Not since that one first round QB from Florida has a Denver first round pick been as scrutinized and agonized over as first round left tackle Garett Bolles. Since coming into the league, Bolles has been one of the top offensive lineman in holding penalties and has routinely failed to live up the Broncos organization and fans’ expectations.
Last season, after Drew Lock was inserted into the lineup, there were rumblings amongst the media and fanbase that Bolles had turned a corner and finally begun to show improvement.
However, Joe Rowles, Joe Mahoney, and Jeff Essary all got together and studied Bolles’ tape from the last four years to break down why that wasn’t necessarily the case, even though his holding calls had been reduced.
If you want to refresh or catch up on those conversations, you can check them out here at the handy links below:
However, once this year was underway and Bolles began to put a couple games on tape, it was clear that this season was different than the previous ones. He actually looked to be showing not only improvement in results (less holding calls + fewer sacks), but his technique looked much better as well.
We have begun to document that so far this season over the first few games, already on the site. A couple of those pieces are also below for you to check out.
With all that said, since we are in a “bye week” we decided to get the Joes and Jeff back together again for this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos and really deep dive into Bolles’ tape to break down how he’s looked game by game, in an effort to pair both data and video analysis to see if Bolles looks better now than he did when we studied him last time.
So let’s start with the stats, insofar as there are any stats for offensive linemen. The penalty data is from NFLpenalties.com and the sack data (and the grade) is from profootballfocus.com
After review, it’s almost impossible to deny that Bolles has been Denver’s best offensive lineman so far this season. According to PFF, he has only allowed one QB pressure (although Joe Mahoney’s analysis shows he has allowed more - see the pass protection article from the Pittsburgh game linked above).
Regardless, Bolles has for sure improved on paper so far this season, as he has only had one accepted penalty against him.
To review from our prior analysis, Bolles’ main problems during his first three NFL seasons came from his hips, his feet, and his hands. Too often on vertical pass sets he would turn his hips and create a lane for the edge defender to get straight to the QB. He also had a problem with keeping his base wide (making sure his feet didn’t get too close together which would put him off-balance).
His hand placement (and his punch in general) was poor and generally ineffective at jolting the the edge defender which is what is needed to redirect and/or slow their rush. He also showed little “advanced hand techniques” during his first three seasons.
What follows below is our thoughts on a few plays taken out of each game that we feel represent a larger body of the work we saw on tape.
We’re going to take this chronologically so here’s some clips from game one of this season vs the Titans.
Joe M. - facing a wide-9 who is standing up, Bolles has to also account for Jadeveon Clowney who is lined up on his inside shoulder as well as #53. He keeps his base wide and his arms wide with his eyes on both defenders. Clowney commits to rushing over Dalton Risner (and whips him), so that Bolles can focus on the OLB. Bolles initially lets the OLB get his hand on his frame, but then does of good job of resetting his hands and getting them on the frame of the OLB. This is something that he did not do often in previous years.
Jeff - Joe already mentioned it, but I like the way Bolles resets his hands and doesn’t panic when the defender gets into his body. His pass set spot is also much better than what we typically have seen from him, as he’s maintaining half-man and not swinging his hips open wide after his first kick-step to give up the edge.
Jeff - Clowney is more a pure power rusher than a nuanced hand fighter, but he packs a pretty good punch, so the fact that Bolles is able to stymie his rush here is impressive. This type of punch and strength from his punch was pretty much non-existent from his ‘17 - ‘19 tape.
Joe R. - At the snap 24 makes a step and quickly falls off. It’s during Bolles’ initial kick and he clearly sees it. With that in mind, I really love how Bolles uses his right hand on the punch while keeping his left down. He’s guiding Clowney around the edge rather than give him any reason to dive inside where it’d be a tougher block for Royce Freeman.
3rd and 20 from PIT 39
Joe M. - This was a terrible play call, Bolles does a good job of using his quickness to cut off the angle of #48. Cushenberry has to wait and help on #55 and this makes it impossible for him to get anything on #97 who blasts Driskell.
Joe R. - Why the heck are the Broncos running a play action pass on 3rd and 20? Every other issue I have with anything on this third down is second to that.
