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Tale of the Tape: Justin Simmons’ breakout game

Lost amid the abysmal defensive performance, and overall thrashing taken on Sunday, is the fact that Justin Simmons had a really good game

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

There hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about as Bronco fans over the last four or five weeks; that translates on film as well as I often get depressed after turning on the tape every week.

This week, there was a bright spot for the Denver Broncos in what was a game many Bronco fans will want to soon forget. Rookie safety, Justin Simmons, was playing in place of injured T.J. Ward and put together a very solid performance that was his best all season.

Now, Simmons didn’t necessarily replace Ward’s role, as Wade Phillips often had him playing single high FS while Darian Stewart played SS. This is a more natural fit for Simmons and will likely be his role in the future. I could see Stewart shifting to more of a SS when Ward’s contract expires, with Simmons taking over FS duties.

On the other hand, it isn’t helpful to get too caught up in labels as Wade moves his safeties around a lot and asks all three guys in his big dime to play each different role at times. But for the majority of this game, Simmons was asked to play center-fielder over the top.

Run Game

Playing deep safety doesn’t often lend itself to big plays in the running game, but Simmons was able to impact a few plays on Sunday.

This is a 3rd and 1 and the Kansas City Chiefs are loading up with a jumbo set. Wade counters with a 5-3 look with two safeties and only one corner.

Simmons is going to be the one to make the play from his FS position.

As has been the case all season, Slyvester Williams and Jared Crick are useless on this play, creating a huge hole in the backside B-gap.

Simmons does a nice job reading and coming down from 10 yards deep to make the tackle.

The next play we’ll cover, Simmons is lined up in the box. The Chiefs are going to run a counter to the left.

If you’ve been following along this season, you’ll recall that Denver has had problems stopping the counter run. I broke it down after the Cincinnati Bengals gashed us with is in week 3.

In that break down I said the best way to stop the counter run, is blowing it up backside before it has a chance to get started. This is exactly what Simmons does here.

Again a nice read as the play develops, and then he shows his closing speed to chase down the speedster, Tyreek Hill.

One he’d like to have back

It wasn’t all good in the run game for Simmons, but this is one the entire defense would like to have back.

The Chiefs are going to run an inside zone read. Because of their previous success running the ball this drive, all the defenders bit hard on the handoff to Spencer Ware. All but Simmons. He is the outside “force” man tasked with holding the edge.

You can see at the time of the fake handoff, Shane Ray has come way upfield, Stewart is taking a step forward, and both linebackers are watching Ware.

Alex Smith keeps it, and has only one man to beat, with a blocker in front. Simmons is really in a tough situation.

He actually does a pretty good job staying home and attempting to contain the edge, but Travis Kelce is an excellent blocker. The one thing Simmons should have done, was fought to the outside shoulder of Kelce and forced Alex Smith to cut it up inside where more help was, instead of giving him the sideline. Again, easier said than done, but that’s a coaching point he’ll learn from watching this tape.

Hats off to KC for a great playcall in the perfect situation.

Passing Game

Simmons was beat a few times when singled up with Kelce, but that’s the case for most safeties. With Denver forced to commit bodies to the running game, it often left defenders one on one with the Chiefs favorite weapon.

However, outside of that, Simmons shined in pass coverage.

Here he is manned up against the second TE and does a nice job all alone in space against the bigger receiver.

The last play, is the one we all remember. It gave us hope for a Christmas miracle, only to smash that hope like grandma getting run over by the reindeer.

However, it was still an excellent play, and the best play of the night for the defense.

KC is in a bunch set right, and Denver plays man coverage, with Simmons in single high coverage.

We’ll break down the blitz that forced the throw from Alex Smith in a second, but let’s break down the secondary first.

Aqib Talib presses the middle receiver at the line and sticks with him across the field.

This is 3rd and long and the corners know that a blitz is on, so they play more aggressive. Chris Harris Jr.’s man is the eventual target, and is going to get past him on a stutter and go.

Simmons is reading Alex Smith the whole way and begins to flow towards the left side.

This is at the time of the throw. Smith is being plastered by Corey Nelson, but puts a pretty accurate ball out there for the inside receiver. Look how much space Simmons will cover while the ball is in the air. He’s, again, putting his speed to good use.

Here’s the shot just before the ball drops. You can see Hill has Harris beat pretty badly at this point. If Simmons misreads this, it’s a touchdown.

Also note Bradley Roby’s receiver at the top of the screen. He ends up getting wide open off of an out and up, but Smith doesn’t have time because of the blitz; which Roby and Harris knew, which is why they played so tight initially.

Speaking of the blitz and the pass rush’s relation to the secondary...

Denver is in their Nascar package and Derek Wolfe and Ray will perform a stunt inside.

Nelson does an excellent job of timing his delayed blitz until the center is occupied with Wolfe, and the guard is occupied with Ray.

If he blitzes any sooner, he just runs into a mass of bodies and Smith burns us for a touchdown.

He has to wait until the perfect moment, to come in untouched to deliver the hit that forces the throw early.

Everyone doing their job, relying on everyone else to do their job is a beautiful thing.

Hopefully this encourages us about one of our young rookies. Simmons looks to have a bright future and expanded role on this team in 2017.

Question for the community:

What kind of break downs would you like to see this off season? I plan to continue my weekly tape posts throughout the off season and would love ideas or requests on what you would like to see!