I’ve talked about this a bit in the past, but I used to have a really hard time watching the Broncos defense. Anyone who was around for the tail end of the Mike Shanahan era or the Josh McDaniels error knows the defense reached historic lows. At one point they were competing with the winless Lions for worst defense ever charted by Football Outsiders. Broncos Country also tends to forget how heated the debate became about what Elway should do with his first draft pick, the second selection in the 2011 NFL draft. Some wanted Marcel Dareus, others wanted Patrick Peterson. The Duke selected Von Miller, who has obviously gone on to a Hall of Fame career thus far.
I share this because in many ways Von made defense fun again. Suddenly Elvis Dumervil wasn’t the sole focus of opposing protection schemes and the defense created enough pressure that Champ Bailey wasn’t forced to cover for an eternity. (It also helped that Chris Harris Jr. became a Bronco that same spring.)
Fast forward to this past offseason, and Phillip Lindsay has already started to make the same sort of impact for the Broncos offense. Since the zombie Peyton Manning 2015, Denver’s offense has been steady at its very best, but usually closer to a test in patience. Not so this year, with Lindsay’s game-breaking style completely altering the team’s identity. It remains to be seen if he can carry it forward, but his rookie season has been one of the more remarkable ones since I started watching football.
With his season coming to an end this week, now seemed a good time to look back on that special season.
First the runners up:
The Spin Cycle
I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good spin move, as a high school player I was the undersized linemen that got a thrill out of faking out our linebackers in ball carrier drills. Lindsay takes that to a whole other level against the Raiders, but displays the vision to find the cutback lane on an outside zone play and uses his footwork to make the most of it.
Both rookies do a good job here identifying and reacting to the Steelers blitz. Hamilton does enough to ruin the alter the pursuit angle so long as Lindsay cuts. Which he does, obviously.
The Redbird Romp
If you held a gun to my head and told me to put this as high as 7, I probably could. It was great run against an overmatched run defense, but one where Lindsay showed off all the things that make him a special player.
#10 The Bailey Carry
First: this was barely ten because Eric Murray was so late to the play he got called for an offsides that Vance Joseph declined. What makes it impressive though is the play of Allen Bailey, who beats a double team by Connor McGovern and Billy Turner to stop our hero for a 2-yard loss at the 3. Lindsay keeps churning his legs and carries the 6’4 285 lb Bailey into the endzone with him. Keep in mind that at this point in the year there are still concerns about giving the 5’8 190 lb rookie carries inside because of his diminutive stature. The Bailey Carry throws that notion on its head.
#9 Uncanny Patience
It’s kind of sucks to highlight the play that ended Lindsay’s season, but lost amid the Broncos disappointing loss to the Raiders was a really bright spot. The Monday Night Crew made note of it: the fact that Lindsay had the patience to slow down and let his block set up on this run is something that’s really hard to coach. There are many veterans that never learn this. Additionally, the Broncos rookie showed off his impressive stop-start acceleration to get through the hole once it was there.
#8 Tough run against the Texans
Against Houston’s stout front 7 most of Lindsay’s splash plays came on receptions, but this run up the middle on 1st down really shined. Much like the Bailey Carry above, the rookie shows off his toughness and ability to grind through contact.
#7 Rookie on Rookie crime
I wrote about this play way back in Week 2, but as you’ll notice in the play above noone floats over to Lindsay in the flat. Jeff Heuerman’s route occupies two Seattle Seahawks rookies: Tre Flowers and Shaquem Griffin. Lindsay finds himself an easy reception and open road to the endzone.
#6 The Slalom
It was obvious from very early on that Phillip Lindsay has special lateral mobility, but plays like this one really illustrate it. It still frustrates me that Bill Musgrave took the ball out of Linday and Freeman’s hands in the first Chiefs game.
#5 Breaking Ankles
Brian Peters of the Texans isn’t the most swift footed linebacker out there, but Lindsay makes a spoof out of him. In the end it takes 4 Texans to drag him down. Not bad for a reception that Case Keenum should have thrown to Emmanuel Sanders on the curl.
