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What To Watch For - Denver at Kansas City

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Denver stands at 3-5, but remains only one game out of the division race for a playoff spot. The team is bloodied as the injured reserve list rises. The team is battered by a horrific run defense. And now the Blue and Orange go to our toughest venue over the years; Arrowhead Stadium. All hope seems lost.

But wait! Could it be? Is that a flicker of hope on the horizon?

Let's break down the Xs and Os and look.

1. KC rush vs. DEN rush DEF

Denver's rush defense has looked ugly. KC's rush offense looks ugly. What does the scheme match-up tell us? Let's take a quick review of the Bates system.

Let's start calling the Bates sytem by its proper name; Run Containment System. It is a hard system to learn, as it doesn't focus on man or zone (the two techniques most of us are familiar with). The system hopes to force the pass, and shutdown the run.

To review, the OLBs sole job is to prevent a RB from getting to the sideline on a sweep. They don't tackle the RB, because a blown tackle leaves no one to cover the run down the sideline. Instead, the OLBs stay between the runner and the sideline, trying to force the runner to cut back (towards the other 10 defensive players). It takes a smart (and self disciplined) player to accomplish this.

The DEs line up wide and rush the passer on most every play, almost inviting (tempting) the RBs to run between the DEs and DTs. The DTs get little glory or little stats. They plug up the center of the o-line without penetrating.

The runner that goes up the gut (or that gets "vectored" towards the gut) is now between the DEs / OLBs (who collapse the run zone from the outside) and the DTs (who must shift from holding the line to a pivot and tackle). The trap door is the MLB in run zone, who has been protected by the DTs. The MLB makes the majority of tackles. With poor play by the DTs, the system fails.

CBs play man, and the safeties should play deep pass zones. (People seeing the formation and seeing the zones of the MLB and the safeties might think this is cover two. It is not. Cover two is a system, NOT a formation).

How do we match with KC?

First the bad news: We haven't been executing the system well.

  • Our DTs haven't held the line.
  • Our OLBs haven't closed off the outside.
  • Nobody is tackling.
That's as bad as it gets. Point blank, learning the new system has been a nightmare and the run defense s-u-c-k-s.

Now the good news:

  • KC features a terrible running game. It starts with Johnson at RB. He has been awful, and his trademark power rushing techniques have done nothing for him. So what? According to the NFL Network (hat tip to Guru), Johnson is not only out for this game, but the season.
  • Back-up RB Priest Holmes. Once in the elite of RBs, Priest came back to play with KC after an injury sidelined him. He has been a shell of his former self. The former speed demon is not the threat he once was, and was relgated as a back-up to a poorly performing Johnson.
  • To ice the cake, KC's o-line is one of the worst in the league. They not only have holes for the pass rush, but they aren't clearing lanes with their man-on block technique.
I can never tell if a team is going to show up or not. On paper, matching the KC run game against our Run defense we should come out on top.

2. DEN pass DEF vs. KC passing

We should be man coverage with our CBs against a poor combination of KC receivers and Huard (who isn't a good QB). KC has one weapon this year on offense, and it's TE Gonzales. Once mentioned in the same breath as Gates from SD, Gonzales is a little slower than he once was, but he can't be taken for granted by any stretch. Expect Bailey to cover him on some downs. The depth we have at CB allows us to put a nickleback on either starting KC receiver.

Gonzales is the precious rare TE that can block and catch. More on him later.

Our weakness comes in two areas.

  • Because of the poor play of our run defense, Bates has had to bring Lynch into the box to help on runs. This hurts the pass defense plan, which really requires two deep safeties. Even supermen like Bailey and Bly can get burned, but with two deep safeties we should be ok. We won't have that second safety.
  • We just lost one of the few men on our defense playing like a pro. DE and pass rusher Jarvis Moss is out for the season (broken shin in practice). He was a bright spot. Crowder and Dumerville have been good, and Rice has been a dissapointment. The d-backs need an effective pass rush to help them (especialy with the "loss" of a pass coverage safety in this match-up), and Moss helps to ensure that. Denver just made some moves this week and aquired several DEs that few people have heard of. Can they get the job done?
I believe we are ok at pass defense in this game. This isn't Favre we're up against, and this isn't a talented receiving corps. Better yet, our rushers (and the holding DTs) face a poor KC o-line. The offensive coordiantor of KC has to ask himself, "Do I put my best receiver (TE Gonzales) out to catch, or do I keep him in to block?". KC doesn't feature a threatening second TE, nor a threat from a rushing or catching FB. The FB will focus on run and pass blocks.

