Hello once again MHR!
I watched film on the game versus the Chargers in Week 6 and did a play-by-play analysis. This part will cover the first quarter.
Unlike previous iterations, there is not a terminology cheat sheet at the bottom but I will be happy to answer any questions regarding terminology to the best of my ability. For the personnel, assume Von is a LB unless otherwise indicated. There is a quick overview of the analysis after the end of the play-by-play. A more comprehensive general analysis will be written at the end of Part 4 for the game as a whole.
Play 1 (Q1 14:29, 1st and 10) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Incomplete deep pass.
Why: Denver is playing a 3-Deep, 4-Low zone (The corner on the intended receiver follows him deep, there's one deep SAF and Champ shadows his receiver until breaking off deep) while the Chargers max protect. Both low routes are pretty well covered. The RCB has great position on his receiver and makes a deflection. Great play by Harris.
Play 2 (Q1 14:25, 2nd and 10) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Pitch run to weak side for a loss.
Why: Denver's front seven controls the gaps well, leaving no clear lane for the RB. Champ shoots into outside contain, stays off the blocker and makes the tackle in the backfield.
Play 3 (Q1 13:43, 3rd and 11) 3-2-6 personnel
Result: Incomplete mid-range pass.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 1 with four guys in man coverage. The Chargers are in a trips formation, and two defenders cover one of these receivers, almost resulting in a blown coverage. Harris, one of these two defenders, switches his coverage to the previously open receiver. All other receivers are well covered. The pass rush clamps the pocket, forcing Rivers into a high throw.
Play 4 (Q1 11:28, 1st and 10) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Pass complete for 9 yards.
Why: Denver plays what's called a Cover 6 (think Cover 2 + Cover 4; typically the field side uses the Cover 4 concept, and the boundary side uses the Cover 2 concept, however this is flipped on this play) The receiver runs a curl route against the CB's off coverage on the Cover 4 side and away from the low zones, and the quick pass hits for 9 yards.
Play 5 (Q1 10:55, 2nd and 1) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Pitch run to weak side for a loss.
Why: The LT leaves Doom free, who doesn't bite to the inside and matches the RB's speed off the pitch. Champ shoots by the WR who was supposed to block him and further takes away the outside edge. The RB is forced to cut inside but Doom makes a good tackle with some help from Champ.
Play 6 (Q1 10:11, 3rd and 3) 4-2-5 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Incomplete short pass.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 4 (possibly Cover 2, since the corners do not go too deep) zone with the LBs taking two crossing routes and the corners taking the outside edges. Rivers starts by looking right but quickly looks deep left to find two covered receivers. The crossing routes are initially well covered but the LBs become tangled, leaving both routes open. During the play, Von puts a good bull rush on the RT, moving him toward Rivers. This forces Rivers to step up and throw an off-balance, across-his-body throw low and incomplete to one of the crossing receivers.
Play 7 (Q1 9:55, 1st and 10)(RZ) Standard 4-3 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Strong-side pitch run for 4 yards
Why: The Chargers play in an I-formation with two TE's on the strong-side. Adams trips over himself as the ball is pitched, and initially the blockers form a good lane for the runner. Adams and the WILL both take the end of the lane, preventing a big play. Woodyard disengages from his blocker to make the tackle in about the middle of the lane.
Play 8 (Q1 9:13, 2nd and 6)(RZ) Standard 4-3 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Incomplete mid-range pass
Why: Denver plays a 2-Deep, 5-Man coverage. All of the guys in man coverage have their man well covered, and the SAFs take out any possible post options. The D-line creates a wall in front of Rivers, preventing a step up. The pass comes out too late in the play as Gates catches the ball out of bounds.
Play 9 (Q1 9:07, 3rd and 6)(RZ) 4-2-5 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Incomplete short pass.
Why: Denver plays a Tampa-2 zone. The Chargers' play is designed to have two receivers go deep and have two receivers fill the vacated area, giving an endzone option while also possibly freeing the underneath receivers to make a play. Denver calls a perfect play; the field corner and WILL keep the deep routes occupied until the field SAF and MIKE take over, and after that the corner and LB take the underneath routes. Doom's bull rush forces a somewhat quick throw, as Rivers throws to the more covered of the underneath receivers who is likely the 3rd option, while the more open 4th option is missed.
Play 10 (Q1 8:56, 1st and 10)(RZ) Standard 4-3 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Strong-side run for 4 yards.
Why: The Chargers' blockers are all on a front 7 defender, however each defender holds his own, preventing a clear lane from developing. The SAM moves into a possible running lane, forcing the RB outside, where Doom sheds his block toward the RB and makes the tackle with some help from Adams.
Play 11 (Q1 8:23, 2nd and 6)(RZ) Standard 4-3 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Pass complete for a touchdown.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 1 with four guys in man coverage and one guy in the hole. Three of the receivers are pretty well covered. Play action, however, forces Adams to stay in his spot, putting him at a speed disadvantage against his receiver. The receiver fakes to the inside then cuts outside, and Adams bites enough on the fake to distance himself from the receiver. A low throw almost allows Adams to make the tackle, but the receiver (Gates) outmuscles him into the endzone.
Play 12 (Q1 6:22, 1st and 10) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Strong-side run for 7 yards.
Why: Denver overloads on the weak-side against a strong-side offset I. The Chargers' blockers slide to the strong side. The blockers push the defenders well, opening a big hole for the RB. Bannan was able to shed his blocker enough to make the tackle. The FB goes to the outside instead of lead blocking in the hole, which takes him out of position to make any blocks and therefore extend the play.
