One step forward, one step back. The good thing is, next week's divisional game is for 1st place. The bad thing is, this is the third time the Broncos have been blown out by a superior opponent only to furiously come back just to fall short. So how did it happen this time? New England knew their capabilitites, knew ours, and attacked the weakest parts of our team. Sun Tzu would be proud of their effort. So what exactly did N.E. know about our team and how did they exploit it?
NE v. Denver Defense
They had seen the week before when a variety of looks and excellent playcalling smothered Oakland and their offense. To balance that, they ran the super-sonic no huddle. Seriously if what we and Peyton run here is termed "no-huddle" what NE did was the "no-huddle" on steroids. This accomplished two things 1) it kept our front 7 on their heels which gave their finesse running game a decided advantage 2) it kept Joe Mays on the field and provided match ups favorable to their combinations of receivers in the middle of the field.
If you're gonna call down Joe Mays for his poor performance (and you should), you should be every bit as critical of Chris Harris who was made to look silly by Wes Welker the entire first half and 3rd quarter. Both of these guys we're owned on a consistent basis.
Now I'm going to go on a little rant here and it underscores our own coaches' inability to "know thyself." They should have at the very least acknowledged these two things from history and film study: 1) Joe Mays is terrible in coverage, Joe Mays has been mediocre in the run support 2) NE will run the no-huddle and we won't be able to substitute. Knowing those two things at the very least, why not set up your front 6/7 to be able to handle any situation? What should have been done is to have a starting D line of Miller, Wolfe, Ayers, Doom. And a two linebacker set with WW and Trevathan. The secondary could have been any combination that included Champ, Porter, and Harris with Adams and either Leonard/Moore depending on what you wanted.
So why would I start these guys specifically? On the line, both Wolfe, Ayers, can rush and play the run. Before losing his job this year Ayers was a hell of a player in run defense that could both penetrate and disrupt lanes as well as set the edge. We know Von has improved his running defense exponentially (see the goalline stand before the half----and notice that many of NE's runs were to the right side of our defense away from him). On the linebacker front, WW is one of the best defenders we have at shedding blockers---did you see that screen he busted late in the game? And Trevathan has a nose for the ball and is speedier in coverage. At the very least you have traded a marginal edge Joe Mays brings in run support for a decided edge in not having him in coverage. That helps take care of the no substitute issue as well as the Joe Mays in coverage issue. Back to the NE approach.
Von Miller is the fastest guy I've seen rush the passer. There were several plays where he had beaten his man and had Brady in his crosshairs. The problem was Brady let the ball go so fast the combo of release and quick routes neutralized any advantage here. NE knew our strength in pass rush and resigned to hot routes, short drops, and quick timing. Out side of a couple he overthrew, Brady didn't really take shots down the field---they ate us up in a similar way that Matt Ryan and the Falcon offense did----by being quicker than our pass rush.
NE v. Denver Offense
NE ran the ball over fifty times in the game. In the 2nd quarter they held the ball for over 11 minutes and scored 10 points. Part of the strategy offensively for NE was to grind out long drives and use some of the clock. Defensively, I saw Wilfork matched up with Manny quite a bit, and they tried to jam some of the inside stuff with more bodies in the secondary. We took more shots down the field this week than last week as a result. They couldn't stop Peyton, but the clock control utilized by their offense slowed down any momentum we had built on the first couple of drives. Add to that the halftime delay, the NE possession right out of halftime and we get an offense that isn't in rhythm. Didn't take long to get back into rhythm but the damage was done.
When we lined up traditionally and not from shotgun, they keyed in our running game and stuffed it. Come to think of it, I don't remember us trying to run an effective playaction from this look the entire game.
Turning Points and Mistakes
- Opening drive, DT fumbles inside the 10 after a long completion. We took our advantage of getting to score first and instead gave it to NE.
- 2nd Q, Manning misses Tamme wide open on 2nd down, 3rd down imcomplete-----punt on 4th and 5 from NE 39. John Fox----your conservative nature is hindering our team in situations such as this. Don't want to kick a 56-yarder? Fine. What good is pinning an offense when it has run up and down on you at will up until this point? Points are at a premium---the best call is to go for it.
- 3rd Q, after a three and out, the Broncos are driving and decide to run a draw on 3rd and 4 from about midfield with Lance Ball in the game. I've seen some rail on McCoy or Fox, but this is on Peyton. Peyton going back to my research on him runs this play consistently. He ran it against the same NE team as part of the Colts in a 3rd and 7 situation....and they picked up the firstdown. He likes the matchup---his only problem is Lance Ball should never be allowed to run up the middle....EVER. I need to go back and look at the last few games but I'm willing to bet his per carry average out of this look is close to zero.
