There's a lot of good to look forward to in our Monday Night Football matchup against GB. Unfortunately we'll still have to put up with the ESPN crew in the press box. But that's ok, because the real product is down on the field and it will make us proud.
We'll break down the Xs and Os, find the good and the bad, and see what kind of approach the teams may take in terms of match ups, formations, playcalling, and schemes. Let's do it!
1. Watch for Favre to go after Bly.
Favre is an old vet, and he's got the wisdom of experience to read a defense and make adjustments at the line. He's also used to Bly from the days Bly lined up against GB while at DET.
Bly is a stud CB, no doubt about it. But his weakness (or strength depending on your view) is that he takes risks to get that interception, and can bite on a well timed fake by a receiver. His shoulder injury may also be a factor.
There will be plays designed to make Bly bite so that Favre can get off a long pass.
2. The Pack runs a 4-3 system that likes to blitz. They have good defensive linemen, and they have good depth. They like to rotate in about 7 linemen. Because Cutler is still young we can't expect Jay to get any no-huddle offense going to keep the front four on the field and tired. Is this bad news for DEN?
The game takes place at our altitude AND Pitt travels west agaisnt the clock. Add in the size of the linemen combined with the size of their LBs and that makes for some tired players, even with the rotation. Also add into the mix our smaller but athletic o-line and I think we handle the GB front 7 pretty well against the blitz at altitude. Yeah baby!
GB likes to blitz one OLB with the MLB (seldom both OLBs). The threat of the famous boot play and our TE reception threats should minimize this strength of GB.
3. There is talk of K. Robinson coming off of suspension to play for GB. He's missed a year of football and two camps. If he plays he won't be top notch. Expect him to do returns on kickoffs if he does (he's probowl for that role).
4. GB runs the west coast system. They make a lot of high percentage completion throws, but they are mostly short range. They want to spread out the defense with this scheme. Here again, no problem. If Bailey is back and Bly is healthy we should be ok here. Favre will complete passes because they will be short, and GB will pick up yards. But our scheme will zone out the edges, our CBs are good enough to lock down, and Lynch will have the flexibility to play a little deeper.
Lynch gets this flexibility because the run game that GB brings doesn't require 8 in the box (their run game is awful). Lynch is not built to play deep zone coverage, so Bates might keep him in the box. But GB receivers are built to run after the catch, and Williams will already have the center of the field covered.
5. Speaking of Lynch...
GB doesn't have a real TE threat. Franks is out with an injury, and GB doesn't have a lot of depth at this spot. This clears up our LBs and DBs to focus on the remaining threats. This makes Lynch's job much easier. (I just read that GB has activated a TE from their practice squad. You know they must be hurting).
6. GB absolutely hurts against teams with a good TE. We have two or three that can hurt them. Neither of the two GB OLBs are going to stop Graham or Schef because they don't bring speed to the game. Neither of the safeties are built to go man on a fast, big TE either. This helps us in the red zone, but also clears space for our WRs to work in.
7. Cutler will probably continue his interception streak. That's ok too. Cutler is still a young pup, and he's still a rookie in terms of number of games played. He faces a real good CB duo against Woodson and Harris. No reason to worry though.
Cutler is light years ahead of where he should be now. He is also surrounded by great weaponry. The banged up o-line gave him pretty good protection against the top blitzing team in the NFL. Watch for DEN to scheme for mismatches with the TEs, and watch for the boot and the screen.
8. The GB run scheme plays into DENs system nicely. Watch for runs to the outside to get stuffed, and runs to the inside to only pick up short yardage. They only average around 66 yards rushing.
With the shortage of healthy TEs to take part in the run GB will have to rely on a FB. This should be easier to contain to the inside. Denver wants the ball to the inside, and Williams (sack leader) will be waiting. Because of the lessened TE threat, we can watch for Gold and Webster to cut to the middle on the handoff, knowing that they don't have to acount for a TE going wide. And of course there's Lynch.
9. If we get burned on a pass it will a slant or a fake on Bly. I covered Bly already. The slant threatens us because it is a high percentage throw that should give a receiver the step in running a diagonal towards the center of the field. Expect Lynch and Williams to have opportunities for hard hits and perhaps a fumble in this scenario.
10. Expect Favre to get intercepted.
Favre is a gunslinger like Jake was, but Favre has years of experience. He also has decent receivers. But with our CBs (and I'm including Foxworth here), and our edges covered, Favre will have to make the fast reads he is known for. Our LBs have the speed to make another interception this week (after a years long drought), and we should get in Favre's facemask with our DEs.
11. I think we can pick on the nickle corner of GB.
I don't know a lot about Bush, but I do know he has been getting singled out by opposing QBs.
12. Should the bye week help GB?
It should, but not against the Mastermind. Shanny has more tools to work with, and is a better coach at game planning.
13. Their kicker is missing field goals. Our STs are showing improvement on coverage and returns. We have a great FG kicker, and a great punter to boot (pun intended).
14. GB has beaten some decent teams (including SD). They've done it on Favre's arm mostly. The defense is well rounded, with LBs and a good rotating group of D-linemen to stop the rush, and good CBs on the pass. Why do we match better against GB than other teams who lost to GB?
