What are they good at?
On the surface, not very much. They rank in the bottom 3rd of the league in every major statistical category including points per game where they are giving up about 30 per contest. Their defense has managed to force 9 turnovers in 6 games. They have also accumulated 18 sacks thus far which puts them in a tie for 16th overall.
According to pro football focus, Only Barry Cofield, Ryan Kerrigan, and Brian Orakpo grade out positively overall and that is due mostly because of their pass rushing numbers. In fact here's a screen grab that should tell you a lot about how this unit has played thus far:
(courtesy of pro football focus)
You're going to see their base 3-4 defense line up like a traditional 3-4 team. Their ends will play the 5-tech to two gap and their NT will play the 0 tech. Cofield takes on a lot of double teams and allows the linebackers to slice in and make plays.
With their OLB Orakpo and Kerrigan, they like to play them wide to the formation (9 technique) so there is the possibility of some large running lanes off tackle with that pistol stretch the Broncos like to run. If the Broncos can establish a tempo of quick passes from 11 personnel and keep the pass rush at bay, they will see some 5-6 man boxes from the Redskins especially if they spread the defense out with their receivers. Here, the Bears do just that and it opens up a huge hole in the middle for a Matt Forte 50-yard TD run:
Notice how wide those OLB's are, it effectively makes this a 5-man box, especially when Kerrigan pushes up field and leaves a huge hole off the TE. The Bears are going to zone block to the left.
We all know how disruptive Von Miller can be in the run game. He's so adept at slicing through between players because of his speed off the snap. Brian Orakpo has the same ability, and even if the Broncos put a TE to that side, there are going to be instances when Orakpo wins.
The Broncos struggle running between the tackles. Last week on multiple occasions they were stuffed on 3rd and 1 inside. For the running game to be effective, I think we have to spread them out and attack the outside running lanes with our pin and pull and outside zone runs. If they want to use more 2-TE sets against ends who I think are more talented than the Colts, the key to making those lanes will fall entirely on Clark, Vasquez, and Thomas and Green.
Both ends are fast and powerful. I would give Kerrigan the speed edge at the moment. It is nice playing at home because Peyton can mix up the snap counts and use some hard and false counts to get some free yardage. It will be there, you can bank on it.
The more we can get those ILB's to move laterally sideline to sideline, the better off our running game will be.
Matchups to Watch (run support)
11 personnel: Julius Thomas vs. Brian Orakpo/Ryan Kerrigan
Julius had a tough week last week. One of the more noticeable times he was left on an island against their OLB, Walden beat him badly, hit Peyton's arm and caused an interception. I wouldn't leave Julius one on one with either Kerrigan or Orakpo, they are too quick and athletic.
12 personnel: Tandem blocks, TE/T vs. OLB
If we want to get the stretch and outside zone running game clicking, we are going to have to double team the playside DE's and hope the TE can get enough leverage on the OLB to push him outside of the zone or double team inside and hope our tackles can seal off that 5-tech. Redirect and get that speed going somewhere where the back will not be effected. Our tackles absolutely cannot be manhandled and pushed into the backfield by those 5-techs.
Just watching last weeks game against Bears, DeAngelo Hall is a Wylie vet that can make some big plays and give up some big plays as well. He's a smart player. He understands situational football and alters his play accordingly.
On this play, he faces a 3rd and 5. He shows off coverage against Brandon Marshall.
He's going to set up just beyond the marker, and not only that, he's going to position his hips in case the receiver decides to try and blow by him down the field.
At this point when Brandon Marshall plants, Hall squares up and makes a move on a ball intended for #80.
I want to pause here because this is something the Broncos can exploit. Notice that Hall has stabbed his backfoot into the ground and has charged upfield? A simple hesitation-go route would go for 6 right here. I'm sure the Broncos receivers and Peyton Manning have studied this tendency and are ready to exploit it.
Blitzing will open things underneath
The Redskins like to blitz, and I expect tomorrow to be no different, especially with the state the Broncos offensive line is in. In this example, the Bears run a two route combo with Marshall and Bennett to the right. Bennett will run a lazy vertical and branch off toward the sideline. Marshall cuts it inside on a short crosser. Against a deep safety, he's wide open. On the other side, Jeffrey runs a skinny post that clears the way for Bennett behind him running a wheel route. Marshall and Bennett (or DT and JT) are the best options here.