As far as the play itself: pulling Dalton Risner leaves Lloyd Cushenberry in a situation where he has to hold his backside gap and still slide to pick up #97 and the way Bolles steps in before swinging his hips to meet Bud Dupree helps with that. It also makes the ensuing block that much harder. Dupree uses the extra space to open up and Bolles has to lunge to drive him past the pocket. Good on him, he did it.
Jeff - Ya, this is less about Bolles and more just a failure all around. He shows his quickness and athleticism to at least push the edge rusher around the QB.
3rd and Goal from 10 vs PIT
Joe M. - Bolles has to account for #97 and #48. When #97 stunts, Bolles does a good job of quickly picking up #48. Driskell drifts back in the pocket and drifts right in the rushing lane. Bolles’ man ends up with the QB hit, but Driskell would not have been hit had he stepped up in the pocket here.
Joe R. - Keith Butler does a good job of forcing conflicts in pass protection. Bolles has to respect the lineman across from him and he’s the only blocker who can account for Bud Dupree out of a wide 9 technique on the edge.
I like Bolles’ kickslide here and while throwing his right hand to punch forces him to turn his hips to stay on Dupree, if he punches with his left he leaves himself susceptible to a blow by at that angle. I also like where his punch lands right on Dupree’s breast plate. At that point the Steelers’ edge twists to try and swing his right arm around and set up a rip move. Bolles is a hair late getting his left hand up, which is why Dupree gets past him.
That said, Driskel steps up and this is a fly by.
Jeff - Agree on both accounts. Driskel needs to step up, but technique-wise this shows that Bolles still is falling back into his old habits a bit on his hips. Honestly, I’m impressed he at least let go of the defender and just attempted to push him around the QB once he was beaten. In the past, this has been the classic Bolles holding call where he’ll latch onto the defender’s neck as he goes by.
1st and 10 from DEN 25 vs PIT 2Q 39 seconds to play
Joe M. - This was an obvious passing situation because of the clock. Bolles maintains his angle to guard against both the inside and the outside move. When #92 commits to the outside move, Bolles uses his left and right hands to punch and redirect the defender. He gains space with his punch and this space allows him to partially defeat the LH rip/swim move from the defender. Had he turned as much as he used to in past years, the rip/swim would have allowed the defender an inside lane to the QB.
Joe R. - I concur.
Jeff - This will be a recurring theme, but I think his hands and punch has been what’s improved the most about Bolles’ technique. He’s showing a power in his hands and timing in his punches that we have not seen from him previously. Love seeing it here.
3rd and 8 from PIT 39
Joe M. - This was well done by the entire OL. Driskell’s accuracy here costs the Broncos YAC. If he hits the receiver in stride there are at least 10 more yards to be gained on this play. Throwing it behind the receiver makes this a much more difficult catch and allows the defender to close and make the tackle right after the catch.
Joe R. - Dalton Risner’s had a ton of issues picking up stunts this year. One reason it works out here is how Dupree’s so wide it gives Risner more time to drop his initial assignment to pick it up.
As for Bolles, couldn’t draw it up better.
Jeff - Agree, Bolles sees it and starts picking up Risner’s defender even before the looper finishes, so Risner has time to come off and pick him up. Well done.
3rd and 2 from PIT 15 late in 4th Quarter
Joe M. - Because of the time left this was an obvious passing down. Bolles does a poor job here with his punch. This allows the defender to get into his chest and push him back into the lap of the QB. Bolles’ man ends up hitting the QB which leads to the incompletion. Elijah Wilkinson’s man also ends up hitting the QB.
Joe R. - I think Bolles is keeping his eyes on Vince Williams (98) just a split second too long here. It forces him to have to try and catch up to Dupree, which throws off the timing of his punch and he’s caught with his weight on his right foot as Dupree dips towards his left.
Jeff - This is a tough rep. Bolles doesn’t totally open up like in the past, but his punch is just a little late and not enough to redirect the rusher. Regardless, Driskel has a pocket to step into and just doesn’t. (Also, how about some love for Cushenberry dumping his guy past the QB).
3rd and 7 from DEN 28 1Q TB
Joe R. - I like how Bolles uses his left hand here. Never gives the edge room to plant and dip.
Jeff - Great callout, Joe. Love the left hand, and the pass set is so much more controlled and on point than we’ve seen in the past. No panic or opening the hips early.
2nd and 8 DEN 27 2Q TB game
Joe R. - Bolles’ first responsibility here is to make sure his B-gap is secure, which is why his first step is towards Risner before sliding out. It makes him a tad behind the edge, but he again uses his left hand to prevent the edge from dipping towards Driskel.
