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Film study: What went wrong on the big plays the Broncos have allowed?

The No Fly Zone has been giving up some big plays.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

No defense, no matter how good, can prevent all big plays (at least in the NFL). The 2000 Ravens gave up 33, 20+ yard passes and nine that were 40 or longer. They also allowed (only!) three runs of 20 yards or more and no runs of 40 or more. You find the same thing if you look at other elite defenses from the past 20 years in the NFL. They still give up the occasional big play. Some times the defense can do everything right and the opposing offense just makes a great play, but more often than not, when a big play happens, someone on the defense made a mistake.

The No Fly Zone gave up a total of 32 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2016. They have already allowed 10 so far this year, putting them on pace for about the same number that the 2015 version of the No Fly Zone allowed - 41.

The Denver Broncos defense has also allowed one long run (the first run of the season against them went for 21 yards). I decided to try and determine what happened on the 11 big plays that our defense has allowed this year and the one big play that didn’t happen (Jared Cook’s dropped TD from last game).

Here is a listing of them chronologically and then I will follow will film review to help us figure of what happened on most of these plays and why.

Date Tm Quarter Time Down ToGo Location Score Detail Yds
9/11/2017 Chargers 1 12:30 1 15 SDG 6 0-0 Melvin Gordon left guard for 21 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) 21
9/11/2017 Chargers 4 7:07 1 10 DEN 38 20-24 Philip Rivers pass complete deep left to Travis Benjamin for 38 yards, touchdown 38
9/17/2017 Cowboys 4 14:32 2 13 DEN 28 16-35 Dak Prescott pass complete deep left to Jason Witten for 28 yards, touchdown 28
9/24/2017 Bills 2 15:00 3 6 BUF 30 0-3 Tyrod Taylor pass complete short left to Jordan Matthews for 28 yards (tackle by Darian Stewart) 28
9/24/2017 Bills 2 14:07 2 8 DEN 40 0-3 Tyrod Taylor pass complete deep right to Kaelin Clay for 28 yards (tackle by Brandon Marshall) 28
9/24/2017 Bills 3 7:40 1 10 BUF 31 13-16 Tyrod Taylor pass complete deep left to Nick O'Leary for 31 yards 31
9/24/2017 Bills 3 6:54 2 3 DEN 31 13-16 Tyrod Taylor pass complete deep right to Jordan Matthews for 25 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) 25
10/1/2017 Raiders 2 4:33 3 6 RAI 16 10-7 Derek Carr pass complete short right to Jalen Richard for 20 yards (tackle by Darian Stewart) 20
10/1/2017 Raiders 2 3:46 1 10 RAI 36 10-7 Derek Carr pass complete deep right to Johnny Holton for 64 yards, touchdown 64
10/1/2017 Raiders 4 8:03 1 10 RAI 18 16-7 EJ Manuel pass complete deep left to Jared Cook for 28 yards (tackle by Todd Davis) 28
10/1/2017 Raiders 4 7:30 1 10 RAI 46 16-7 EJ Manuel pass complete short middle to Seth Roberts for 22 yards (tackle by Chris Harris) 22
10/1/2017 Raiders 4 5:32 3 10 DEN 20 16-7 E.Manuel pass incomplete deep middle to J.Cook. 0

Gordon’s big run

The Chargers started with a false start so they are in 1st and 15.

They’ve got their fullback offset, TE right and twins left. We are in our base with a single high safety deep (Justin Simmons out of the picture), Darian Stewart is walked up to 5 yards from the LOS. Chris Harris Jr and Aqib Talib are showing man coverage. San Diego LA runs a trap by pulling their LG.

Derek Wolfe does what you are supposed to do when you feel a trap block, dive to clog the hole. Shaq Barrett gets blocked well by their FB. Brandon Marshall gets held by their RT (shown circled in red while getting hugged). Domata Peko and Adam Gotsis are just out of reach of Gordon when he slips through the hole. Stewart gets caught in the wash and Melvin Gordon is running free until Simmons can bring him down 21 yards later.

Without the un-called holding penalty, this would have been a two or three yard gain as Marshall would have easily made the stop. No real blame on the D for this big play.

