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Broncos 3rd & long: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

NFL WEEK ONE “u2013 OAKLAND RAIDERS VS. DENVER BRONCOS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

The defense did okay on Sunday. Generally, when you hold a team to 16 points you win the game. Unfortunately for us, that presumes you have an average offense. The average NFL offense scored almost 20 points per game in 2018. Right now, the Denver Broncos have a below average offense.

In order for Denver’s defense to work, they need to be able to stop the run on first down. The Broncos were okay at that against the Oakland Raiders (48 yards on 14 first down carries - 3.4 ypc), but not so good against Chicago (89 yards on 15 first down carries - 5.9 ypc). Of course that number is inflated by the 46-yard run on first down, but their defense did surrender that 46-yard run, so we can’t just pretend that it didn’t happen.

If you leave out that run the Broncos allowed 43 yards on the other 14 first down runs - 3.1 ypc. So their opponents are getting 3 to 4 yards on first down runs so far against them, which allows opposing offenses to stay ahead of the chains. In the previous few years, Denver’s defense has generally been very good against the run on first down. I’m hoping that Todd Davis’ return will improve this since he is a major upgrade over Corey Nelson.

The 4.7 ypc that they are allowing so far on first down runs is 26th in the league. The Kansas City Chiefs are currently dead last allowing 7.4. The two teams that are leading the league in this stat, NE and BAL, have both played MIA so their numbers are invalid.

The Broncos also allowed the Bears to convert on 3 of 14 third downs. On 3rd and long they held Chicago to one of six and they should have stopped that one (Isaac Yiadom needs to learn how to tackle).

Isaac Yiadom is unable to tackle Trey Burton on 3rd and 8 leading to conversion and FG later.
Quarter Time Down To Go Location Detail Yds
1 8:25 3 9 CHI 26 Mitchell Trubisky pass incomplete deep right intended for Tarik Cohen (defended by Justin Simmons) 0
1 1:24 3 8 DEN 39 Mitchell Trubisky pass complete short right to Adam Shaheen for 9 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) 9
3 12:37 3 29 CHI 8 Mitchell Trubisky pass complete short right to Adam Shaheen for 6 yards (tackle by Josey Jewell) 6
4 12:52 3 8 CHI 27 Mitchell Trubisky pass incomplete short right intended for Trey Burton 0
4 3:45 3 8 CHI 25 Mitchell Trubisky pass complete short right to Allen Robinson for 3 yards (tackle by Justin Simmons) 3
4 0:13 3 10 CHI 45 Mitchell Trubisky pass incomplete short right intended for Tarik Cohen 0

Normally I focus on the defense, but I’m going to spend the majority of this article focusing on Garet Bolles. I played offensive line (albeit interior OL) in college. I was minimally skilled and had to rely mostly on technique and guile, so I spent plenty of time not playing in games. One thing that allowed me to do was watch how offensive tackles should play, because we had two very good OTs starting for most of my four seasons in college.

Below is a video showing how an offensive tackle should pass set against a wide speed rusher.

The critical points are spelled out here.

These are the things that formerly undrafted college free agent, Elijah Wilkinson, is doing and that Garet Bolles is not. I selected a random 3rd down passing play to see if it would be easy to tell the difference. Watch below and see if you can tell the difference between what our two tackles are doing on this play. Both are blocking above average or better pass rushers, Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack. Admittedly, Bolles has the more difficult task in blocking Mack.

You should notice that a couple of things, but the main one is that Wilkinson delivers a punch when Floyd gets to him while Bolles catches Mack. You can see Bolles get flat-footed and try to block Mack by leaning into him instead of trying to throw his hands “through the defenders chest.” Notice how wide Wilkinson’s base is (how far apart his feet are) relative to Bolles. Also notice that Elijah has his weight back so that he can punch and stop the defender’s momentum. Bolles can not.

Bolles does not bear-hug or neck-bar the defender on this play, so I guess it is a positive, but Mack still ends up hitting Joe Flacco on the play and possibly affecting the accuracy of the throw by rushing the QB a bit.

Now let’s watch one the sack the Noah Fant allowed when trying to block Mack. Bolles gets beaten on this play and Floyd would have gotten the sack if Mack didn’t get there first. This is on 2nd and 6 and the Broncos are running play action, so Bolles is trying to act like he is reach-blocking on the OLB.

Bolles again tries to catch the defender instead of punching him. This allows Floyd to get his hands into Bolles’ chest and pull him off-balance and to Floyd’s right. That creates a lane to the QB. Fant gets beaten quicker than Bolles, but Rich Scangerello should not be calling plays that have our rookie TE (or any TE) trying to block one of the best pass rushers in the league by himself.