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Tale of the Tape: Defending crossing routes

Taking a deep dive into one of the defense’s struggles from the Denver Broncos 16-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Well here we are. We finally have NFL football to talk about, specifically Broncos football.

Unfortunately, the outcome of Monday’s game was not what we hoped for, but we did finally get a chance to see the team in action and see what themes began to emerge from our first look at the Broncos this year.

Joe Rowles and I broke all of those down in our weekly podcast, Cover 2 Broncos so check that out above to hear our full takes on every we saw when re-watching the tape from Monday’s game.

What I hope to do in this series, though, is to drill down into on aspect of the game each week that I notice from watching the game film and really dig in deep.

While, there were plenty of positives to take away from Monday’s game, this week’s theme is on the negative side, of something that Denver has got to clean up moving forward.

The Killer Crossers

Last year, one of Denver’s biggest weaknesses on defense were deep over routes and crossing routes. A lot of it stemmed from miscommunication in a young secondary, so I really thought some of that would get cleaned up this year. I broke all that down earlier this offseason here.

Unfortunately, we saw the same Achilles heel rear it’s ugly head on Monday night, as the Titans repeatedly burned Denver on these plays.

Play #1

The first one, Denver plays it in man coverage with Callahan singled up on Corey Davis.

However, he also has underneath help from Josey Jewell, particularly for a play like this where it’s going to be difficult for the corner to follow the receiver all the way across the field on these type of routes.

The issue comes with the play action, where Jewell steps toward the line and doesn’t get depth quickly enough. He also is fooled by Tannehill’s eyes, which causes a false step to his right, allowing Davis to get past him and Bryce Callahan.

This is an area that Jewell will have to learn and improve in, dropping to his spot in zone and not allowing the QB’s eyes to get him out of position.

Play #2

The next one, Denver adjusted by bringing Simmons down over the middle in an attempt to cut these off. Simmons is initially in great position to play this, but gets a little behind and is playing it over the top instead of coming underneath this route.

I would like to see the corner on the side that Davis is running towards fall off that deep route, passing it to the safeties, and poach this crosser. Fangio has done something like that before with Kyle Fuller, and I think could be a good way to mitigate plays like this, particularly when there’s only two receivers out in a pattern.

Play #3 - Adjustment

Just a couple plays later, the Titans come back to this again. You’ll notice, though, that Simmons immediately jumps down into the path of the crosser and cuts him off. Tannehill nearly takes a sack because this is covered.

So the adjustment was a good one, and Denver was able to stop it this time. The key there was Simmons was on the opposite side of the crosser, so was able to cut it off, instead of playing chase the whole time.

Play #4

Unfortunately, the adjustment doesn’t work as well here, as Simmons got caught up in the play fake so he’s a little slow to react to Davis coming over the middle. Davis also probably got away with a little OPI that got Simmons off balance as he tried to stay with him.

I’m not a big fan of Denver just essentially clearing out and asking Simmons to run all over the field with the #1 receiver. Malik Reed is also at fault here, as he hangs Simmons out to dry a bit with no underneath help on the opposite side.

Reed has no coverage responsibility since his man stayed in to block, so he needs to bail and get depth as fast as he can to try and cut this route off.

Denver is literally getting beat with two-man routes, with five guys in coverage against them. Their distribution is just off and Tennessee exploited it all game.

Play #5

This one is on Malik Reed, as Kareem Jackson attempts to pass the receiver off to him at the end of the route, but Reed is out of position and not able to stay with him.

Play #6

This is just a heck of a play by Davis. Denver has it covered up well with Simmons underneath and Callahan over the top. He is double covered, and somehow still comes down with the ball.

I would have liked to see Simmons undercut this one a little bit more. He false steps at the top of the stem, so he isn’t able to stay underneath it and ends up trailing with Callahan, which allowed enough space for Davis.

Play #7

Had to finish on a good note. Kareem Jackson comes down in that robber role this time and plays it exactly how you would want him to. He undercuts the crosser and is able to get a hand on the pass to break up a crucial 3rd down play.

Summary

Overall, the Broncos attempted to adjust, but their adjustment put Justin Simmons squarely in the crosshairs, and he had a tough game as a result. I think they for sure need to coach up the LBs on the underneath coverage, and I expect Simmons to bounce back quickly from a rough week one. He didn’t play well at all, so I’m sure he’ll be looking for redemption against the Steelers.

Hope you enjoyed the first breakdown of the season. I’m hoping I don’t have to do another one on this topic, but something tells me we’ll be revisiting this defensive weakness at some point in the future.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!