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Tale of the tape: Week 1 - Panthers vs. Broncos

We break down the tape from some key plays in Denver’s week 1 win over Carolina.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first regular season installment of Tale of the Tape, where we’ll look at the film of some key plays from the previous week.

Hopefully, in the future, you can expect these a little sooner after the game as well. I’ll try to be a little more on top of it ;)

There have already been several great pieces out on MHR over the last couple of days with some breakdowns of the game. Inside the Pylon had a great story on our O-line, there was some video breakdowns of CJ and the running game, and our very own Tim Lynch broke down every throw from Trevor Siemian.

So, I’ll try to add some additional thoughts without (hopefully) repeating what someone else has already done.

Let’s dig in.

Play #1 - Trevor Siemian’s interception

Tim already touched on this a little bit, but I wanted to look specifically at the blocking scheme and missed blitz pickup that happened.

This was a play action with twin WR to the left of the formation. The goal is to suck the linebackers in the with run fake and get Emmanuel going across the field or DT on the post if the safety bites on Emmanuel’s route.

The defense is in man coverage in their base 4-3 package. Thomas Davis is going to blitz from the offenses right, and shows it pretty clearly pre-snap. The guy to watch is the safety in the box circled above.

Peyton called this out during the broadcast. As an aside, did everyone else enjoy Peyton in the booth as much as I did? I would love to see him doing color commentary on gamedays.

The thing he mentioned, and you can see it here, is that we have Weems lined up as our TE. Since the defense is in man coverage and the safety is responsible for the TE, he knows Weems isn’t going to run a route, so he’s free to blitz. This is the same thing we did to Carolina in the Super Bowl, when their guys stayed in the block, whoever was covering them “green dog” blitzed.

So here’s what you end up with. You have Booker and Paradis doubling Kuechly in the A-gap, and no one covering the C-gap. Give it to Carolina too for a good design. The defensive end cuts inside to leave tons of space for the safety to rush through.

So as a fan, we always want to know whose fault it was, right? Well I honestly can’t tell. From Kubiak’s post-game comments, he didn’t feel like it was Trevor’s fault, though a veteran QB likely notices that the safety will be coming, but that’s just what you go through with a young QB. He’s obviously not expected to make the line calls, based on Kubiak’s comments.

So someone had to know the safety was blitzing, right?!

Above is an alternate blocking scheme that I’ve roughed out. Some have suggested that this was Bookers responsibility, but I just don’t see it since the run fake is to the left and the offense has to sell it, why would he then be charged with coming all the way over to the backside C-gap? I would put Booker up the middle on Kuechly since he will likely be crashing to Booker anyway due to the run fake.

This shifts the right side of the line over with Paradis taking the NT, and Schofield/Stephenson taking DE/S.

Another alternative is Weems to come off of Davis and leave him unblocked since that is typically what you do in stretch zones anyway. Linemen are taught to block inside-out, so it would make sense for Weems to pick up the blitzing safety before Davis since Siemian could likely step up to avoid him around the edge.

Or, maybe Booker was supposed to come over and pick it up and he’s the one that screwed up. I’ll let ya’ll decide in the comments.

Actually the second interception, it really wasn’t his fault. Now, he has to throw the ball away. We had a safety come and hug up on a blitz that we had coached up at halftime over and over again. We still didn’t go pick it up. In fairness to the kid, we should have picked it up. He should have been able to step and throw. We didn’t get that done. It’s a team game. Obviously you have to protect the ball down there, but we sure as hell could have helped him.”

- Gary Kubiak

CJ Anderson said after the game that this was a touchdown if they pick the blitz up. I have to agree.

Alright, now that the dead horse is sufficiently beaten, let’s move on.

Play #2 - Chris Harris’ Interception

Chris Harris is an absolute beast, and he continued to show why on this play. This is just a simple quick throw by Newton designed to pick up a few yards. It’s as routine a play as you’ll see. Especially against off-coverage.

It’s a simple combo read. If it’s zone and Marshall drops into the slant area, you hit the back out in the flat. If Marshall follows the back into the flat, you hit the slant right in front of the corner who is playing 5 yards off.

Instead, Harris shows excellent reaction skills and quickness to jump the route and break it up, then tracks the ball in the air and comes up with an amazing catch.