I've seen the Redskins blitz quite a bit with their base 3-4 defense which leaves a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 0 (man under or straight man to man) coverage underneath. Not sure if they will continue the current trend of playing a lot of Cover 2 against the Broncos, but in nickel defense, that is going to give us some some favorable matchups in the slot and with the TE. It will also give us a lot of 6-man box counts.
If the Broncos use a lot of 12 personnel, It will keep the Redskins in their base 3-4 and create issues with drag and crossing routes against their linebackers. It is also possible to get Knowshon Moreno in some one on one matchups against Brian Orakpo down the field.
Matchups to Watch (Secondary)
DeAngelo Hall vs. Demaryius Thomas
Hall is your typical boom or bust corner. He'll make a big play or get burned. There's very rarely anything in between the two extremes. He's a smart vet that will play the situation, and he can be exploited. Thus far this season, he has been targeted 45 times, allowed 28 receptions for 317 yards. He has 1 interception on the year and hasn't given up a TD reception since week 2 when he allowed 2 against Green Bay.
Bey Bey will have to bust out some of his patented double moves. Hall isn't an overly physical corner and DT should get a lot of clean releases off the LOS. If the Redskins want him to guess and feast on the underneath routes, I would expect some safety help to his side of the field. This hasn't been the way they've played things in the past however. They have been comfortable leaving him on an island.
Fletcher has seen 14 targets and allowed 11 receptions for 110 yards and a TD. His recognition skills are top notch, and for an old man he moves pretty well. Make no mistake, Julius Thomas against him is a matchup the Broncos will take all day.
Last game in the redzone, Fletcher got completely turned around on a straight route up the seam in the endzone and gave up the easy TD to Martellus Bennett.
Orakpo, another word for "sack". Still amazing to me that the Denver Broncos passed up on taking Orakpo in 2009 and instead took Knowshon Moreno. Could you imagine having Von Miller and Brian Orakpo on the same team? He only has 3 sacks on the year, but that is a bit deceiving as he has logged 26 other pressures. Here's how he is going to get it done:
You can see Orakpo lined up in that wide 9 Technique. In fact, this nickel alignment is what you see from the Broncos quite a bit. The defensive tackles are both lined up as 3-techs and Kerrigan is in a 4-point stance as a 7 tech.
Orakpo is going to launch to the outside, get the LT's momentum moving that way, then he's going to change direction and use his strength and leverage back to the inside with a bull rush. You see Ayers do this move. Orakpo is a bit stronger and longer in the arms so it works a little better for him.
Still, I would not call Orakpo a straight up speed rusher like Mathis. While not slow, he wins more often with leverage and strength than a superior first step.
He plants that lead foot and changes direction up field. To be fair, Flynn needs to get the ball out faster.
Orakpo is reaching, and the crosser is open, get rid of the ball.
Ryan Kerrigan, now this is the guy that has the speed. Check this out:
The snap is barely off and you can tell that Kerrigan (bottom of the screen) has the quickest first step along the defensive front. I've seen it consistently and this is where Peyton can help the offense out with some false snap counts and hard counts. This matchup is also going to test the ability of Vasquez as much as Mathis did last week. The Redskins do not move their OLB/DE across formation but I could see them doing so in order to take advantage of Chris Clark
Matchups to Watch (Pass Rush)
Adam Gase vs. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan
Huh? Yes, our OC absolutely got Peyton killed last week by refusing to alter the game plan and get the tackles some help with 12 personnel. Chris Clark may not be a bum, but he also is not a world beater when it comes to protection. He will be beat again this week if Gase and company leaves him all alone.
Peyton Manning vs. Himself
Huh? Another shocker! Peyton has to know that he cannot hold onto the ball. This offense needs to win win on 1st and 2nd down to keep 3rd down manageable because he will not have time to sit in the pocket and wait for deeper routes to develop.
I think as Broncos fans we will have to get used to the idea of a victory on 3rd and long being a quick completion that keeps Peyton from getting hit. This is the state of our line right now. Smaller victories over Pyrrhic victories. I'd rather get 6-7 yards on 3rd and 8-9 and punt the ball than hold the ball trying to convert and get Peyton hit.
Another thing Peyton needs to realize, if the running game isn't working, do not audible to the run, box count be damned. He did it over and over last week and most of it ended up a failure.
The Colts were a tough challenge defensively. They were able to get pressure with the front 4 or 5 and man up on the outside. I view the Redskin pass rush as a more potent threat, but I do not view their secondary in the same light. There are big plays and yards to be had tomorrow, guaranteed.
Look tomorrow morning for my breakdown of the Redskin offense. I apologize for getting these out so late this week, I'll do a better job going forward.