Travis Benjamin’s 38-yd TD catch

Prior to this play Stewart, Harris and Will Parks are all talking about who is covering whom.

LA has 4 receivers with Antonio Gates and Travis Benjamin on the defense’ right side. We are in our dime our dime package with Corey Nelson in at LB (man coverage on Gordon), Wolfe and Gotsis as down lineman, Von Miller and Barrett at OLB, and Bradley Roby and Parks on as the 5th and 6th defensive backs. Note that this is a balanced defensive look with a safety over the top of both sides (deep halves) and man coverage on the five eligible receivers, at least that is how it was supposed to work (I presume).

Parks takes Gates and Harris (who is backpedaling like he is playing zone) decides to release Benjamin and double Gates in the flat. That leaves Stewart trying to cover one of the fastest wide receivers in the league one-on-one and Philip Rivers puts the ball over Benjamin’s outside shoulder in-stride.

Frankly I don’t know that this isn’t still going to be a long TD catch even if Harris stays with Gordon. Rivers might still have decided to throw into double coverage, but he might have chosen to hit Gates near the sticks on the out route (even with Parks on him tightly).

I’d have to say that I blame this on Harris. Even if he is in zone, he has to stay with Gordon and trust that Parks can cover Gates.

Jason Witten’s 28-yd TD catch

The video is here. The Dallas Cowboys are trailing by 25 points in the 4th. They are in 3-WR twins right shotgun formation with Jason Witten in-line on the left. We have a single high safety (Stewart - off screen) with Simmons in the box covering Witten and and three CBs to go with our three safeties (Parks actually blitzes when Ezekiel Elliot stays in to block). The Broncos rush six and they have six blocking. They are in a dime package.

The Cowboys have four receivers and it’s man coverage with a single high safety as you would have expected from our alignment and tendencies. Simmons gets beat by a the head-fake of a future hall-of-famer.

Simmons is still followin the out route when Witten has cut up the field. Dak Prescott has time despite the six-man rush and makes a nice throw to Witten.

Stewart doesn’t have to the range to get there before the ball as he was shading to the other side of the field. If you want to blame anyone here, blame Simmons, but this was a great example of one of the best route running TEs in NFL history running a beautiful route and getting a TD out of it.

Without the safety bracketing Witten on this play (effectively doubling him), there is much that we could have done to stop this, short of sacking Prescott before he threw the ball.

Jordan Matthews’ 28-yd catch

This was the first big play that the Bills were able to get on the Broncos defense. This is a classic rub-route or pick-route that sometimes gets called as offensive pass interference, but most of the time it is not called. We come out with nine defenders on the line to counter Buffalo’s TE right twins right formation. Both safeties are really deep despite the fact that they only need six yards for the first down.

Parks is covering their TE and the TE sets a pick for Matthews who is being covered by Harris.

Since the TE did a good job of acting like he was running a route, he does not get called for OPI. This gives Tyrod Taylor a receiver running free and he is able to get the ball over the head and hands of a leaping Justin Simmons for the the 28-yard catch and run. did not have a linkable video clip of this play or the next play which was the 28 yard completion to Clay.

If you want to blame anyone here you have to blame Parks for not communicating with Harris (some teams will switch up defenders on rub routes) and switching, presuming that is what our coaches want them to do. This is not the Harris’ fault even though “his” man makes the catch.

On the completion to Clay, the Broncos were playing zone to presumably prevent Taylor from running. Clay finds a hole in the zone Taylor hits him in stride with a nice throw. Marshall and Stewart are both in the area but neither can get there before the ball.

31-yd completion to Nick O’Leary

This was another play where I think that the coverage was OK, but it was just a good play by the offense. Buffalo lines up in a single back three TE set. We counter with nine in the box and a single high safety. Taylor play-action fakes to McCoy and then has time to wait for O’Leary to get down the field.

O’Leary basically gets a free release and is running past Parks when the fake handoff occurs. Parks is in trail coverage with O’Leary running a deep corner route and Taylor puts the ball in a great spot for Nick O’Leary to make the catch.

