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What To Watch For: Denver at Detroit

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Date: Sunday, November 4, 2007

Time: 11:00 p.m. MST

Teams: Denver Broncos (3-4) at Detroit Lions (5-2)

Location: Ford Field - Detroit, MI



Here we go again, another foray into the X's and O's breakdown of a Denver game. We'll look at the formations, schemes, and personel to see how the game might unfold and what adjustments might be made.

Remember, I'm just a former defensive coordinator with high school and middle school experience. I can't predict the future and I'm certainly not worthy to carry the playbook for any NFL team. I will approach the game from a defensive perspective.

Chime in with your opinions and questions and let's all have a great week gearing up for our teams.

Let's do it!

1. The Tampa Two Scheme

There's a lot to like about the Tampa 2 scheme that Detroit runs on defense. It is the most popular version of the cover two and seems to gain popularity each season. In fact, as schemes go it is probably the only defensive system most fans can name.

Both SB teams from last year use the Tampa variant (INDY, CHI), and it is also used by KC, BUF, and MINN. A lot of people credit Monte Kiffen for coming up with it in TB with then head coach Tony Dungy, but it dates back to the 70's Steelers.

The basic idea is that the four d-lineman all penetrate for the rush. The MLB zones the center of the field (mostly geared towrds the pass). The two OLBs cover the box and split each side in a zone against run. The two CBs zone the flats (the sideline) back 15 to 20 yds. The safeties split the deep zone. All players are fast and swarm to the ball.

Odd elements include blitzing a safety (called a "monster") instead of blitzing a LB, and sometimes having a safety come down to cover the slot if a CB blitzes. Because the CBs are not typicaly top rate CBs they can often be used to blitz instead of the LBs. Lately DET has used zone blitzes, which I'll cover a little later,

What makes the Tampa variation of the cover two so popular?

  • For one, you don't need to pay out a lot for stud CBs. They cover a zone, and aren't expected to man on a WR.
  • Also you get a lot of chances for interceptions. In man coverage a player is focused on keeping up with and tackling a WR, but in zone the player can watch the QB and position himself for the INT.
  • You also don't need rocket scientists to play the scheme. There are still many kinds of plays to run out of the system, but the roles remain the pretty much the same and players don't have to learn exotic wrinkles.
  • The best advantage is that there should always be a safety behind you to cover up for a blown tackle or missed INT.
But there are some glaring weaknesses.
  • The most notable is that the seams are not covered (the area between the CB and the DE).
  • Because this is a swarming offense you can fool the DEF out of position with misdirection.
  • It also gives up yards without giving up the big play, which may lead to an imbalance with time of possesion. (Note however that DET is bucking the trend, and managing to win TOP battles this year).
I like Denver's OFF against this defense.

Folks who have read my work know that I am high on the versatility that comes with Denver having two standout receiving TEs. Because TE's line up in the seam and can make quick hook patterns to catch the ball there the TEs are a real threat. Denver can line up one or two TEs for this to happen.

Also, the swarming mentality of the defense plays into Denver's favorite misdirection play, the "bootleg".

The most common way to run against the Tampa 2 is to go right up the middle. The reason for this is that Tampa 2 corners are expected to stop run, and are able to assist the nearest OLB with the tackle.

I like the match-up in terms of scheme, but DET plays the scheme much better than they have in the past. They are a big threat in the turnover battle, and they have a good front seven.

I expect us to be able to run well, and I expect the pass to go well also. We can throw to our receivers more easily than we did in the GB game because of the quality of the DET CBs, and we can benefit from the TEs as I mentioned earlier.

DET will have a good pass rush, so our backs will need to do a good job with pass blocking because I expect our TEs to go out on passes.

DET likes to rely on the front four for pressure, but Cutler is great getting out of the pocket and throwing on the run. For this reason we'll probably see more CB blitzes than with almost any other team this year. (They want to keep their LBs back).

I expect DET to use the "zone blitz" against us in this match-up, where 1 or more D-linemen drop back into zone and a LB or two comes in on the blitz. I don't like this play, because d-lineman are not that great at zone coverage. But it would serve to throw off a young QB (Cutler), and would keep our playcalling honest by making us think twice about using TE's exclusively in a receiving role instead of blocking.

2. The Denver DEF

The good news is that teams have had luck getting pressure on Kitna. If we can use what has worked (our rookie DEs) we should get good pressure on the edges. Expect Kitna to get hurried on plays that are clearly pass (third and long). I think Kitna either leads the league in getting sacked or is near the top. The pass rush is our biggest advantage coming into this match-up.

Johnson and Williams are two excellent receivers, but we have two excellent corners. Kitna likes to go deep, so the pass rush will be critical to keep Kitna from having the time to let those plays develop.

DET has done a much better job balancing the run and the pass. This hurts us. We have to commit to stopping the run, which leaves our CBs doing their job without help from at leaast one safety. It also limits our good pass rush against a poor DET pass block because we'll have to use our DEs to rush only on plays that are clearly "pass".

DEN still can't stop the run. I'd like to breakdown the match-up between the run scheme of DET and the Bates DEF, but everything we want other teams to do (contain to the inside) isn't working because RBs are dragging our line and LBs 3 to 7 yards before the tackle happens.

3. Other issues

  • Special Teams - DET features Walters, an excellent returner. DEN has done better on return coverage, but I expect DET to get good field position on kicks.
  • Game planning - Denver comes off of a short week. Players won't be 100% recovered, and the coaches have less time to prepare for DET.
  • If Henry plays he should be a better match-up than Young. As much as I like Young, the power running of Henry should match against a relatively small and fast DET team. Young would be a match of speed against speed. DEN will run up the middle often, using the sweeps to the side only to set up play action passes.
  • Expect both teams to balance the run / pass game.
Summary

Run - Both teams should run the ball very well.

Pass - Kitna will get pressured and intercepted. Like Favre, he will probably get a couple of deep passes off, and still manage to have a very good passing percentage. DET is 3rd in the NFC in passing.

Cutler will get less pressure than Kitna. But he will have problems with completions with the zones from DET. He should get picked, but I expect that Cutler can make several high percentage, short passes.

STs - Walters gives DET a good field position advantage.

Both coaches might want to keep the ball on the ground. Denver to set up the bootleg, and DET to rack up the (safe) yards. I expect a close game determined by tunrovers (more in terms of interceptions than fumbles).

Have a great week, and "GO BRONCOS"!