A few weeks ago I broke down the Broncos defense here in this column after the Denver Broncos lost two straight to Atlanta and San Diego. In it, I identified several things that opposing teams were doing to us to specifically scheme against our man coverage and exploit it.
So, round 2 against the San Diego Chargers came this week, and Wade Phillips and his guys must have read my post (I can dream, right?) because they adjusted and fixed each issue that our defense had been having in coverage.
If you don’t remember what we talked about, go up and re-read, then meet me back here to dive into this week’s tape.
We talked last time about how the Chargers liked to run pick plays against our man coverage. In week 6 they got several big plays off of this type of scheme.
This week was no different. Bradley Roby is covering the slot, and the inline tight end is going to come across and attempt to take him out.
Now fortunately, Roby had been coached up on this and did a good job going underneath the screen, like a point guard in basketball. Even though the tight end does some shady moves to try and slow him down.
By shady, I mean downright illegal. This should have been called as blatant offensive pass interference. But, karma came through and Roby was in great position to make a play on the ball when the Charger wide receiver couldn’t haul it in.
So if you read my previous post on this, you saw how much space these pick plays created. However, this time around, Roby is right in his hip pocket. Even if he hauls it in, and a flag isn’t thrown (which is should have been!) it would have been a minimal gain.
Nice job learning and adjusting, and coming up with a big play for their efforts.
This second interception deals with another tactic the Chargers used against our man coverage last time, and that’s bunch sets.
Pre-snap they have two wide receivers stacked to the offense’s right and will motion a third receiver over there to create a bunch set. Lorenzo Doss will follow that receiver across the formation during motion.
Now they have a 3-WR bunch and the goal is to try to mix up the defenders in coverage and get them running into each other or hung up in traffic to create separation.
This is why you have the outside wide receiver running in, the inside wide receiver running out, and one going on a corner route. Man coverage beater 101.
Except Denver doesn’t fall for it this time around. You notice Doss followed the inside wide receiver across the formation, which typically indicates that he would be covering him. But instead, the Broncos corners all stick to their sides and just take whichever man comes to them.
Doss stays inside and takes the guy coming inside, Roby stays outside and takes the guy coming at him, and Harris takes the deep man. Now this looks simple, but takes a great deal of communication and practice to not mess this up and leave someone wide open.
The other thing to note that I called out previously was teams exploiting matchups in man coverage. Antonio Gates is a hard cover one-on-one in open space. This is third down, so what does Denver do? They double cover Rivers’ favorite target. I love it. Let’s do this to Rob Gronkowski too.
From here, Doss blankets the route and jumps it perfectly. He should have had a pick 6, but fortunately, he pops it up to Darian Stewart who was closing in on the play.
Here is the whole play from a different angle.
Another thing we talked about last time was how Denver should mix it up and switch to some zones to be more unpredictable.
Well here you go. They run a cover-3 shell and Corey Nelson is going to fake the blitz up the middle and back off into a middle zone.
With Nelson selling the blitz, Denver looks like they’re in their typical man coverage, pre-snap.
This must have messed with Philip Rivers’ reads or he and the wide receiver saw different things based on the coverage, because he threw it right to T.J. Ward.
Ward was asked about it after the game and he alluded to the fact that they checked into a zone, and Rivers thought they were going to be in man.
I’m honestly not sure what was supposed to happen from the Chargers perspective. There was a miscommunication somewhere between what Rivers saw and the wide receiver saw, and it was caused by Denver switching to a look Rivers didn’t expect.
Kudos to our coaches and players for adjusting and shoring up the things they needed to in coverage this week.
It certainly paid off, to the tune of 43% completion rate and 3 INTs. Let’s do the same to Derek Carr!