Normally playing 92% of your team’s defensive snaps and leading the team in tackles with 100+ total tackles would be counted as a good year for an NFL linebacker. Yet, I (and I think most of Broncos Country would agree with me) would argue that Brandon Marshall had a pretty down year last season.
We’ll get into why down below in our next installment of the 90-man roster review.
Name: Brandon Marshall
Position: Inside Linebacker
Weight: 250 lbs*
Experience: 7th Season
We’ll start with the struggles first before moving into the silver linings. Two big factors contributed to Marshall’s down year - injuries and struggles in pass coverage. Pro Football Focus agrees that Marshall had a rough year as he checked in with a 54.6 overall grade, his first grade under 84 since 2013.
This was also the first year he scored a negative pass coverage grade, as he was always solid to very good in that area in years past. While PFF grades are certainly not the whole story, they grade pretty consistently year to year, so seeing his pass coverage grade drop off drastically aligns with what we all saw this past year - Marshall struggled in the passing game.
A few months ago I tracked every touchdown the Denver safeties and linebackers gave up last year and Brandon Marshall was responsible for two touchdowns given up directly in his coverage (potentially three if we are being really picky).
Results from the blame game:— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) March 28, 2018
Will Parks - 4 TDs
Darian Stewart - 3 TDs
Brandon Marshall - 2TDs
Todd Davis - 2TDs
Justin Simmons - 2TDs
Aqib Talib - 1TD
Von Miller - 1TD
Roby/Harris - 1TD
Film study dropping soon on @MileHighReport pic.twitter.com/hxHdqmbnb3
Some of this may be due to scheme, as Denver shifted Todd Davis into more of an attacking mode, which led to Marshall being left to clean things up in coverage, but Marshall also had issues one-on-one as he gave up a touchdown in the flat to a running back, as well as split out wide on a tight end.
Being on the field for 92% of the snaps means Marshall was the team’s primary sub-package linebacker, which also means he must prove that last year was an anomaly and he can bounce back to stronger pass coverage numbers that he has shown throughout his career.
Part of that bouncing back will be dependent on Marshall staying healthy. While he didn’t miss a lot of significant time, he played through a torn rotator cuff for most of the 2017 season, which shows incredible toughness, but also could explain the down year.
ILB Brandon Marshall said he has been playing with torn right rotator cuff since week 4. Led team in tackles all year and again Sunday with 9. “I just pushed through for my team,” he said. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) December 24, 2017
I have already mentioned the high snap count, 100+ tackles, and the fact that he did all of this while playing hurt shows the kind of player and teammate he is. Guys like Harris, Marshall, and Wolfe are key homegrown leaders on the Broncos defense.
Marshall also showed a knack for making savvy, veteran plays. He got a nice strip sack against the Jets by timing up his “green dog” blitz just right to surprise the quarterback. He saw his man in coverage stayed home to block, and as soon as his man committed to another gap, he shot through for the sack.
Todd Davis gets ripped for his coverage, but he and Marshall do a great job communicating and switching on the TE pick route. Its Marshall's man, but they swap mid-play due to the pick. Allows Von to get sack. Won't show up on stat sheet, but Von should thank Davis for the sack pic.twitter.com/6jccsx1ez9— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) September 29, 2017
Marshall also worked nicely in tandem with Todd Davis, not only in the run game but in the passing game, like the above clip. Their chemistry together was much improved this year over 2016.
Lastly, Marshall seems to be committed to losing weight this off-season in order to be leaner and faster. He has slimmed down to 225 so far, and is hoping to work on building more strength during the five-week hiatus.
When asked about if his off-season regimen was about being able to better cover running backs, he replied:
Everything. Tight ends—tight ends run 4.5. I just want to be able to move more efficiently. I just want to be more disciplined. I just try to be a more disciplined person in my whole life, not just what I eat, but with everything. I make my bed every morning now (laughing). I do things as a routine to become more disciplined just in life. I’m down to about 232 [pounds] from 238. I’m trying to get down to 227.”
He reported a few weeks later that he had trimmed all the way down to 225.
“Yeah, I’m trying to lose it. I’m doing it on purpose. I want to be able to move more efficiently. I want to be able to feel better on the field. I want to have less body fat. I think that’s important. I could be 240, but if I’ve got a lot of body fat it’s just going to slow me down. I want to get down. In these next five weeks while I’m off, I can focus on my strength training and build muscle. I want to just lose the fat and be stronger, leaner and more effective.”
Some may be worried about Marshall losing too much weight, but Defensive Coordinator, Joe Woods did not seem bothered by it.
“I think at this time some guys come in heavy, some guys come in light. They work it off or they put weight on during the off-season. Brandon Marshall, to me, is moving extremely well. I’ve watched him all through Phase 2 drills and so far in OTAs. To me, he’s moving more like he moved in 2015. I think he’s doing really well.”
Marshall is entering a critical year as his contract escalates to the highest APY cap hit of his deal, and the dead money drops off significantly, making him a potential cut candidate if he has another down season. Hopefully he is able to regain his previous form, and stay healthy this upcoming year.
While Denver has acquired some new faces in Su’a Cravens and Josey Jewell that will potentially play beside Marshall at times, they will rely on him to carry the heavy load again in the middle of that defense. If his off-season training pays off, he seems well up to the task.