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Denver Broncos X's and O's: Pressure begets pressure

Ever hear of Pavlov?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

He was a Russian Physiologist who did a lot of experiments that ultimately were able to identify classical conditioning. His most famous involved a dog, dinner, and a bell. Whenever Pavlov would feed his dogs, he would also ring a bell. The dog's natural response was to salivate. Soon, the dog would learn to associate the bell with food so that whenever Pavlov would ring the bell, the dog would start to salivate even if there wasn't any food present. This is the conditioned response and it's a type of learning we are all susceptible to.

Let's bring the psychology to football.

You're a QB and all game you've been getting hurried, sacked, and hit. Sooner or later that internal clock in your head is going to start getting shorter whether the pressure is there or not. You've been conditioned to think that you only have a certain amount of time to get the ball out, and when that buzzer goes off? You break the pocket and get what you can. This is what happened to Andrew Luck on the 3rd sack of the game by the Broncos. All game he was hit, sacked, and harassed, and on this play, that conditioned internal clock cost the Colts a touchdown. Let's take a look at the play:


This is 3rd and goal. The Broncos are playing a combination of man and zone--man on the TE and the RB with Aqib Talib and TJ Ward respectively. 4-2-5 nickel vs. 11 personnel. The route combination is meant to give Luck two pick options. The first one is a check down to the flat which I will label his 2nd read. You can't be guaranteed to score by throwing it here which is why it is the outlet. The other will count on Reggie Wayne taking the safety back and creating enough space for Nicks at the goalline on a curl.

Broadcast View

The pick works and springs both the money option and the outlet--14 is open at the goalline. But we see that Knighton has pushed the pocket back making Luck nervous. The LT has guided Ware wide enough that Luck can hold his ground and deliver a pass but Luck panics and takes off.

All-22, view 1

If Luck anticipates the throw just a little bit the pressure is a non issue. Notice that Ware keeps his eyes on Luck and once he loops around is able to stop on a dime and head upfield. Jackson does the same and sheds his block. He will make the play on Luck just in case Ware can't get him from behind.

All-22, View 2

The LT is not beaten until Luck steps up and to his left (right from this view). Luck could stand tall and deliver the pass or roll to his right (left from this view). Pot Roast gets upfield enough to provide the illusion of a rush and just like one of Pavlov's dogs, Luck exhibits the conditioned response.


Coverage was decent but there was a window open for a touchdown. The outlet receiver was also a viable option. After having his pocket pushed into his face all game, Luck bolted at the first hint of collapse and cost his team a touchdown.

You don't have to get there every time in order to be effective. Sometimes the fear of getting there is far greater than the actual threat.

Ring the dinner bell defense, make that QB drool!