This is going to focus on pass blocking. In a few weeks if we are able to run the ball down the Chief’s throats, I will do one focusing on the run blocking.
The Jacksonville Jaguars were able to sack Marcus Mariota nine times and hit him an additional 13 times in their game against the Titans the week before they played the Denver Broncos. Calais Campbell was responsible for three of those sacks and five of those QB hits. So the Bronco OL was going to be facing a difficult challenge.
The Jags had zero sacks and only three QB hits in their victory over Denver on Sunday despite Joe Flacco dropping back to pass 38 times. Their 13 sacks as a team still rank them tied for 8th after four games despite getting zero against us. Their 27 total QB hits rank them tied for 9th. They were at or near the top of the league in both stats prior to playing Denver. The Jags had zero sacks and only 4 QB hits in their first game against KC and zero sacks and 3 QB hits in their last game against Denver. They sacked DeShaun Watson four times and hit him another seven times. So they can rush the passer fairly well despite not being as effective as the 2017 Jags were.
So how did our offensive line go from allowing six sacks and seven QB hits the week before against the Packers to allowing zero sacks and only three QB hits against the Jags? Let’s dig into the tape.
Notice that both JAX edge defenders are lined up wide. JAX rushes four. Watch Garett Bolles on this play. While he is still turning his shoulders more than I would like, he is delivering a punch with his right arm that slows the defender. He still gets knocked back, but he has a better job of resetting and re-engaging than he did in the first game.
Connor McGovern does a good job of feeling the NT to help Dalton Risner and when he realized that Risner did not need help, he doubles the DT with Ronald Leary. Elijah Wilkinson actually gets beaten fairly quickly because he gets pulled forward and off-balance after setting with a quick drop to make sure the DT was going to try and split him and Leary. He recovers enough to force the edge defender to “run the hump” and the ball is gone before he can get close to Joe Flacco.
This is the very next play - a 10 yard completion to Courtland Sutton on 3rd and 3. This was one of the three passes that Joe Flacco completed on 3rd down (he was 3/9). All three passes went for first downs. Again, both tackles have to protect against very wide alignments from the Jag edge defenders.
Bolles gets out of his stance well before Wilkinson and while he flails his arms initially he does get them in position to deliver a punch - which he does deliver. His punch arrests the momentum of the defender who tries to loop around to the inside, but the ball is already gone. Risner gets driven back, but McGovern comes to help and with Leary stymieing his defender, Flacco has fairly nice pocket. The only pressure comes from Wilkinson’s man who drives him almost back into Flacco’s lap before Elijah can reset and counter the bull rush.
This is the TD pass (screen pass to Noah Fant). Screen passes are a great way to help out a struggling offensive line since they make the defenders hesitate if they feel like they are beating the offensive lineman “too quickly”. Defenders who don’t hesitate end up running themselves out of the play. The timing and the deception has to be done well though, otherwise you can end up with a front-7 defender sniffing out the play and blowing it up, or you can end up with ineligible receivers downfield.
On this play the Jags are again aligned with both edge defenders wide. The LDT is over Bolles inside shoulder but is showing a slant towards Risner. This screen develops from a play-action fake to Phillip Lindsay. Bolles carries him man across the formation while the Fant initially appears that he is going to block the “backside” edge defender, but slips past him into the flat. Risner and McGovern break for the flat to get out in front of Fant. They are still within two yards of the LOS when the ball is released, so they were not illegally downfield as the announcer wrongly stated on the broadcast.
Remember it’s where the lineman are when the ball is thrown, not when it is caught. McGovern and Risner do decent jobs of blocking for Fant, but Fant makes this play work with his speed and ability to run through arm tackles.
This next play is the long incompletion targeting Emmanual Sanders on 3rd and 6. The Jags show five defenders who could blitz on the weakside and with Fant going in motion, there are only four blockers on that side (counting McGovern). This has to have Flacco thinking hot-read. The Jags do rush five. Bolles does a decent job on kicking out and back (to get in the path of the edge rusher who tried to beat him with an inside rush as part of a stunt with the slant-2 technique NT.
The two Jag defenders who rush towards Leary end up tripping each other which allows Leary to block both of them. Wilkinson does a good job on his guy and Freeman ends up with no one to block. Flacco has a nice clean pocket and plenty of time to find a receiver who is more open than Sanders, but he chooses to try and hit Sanders deep down the right sideline.
On this next play, the Jags have 8 in the box and we have Fant lined up behind the RT as an H-back on 2nd and 7. This looks like it might have been an RPO as Flacco turned the wrong way and play-faked to no one, so either he screwed up or Royce Freeman screwed up. The OL appears to be run blocking.