Here it is in slow motion too. That’s a zero step drop. Newton’s just doing a catch and release from the shotgun. The fact that Harris is able to read it and make a play from 5 yards back at the snap is why he is one of the best corners out there.

Play #3 - Importance of middle pressure

Here is something that the announcers called out during the broadcast, that I think was pretty significant. Early on, Newton was taking shorter drops in the pocket which was making it more difficult for the pass rushers to get to him from around the edge. In the Super Bowl he couldn’t consistently do this because Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe were collapsing the middle.

In this game, however, the middle pressure was lacking on a consistent basis. Partly because Derek Wolfe was hurt in the game and partly because the rest of our D-line just wasn’t cutting it.

Check out this play from the 4th quarter when Von Miller got his key sack that should have sealed the game. Miller obviously makes an amazing play, but the hero of this sack is Sly Williams.

With his spin move up the middle, he prevents Cam from stepping up in the pocket and allows Von to get there for the sack.

Check out where Newton is when he receives the snap. He is about 5 yards behind the LOS.

Now look where he ends up before Miller gets to him. He’s 10 yards from the LOS, and 5 yards back from where he started. And thanks to Sly, he can’t move up any into the pocket to avoid Miller.

Contrast that with the first half.

Shotgun, 5 yards back at the snap.

He only steps a yard or two back from his shotgun stance. Now the situation is different, this was third and short vs. third and long so he can afford to take a shorter drop, but there is no middle pressure to speak of.

Here’s another one.

This is third and long, so it’s analogous to the earlier sack.

He started at the 12 and ends up at about the 8 or 9 after his drop. And again, no middle pressure. Now this may be by design as Brandon Marshall might be asked to play contain a little bit to keep him boxed in, I don’t know.

Although we get the sack, it takes an absolute herculean effort by Ware, and isn’t a feat we should expect all the time. That is the bend and quickness required to get to the QB around the edge when he drops so short. And if Newton had sensed him coming, he could have easily stepped up to avoid him.

Now this is an amazing play, and I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom. I’m just pointing out what I think all of us saw, and I know every offensive coordinator watching tape on this defense will see. If you can keep the down and distance manageable and take shorter drops, you can negate some of our pass rush, unless someone steps up in the middle and starts pushing the pocket.

Play #4 - Coverage sack

Speaking of 3rd and long, the only reason Newton was in third and long for Millers sack above, was because two plays before that, Ware and Todd Davis brought him down for a sack.

Now they’ll get credit on the stat sheet, and made a nice play, but the secondary really deserves the credit here.

This is an all-out blitz by Denver, countered by a max protect by the Panthers. We’ll keep 7 in and drop 4 in coverage, while they’ll only run 3 men out on patterns.

It’s cover-1, man coverage across the board, in our base defense, with TJ matched up on Olsen and Stewart playing single high deep. This is an area that the Panthers had some success with Benjamin and Olsen just beating our guys 1-on-1 while they kept guys in to block.

This time, the secondary plays lock down D and Newton has no where to go with the ball.

Check out what he sees right before he has to pull it down and run for it. You can’t play tighter coverage than that. Well done, No Fly Zone.

Play #5 - Andy Janovich’s TD run.

I absolutely love our new found toy in the running game, and love that his first NFL carry was a big touchdown run.

This one fooled the defense big time. As Collinsworth pointed out, the corner completely missed Janovich and never sees him.

Additionally, our guys made some pretty nice blocks to spring him for this run.

There’s some misdirection here with the right side of the defense being left unblocked as they chase Booker flaring out like he’s receiving a toss.

This frees Okung up to slide inside and take out Kuechly, Garcia and Paradis get a nice double team on the NT, Schofield sneaks to the second level to take out Shaq Thompson, and Stephenson just kinda lets his guy go up field to chase Booker and then pins him back behind the action. Also, Green does a phenomenal job sealing the DE out of the play. It’s not often you see TEs be able to handle DEs on an island, but Virgil does it quite often.

Janovich also does a nice job of staying low and patient behind the line before exploding through the hole once it opens.

Alright. I got carried away and wrote way more than I intended to! Hope you enjoyed it, let’s discuss in the comments.

Be looking for these each week as we break down the tape from the game. And I apologize in advance for your browser’s loading time!