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Tale of the Tape - Stopping the counter run

Breaking down our struggles in the running game against the Bengals

Denver Broncos v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We all saw how our defense struggled at the beginning of the game to stop the Bengals running attack; it was a very uncharacteristic look for our D.

Gary Kubiak mentioned in several different interviews since the game that Broncos really just struggled against one play - the counter play.

So I decided to take a look, and sure enough, they ran the crap out of that counter play and gashed us with it - specifically in a jumbo formation that is very difficult to defend.

Let’s dive in and see what went wrong and what adjustments Wade made at halftime.

Warning: if you’re looking for a happy film breakdown, that was yesterday, this one gets a little painful to watch at times.

Play #1: 50-yard run by Jeremy Hill

I warned you this was painful.

This is a brilliant formation by the Bengals. They motion Brandon Lafell over to the offense’s right as a TE, and he is going to block Von Miller. This leaves Chris Harris, who is in man coverage, on Lafell and completely useless, so it’s a 2-for-1 trade-off for the Bengals.

Normally you would worry about a WR blocking Von, but really all Lafell needs to do is get in his way since he is on the backside of the play. He’s going to stay and watch for the play action anyway.

Over on the left side, you have a TE, and a tackle aligned as the second TE.

So here’s the basics of what’s going on in this play. The crux of the play is the double team on Derek Wolfe between the TE and the LT. The LG and C are going to down block the NT and other DE, while the RG and RT are going to both pull around and lead the way for the running back up the D-gap (outside the TE).

Now here are a couple of things that could happen on this play to disrupt it. Notice above how far the center has to go to down block Crick, because the RG and RT are going to pull, this leaves him wide open for a second.

This must have been an unscouted look or something, because no one really reads it and reacts to stop it from the backside. Counters are such long developing plays, they’re like freight trains. If you let them develop and pick up steam, they’ll run you over at the point of attack. The best way to stop them is before they get started.

Both Jared Crick and Sly Williams have opportunities as backside linemen to get penetration and disrupt this play. Another way is to have the backside LB (Brandon Marshall) fly through the backside A-gap.

Alas, none of these things happen and the freight train picks up steam. The next place that could cause problems is the double team. Now it’s a lot to ask for Wolfe to fight a double team, but if he can cause some type of havoc here, it can throw the play off.

Since none of that happens, you have essentially a wall built at handoff, sealing the defenders off from the play.

The next thing that needs to happen, and is the key to stopping this play, is the linebackers have to get free and flow to the ball.

Todd Davis and Marshall both let the linemen engage them, and it’s game over. Harris and Darian Stewart are way out of position (since both WRs were on the offense’s right, Stewart cheated over that direction), and the only player left is TJ Ward 1-on-1 with a pulling tackle.

Here’s a look at the full play in slo-mo.

Also, I’m 100 percent sure Davis was held on the play.

But that’s neither here nor there. The Broncos have got be able to stop this play regardless.

Play #2: 4-yard run by Giovani Bernard

The Bengals come back later in the second quarter with the exact same play, same formation.

This one is kind of messy, I apologize. In this play, Shane Ray shoots upfield, instead of staying outside.

While he ends up getting blocked down and sealed off by the TE, I think this was actually the right move, and what made the difference.

If you recall the play above, the second TE immediately fires off into the second level to seal off Davis and Marshall from getting to the outside because Ray lets him go and waits to engage the pullers instead.

Now, you have both the pullers coming around, but Marshall and Davis are both clean to scrape around and chase the play.

Ward is the force man and is trying to keep contain and funnel the RB back inside to Davis and Marshall to clean up.

Davis and Marshall are both on their way to help, and Davis does a nice job of defeating this block by No. 81 who came off of double-teaming Wolfe to try and get a LB.

Recall in the previous play, Marshall hesitates too long and gets taken out by the TE after he successfully double-teamed Wolfe.

The result is a much more palatable 4-yard gain. They’re learning.

Play #3: No gain by Jeremy Hill

Wade made some adjustments at halftime, and I’m sure Bill Kollar gave these guys an earful as well.

Bengals come back to the counter two plays into their opening drive of the half.

The big difference - Miller is now on the offense’s left side, where they have run the counter every time. No longer can they just run away from the best defender on the field.

Also, the formation is slightly different and not as formidable because you don’t have the extra TE at the point of attack.

Remember how I said the DE can challenge the double-team to disrupt the play? Well Wolfe does exactly that.

This makes the pulling linemen alter their path a bit and the running has to go further outside. Also, look how quickly Davis is keying on this now at handoff as opposed to the earlier plays.

And then of course Miller is so quick and sets the edge perfectly, funneling the back inside towards the chasing Davis.

This is definitely something to watch out for over the course of the season to see if other teams pick this up on tape and try it against us.

However, I do not think there is any reason to panic as this team showed it can quickly adapt and adjust to shut things down.

This early in the season there isn’t a lot of tape out there, so our defense being caught off guard by a few looks and plays early on is expected. Last year, it took them a few games to hit their stride in run defense.

The encouraging thing is that we showed we could stop it.