Jeff - This is what can happen when you don’t drift backwards, Driskel - but I digress. Nice recovery and quick feet by Bolles to help Risner and then book it out to the edge to push the rusher by.
2nd and 1 DEN 34 2Q TB
Jeff - I tweeted about this one after the game. Great stuff. More, please!
Joe R. - If you’re scoring at home, how Bolles clubs the edge is an area where there’s really obvious growth since Munchak became head coach.
2nd and 20 DEN 26 2Q 2 min TB game
Jeff - Hands get a little outside the rushers frame to start, but nice job resetting both hands and feet once engaged. Strong right hand as well throughout. Good rep.
Snatch/Trap technique - called for holding.
Joe M. - Remember those “advanced handfighting techniques” that I mentioned earlier? This is one of them. This is called the snap/trap technique in which the offensive lineman uses the defender’s momentum to pull him down and make him faceplant. This is done by catching and/or swatting the hands of the defender down such that is causes the defender to fall forward.
This is a textbook example of the technique from Bolles and it should not have been called holding. The only thing that Bolles could have done better is to not “bury” the defender - should have just pushed him down and stood over him to make sure he didn’t get up . Burying them can often lead to holding calls.
Jeff - This is reason #1 why you don’t just look at penalty stats. This is probably my favorite play from Bolles this season and it’s a holding call. To Joe’s point, it never should’ve been called. Tyron Smith and other OTs do this all the time. I’ve watched a lot of Bolles tape and have never seen him attempt this move. I love seeing it here. Munchak’s coaching on display.
3rd and 4 from the DEN 34 1Q vs NYJ
Joe M. - Bolles does a good job of staying square so that he can pick up the DE who is rushing his outside shoulder since #54 who was lined up over him drops into coverage.
Jeff - Again, nice strong punch. He’s consistently improved his punch strength and timing this season.
2nd 11 at the NYJ 44 1Q
Joe R. - Worth noting: By this point in the game Bryce Huff’s given Risner some issues.
Joe M. - Bolles has to help with #47 and them get to his drop point to take the blitzing DB, #20. Bolles doesn’t do much to help Risner, but he does enough to allow Risner to force #47 deep enough that he mostly misses Brett Rypien. Had Rypien drifted backward in the pocket here, he would have drifted into a sack. Driskell was doing a lot of Siemian-esque backward picket drift during his dropbacks.
Jeff - I disagree (I think). Bolles starts out looking to give help and then has to come off to pick up the DB on the edge. I guess he could’ve given a punch or something to help a little more, but I think this one’s on Risner and Bolles did his job.
3rd and 3 from DEN 37 2Q NYJ
Joe M. - Bolles has to be cognizant of four defenders who could rush his area. He ends up having to take the DE, Bryce Huff. Notice he steps toward Risner initially to secure the inside gap in case the LB comes to his inside lane. He still has the quickness and the technique to recover and push the defender deeper than the QB, i.e., he makes him run the hump. Risner misses on the switch and Quinnen Williams drills Rypien (flagged for roughing IIRC).
Jeff - Ya, Bolles was looking to give help nearly every play this game. Nice job from him. We’ve seen this a few times already where he’s athletic enough to step up and help the LG, and then still recover to run the edge around the arc.
3rd and 7 at DEN 28 2Q NYJ
Joe M. - One this third and long, the Jets have nine defenders close enough to the line to rush the passer. Bolles actually makes a poor decision in letting Jordan Willis go after he initially blocks him. Both he and Melvin Gordon end up blocking the defensive back who blitzes. Jordan Willis does not continue towards the QB (not sure why), so Bolles’ mistake does not hurt here. Rypien makes a really nice down throw down the right sideline into tight man coverage.
Jeff - Jets continued to bring the house, and Bolles + Gordon do a nice job picking up three rushers here.
Thanks for hanging with us, and hope you enjoyed the breakdown. It’s encouraging to see what looks like the clear fingerprints of Mike Munchak’s coaching on Garett Bolles’ tape; and credit to Bolles for taking the coaching and applying it to his game.
While it’s still not perfect, his technique is drastically better than what we have seen over the last few years, and he finally is beginning to look like the first round left tackle Denver drafted him to be.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!