The Broncos are off on a much-needed bye week after three tough games, but the analysis here at MHR is in full swing, and boy is there a lot to talk about after that incredible - albeit slightly depressing - game against the Seahawks. Probably the single biggest complaint from fans is the (lack of a) running game, and a big part of that begins with the offensive line.
Thankfully, we've got our O-Line crack reviewer CH74 to help us break this down and understand what role the offensive line does play and what it needs to change. Hint: Tight end Julius Thomas is hugely accountable here...read on!
And in case you're new to this series or you'd like to review CH74's assessments over the past two months, the bye week is your chance to get up to speed:
Week 3: Denver v. Seattle
CH74: Well folks, another game is in the books, and it was one for the ages! The bye couldn't come at a better time for those of us with a heart condition.
I will probably spend this coming Sunday doing Honey-Do's and maybe do a spot of fishing before the weather turns bad down here in eastern New Mexico. Thanks to my subscription to Game Rewind, I could do some in-depth scouting of upcoming opponents at my convenience as well, but that sounds like an activity for Monday while the wife is off at work.
I am going to start off this week's review a little differently than I have in the past. I am starting off with a little exercise that may help us to understand some of what went wrong on Sunday when the Broncos tried to run the football.
Diary of a Struggling Run Game - First Quarter, Series Two:
Play 1 10:33: Outside zone run right. Ryan Clady weakly attempts a cut block on Bennett, who is blatantly holding Orlando Franklin. Bennett's hold allows Brandon Mebane to get up field and make a play behind the line of scrimmage for a five yard loss. On the play side, Julius Thomas loses his footing and fails to make his block. Yards on the play: -5, Attempts 1, Total yards -5
Play 2 9:23: Trap to the right side. There is confusion in the line. The right side is obviously pass blocking and Clark ends up cutting off Franklin's path to the defensive end. Franklin also attempts to finish his block as if it was a called pass. The crowd noise is a factor here. Yards on the play: 1, Attempts 2, Total yards -4
Play 3 7:41: Off Tackle run. Clark fails to get to the second level. The Seattle D swarms to the ball carrier (Ball). Virgil Green loses leverage on his man and gets pushed into the backfield. Yards on the play: 3 Attempts 3, Total yards -1
Play 4 7:12: Inside run. The offensive line gets a good surge, but a weak down block by Julius Thomas prevents the play from gaining more yards. Yards on the play: 5, Attempts 4, total yards 4
Play 5 6:08: Inside Run. Brandon Mebane gets a good push on Ramirez who loses leverage but manages to turn Mebane enough to keep him out of the play. Orlando Franklin makes a weak attempt to block Wagner at the second level. Yards on the play: 5, Attempts 5, Total yards 9
For the Drive: 9 yards on 5 attempts for 1.8 yards per carry.
This exercise shows a microcosm of the Broncos' running game on Sunday. The Broncos started out in a hole due to a non-call on a blatant defensive penalty, and they never quite recovered.
Crowd noise was a factor on the second play where there was an obvious miscommunication. Going with a silent snap count puts the offensive line at a disadvantage, especially when run blocking.
Like the defense, the O-Line has to watch the ball and go on movement, making their get off a fraction of a second slower than normal.That fraction of a second can be an eternity against a fast front seven. The Broncos were more successful running the ball inside and going straight at the defense.
Watching this game live, you get the impression that the Broncos run game is seriously flawed. There may be some truth to that narrative, but I noticed a number of plays where Manning handed the ball off, yet the offensive line was pass protecting. This tells me there were probably a number of plays Manning was thinking run but the offensive line was thinking pass. That little oversight will doom a run play before it even gets started.
LT Ryan Clady (#78): This was the worst game I have seen Clady play in recent memory. I counted three plays where Clady was beaten by his man both run blocking and pass protection. Clady had a bad miss on O'Brien Schofield (#93) in the closing seconds of the first quarter on an outside zone stretch. Schofield was able to beat Clady with a strong outside swim move with 11:02 left in the fourth quarter. Clady also allowed Schofield to log a hit on Manning later in that same drive.
CH74's Grade: RB (=) PB (-) HD (=) LV (=) FT (=) PL/T () PNT (=)
LG Orlando Franklin (#74): Franklin flew under the radar in this game, but he still had some rough moments. Big O had another sloppy trap block in this game to open up the second quarter. This is the play where Virgil Green carried the ball for about a one-yard gain and left the game with a concussion. Franklin was caught rocking in his stance late in the third quarter, logging a false start penalty. He also missed a block late in the fourth on what appeared to be a busted play that led to Manning taking a sack.
