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Just! Do! Your! Job! (Keep Your Eyes on the Ball)

Woodyard Interception; photo courtesy of
Woodyard Interception; photo courtesy of

    In Week 4 of the 2009 NFL season, the Denver Broncos hosted the Dallas Cowboys at Invesco Field at Mile High.  Denver Head Coach Josh McDaniels wore a microphone during the game for NFL Films.  It was a sloppy game in which the Cowboys jumped out to a ten point lead.  Denver tied the score at 10-10.  Late in the 4th quarter while the defense tried to stop a Cowboys drive, McDaniels sat down with QB Kyle Orton to discuss the last offensive drive by the Broncos.  McDaniels was heard to tell Orton: "I'm not talking about my bad any more.  Just make the play!"  McDaniels then called the entire offense together and lit into them with the following words:

    "Get in here!  When we quit (bleeped) around and just do our job and quit worrying about everybody else's job and doing your own thing. That's what's killing us right now!  Do! Your! Job! and quit making (bleeped) up.  We haven't even seen what we can do because it doesn't even look like a football team out there.  Let's Go!"

That speech was followed by the 51 yard pass play from Orton to Marshall that won the game.

 After the fold: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball!

    This series is the result of an idea posed by Kentuckybronco as "a chance to reminisce and take a fresh look at the game from a perspective that may have been missed during the regular season."  In this series, we will be briefly revisiting each win and loss of the 2009 season, and using that visit to lift out one aspect, theme, lesson or general football truth that was evident in the game.  This will be a series of short reflections rather than an exhaustive analysis.  What I'll be doing is simply watching each of the games anew to see what, if anything, leaps out at me.  I think it's important for each of us to remember that what catches my attention may not be what catches your's.  I'm hoping that many of you will choose to share what stood out to you in the highlighted game.  It is my belief that it will be in the sharing of perspectives that learning will take place.  For that reason, I'm planning on keeping the initial presentation relatively short.

    A quick word about re-watching games: is this necessary?  Not at all.  So many of our members have written so many great thoughts on the 2009 campaign that it would not be hard to go back and draw upon what you've already written.  If, however, you have the time, the inclination and the access to a recording of the game, then by all means watch it again and see if anything new or different leaps out at you.  Or perhaps, you'll see a confirmation of a previously held view.

First Game: Denver at Cincinnati -- "Keep Your Eyes on the Ball"

    This seems like a fairly obvious statement: when you're a receiver or a defensive back, a part of your job is to keep your eye on the ball.  This is, to me, a truism of football.  Two plays in the game at Cincinnati typify this statement very well.  One play led to an interception, while the other led to a touchdown.  When a player fails to keep track of the ball, well, bad things can happen to his team.  This first play came in the 2nd quarter, with the score tied at 0.  Cincinnati was facing a 3rd down with 6 to go on the Denver 27 yard line with 6:40 left in the 2nd quarter.

Doing It Right

    Cincinnati's offense came out and lined up in a shotgun formation.  They showed 5 on the line, with 2 RBs flanking Palmer in the backfield.  2 WRs lined up on the left side of the offensive line, close to the down linemen.  A third WR was lined up wide to the right.  Denver's defense countered with 3 down linemen, 1 OLB lined up across from the slot WR, and the remaining 3 LBs ranging from over the center to the WR on the left side of the offensive line.  All three of those LBs were 3-4 yards upfield.  1 CB was lined up on the WR to the right, while the other was lined up well outside the outside WR on the left side of the offensive formation and 5-6 yards upfield.  1 safety as 6-7 yards upfield and directly in line with the offensive left tackle.  The 2nd safety was in the middle of the field approximately 12 yards upfield.

The ball is snapped.  The Broncos rush 3 of the 4 LBs while the CB to the left of the offensive formation and the safeties hold position.  The CB covering the WR on the right side of the offense stays close to the reciver.  1 RB begins swings to his left into a passing lane.
The offensive line is holding a good pocket for the QB.  Bailey is within an arm's reach of Ochocinco on the right side of the offense.  Woodyard starts towards the left side of the offense, looking at the RB coming out of the backfield -- he is dead center in between the hash marks.
Palmer throws to his right, aiming for Ochocinco.  Bailey lunges in front of Ochocinco, slaps the ball away from Ochocinco's outstretched hands with his own left hand and tips the ball into the air.  The two are on the "20" marked on the field.  Woodyard released the RB and sprinted towards the play.
After tipping the ball, Bailey falls to his hands and knees.  Ochocinco, though bumped by Bailey during the tip, keeps his feet and moves after the floating ball.  Woodyard continues to close on the play.
Woodyard leaps from the hashmarks closest to the play and gets his arms above Ochocinco's head.
Woodyard makes the catch above Ochocinco, drops his left shoulder as he comes down -- hitting Ochocinco in the chest -- and knocking him away from the play.  Woodyard maintains possession all the way to the ground, where he is downed by another offensive player.

