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Broncos Film Review: Russell Wilson and the offensive line

It can be rough, at times, blocking for Russell Wilson for the Denver Broncos offensive line. Let’s examine the issues.

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

We have all seen the news by now from the Denver Broncos quarterback situation. Russell Wilson has been benched in favor of Jarrett Stidham. Now, this isn’t necessarily due to his play this year and it’s a more complicated matter than most would think.

What this article is about is what it can be like to block for Wilson from the perspective of the offensive line. There is a very specific play from the game against the New England Patriots that has sparked this discussion once again, and I want to take a look, not only at that play but at all five sacks New England had last week.

We’ll be taking a deeper look at these five sacks and see if it was Wilson that is responsible for it, or if it was the fault of the offensive line.

Sack #1: Strip sack recovered by the Broncos, 2nd quarter - 4:08

I think we can all figure out fairly quickly what went wrong here.

Mike McGlinchey is the sole reason that this play ended up as a sack and it is mostly due to his inability to anticipate the distance between him and the on-ball linebacker (#3)( I’m assuming that the play design called for the TE to vacate to a route after making the chip block and that McGlinchey knew that it was coming. So if this is not the case, then I’ll admit fault). Since the TE is going to be chipping the pass rusher, that means that there will be a longer time before contact is made, which also means that McGlinchey will likely have to kick-step further into the backfield to maintain good leverage for the block.

What ends up happening is that he turns out for this block way too soon and is unable to keep pace with the linebacker. It is acceptable for a lineman to turn out towards the rusher and have their shoulders parallel to the sideline if they are at QB depth. Mike McGlinchey is clearly not at QB depth when he turns out. This allows for #3 to essentially pick a spot to the left of McGlinchey and beat him there. McGlinchey almost pulls off the recovery but the backer is able to get his arm out and make contact with Wilson.

This sack is on the offensive line.

Sack #2: Sacked on the first play of the second half, 3rd quarter - 14:55

This is a really tough rep to watch. Ben Powers got beat before this play even started.

The Patriots decided to bring pressure on this snap in the form of a six-man blitz that featured five LOS rushers and then an inside linebacker blitzing the left B gap. With both the fullback and running back rolling out to their left at the snap, the Broncos were going to be forced to leave a free rusher that Wilson would have to deal with. Instead, due to Powers’ failure, there are essentially two free rushers and Wilson has no time and nowhere to go.

What ruins this block for Powers is his lunge at the point of contact. When his left foot ends up being in front of his right foot, that spelled disaster. When kick-stepping, you have to keep your outside foot back and your inside foot forward. This allows for your body to move properly and to be able to move with the defender. When his outside foot ends up forward, that removes his mobility and he then can’t keep up with the defender as he moves upfield. Powers essentially freezes himself and is not quick enough to recover.

Another sack that is on the offensive line.

Sack #3: Wilson attempts to roll out of the pocket, 3rd quarter - 8:23

While there is poor technique being displayed by the line, this is a sack that likely should not have happened.

While the Patriots attempt to make this pass-rush scheme look much more complicated than it really is. They disguised the pressure by bringing up linebackers to the line of scrimmage and then dropping them. What the offensive line was left with at the snap was a fairly generic four-man rush with the edge defenders rushing the outside, and the two interior defenders taking an inside gap. New England did spice things up by stunting the interior defenders, but the offensive line does a solid job of picking that up. They stick to each others’ hips and don’t lock their hands onto one of the defenders. Those two details are key.

McGlinchey’s technique on the outside is pretty poor and is displaying form that no offensive line coach will ever teach. There is never a time when you should be crossing your feet over and running out to the defender. This is possibly a sign that McGlinchey panicked and threw his form out the window. He would have been fine if he trusted his kick-step and just kept kicking upfield. The defender (#55) was on a route that would just run himself passed Wilson. He was essentially taking himself out of the play, but McGlinchey lets him back into things by overcommitting to the outside rush, which allows for the rusher to try to work back inside.

What irks me though is the clean pocket that Wilson can step up into, but chooses not to. The interior lineman and Garett Bolles, and even Perine, do a solid job of holding off the pressure and are giving Wilson plenty of time to get the pass off or to step up, but Wilson throws that effort into the trash and runs himself into a sack.

This was the play that I was referring to earlier. This is the play that most critics, and even supporters of Wilson, have retweeted and shared over and over again. And the hard part is that this is a reoccurring mistake that Wilson has made all season. You can’t defend this.

Sack #4: A surprising play for Quinn Meinerz, 3rd quarter - 5:20

Wow. It’s not often that you see Quinn Meinerz get absolutely manhandled, but that’s exactly what happened here. I can tell you exactly how this happened though.

It can be difficult to see, but after Meinerz takes his second kick-step, he brings his post foot too far back and loses his base. Essentially he ends up with his feet together while a 315-pound man is pushing against him. That almost never works out well. It was just too much to recover from and this kind of stuff happens quickly when you’re on the offensive line.

Russell Wilson gets pressure up the gut and is unable to get out of the way. The line clearly gets the blame though.

Sack #5: Nowhere for Wilson to go, 3rd quarter - 0:06

The last sack of the game was another one that Quinn Meinerz is responsible for. And it’s another example of his getting out-physicalled by New England’s Christian Barmore.

Barmore chooses to use the bull rush in this play and Quinn Meinerz is unable to handle it. The big mistake by Meinerz comes from his second kick-step. He over-extends himself and takes too big of a kick. This ends up turning his shoulder out, which Barmore is able to take advantage of. That kick-step forces Meinerz to give up the edge and decreases the distance between the defender and Russell Wilson.

Wilson tries to step up into the pocket but it’s just a tad too late and he gets sacked.

Final thoughts

I feel like I’m trying to defend both Wilson and the offensive line at the same time, and that’s just due to my personal bias. I have been, or at least have attempted to be, a Russell Wilson defender during his time in Denver. I am also a former offensive lineman and current coach, so if you know anything about people like me, then you will know the lengths we go to to defend the lineman.

The takeaways from this article give credit and blame to both Wilson and the line, depending on what play you’re watching. You can argue that the offensive line is to blame for Wilson’s shortcomings, and you can also make the counter-argument that Wilson is putting the offensive line into bad spots. And while this article is a small sample size as it’s just one game, you can find similar plays in every game this entire season. There are plenty of examples where Wilson gets himself sacked, and there are also plenty of examples of the offensive line getting burnt.

I guess all of this is to say that it’s never as black and white as the media (annoying, overpaid, talking heads on TV and social media) say it is. The offensive line is at fault on many of these plays, and then so is Russell Wilson. But I think this characterizes the Wilson Era well. He deserves much of the blame for this not working out, but he does not deserve as much as people are trying to give him.