It always hurts going back and watching the tape on a game like this. There’s a reason on blowout losses, coaches sometimes won’t even watch the tape, because at some point it just isn’t productive, as the team was just playing horrible all-around as opposed to a specific issue.
This game feels close to that, but there are still some takeaways that we can glean from this game moving forward.
As you might expect when a defense gives up 300+ yards on the ground and 34 points, that’s where we’ll focus most of our energy today.
Vance Joseph summed it up pretty well on Monday:
In this league, it takes four to five plays and the game’s really shot, and yesterday, we gave up three plays on defense that really affected the game early. It kind of put it out of reach early on us.
So let’s dive into it. It’s going to be ugly.
We’ll start with the passing game. New York scored touchdowns on three big plays within a ten minute span in the second quarter that essentially ended the game right then. Two of those plays were big passes to Robby Anderson, with Bradley Roby in coverage.
Here’s the first one. This is 3rd and 9, and the Jets go max protect, keeping both wing players in to block and sending only three receivers out in patterns. This formation should be an alert right away to the defense that they could see something deep.
Denver plays man coverage on the outside with Stewart shading to the two-receiver side as the single high safety, which is very common. This essentially is going to leave Roby 1-on-1 with Anderson. However, he has Justin Simmons playing a bit of a robber role on the inside to take away a potential slant or inside breaking route.
So here’s how this develops. Anderson stutter steps close to the sticks, so both Roby and Simmons bite up to take away the first down throw. Remember, this is on 3rd and 9.
Additionally, what have we heard for the majority of the season from not only the fans, but the head coach? The defensive backs need to play more aggressive, and we are giving up way too many easy plays, especially on 3rd down. Bradley Roby got cooked by the Raiders for this exact thing, playing off on 3rd down and allowing Amari Cooper to catch it right at the sticks.
So Denver has a strategy in place to counter that. They have Simmons taking away the inside, giving Roby help, but that has to be on his mind as he bites on the potential out route.
It’s a really tough place to be. The Jets knew Denver would play Stewart to the two-receiver side, because that’s what we typically do, they also knew Denver has been burned a lot by routes to the sticks on 3rd down, and the head coach has publicly called out that they need to play tighter on those. So they drew up the perfect play to beat it.
Roby should trust his inside help and play the deep responsibility since he has no help over the top so this is absolutely on him, but he was also put in a tough situation given the history of the last few weeks, and the Jets completely exploited it.
Chalk this one up to the opponent coaching staff reading the Broncos like a book, and calling the perfect play to beat it, mixed with Roby having poor technique and biting on the fake.
This theme has emerged throughout my study of the team for the last several weeks. I know there is a lot of ire being directed at the coaching staff for failure to make adjustments, and I think there’s a general sense by the fans that they are incapable of making adjustments.
However, from what I have seen, they are making adjustments and often they are good ones, they are just either a) late to the party with them, b) the players don’t execute correctly, or c) the other team anticipates the adjustments and counters them.
That doesn’t excuse the coaching staff at all, but I think it’s an important nuance to the discussion. They are legitimately trying to correct the errors that we all see on the field, it just isn’t working at times for one of the above reasons.
Onto the second Roby play. Jets are again in max protect and run vertical routes on either side.
Denver is in single high coverage again, so Darnold knows the safety will have to pick which route to cover.
Here, I want to highlight the difference in how Adam Jones is playing the route at the bottom of the image, with how Roby is playing it. Jones immediately gets his hands on the receiver and stays in phase throughout his route, while Roby is playing off.
I know it’s slightly different since Roby is on the wide side of the field and has more route options to defend, but I would like to see him play this more like Jones did.
Darnold briefly looks off Stewart, causing him to commit to the right side, and once his hips are turned, it’s an easy decision for Darnold.
I’m a little baffled why Stewart or the coaching staff didn’t cheat over to Anderson’s side since he literally just beat them over the top a few plays ago, and is the lone deep threat for New York.
Stewart winds up in no man’s land after Darnold manipulated him into taking a false step.
I know man free is Denver’s defensive identity, but I wouldn’t be sad at all if we moved away from that given our current personnel. They just haven’t had a lot of success with it and teams are exploiting it.
Roby should have played this better, and didn’t play well at all in this game, but this is also a perfect throw from Darnold. Like, a couldn’t put it in a better spot throw (sigh I wonder what that’s like).