To summarize the KC offense, they can't manage the game or control the clock without a solid rushing game or an excellent pass game. This robs them of several options when trying to figure out how to force Denver into playing their game. Right now, they are playing a vanilla offensive system. Fans in KC have been calling for Herm Edwards head, accusing him of not opening up the playbook. Given the current talent pool, he doesn't have much choice.

3. The KC Defense

KC features a good but not great defense. They have a very good pass rush with the front four (they run 4-3), so I wouldn't expect a lot of blitzes. They run the Tampa variation of the cover-2 (aren't you guys getting sick of it? We're matched against almost every Tampa-2 team this year!).

However, the giant question mark for this game is whether Jay Cutler can play or not. I like Ramsey at back-up. Lost in the blowout with Detroit was this gem:

Ramsey completed 29 of 46 for 262 yards. He had one TD and 1 INT.

I continue to believe Ramsey is underrated. However, I would rather have Cutler in the game. One key is Cutler's mobility (and Ramsey's lack thereof). Once flushed out of the pocket Cutler can make plays on the run. Even running the Tampa-2, I don't expect KC to occasionaly blitz corners (as with DET), and I don't expect a blitzing safety. The zone blitz is also not in play this game.

All of this mean the blitz should be inside to the outside (great for a scrambling QB like Cutler). A pocket kind of guy like Ramsey would prefer an outside blitz to collapse the pocket, but he won't get that kind of blitz from KC.

With Ramsey we shouldn't expect frequent play action passes like the bootleg because of his lack of speed. In either case (Cutler or Ramsey) we should still see passes to the seam (the weak area of the cover two). Scheff should be a target in one seam, Graham in the other (if the coaches trust Graham after a poor performance last week). If Graham is not used as a receiving TE he will do a fine job blocking if we use any two TE sets.

I don't expect to see many two TE sets like in the past, because Sapp (FB) should be able to effectively keep the front four honest by taking a rush here and there. He is also a threat on screens.

If the running game goes well we'll see Graham line up at TE. If not, and we have to go to a passing game (or we fall behind), it is fair to assume that Scheff gets put in to catch a few.

(A lot of fans may be upset at Graham's drops in the DET game. Consider that he remains a great blocker. Also consider that this was the first game he got the go ahead to catch passes. He has looked excellent catching in practice.)

Henry may be iffy for this game. He didn't play well against DET, and his bruised ribs may be an issue. Young would be the fallback, and would do well on sweeps and screens. The only change up option to run a committee would be Bell, who contrasts Young's speed with power. The fans will want Hall (who has been great on STs), but his running style mirrors Young's. If the zoneblock o-line can clear lanes for the one cut rush up the middle, then this won't be an issue.

We really want the running game to work. KC is a difficult venue and very loud. A solid running game can not only control the clock and set up the pass, but can wear out the fans.

4. Special Teams

It is now ok to say we have arrived. Coverage is much improved, and so is returns. Both Hall (RB) and Martinez (acting slot receiver) have been doing very well.

Woodson is a threat to return the ball for KC. Bailey may be brought back for STs duty this week.

5. The Bottom Line

Instead of giving a summary of the information I've offered, I'm going to point out this little nugget:

We are one game behind SD and KC. If we beat KC we are tied with them at 4-4 (and win the tiebreak). SD plays INDY this week and should lose. This places us tied at 4-4 for the division. oak (doesn't get capitalized 'round these parts) is a game back and plays da Bears.

This game could be a great boost for the fans, who are not used to losing seasons. It is in Kansas City, but many signs point to a good match-up.

Vegas thinks we lose. I think it is too close to call.

So how about it gang? Throw out your own opinion or questions! See you here at milehighreport.com for the game while our fearless leader Guru blogs the game.

Go Broncos!,
Hoosierteacher