Play 13 (Q1 5:48, 2nd and 3) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Run up the middle for no gain.
Why: Denver's defensive line holds its gaps well, and the linebackers take away the running lanes early in the play (the RG double teams the DT and then blocks the WILL, leaving the MIKE alone in the best running lane). Bannan and Vickerson both shed their blocks well once the RB comes in the area, combining to make the tackle. Very sound defense on this play.
Play 14 (Q1 4:40, 3rd and 8) 4-1-6 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Pass complete for 25 yards.
Why: Denver plays a 2-Deep, 5-Man coverage. The Chargers send three receivers deep, and both of the outside corners let their man run with some separation, forcing the SAFs to stay between the hash and sideline. The slot receiver uses a delayed step favoring the inside to hold the nickel corner low. The corner becomes flat-footed, and at this point the receiver bursts upfield and gains separation. The defensive line does not get enough push into the pocket, allowing Rivers to step up and make the deep throw accurately. The field safety makes the open-field tackle.
Play 15 (Q1 3:58, 1st and 10) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Pass complete for 23 yards.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 1 with four guys in man coverage. The Chargers have good blocking and effectively neutralize the blitz. The biggest issue, however, is with the coverage. Two receivers are open after running post routes. As the man on the targeted receiver, Adams initially comes up toward the receiver, and then slowly backpedals with wide feet. Gates makes a small fake to the outside before cutting inside, and in combination with Adams' poor footwork this gives him enough separation to make a clean catch. The single deep safety is too far back to provide assistance, however Adams is close enough to Gates to make the tackle.
Play 16 (Q1 2:40, 1st and 20) Standard 4-3 personnel
Result: Screen pass complete for 9 yards.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 1 with five guys in man coverage. The Chargers use a RB screen against the side with three rushers, and an in route on that side holds the DBs back, leaving the RB and two blockers in space. One of the blockers is slow to release from the line, leaving a blocker to take two guys. The blocker takes one DB out of the running lane, but Champ is left open and makes a diving open-field tackle.
Play 17 (Q1 1:57, 2nd and 11) 4-2-5 personnel (Von as DE)
Result: Run up the middle for no gain.
Why: Denver holds its own well across the line, and the biggest play is made by Trevathan. He blitzes on the weak-side (where the run is initially angled) and is left free by the RT, who takes out the SAM. The pulling LG decides to double team Miller instead of blocking Trevathan and realizes his mistake too late, as he disengages from his initial block late and misses Trevathan. The RB attempts a cut to the inside, but Trevathan makes a diving tackle.
Play 18 (Q1 0:21, 3rd and 26) 3-2-6 personnel
Result: Screen pass complete for 6 yards.
Why: Denver plays a Cover 1 and sends a five man blitz. The Chargers use the RB screen, and on this play Wolfe backs out of the blitz and zones in the hole, which allows him to read the screen. Wolfe takes on the main blocker and has outside leverage, forcing the RB to cut inside. This slowdown was enough for a speeding Woodyard to come in from behind and make first contact, and Wolfe sheds his blocker enough to help make the tackle.
-END OF THE FIRST QUARTER-
Denver played good defense in the first quarter. The defenders swarmed to the ball when the Chargers ran it, and the coverage was pretty good. There were not really any broken tackles, and there was only one clearly broken coverage that I could identify. Special teams badly affected an otherwise stout defensive performance. The Chargers made some good plays late in the quarter that were the only major breakdown of the defense.
Denver mostly used 4-3 personnel and often put Von on the line next to a DE (4-3 under). Success with this personnel package varied but was mostly positive. Denver was unsuccessful overall when using six DBs but was very successful when using five. Denver never used standard 4-3 personnel on 3rd down, instead using at least five DBs each time.
I saw a post asking for a breakdown of a 4-2-5 defense, so I will do a quick examination here as it relates to Denver. This does fit Denver's roster very well for a number of reasons: Denver lacks LB depth while having DB depth, the defensive line is solid, and Harris is a nickel corner who can both cover well and tackle well. Von also would make this defense very interesting; he would be used as a DE, and from this position he can be used in a number of ways. He can be kept on the line as a rusher, or he can back out and turn the defense into a 3-3-5 very quickly. This flexibility could be a headache for offensive coordinators. The key to running a 4-2-5 is having a nickel corner that can tackle, as this would turn a front 6 into a potential front 7 while maintaining strong coverage against the pass. Harris would fit this role perfectly. In my opinion, the play that uses these personnel to maximum effect is using a Cover 1 with the other four DBs in man coverage and one LB in man coverage on the RB. This would cover all 5 receivers while leaving the other LB free to either blitz or zone in the hole. This play concept (not necessarily with this personnel) is something that Denver ran often in this game. If two RBs are present, have the second LB man on the second RB and free up a SAF to either blitz or zone. The weakness of this defense overall is against the run, however if the DBs can hold their own against a TE it would significantly help. Denver's 4-3 under typically provides good balance between the run and the pass since the DBs are very capable in man coverage in a Cover 1.
Denver mixed up its coverage in this quarter a lot with Cover 1 Man being the most prominent and various two-deep safety coverage being the second most used. The defenders seemed most comfortable in man coverage but did alright in zone as well. I'll discuss how Denver tries to funnel the receivers in a later part.
Thank you all for reading! If any of you have questions, comments or want to talk football I encourage you to leave a comment. The play-by-play analysis will become progressively more detailed as we move further along in the game. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.