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Broncos Film Review: Offensive line against the Vikings’ blitz

Russell Wilson was great against the blitz against the Minnesota Vikings. Did the offensive line help with that?

Minnesota Vikings v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos had one of their most successful games of the season through the air against the Minnesota Vikings. This included being able to handle all of the blitzes that Minnesota threw at them. Wilson finished the game 10/15 passing against the blitz with 126 yards, one touchdown, and zero interceptions.

But the question I’m asking here is if it was Wilson that beat the blitz in spite of the offensive line’s ability to pick it up, or if the line was able to contribute to the success of Wilson. I’ve broken down every one of those plays and here is the result of my film review.

The big picture

The Vikings heavily utilized the blitz over the course of the game and regularly switched up their pass rush sets. They would rush three or four men most often when they weren’t blitzing, but when they did blitz they sent four or five most often. Out of their 15 blitzes they sent seven men three times, six men five times, five men once, and four men six times. Out of these fifteen blitzes the line gave Wilson nine clean pockets but gave up three pressures, two QB hits, and one sack.

Grade-wise, I gave the offensive line four “great” blocks, eight “good” blocks, two “meh” blocks, and one “bad” block. This is good enough for a score of 14 points or 93%. The offensive line held up against the blitz way better than I thought they did. And although Wilson did absorb an early sack and was hit pretty hard a couple of times, they picked up the blitz in ways that were smart and effective, and we’ll take a look at a handful of plays to further break down.

In a general sense, what the line did well was correctly determine who was blocking whom and they kept their eyes downfield when possible to pick up the delayed blitz. The Vikings did them a favor as they mostly just put their rushers on the line of scrimmage, but even the overwhelming amount of numbers hardly resulted in pressures.

The great

Above is one of the many times during the game in which the Vikings faked a certain pressure look and then brought something different.

You can see Minnesota put four rushers on the line of scrimmage and then also bring an inside linebacker. The edge rusher on the top of the screen takes a couple of steps and then backs off into coverage while the defensive tackle on the top then adjusts his rush to outside contain since the inside linebacker comes to rush the left A gap. This isn’t the most complicated of schemes to pick up, but still, the offensive line does a good job adjusting to the post-snap changes and giving Wilson a clean pocket to throw from.

The left side in particular does a good job of sliding to the left and picking up the rusher to their outside gap. It ends up being up to Lloyd Cushenberry to pick up the blitzing backer and he handles the rush well. He does get pushed back initially, but he does a good job of recovering his base by getting his feet behind him, and then he drives forward and gets his hips underneath him. Quinn Meinerz does a good job of picking up the stunting interior defensive lineman and handles him easily. Bolles does his thing at the top of the screen and prevents the defender from working back inside off of a secondary pass rush.

Overall, the offensive line gave Wilson tons of space in the pocket and picked the blitz up in near-perfect fashion.

The good

Here is an example of one of the six-man rushes that the Vikings brought over the course of the game. They had all six rushers on the line of scrimmage and didn’t worry about trying to disguise the rush. Each rusher will be taking one of the six available gaps, and in this case, they are just rushing the gap they are aligned on.

There are six gaps that the offensive line is possibly responsible for on any given play. There is the A, B, and C gaps on either side of the line. And luckily in this play, the running back was aiding in pass protection, so Denver had a man for every rusher. One of the key pieces on this blitz pick-up is what the right tackle Mike McGlinchey does. He has to make the choice to take the C-gap rusher or to take the B-gap rusher. Either way, one of those two rushers was going to be left for the running back to pick up.

In this case, McGlinchey makes the right decision, which is to take the inside rusher and leave the outside rusher for the running back. The rule of thumb for the offensive line in pass protection is to take the inside man first.

Everyone does a solid job and everyone cleanly picks up one of the rushers; the only thing I don’t love about this play is how compressed the pocket gets because of the tackles getting pushed toward the center. Besides that though, everything done here was near textbook.

The meh

Here is one of the seven-man pressures that the Vikings used. Like they did most of the game, every player is lined up in the gap that they’ll be rushing. One difference between this rush and the six-man that I previously showed is that two defenders will be rushing the left C gap instead of just one.

Since there are seven pass rushers and only the line and the running back, that means that one rusher will be going untouched. This is something that both the line and Russell Wilson recognize. Now on this play the Broncos actually pick up everyone that they can, and then they make solid blocks on the men that they pick up. The reason I deemed it just a “meh” block though is because of who they picked up.

Preferably, I would have had Ben Powers pick up the left A gap rusher, Bolles would pick up the left B gap rusher, and then Perine blocks the first man outside of Bolles. This means that they would be leaving the outer-most rusher untouched. I would prefer this because it would’ve given Wilson more time to get the pass off, and likely he wouldn't have been hit like that. Good blocking on this play, but the details could have been done better.

The bad

This is the only sack that the Broncos gave up against the Blitz on Sunday. And the culprit of this ends up being Garret Bolles. The Vikings run a simple six-man rush where all defenders are on the line of scrimmage. This is the same design of blitz shown in the “good” blocking play.

The blocking scheme that Cushenberry or Wilson (normally it’s the center, but the quarterback also often calls the blocking concept) dials up is a slide to the right. This means that each of the linemen picks up the man that is in the gap to his right and then the running back picks up the end man on the left side of the line of scrimmage. Each player initially picks up the right man, and most of them make a good block, but Bolles has sloppy footwork and gives up the sack.

His issue is that after contact he gets flat-footed and stops moving his feet. When he stops moving, the defender is able to use the momentum that he still carries to turn Bolles inside and give up that rushing lane. Another issue you can spot is that Bolles completely gives up his chest, which is essentially a death sentence to most offensive linemen. The edge rusher is able to get both of his hands on the chest of Bolles, and that is a big reason why he was able to overpower Bolles. Simple mistakes that got Wilson hit and killed a drive.

Final thoughts

I was actually pretty impressed with how the offensive line managed the blitz. Now, the Vikings did do them some favors as they mostly showed their pressures, and the only disguises they did were when they faked pressure and then dropped back into coverage. But with that, the best thing the line did was communicate. They clearly knew what their job was on each play and came into this game well-prepared.

On some individual notes, the interior three still looked great. Lloyd Cushenberry was near perfect in this game in pass protection and currently has a 99.1 pass-blocking efficiency rating this year according to PFF, which is 2nd in the league. Ben Powers didn’t give up a pressure or sack on Sunday, and that was the same story for Quinn Meinerz. And Mike McGlinchey has been so much better over the last four games than he was in the first six.

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