Now, onto the run game! This was the second of the three big plays Denver gave up in the 3rd quarter.
Here’s the look pre-snap. Denver is in nickel defense. Below is my best shot at gap assignments for the play, knowing that the corners don’t technically have run responsibilities in terms of fitting the run initially.
It looks as though this is an inside zone run. Wolfe (95) and Harris (96) get doubled at the snap, and here’s where I’m not quite sure on responsibility. Simmons immediately comes up to fill the B-gap as Wolfe is driven out of it with the double team. It seems as though Jewell should fill here, so Simmons can maintain outside contain and Wolfe is essentially switching gaps with him.
Without knowing the call, I’m not sure who has responsibility for the B-gap, but Simmons comes flying in to help close it, which allows the receiver to easily crack him inside, cutting off the edge. If that was the correct gap and Simmons isn’t the force man, then Chubb needs to set the edge and take away the outside. He’s not really taking a gap at all right now.
As Crowell cuts it outside, Jewell is caught up inside, Simmons is pinned inside by the receiver, and Chubb isn’t setting a hard edge, allowing Crowell to bounce outside with ease.
Up to this point, there have been assignment errors by the players, but it is still a marginal gain if the secondary wraps up. This is what changes this play from a bad one to a horrendous one. Harris, Roby, and Stewart should all be embarrassed for the angle they take and poor tackling.
This one is all on the players and poor execution, in my opinion.
Here’s another big run the Jets had in this game. This is, again, my attempt at gap assignments. This is how Denver initially lined up for the play. However, the Jets motion their receiver (#81) across the formation.
This causes the linebackers to shift to account for this. Typically what would happen, is Stewart who is on the two-receiver side would now move up and take the single high role, and Simmons would come down and fit the run on the left side. At least that’s what the linebackers expected would happen, based on their shift.
However, there was miscommunication, as Stewart stays low and is trying to communicate before the snap to figure out what’s going on, and it’s too late. No one is covering the C-gap off the left tackle.
Stewart makes an attempt to come across the formation to cover the gap, and should have made the tackle, but missed. So a miscommunication that would have resulted in a decent gain, turns into a huge gain.
To be fair, that’s a tough tackle to make, and the play was really caused by no one being responsible for that area.
This one shares similarities with the two above. Initially, here is the alignment pre-snap. Presumably, Justin Simmons (#31) has the edge.
However, the Jets motion one of their tight ends across the formation which causes Simmons to follow since he is in man coverage. So who has the edge now? Great question. Perhaps Todd Davis?
Chubb crashes inside, and Davis scrapes outside, but is met by a pulling guard. I’m not sure what Marshall is doing here. He moves up at the snap like he is going to shoot one of the gaps, but ends up running into Shelby Harris and not taking either gap. If he shoots the A-gap, he might have stopped this play in its tracks.
Instead, Davis somewhat takes the edge, but isn’t in a position to set it properly, and everyone is caught up inside, again.
This is another example of the Jets using motion pre-snap and Denver not adjusting their run fits in time.
So there you have it. Hopefully some explanation as to not only what happened on the big plays, but a bit of why they happened.
I really didn’t see any glaring schematic flaw that caused Denver to give up so many big plays, it was mainly poor execution and communication, mixed with good play-calling by the Jets.
At some point, though, you can’t continue to tip your cap to the other team and say they had a great plan. You have to admit you’re getting outcoached/outplayed and do something about it, which is why we are seeing frustration across the board from the fans and the team. There isn’t just one glaring flaw (at least on the defensive side) that if they fixed it, they would be better. It’s a ripple effect of small things adding up to big plays.
Lastly, since we have focused on the defense for this breakdown, I have to point out this drive chart, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
Yes, the defense gave up big plays early on which put the team in a tough spot, but we can’t talk about last week without mentioning the fact that the defense forced two turnovers and made some key stops, and the offense was unable to do anything with the ball until garbage time.
I believe the errors on defense from this past game are absolutely fixable.
However, in my opinion, there isn’t a magic bullet for this team right now, Broncos Country. Not firing a coach, not switching play-callers, not switching quarterbacks, or benching someone on defense. The team is failing in numerous facets, and it will take improvement in numerous facets to climb out of it.