- After a NE TD, Manning is sacked and fumbles which leads to another NE TD.
- 4th and 1 from NE 47....McGahee starts to run before he has the ball and drops a sure 1st down.
- Willis McGahee fumbles when the Broncos are marching for a TD late in the game down by 10.
- 3rd and 17, allow a 20+ yard run when NE lines up singleback. Broncos counter with three rushers, folks are out of position, 1st down and score later on.
- 3rd and 14, check down in the middle against Joe Mays on double move yields first down and score later on.
- Von Miller drops sure Pick-6 late in the game. He had a hell of a game and I'm not getting down on him, but it seems like our players have issues coming up with these all to often.
On to answering some questions!
"If you know your enemy and you know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles..."
I've already commented on our failure to understand our defensive weakness. What the Broncos were keenly aware of however was trying to run the ball against the Patriot front 7. They didn't. They knew it was against their advantage, they knew it would put our offense into way too many questionable distances on third downs, and so they let Peyton come out and run no-huddle. Why attack Wilfork and Love when the secondary can be shredded? Good approach, just didn't overcome the mistakes. Defensively, why in the world did it take until about the 3rd quarter to counter with something that would slow the onslaught down---albeit marginally?
"Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment---that which they cannot anticipate."
I thought the offense (and DT) did well to stretch the defense over the top once the NE secondary got used to defending the intermediate routes. The Patriots on the other hand, knowing the Broncos would be heavily playing the pass, lined up and snapped the ball quick for some consistent yardage on the ground.
"So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak."
Avoid running inside, check. Attack the secondary, check.
"Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust."
Yep, it happened. The Broncos ran the WR screen once to DT and it was stuffed. No wrinkle, nothing new.
"Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him."
The two sacks I count were because of speed and coverage, not because anyone in particular was getting pushed around. On the defensive side of the ball, I don't think NE is that much tougher on the O-line as the running totals say. Again the issue here was finesse, as in the Patriots used a quick count and fast tempo to neutralize our guys coming up field. Playing on your heels is not preferrable in the run game.
"When torrential water tosses boulders, it is because of its momentum. When the strike of a hawk breaks the body of its prey, it is because of timing."
This is becomming less an issue on offense of timing. Peyton had a fantastic day and seems to have a great connection with his receivers. Don't believe me? How about that great back shoulder throw to Decker late in the game? How about putting the ball up and letting your big guy DT make a one handed play? Momentum killed us and it was stopped as much by our own doing as it was by NE.
"To know your enemy, you must become your enemy."
Koppen played a great game, but whatever knowledge of the NE offense he had seemed moot. It is hard to swallow defensively because the Broncos defense should be better prepared for the no-huddle than it is----they saw it all offseason.
"All warfare is based on deception."
Brady took all confusion away from JDR by use of the supersonic no-huddle. Nothing fooled Brady or their offense and if not for great individual play by several players, they would have scored more points.
"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."
The film study aspect seemed to be over the heads of JDR, Joe Mays, Chris Harris to name a few. It still bugs me that it took more than half of the game for JDR to change up the defense. It still bugs me that Chris Harris got burned so badly.
"The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim."
Instead of defense let me talk overall coaching. It's great that our QB is as good as anyone else out there right now. It's great that we made a lot of strides to improve our roster and add depth through aggressive free agency and draft. John Fox every week has made some stupid tactical and game theory decision that has hindered his team. Conservative is one thing, ignorance is another. I really wish Mr. Fox had more a mind for chess than checkers, because he was outcoached once again.
"Move swift as the wind and closely formed as the wood. Attack like the fire and be still like the mountain."
Remember this one had to do with playing as a unit. Moving as one, attacking as one. It is impossible to play as one and give up 250 yards rushing and allow the opposing team to set a team record for first downs.
I was looking forward to this game because I figured we were strong enough as a team to compete and erase the bad taste of 46-10 last year. It also was a meeting between the two best QB's of a generation. Peyton played lights out and made two mistakes 1) the fumble 2) the overthrow. He outmatched his counterpart through the air, but his counterpart outmatched him in the scoreboard. We aren't quite there as a team. Until we are, get used to losing games against the better talent of the NFL. Team is how you win, just as Tebow didn't do it all on his own last year, Manning can't do it all on his own this year. See you Friday MHR, GO BRONCOS!!!