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MHR Chalk Talk -- Week 9 - Miami at Denver





Denver has a high powered offense that has sputtered a bit since teams adjusted to their spread offense. That offense hasn't relied much on the famous zone block run as of late, and Denver's scores have decreased as the season goes on. The defense has been awful, ranking in the basement in terms of yards allowed both in rushing and passing. Denver's star defensive player is out about four weeks (Champ Bailey) and the starting strong side LB is out for good. That's the bad news.

The good news is a division lead, and the return of some injured players on offense. Also, a young men is gearing up for his first professional start. Can you hear the whistle blowing? Will it be enough against Miami?

Miami is an odd team. They've beaten teams they weren't expeccted to (NE, SD, and BUF), and lost to eaiser teams (ARI, NYJ, HOU). They're a fun team to watch in the running department (the Wildcat, which is kind of a single wing / run option spin off), have a great blitzer of the weak side in 3-4 OLB Porter, and play the pass well behind a short ranged but deadly accurate Pennington.

What can we expect, and why? Answers follow below the fold...

Denver can reach the magic 10-6 (the likely standard for a playoff spot) mark if they win the games that they should win, including this home game against Miami. While Denver is expected to win this game, there are plenty of potential problems in the match-up.

MIA Pass Offense / DEN Pass Defense

Pennington is a smart QB, and has an accurate arm. He doesn't have the arm for long passes, but in MIA that's ok. He has good weapons in underdog Camarillo and Ginn at WR, and faces a suspect Denver secondary.

Denver will be without Champ Bailey, and will likely see Paymah playing at #1 CB. While fans are critical of Dre Bly (who has the second most INTs in the League since 1999 with 38), some fans (like me) are more apt to blame the poor pass rush or the lack of two deep safeties.

Paymah is likely playing for his very job with Denver. He displaced Foxworth (who is no longer with the team), but is at risk from upcoming CB J. Williams. In the last year of his contract, he needs to play well. Bly has been in a drought since he joined the team, along with Champ Bailey, both of whom who have had little support from other defensive cast members.

One of those cast members may be turning the corner. Pass rush specialist Dumervil, who suffered a broken finger, seemed recovered enough to break through the Patriots offensive line a few times. If he can get past a solid MIA offensive line on Sunday (which features 2008 draft star Jake Long), the secondary might have a chance for a good game.

Denver can go one of two routes this game. They can try for the pass rush option (with some blitzing thrown in) to try and hassle Pennington. Oddly enough, this is one game Denver might even benefit from the 3 man rush that has been so inneffective so far this year. With Pennington throwing short and medium range passes, LBs in zone may not be sch a bad thing afterall.

MIA Run Offense / DEN Run Defense

Denver has the speed to short circuit runs to the edges. The trouble they face against MIAs RBs is the failure to tackle. There should be little concern about the "wildcat" offense given the two weeks Denver has had to prepare. Keeping your assignment, not overpursuing, and plugging the gaps are the ways to stop such a program. But tacklling is such a fundemental skill on defense, and Denver has done so poorly for the first seven games, that one has to wonder if they have yet mastered that basic skill. If you can't tackle on defense, no other skill set matters.

The loss of Boss Bailey for the season may be a hit, or it may make room for someone on the depth chart to shine.

MIA Offensive Overview

Miami's key to success, despite the lack of major name talents, is the simplicity of what they do on both sides of the ball. Pennington is very capable of completing most of his passes, and his receivers run good routes. MIA also runs the ball well. Against Denver Miami should come out throwing early. MIA has a reasonable shot of picking up yards after the completion given Denver's pass coverage and lack of tackling problems. Using short, high percentage throws, MIA can eat the clock, hope for a breakaway play, and set up the run game to give Denver fits.

For their part, Denver needs to tackle well, keep passes in front of the safety(ies), and pressure Pennington.

DEN Run Offense

Ryan Torrain may start this game. Expectations are unfairly high for a guy who hasn't played a game since an injury in college. He looked phenomininal in the preseason, but fans shouldn't be hard on what this kid does or doesn't do in his first game (if this is going to be it).

If Torain doesn't play, or comes out making mistakes, Pittman will be carrying the load in an attempt to keep the heat off of Cutler. If Torain comes out playing well, the two players would make a great combination of power up the middle that could go far towards reestablishing the famous Denver running game.

On the MIA side, they have a very good defensive line. Ferguson is excellent as a run stopper, and the entire front makes things easier for the LBs to get into plays. Like Denver, MIA will sometimes mix up the 4-3, 3-4.

DEN Pass Offense

MIA does one thing well, and another thing poorly. What they do well is bring pressure. Porter (ROLB) is an excellent blitzer on the weakside. He'll not only be a challenge for Clady (who has allowed zero sacks), but will make the Denver bootleg play very, very difficult to carry out without Cutler getting hurt (on rolls to the left). If either Scheffler or Stokley can play Sunday, Cutler will have enough weapons to spread the field. Teams have been covering Marshall well, and Cutler is still learning to go through his checkdowns and to look off his throws.

The good news is that MIA is not strong in their secondary. The team that once boasted Surtain and Madison has lost the elite reputation for CBs, and is vulnerable. Denver should do well in the pass game if Cutler is patient and limits turnovers.

General Overview

This is a game that should be determined in the trenches. The running games of each team depend on the lines, and both teams have secondaries that need for the lines to play well.

Both teams have solid OLs. Denver has the better QB, but Pennington is still solid. MIA has a much better DL and LBs, while Denver has a better secondary (though not playing at all well).

The keys to this game are simple -


  1. If they don't tackle well, they don't win.
  2. Limit INTs
  3. Get an early lead

Notice that 2/3s of Denver's keys are to just limit mistakes.


  1. Pressure Cutler
  2. Avoid a shootout
  3. Force Denver to try and stop the run

Match-ups to watch

Denver DE Dumervil and OLB Williams vs MIA LT Long


MIA OLB Porter vs DEN LT Clady


This is a game MIA needs if they want to stay in the hunt for the post season. While it is still too early to be a must win game for Denver, the truth is that Denver has little room for error going forward, and needs to win home games and games against opponents they are favored to beat.

Denver fans rebounded pretty well from a MNF loss at NE before the bye. They are less likely to recover from a loss to MIA at home. Denver has had two weeks to rest up, recover from injuries, and work on their shortcomings. Excuses won't cut it this week. Denver has to win this game.

I believe that they will, if they don't underestimate a team with a reputation for slaying giants.