Continuing our sub-grand experiment here at MHR, this week's notebook is officially ready to go. Heading into the game I made a note to myself to watch and track formations and personnel groupings (saw some pretty cool stuff), keep an eye on Orlando Franklin and Chris Kuper over there on the right side, watch the fullbacks a little better, and to pay attention to what kinds of packages we were seeing pressure from on defense.
Overall I just wanted to see a team that was cleaning up the mistakes (penalties in game one were a problem), as well as playing physical, like a team halfway through the season. A fast start is huge this year, for a lot of reasons, and establishing some physical dominance will go a long ways toward that goal. A slow start will kill the Broncos before they even have a chance to get out of the gate.
Lets get right to the analysis.
- DT Broderick Bunkley: We were missing two of our most productive starting DTs for this game and it showed on the first drive, but a few guys came through to help alleviate the loss. Vickerson was up and down all game, getting a stop on the first play, but later getting manhandled on the outside shoulder of a guard to allow a 3rd and 2 conversion right at him. Bunkley showed up pretty well early, with his penetration on the Bill's third down almost leading to a 3 and out for the defense's first drive, if not for a converted fake punt on the next play (have you ever seen a fake punt in the preseason?). On the next drive Bunkley would once again penetrate deep into the backfield on a little delayed rush. The pressure would force an incompletion and lead to 3rd and 18. And Bunkley wasn't done yet, batting a ball down at the line of scrimmage (and almost intercepting it) later in the first half. He finished out his first half reps with a gimme crush of the RB in the backfield (along with DJ and Goodman) after the QB and RB had trouble with the handoff/playfake. All in all, a nice day by the Bunk.
- Wesley Woodyard: I think this is the year when we will finally see Woodyard on the field for the majority of downs, as the Broncos nickle adjustment. When Denver moves to the nickle, beside seeing Champ move inside over the slot, you will see Woodyard replace DJ at WLB, DJ moves to MLB, and Von Miller moves to DE, with Ayers moving inside. That is the fastest nickle we have fielded in quite some time, and the Bills were a good example of how often teams run 11 or 20 personnel (3 WR sets). Denver spent the majority of that first drive in a nickle formation, and while they allowed a few runs (see below) they also got two 3rd down stops. Woodyard, from this nickle role was all over the field. He had some down moments, including getting swallowed up on blocks on two of CJ Spillers runs, but on the 3 and out on the 2nd drive it was Woodyard that blew up a block on 3rd and 18 screen (swing? I still need to rewatch...) and forced the back into Vaughn's waiting arms. He also was the key guy in blowing up an early Brad Smith Wildcat play, so his recognition seems to be in fine form as well. Woodyard is moving well, tackling well, reading well...it is a great time to be seeing him on the field. He has the distinction of being a roleplayer who gets better as the game goes on and his reps start piling up. This wasn't a problem in college where a roleplayer on Kentucky was an everydown guy. But in the pros it has meant he is relatively "cold" all game. He may still struggle if he is in and out irregularly, but it looks to me like he has a chance to make an impact this year while we are sorting out our MLB issues, and playing nickle often.
- Rahim Moore: finally got to see a significant amount of coverage from him, and it is really impressive how natural he looks in that centerfielder role. His speed allows him to get right up to the line on running plays, and he really has a nice aggressive attitude in coverage. I know there will be disagreement with the penalty on his "defenseless player" hit, and that certainly looked like a textbook play, bred into the bone of every safety who has the range to make it, but these are new times in the NFL, and that kind of play is going to get flagged, for a while at least. We know Rahim isn't a headhunter by any stretch of the imagination, but we don't want to see him get gunshy out there either, which is why it was nice that he was overheard saying "If I'm not catching it, he's not catching it either..." as he came off the field after the play. The defense needs an attitude adjustment, and a physical mindset like Rahim was displaying is fertile soil for just such an adjustment to take root.
- VonDoom: What's not to like? Something that was particularly nice to see was how well Doom was performing in contain in the running game. Run defense is a team sport, so Doom can't do it alone, but I think this year we will start to see him get a lot more respect for his all around game. In the meantime, he will just have to get by on being a stud pass rusher. And it looks like Von will be there to keep him company. Von's shoulder-dip around the corner is amazing to watch at full speed, and he may very well make it on that alone, but I can't wait to see him develop the complementary power moves that will allow him to truly dominate and embarrass opponents. Doom's signature move, despite being "undersized" is his bull rush, not any kind of speed move, and while Von will always be primarily a speed guy, the power moves will set up speed opportunities even against the best tackles in the NFL. He is particularly lethal right now stunting from the LDE position. It results in Doom sealing the backside with pressure, and a step up lane appearing that gets completely engulfed by Von when he appears. That has the potential to absolutely kill a QB, and make him afraid to step up in the pocket...
- Cassius Vaughn: while not up to last weeks performance, he looked very solid as the nickle corner (lined up over the Z receiver) and showed good recognition and instincts in this game defending several screen calls by the Bills (and a favorite playcall of San Diego). On the first drive he forced a 3rd and 10 with a great play at the goalline to turn and make a play on the ball on a back shoulder fade. On the following drive, he cleans up a screen play with a nice tackle to force the 3 and out. Again, not quite as nice as last weeks performance, but solid, and more importantly, critical plays were made.
- Champ and Goodman: Champ is seeing opportunities to make plays on balls from his slot position, and this week we got to see the first of what will be many, many pass breakups. I doubt many teams will run slants against Champ, because the bills showed that his closing speed is still elite, and his feel for the play makes getting the hand on the ball a guarantee, and an INT a serious threat. On the quick slant, Champ managed to get turned, catch up and get his hand stabbed in for the deflection...imagine what he can do on a slightly slower crossing route... Goodman hasn't been seeing a lot of action yet, but he got tested on a couple of back shoulder throws. The first was completed, the second he covered like a blanket, and another was severely off target, but he looked to be in position to make a play.
- Blitzes: Besides Von at DE (which isn't a blitz in theory, even though it looks like one in practice, with his speed) Dennis Allen brought several safety blitzes again, which is starting to look like it might be a bit of a staple for us. DJ also got a chance with a weakside blitz, easily bypassing the RB and getting the big hit. With some of his struggles on the day recognizing assignments in the passing game, it was nice to see him being used more like he should have been the last 5 years... I'll also make note of DJ's INT here, which is always nice to see, and it is great that he had the hands and awareness to grab it, but Denver was lucky that wasn't a big play the other way. The receiver deflected a decent pass, which only managed to reach DJ because it bounced off of Joe Mays. I'll still take it, though. Luck hasn't been in large supply around here for a while...
Once again, thanks for reading. I'll post my notes for starting offense later tonight, and then put the rest of the crew up on Monday.