Understanding our personnel
Our nickel defense is quite a bit different this season. The front 7 is capable of switching between 3 and 4 man fronts and there is quite a bit of versatility and a wide range of skill sets among our defensive line and line-backing corps. For right now when I speak of our nickel defense just know that our four man line will be comprised of Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware as bookend pass-rushers, with Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson on the inside.
When we look at the line-backing corps and the secondary, it is easy to label this "dime" because of one person: TJ Ward. With this look the Broncos will use Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby as corners with Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter playing safety. Many times Carter will be used as a man to man in coverage against a back or TE while Rahim plays deep centerfield. TJ Ward remains in the game but he takes over the role of MIKE LB alongside Brandon Marshall. Ward is no safety in this configuration. He plays the classic role of MLB, usually covering the intermediate area of the field in zone coverage. This is nickel, not dime.
Understanding our Scheme
Whereas on base downs the Broncos might be more apt to play Cover 3, zone, or a variety of looks, nickel downs are the time to man up almost exclusively across the board or play some variation of Cover 2 where the corners can either press and play man or press and drop into a zone, utilizing Carter and Moore to help police any vertical routes that may be "passed on."
Understanding of our versatility
Before we go any further, this one fact MUST be revealed. The Broncos have corners, safeties, and linebackers that are good at blitzing. They can bring pressure from anywhere on the field, and the fact that we have so many bodies that are also capable coverage players means that the trade-off in bringing varied pressure does not affect the secondary.
Who is the most dangerous pass rusher on the team at the moment? Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are your likely answers. Both are capable of blazing speed off the snap, both use leverage to move and confuse stronger blockers, both use a variety of moves to keep blockers guessing.
Von Miller's speed opens up this blitz for Quinton Carter
This is Cover 1 man across the board. There are several keys. First, Quinton Carter is lined up off Travis Kelce like he would be if this were his coverage responsibility. Next is TJ Ward who is lined up off DeMarcus Ware. Looks like a blitzer but his responsibility is Jamaal Charles on this play.
The Broncos are going to use Von Miller's speed around the edge to open up a gaping hole off the "B" gap. Meanwhile Derek Wolfe is going occupy both the guard and center and seal them off from the "B" gap much like a blocker would seal off the backside on a run. Quinton Carter wastes no time getting through and taking down Smith.
Just in case Carter misses, Malik Jackson is stunting into the "B" gap making it a double "B" gap blitz.
Everyone has to play their role. Von must carry the RT wide and behind in order to open up that "B" gap. Marshall must get into position on Kelce, Wolfe must seal off the "B" gap guard, and Malik must engage then use speed to get around the edge.
Del Rio combines two of my favorite blitz concepts on this play call he mixes coverages by using a zone blitz concept (Wolfe drops into middle coverage, TJ Ward blitzes in his place) overloaded to the left side of the line. This is classic Cover 2 with Marshall dropping into a deep middle, could call the backside "Tampa 2".
Looks like an option for Ward. He can either go inside of Malik Jackson toward the Center, or outside toward the Tackle. He hides momentarily behind Malik while he makes his read, then bursts through the outside. The LG slides slightly to the outside giving Ward just enough room to blow by into the backfield.
The question is not IF the Broncos can conjure enough pressure with their front 4, the question is why should they neglect their blitz packages when every player on the defense is capable of playing multiple roles? Especially with their athleticism and tendency to play man coverage on 3rd downs, the Broncos should be looking to bring pressure from anywhere on the field. Fortunately for them, their nickel defense is tailor made ruthless aggression.
The key is to keep offenses guessing. GO BRONCOS!!!