This 14th point is the key to the game. GB has only lost one game this year. We have lost three. GB has played very well, we only started playing well last Sunday night. I'm going to devote the rest of this story to sharing why I pick Denver for Monday Night. Some of this rehashes points made above, but I'm going into a different context at this point.
Our greatest weakness has been the rush defense. GB's biggest weakness has been the rush offense. We are starting to click in this element of the game, while GB continues to suffer.
GBs biggest strength is pass offense. Our biggest strength is pass defense. Without a decent TE or RB receiving threat we can focus on the pass. We don't have to worry about the run enough to be distracted there either. GB should be one dimensional.
GB does not have a strong ST unit. Our K and P are both elite, and the rest of our unit (coverage and returns) seems to have caught on to the program of the new ST coach the same week that our def caught on to our new def coach.
We have home field. We also have the added benefit of altitude. GB (like PITT) is built to suffer at altitude (they are headed west to play the game, and they are a big/physical type of team).
Even if we call Marshall and Stokely an even match against the GB corners, Martinez matches better over their nickleback, and there is no one on the GB LB or safety corps to account for both Graham and Schef. GB had to account for Gates, which is tough. But we have two receiving TEs, and GB hasn't faced that kind of a threat.
Ferguson may be used in some dbl coverage against the slot or over Bly's man. Otherwise he plays deep zone.
Lynch will be flexible to assist in zone or against the run, and may blitz some. The FB and the TE will not be a concern in this game.
The DEs will blitz wide, and manage to pressure Favre.
The DTs will hold the center of the line. GB's #1 C may or may not play this week.
MLB Williams will center zone against the passes (watch for the slant!) and zone the runs. I doubt he plays man on the RB because,
A) GB doesn't have a great running game,
B) The scheme prefers the MLB to keep his position,
C) Williams is probably a big role in coverage because of his speed (how about the center zone interception last week!)
OLBs don't have to worry about the TE threat. They will likely stick to scheme and zone the outside against the west coast pass threat. On runs they play containment to keep the run to the inside. They also minimize screens and reverses.
GB adjustments - (GB better listen to me. PITT didn't take my advice and they got ripped).
Safeties two deep. They will rely on the front seven to focus on the run. They trust their CBs to stop or slow our WRs, but they don't want to give up the big play threat of a receiver or TE.
MLB will man the RB or help to blitz the center.
OLBs will either blitz one to the outside or zone back to protect against one cut runs off of the zone block scheme of DENs offensive line.
DTs and DEs won't get cute. They'll try to pressure the center of the line to free up an OLB for the blitz. On runs they'll probably give up a step to adjust to the cut block, then try to swarm the ball. They won't spend much time protecting their LBs from the o-line penetration because they have confidence in their strength and size, and because they may see our o-line as injured.
On offense -
Cutler throws screens and boots. He throws to TEs more than most games because of the GB CBs.
Henry's ribs are not fractured it turns out, but I don't know if he'll be ready to play. If he does we want to spell him quite a bit with Young. Henry hits the middle more often and Young can spread the def to the sides. Of course they would mix things up a little to keep GB on their toes. If Henry is out I expect M. Bell to activate to RB from his FB position. In either case I expect a (very) few handoffs to Sapp to further complicate things for GB.
In addition to the TE threat we have (and you'll hear about it from me all year because two great TEs on a team is a real treat) Sapp also adds a special dimension. He's not a true FB, and more of a RB. But he can catch the ball, run the ball, and his blocking skills are enough to get by on. He gives us a nice threat against GB.
If we can establish the run early we can try to take Favre out of the game. If not, Mike won't hesitate to let Jay do his thing.
Denver should look good in the redzone.
GB offense -
You'd love to run against the DEN rush defense, but you can't run the ball much at all with your line up. So GB wants a shootout, Favre against Cutler. The old man against the kid. Favre will want to eat up clock with short high percentage throws. But the longer the TOP the more the chance of an interception. GB will take their chances. Gunslingers (good ones like Favre) will complete the drive more often than they throw an interception.
GB keeps a FB on the field or goes with three to four receivers. Forget about TEs. One or none most of the game.
But this gunslinger is facing the dynamic duo on DENs CB roster (Bailey and Bly are both likely to play after the extra day and a half to recover going onto Monday Night). He also faces a LB unit that can get to the ball carrier quickly with speed. His center is injured, and he should face constant pressure from the outside.
Look for Favre to complete at least on very long pass for yardage or a touch down, but also watch for a key interception.
So where does this leave us?
I predict a Denver win. Here's my score card for the match up:
1. QBs - GB (not as much as people might think though)
2. RBs - DEN
3. FBs - DEN
4. TEs - DEN
5. WRs - even (without Walker)
5. O-Line - DEN
6. DEs - even
7. DTs - GB
8. MLB - DEN
9. OLBs - DEN
10. CBs - DEN
11. Safeties - DEN
12. Coaching - DEN
13. K and P - DEN
14. Return - GB
15. Coverage - even
Let me know your thoughts. A lot may change between now and Monday Night. As of now though things look good.
Monday Night Football
This poll is closed
GB wins comfortable
GB wins close
Denver wins close
Denver wins comfortable
Denver wins big
GB wins a blowout