CH74's Grade: RB (=) PB (=) HD (=) LV (=) FT (=) PL/T (-) PNT (=)
C Manny Ramirez (#66): ManRam was crucified by PFF for his performance this week, which is understandable under the circumstances. I won't go as far as crucifying Manny, but I will hold him accountable! It appeared Ramirez was a little quick on the snap in the opening play of the second quarter, which probably led to the sloppiness of Franklin's trap block. Sometimes the smallest of details can have a cascading effect. Manny was initially beat at 0:47 in the third by Brandon Mebane (#92), but he had a nice recovery and logged a knock down. If this were 2012, Ramirez doesn't have the footwork to make that recovery. He also lost leverage on Mebane late in the fourth quarter, causing Ball to be stopped for a loss.
CH74's Grade: RB (-) PB (=) HD (=) LV (=) FT (=) PL/T () PNT (=)
RG Louis Vasquez (#65): According to PFF, Vasquez came crashing back down to earth in week three. This is why I don't trust PFF. According to my notes, Vasquez was beat inside midway through the second quarter and missed a block on a screen to DT early in the fourth. With my focus on the run once again, I may have missed something here. PFF's reasoning is more than likely tied to the team's overall inability to run the ball in this game. Vasquez did have the nicest pull block of the game on the Julius Thomas shovel pass for a TD at about 9:24 in the fourth quarter.
CH74's Grade: RB (=) PB (=) HD (=) LV (=) FT (=) PL/T (=) PNT (=)
RT Chris Clark (#75): Once again, Cliff Avril (#56) was able to terrorize Clark. The one takeaway I gained from this game is Clark is still having problems with speed rushers on the outside. Clark was fortunate not to have given up a sack in this game. Overall, he performed a little better than he did in week two, which is tough to see given all the problems the line had this week. Other than the obvious issue with speed rushers, I didn't notice a lot from Clark, good or bad, which is a slight improvement.
CH74's Grade: RB (-) PB (=) HD (=) LV (=) FT (=) PL/T () PNT (=)
CH74's Coach-Up of the Week
Superstar Julius Thomas, if you weren't such a threat catching the ball, I would start taking away targets for every missed block. You are the biggest problem with the blocking on outside running plays. Seattle owned you when you were an inline blocker.
This issue is fixable, but you have to put in the work and develop the proper mindset. You need to keep a base under that big body of yours and use some leverage. Quit playing the game like you are the size of Wes Welker. You are a man among boys out there, now start playing like it!
What to look for going into the bye and the Cardinals Game:
The Broncos need to fix their outside running game. I don't think the overall run game is nearly as broken as it appeared in the Seahawks game, but there are still some issues that need to be addressed.
- Julius Thomas is a liability as an inline blocker; he needs a lot more work in this area. Take this time before the next game to put in some work here.
- The blocking schemes still seem a little half-hearted to me. It appears that when the Broncos attempt to run outside, it is merely to keep the defense honest.
- Run more from under center. As an offensive lineman, I hated when runs were called from a shotgun formation. When running from the gun, the offensive line has to sustain their blocks a little bit longer than from under center. It also gives the defense more time to read and react to the play.
- When the Broncos know they are going to run, do away with the Manning pre-snap gyrations and go on touch or first sound. For as long as Manning has been in the league, he has always taken his time and thoroughly read the defense before the snap. That is all fine and dandy when Manning is passing, but a side effect of that is that it gives the defense ample time to get set. Imagine the surprise if Manning goes hurry up and runs a running play at a defense without his normal pre-snap theatrics? It would totally shock some defenses and give them another thing to worry about!
What to look for in a rematch:
- Soften the defense up by running inside and then work to the outside runs. The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. I think the Broncos would have had more success running between the guards more often. The Broncos were gaining solid yardage when they ran to the interior. Running east and west plays to the Seattle defense's strength which is their speed. Running straight at them will offset that somewhat. Pound the rock straight ahead to wear down that smaller front and then attack on the outside.
- Simplify the on field communication in noisy stadiums. I saw far too many plays in this game where it looked like the line was blocking for a different play than what Manning was running. There were a lot more "Busted Plays" than usual and a lot of them went unnoticed until I was able to look closer with the All-22.
- Decisively attack when blocking the second level. The Broncos O-Line often looked like it was afraid of being juked by the Seahawks LBs. I saw a lot of pulling up and breaking down when blocking in the second level. Those guys are quick, but if you decisively put a hat on them, you're less likely to miss and the play will pick up more yards.
Yes, parts of the Broncos run game appears to be broken, especially when playing a fast, yet disciplined front seven. The Broncos have yet to show a true commitment to a more effective run game, meaning relying on the run only to keep the defense honest.
I would like to see more commitment to running the ball effectively and with the purpose of making it another weapon in the arsenal.
Come late November, that weapon could prove to be crucial.