Taylor only had three receivers in the pattern on this play with the old high/low route concept on the defense’ right side and the other receiver running a skinny post on the other side of the field (in the middle essentially).

This is not really the fault of Will Parks. Taylor makes a good throw and O’Leary makes a nice catch. I’m not sure that there is anything the Parks could have done differently on this play.

20-yard catch and run (screen pass) to Jalen Richard

This was a play where the Broncos just got out-schemed. The Raiders are in a four WR set. Richard fakes into the line like he is going to block and releases crossing the QBs face while doing so. We are in our two-deep look from our dime package with three CBs and three safeties. Brandon Marshall is the single ILB.

In this still you see Marshal is trying to mirror Richard, but the center has released and is going to get in his way.

By the time Richard is getting the ball in the flat, the other Oakland receivers have cleared out and there are two offensive lineman to block Marshal who is the only Denver defender who recognizes the screen pass before it’s too late.

Richard, who is fast, catches this 5 yards behind the LOS and isn’t tackled until he is twenty yards beyond the LOS because there is a lot of green in front on him once the two offensive lineman block Marshall. This was good play design against a defense that runs man coverage most of the time. I’m not going to blame Marshall for this big play.

Johnny Holton’s 64-yd TD catch

This was the next play after the one above. The Raiders are again in the same four wide shotgun set with Richard closer to the line and offset this time. Holton is off of the line on the far right. The Broncos were showing four coverage guys on the that side (for their three receivers) and three on the other (for their two receivers).

Holton and the inside receiver cross. In the still below, Talib is off-screen and we look to be only rushing three (with Von Miller covering the FB who mostly stayed in to block him).

Somehow Holton gets released by Marshall and Parks (and Talib) leaving Stewart to try and stay with him down the field (not good). Harris and Roby are manned up with the two receivers on the defenses right. Derek Carr has plenty of time to throw in a nice pocket and delivers a beautiful throw which Holton pulls in over his shoulder for the huge TD catch.

Two passes to Jared Cook

The first pass was caught. The Raiders are back in that set with four wide and the RB standing next to the QB, although one of the players split out wide is their TE Jared Cook. The Broncos are telegraphing zone with six defenders lined up seven yards off the ball. Simmons is on the left hash (defense’ left) as the single high safety.

The Broncos rush four and are the Raiders have six to block them - Donald Penn and the RB are double teaming Von on the defense right. Cook is the inside receiver on the offense’ left. Marshall and Parks are in position to cover him, but Marshall does not drop with him into the zone as Cook gets deep. Near the bottom of the screen Talib is giving a huge cushion to the receiver (you can see his foot in the very bottom right hand corner).

You can see that neither Parks nor Marshall went with Cook. E.J. Manuel makes a nice throw to the ball their before Simmons can make up the ground, but one of the two defenders in the area really needed to get deep with Cook. So this is the fault of either Parks, Marshall (or both of them). You could argue that Park was double teaming the outside receiver, but it looks like he is focused on Cook and realized that he should have run with him in the still below.

It’s almost impossible for Simmons to get their before the ball to make a play since he is shading to the other side of the field to give Talib help over the top.

Now on to the TD that Jared Cook dropped. This time the Raiders are in an empty backfield set. Cook is the inner most receiver standing on the offense’ left. We are in two deep safety look from our dime package. All of our cover guys are playing off of the line giving the receivers free releases.

The Broncos rush four and drop seven, but Manuel has a good pocket (Barrett is starting to get close before he throws the ball). Parks is covering Cook.

Parks is trailing and Manuel makes a good throw. Stewart is closing from the top side and Cook gets scared of the potential hit causing him to alligator-arm the ball.

Okay, so you’ve seen the breakdown of the breakdowns. Do you think the Broncos pass defense is having more lapses this year than in the past two or three years?


Is the No Fly Zone playing worse than they have been in the past three years?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    (226 votes)
  • 24%
    (166 votes)
  • 7%
    Maybe - give reason in comments
    (50 votes)
  • 35%
    it’s too early to tell
    (247 votes)
689 votes total Vote Now