they have a harder time keeping the big guys from pushing through with this momentum. The problem here is that this strategy guarantees it takes longer to get to the QB, though it helps our guys have a better chance at winning their battles.
So Now What?
In case you missed it, Bronco Mike already covered a lot of what we could talk about here. I'm already running pretty long so I'm not going to review that stuff, but instead will add my thoughts to what he's already put together, then talk about what things we will probably see going forward.
Keep in mind our rotation numbers...review Topher's snap count stats here if need be to see all the line numbers together instead of scrolling through my stuff here. The big deal to keep in mind is that we rotate guys a lot. There are two players you will see playing a ton: Shaun Phillips and Derek Wolfe. This is the first area where you may see some changes now that Von is back. More breathers for guys (though Derek has never dating back to last season appeared to need them much) and when situation allows more strategic mixes of guys.
4-2-5 Pass Rushers Alternatives
Phillips - Wolfe - Ayers - Miller -- This gives us the prototypical speedy ends and attacking tackles look.
Ayers - Wolfe - Jackson - Miller -- This gives us a more powerful line with the focus of shepherding the QB towards Miller.
The fun thing about all of this is that there is a ton of ways we can attack the offenses with Von. Just in this one personnel group between these two articles we have 3 different viable lineups up front and I don't think any of them would be considered a liability in personnel.
Where things get really crazy in my opinion is against teams who don't spread us out and force us into nickel and dime packages. When we run our 4-3 under you can put Miller anywhere...A gap blitz / fake, weak-side blitz / fake, or strong-side blitz / fake. A fun game to play when watching us play is "Where is Von Miller lined up?" Against 22 or 21 packages he could be anywhere.
Let's finish this off with the easy stuff to point out. In any typical snap you will have 5 blockers on the offense trying to stop 4 rushers from the defense. If we rush an extra, offenses will typically keep a TE or RB in to block them. So basic numbers tell us the O-Line has an extra guy to double on someone. To date this has favored our opponents a ton in our first 6 match-ups.
We have only one speedy pass rusher. So on long 3rd downs Shaun Phillips usually was getting doubled. We have one guy in the middle who is a hulk of a player so on most other downs I saw a ton of Derek Wolfe getting doubled (they have to...he's hard to stop with one guy). So the O-Lines were able to scheme where pressure was going to likely come from by shutting down the bigger threats.
All that changes with Von Miller back. He's too fast and too powerful for most O-Linemen to handle. He will probably draw a bunch of double-teams because offenses have to or he sacks their QBs in under 3 seconds. The cool thing this does is make us get one on one match-ups across the line. Expect to see TEs chipping Miller before running their routes. Expect the RBs to have to stay in and block guys that get through because there is no one else to help the other linemen.
We've all been hyping this return this week and it all stems around this fact: Von Miller is a dynamic and dangerous weapon for this defense that raises all ships on that side of the ball. All this talk about Von being a generational player isn't just us Bronco fans drinking kool-aid. The dude is amazing. Cherish every snap he gets brothers and sisters. He's the Peyton Manning of our defense.