The defender who lined up over DaeSean Hamilton, comes on a slot corner blitz and Flacco either fails to see this or he did not want to try and hit Hamilton over the middle because of the LB in the throwing lane. QBs are taught to throw to the space vacated by the blitzing DB. This was one of the three hits that the Jags got on Flacco. The Jags only rushed five, but a blitz from a slot CB is almost always the responsibility of the QB to diagnose and counter. This pass is incomplete on the right sideline to Sutton. The rest of the protection on this play was pretty good.
This next play is on 2nd and 5 from the JAX 46. The play-action here does a good job of freezing the LBs and the blocking is solid which gives Flacco a clean pocket and plenty of time to find Sanders at the 28. Flacco places the ball really well giving Sanders a chance to run after the catch. This play was designed well and executed well by all eleven Broncos on the field - that is something I have not been able to say much in the past three or four seasons. Notice that Sanders is the only Bronco who is NOT in the tight shot from the All-22 film when the ball is thrown. The Broncos would score the next play (not shown).
This play above is 3rd and 8 at the DEN 9. The Jags are showing all out blitz and they bring six (#26, off-screen, comes on a delayed blitz). Bolles helps Risner with #94 and then kicks out to get #91 who was initially blocked by Fant. McGovern gets a hand on Myles Jack and then Freeman does a good job of picking him up. Leary and Wilkinson do a masterful job of handling the stunt between #93 and #41.
Flacco actually rushes the throw a little feeling pressure from the unblocked blitzing DB, #26. Flacco puts the ball just out of Sutton’s reach. Quarterbacks tend to get jittery when throwing from their own end zone so I can understand why Joe rushed this one with a DB breathing down his neck.
This next throw is on 1st and 10 from the DEN 47 with 6:55 left to play in the second quarter. The Broncos are lined up in a shotgun pro set with Lindsay on Flacco’s left and Freeman on his right. The Jags are in their base look. This past game was the first time where we used formations with both Freeman and Lindsay in on the same play.
The Jags rush five and Freeman runs a short post route while Lindsay stays in to block. Both tackles do a good job of engaging with their hands (punching instead of catching the defender). Flacco gets pressured a little by the defender that Wilkinson and Lindsay end up blocking and also somewhat by #95 who McGovern blocks.
This play is another successful screen pass. It follows the play directly above it. The Broncos have 2nd and 3 from the JAX 46 with 6:14 left in the second half. Denver has Andy Janovich lined up as the fullback in the offset I with Lindsay deep. Jano chips on the blitzing DB, #26, and then slips out into who appears to be a route. #91 is given a free release and realizes that this is a screen so he slows up and tries to redirect. Wilkinson does not do a very good job of getting between #95 and Lindsay which forces Lindsay to cut it back inside where he is taken down from the pursuit of a hustling #91, Yanick Ngakoue.
The announcers praised his hustle here and so will I. It’s not often you see a defensive end tackle a speedy RB from behind 7 yards down the field on a screen pass. If Ngakoue does not hustle and make this tackle, Lindsay takes this to the house.
On the next play in the sequence, the Jags get the second of their three hits on Flacco forcing him to throw this ball shorter than he wanted to on the fly route to Fant. This was 1st and 10 from the JAX 39. Denver is in a shotgun heavy bunch formation with two in-line TEs and a FB lined up in the tight slot on the strong side. Freeman is in the backfield. Their is only one Bronco not in the picture. Similarly JAX counters with nine in the box, expecting us to run the ball from this formation.
JAX rushes five and we have six to block them. Wilkinson and Leary end up doubling #94, but Wilkinson is too slow to react to the delayed blitz from #48 who ends up hitting Flacco just after (or just as) he releases the ball. I like Fant’s chances in a jump ball situation against the tall (but still shorter at 6-2) DB, Jarrod Wilson, but the throw ends up way short and Fant does not have chance to come back to it.
This will be the final play I review today. It’s the next one in this sequence, now 2nd and 10 from the JAX 39. Again the Broncos are in shotgun, but now we have a single in-line TE and and empty backfield. Flacco motions to a hot-read with a hand-signal audible (nice to see those again in Denver) and the Jags rush four.
Wilkinson has to deal with a very wide edge rusher who almost gets a hand on Flacco, while Bolles gets a more standard rush alignment in the edge defender who is lined up on Heuerman’s outside shoulder. Bolles does a good job of stopping the bull-rush. Leary easily handles his guy. McGovern and Risner double the other DT and handle him easily. Flacco has a relatively clean pocket to step into and hit Hamilton down the sideline for the 28-yard completion.
If you go back and read the sack analysis from game 3, you will see noticeable improvement in Bolles and Leary. I know that I only looked at the six sacks from game 3 and not the rest of the game, but I can tell from the analysis I did of Bolles specifically from the first and second games as well that he has improved.
How much has the OL improved since game 1?
This poll is closed
a tremendous amount
a marginal amount
only a little bit
not at all
I need more data to make my determination