Steve Atwater joined Broncos Country Tonight on Tuesday, and it was the rare conversation where the Hall-of-Famer wasn’t so optimistic about the Broncos in the final two games, knowing that they’ll still be short-handed in the secondary.
In those kinds of tough circumstances, the former safety noted how important it is for the line to get pressure on the quarterback to give defensive backs a break.
“Going into the game, safeties have to know they have to help out the corners, and communication has to be on point,” he said. “If you don’t have those things, and if you’re not getting pressure, guys will be covering super long and it’s going to be difficult regardless.”
Noting that the Broncos didn’t get much pressure on Josh Allen last week, Atwater said that’s what has to happen to give cornerbacks - especially young backups - a chance.
“When you blitz and bring pressure, the corners, the safeties, the guys on man-to-man can squat on routes and get a jump to make some plays,” he said. “But when guys have to cover for five, six, seven seconds, anything is possible for the offense - especially with an accurate quarterback like Josh Allen this week and Justin Herbert next week.”
Tim Jenkins filled in for Ryan Edwards with Benjamin Allbright, and as a former quarterback, Jenkins asked Atwater how it feels to see a play develop into a QB scramble.
You could almost hear the air leave Atwater’s lungs in that question.
“Facing a mobile quarterback drives you nuts because you can do everything right - the right call, the right protection, be in the right position - and then the quarterback scrambles and gets those first downs,” he acknowledged. “Those are the backbreaking plays that are really demoralizing when you’re in a game and battling. ...We love it when [quarterbacks] stay in the pocket and just try to beat us with their arm. One of things I hated the most was to see a quarterback take off running.”
John Elway told @philmilani he’s never seen one position group hit so hard by injuries like the Broncos have been at CB.— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) December 23, 2020
“It is what it is. There’s not a lot of excuses… We have to figure out ways to it”
With the Broncos still shorthanded in the secondary and facing a red-hot Justin Herbert this week, the assignment for rookie Michael Ojemudia and De’Vante Bausby gets no easier.
“It’s going to be tough when have corners who you weren’t counting on to be your starters - De’Vante Bausby and Ojemudia,” he said, adding that communication will be crucial. “In the secondary, if you can’t communicate well, it’s really difficult. Hopefully they’ll do a simplified defense, and Justin [Simmons] and Kareem [Jackson] can help the corners out.”
But what Atwater hopes to see primarily from the defense is intensity.
“I want to see scrappy play. Even if they’re doing the wrong thing, do it full speed,” Atwater laughed, recalling his year with the Jets when Bill Parcells used to say, “‘You may do the play wrong, but I want to see you hit somebody!’ “I want to see some intensity out there. Leave it all out on the field.”