The key thing to notice in this play is how Woodyard kept his eyes on the ball, and was able to release his man in time to chase down the play.  He maintained his focus on the ball from the moment he released the RB to the moment he hit the turf.  To Ochocinco's credit, he also was maintaining concentration on the tipped ball and was moving to make a play.  I suspect that Ochocinco was so focused on the football that he never saw Woodyard coming -- Ochocinco remained flat-footed, apparently in the belief that the ball would simply drop into his waiting arms, thus allowing Woodyard to outplay him for possession with a strong leap.

Doing It Wrong (Cincinnati) and Doing It Right (Denver)

    The 2nd play that I'd like to use to highlight the importance of keeping your eyes on the ball came near the end of the game on what has come to be called the Miracle Catch and also The Immaculate Deflection.  Yes, we're going to take a look at Stokley's incredible catch.  This play occurred in the 4th quarter.  Cincinnati had just gone up 7-6.  McDaniels had argued with the officials and was able to get the clock reset to 38 seconds left in the game.  Eddie Royal inexplicably chose to run the ensuing kickoff out from 4 yards deep in the end zone.  He was tackled at Denver's 13 yard line.  Orton's first pass, a long ball towards Marshall on the right side was nearly picked off.  That set the Broncos up with a 2nd down and 10 to go on their own 13 yard line.

    Denver lined up in a shotgun formation.  There were 5 down linemen with a TE on the left side of the line.  2 WRs lined up to the left of the o-line, while 1 WR lined up on the right side.  1 RB lined up in the backfield on the QB's right.  The Cincinnati defense lined up with 4 down linemen.  CB's lined up across from the outside WRs.  2 LBs were clustered in between the hash marks about 7 yards upfield.  1 LB lined up across from the slot WR but 8 yards upfield.  The safeties were in the middle of the field about 12 yards upfield.

The ball is snapped.  The Bengals rush 4 as all 3 WRs head straight upfield.  The CBs play tight on the WRs.  The o-line holds the pocket firm.
The o-line continues to offer Orton good protection.  All WRs are 2 yards upfield.  The 2 LBs in the middle of the field drop deeper into coverage.  The CBs are matching the WRs stride for stride.
The pocket continues to hold strong.  CBs are still within an arm's reach of the outside WRs.  A LB and a safety pick up the slot WR and the TE.  Orton steps up in the pocket.
Orton throws to his left towards Marshall who has gotten behind the CB covering him.
Marshall is behind the covering CB.  The LB and safety who had taken the TE and Stokley in the slot release their men to close on Marshall.  Both are within a yard or two of Marshall, while Stokley is trailing the play about a yard behind them.  The CB -- Hall -- who has been beaten, turns and sees the ball in the air.  Hall makes an incredible leap as he's falling backwards to bat the ball away from Marshall.
The LB and safety who are closing on Marshall, never look up and attempt to tackle the WR.  Hall has fallen onto his back and is watching the ball.  Stokley moves closer as he watches the ball come down.
As Hall watches, the LB and safety take themselves out of the play as Stokley catches the batted ball, turns and sprints towards the goal line.

    This is, perhaps, the most dramatic example of what happens when one player keeps his eyes on the ball, and another (or two) do not.  After the tip, there were two defenders in a position to either intercept the ball, or at the very least, break up the play.  Unfortunately (for Cincinnati) both players chose to focus exclusively on Marshall.  Neither one ever looked up, not even after Hall made his leaping tip.  Stokley, on the other hand, while trailing the play, tracked the ball to Hall, and after the tip, he kept his focus on the ball.    The result: a catch.  Not only that, but the LB who crashed into Marshall after the tip, effectively bumped the safety away from Stokley and the catch, giving Stokley a chance to get up to speed before being able to give pursuit.  The rest, as we well know was a game-winning touchdown.