#4 - The Big Lead Draw
Those of you who have read GIF Horse all year knew I was really, really high on this run. The Lead Draw is a brilliant Musgrave staple he brought over from the Vikings and the Broncos offensive coordinator had used it beautifully in week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks with Royce Freeman. Week 2 was Lindsay’s opportunity to shine with it and it was the longest run of his career for 11 weeks.
So why isn’t this ranked higher? Two big reasons: scheme and opponent made this run. Sure Lindsay had to find the hole and accelerate through it and it’s doubtful Royce would have rumbled for 50+, but look at how long it took the Raiders to respond.
The Lead Draw was one of the more notorious plays Musgrave used in 2012 with Adrian Peterson, and for good reason. It takes pressure off the passing game by running out of what looks like a passing play. The offensive lines initial set is to drop as if to pass block, the QB sells the fake while both the fullback and runner begin to run a dive. It lessens the pressure on both halves of an offense when executed to perfection.
In the image above you’ll note that both of the Raiders safeties are dropping back to their deep half coverage. There is not a single linebacker reading up to fill a gap yet.
At this point the backers are defending the run, but Oakland’s safeties only just finished their drop and have begun working to the ball. With neither around the line of scrimmage Denver has a blocker for every defender, a numbers advantage for the offense.
By now Lindsay just has to run to daylight. Lindsay uses his angles to make it even harder for anyone to slow him down before the gashing run and that takes speed an athleticism, but Musgrave helped a lot.
#3 The Hollywood Duo Dash
If the Broncos do shake up the coaching staff this spring, my hope is the incoming offensive coordinator incorporates many of the same rushing concepts Bill Musgrave used this season. One of the big ones that Denver had a lot of success with was called “Duo,” something I covered at length before the season began.
Motion pre-snap forces the Chargers to declare and rotate their defense to strength.
Double team blocks inside effectively neutralized L.A.’s tackles and pushed them back into the second level. That gave Lindsay a crease to break into the secondary.
Lindsay finds the crease between center and right guard and he’s one on one with a safety. You almost feel bad for Jahleel Addae. Almost.
#2 The Toss Sweep Tuddy
The longest rush of Lindsay’s career to date is also the best offensive play by the Broncos offense this year. If you wanted to argue that it’s number one based on that fact, I wouldn’t disagree. It’s a special play where Garett Bolles and Courtland Sutton both make clutch blocks on the edge to spring the ball carrier.
On the snap Bolles is immediately pulling to get out into the open field. Sutton cracks down on the edge to keep the Bengals Michael Johnson from blowing the play up in the backfield.
While Lindsay’s still in the backfield here, it’s already clear that the third level is probably going to have to make the stop.
One reason open field runs often become a bit of a disaster in the NFL is how hard it is to maintain a block when defenders have time to get to full speed. Angles get weird which often means blocks in the back. Elijah Wilkinson does a great job keeping his head in front as he nudges his man. From there Lindsay turns on the 4.39 jets and sprints to daylight.
Because Lindsay is so good in the open field, Denver would be wise to try and incorporate more plays like the sweep next year to get into space. It’s the same rationale that led me to call for Musgrave to find ways to get Lindsay the ball through the air as the season wore on. He’s so dangerous one on one that if he can learn proper route running the sky is really the limit.
#1 The Stutter Step Plunge
I talked about this at length on Twitter back when it happened, but one of the things that really stands out on this play above many of the other amazing runs Phil had this year is how he made something out of nothing.
When Billy Turner falls down on his pull he forces Lindsay to slow down to a crawl and gives the Darqueze Dennard time to get into the backfield. For most that would have led to a tackle for a loss or at best, a minimal gain. Lindsay stutters back towards the left behind a block by Jared Veldheer and runs into the endzone untouched.
This kind of improvisation is what separates the good backs from guys like Barry Sanders. Now, it’s lofty to even mention Lindsay in the same breath but that’s what this kind of touchdown hints at. Even when the defense does everything right to bottle him up, he could still find a way with a sliver of daylight. Let’s hope his wrist heals up and he comes back stronger than ever next year Broncos Country.