Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

The unstoppable force meets the immovable object is a paradox that has been studied for centuries and can be traced back to a 3rd century BC philosophical book, Han Feizi.

Between the Denver offense and the Seattle defense, we have our own modern day version of this paradox.

The Denver offense, led by wobbly-dart throwing Peyton Manning, hung an unimaginable 606 points on defenses this year – the first to ever crack the 600 point mark. They were quite the unstoppable force.

The Seattle defense, led more by its pressure-generating defensive line than its headline-generating All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, didn’t record any historical numbers but proved to be the best in the NFL this season by allowing a mere 14.6 points per game – nearly a point lower than the next best team. The were quite the immovable object.

What happens when the two opposing forces meet? The difference in Super Bowl 48 is likely to be found in the chess match played on the field by these teams and coaching staffs rather than the violent collisions of the forces.

“We don’t vary or disguise coverage on anybody. We play a pretty simple defense; for the most part you know what we are going to do every play. And you got to line up and play it and I think that is how we have been all season. This is the last game of the season — there is no time to change it now. No new wrinkles for us.” – Richard Sherman

Sherman is correct. The Seahawks are a very basic team when it comes to how they play their coverages. That doesn’t mean that they’re any less effective than other teams who use multiplicity in their defensive secondary to confuse and bait quarterbacks into throwing into trouble. In fact, the composition and scheme of the Seattle secondary is a terrific fit to stop Peyton Manning and his plethora of talented receivers.

Every team in the league knows that blitzing Peyton Manning is only giving him a larger window to throw into. He is too good at deciphering a defense in the pre-snap phase and then executing in the post-snap phase with precision and concision. Peyton is a model of efficiency with the football and defenses know it. What stands out to me on film when watching Peyton is his pace through his progressions. He can get through 4 or 5 reads faster than most quarterbacks can take their eyes off their primary target. This allows him to make quick decisions with the football and exploit favorable matchups with minimal risk.

The Jaguars blitzed twice against Manning in week 6, and even though they were thumped 35-19, that game was close late in the 3rd quarter until Denver’s overwhelming talent advantage took over. Rex Ryan talked about using nothing but “seven-man spacing” on Mike & Mike this week, meaning he was able to play 2-deep safeties and not have to blitz excessively – something Ryan is known for.

The idea of not blitzing Manning comes from multiple advantages: The ability to drop seven men into coverage making the windows tighter for Manning and it invites the run which takes the ball out of Manning’s hands – always a good thing for a defense. Blitzes are also often used in the NFL to confuse quarterbacks, something that Manning is unorthodoxly immune to. Manning will decode where the blitz is coming from and his chemistry with his receivers allows them to “go hot” or break off their routes to find the open space and generate big gains.

This idea is the main reason that I’ve championed a “static” pre-snap look on defense against Manning. This naturally creates other issues for a defense like an inability to get to their man or spot in coverage, but it eliminates Peyton being able to win in the pre-snap phase. If he has nothing to read, he has no advantage to gain. Aligning in a basic cover 2, or for the Seahawks a cover 3, shell, means that all of Manning’s keys come in the post-snap phase. Even that half-second of hesitation on his part can allow a defender to get in place or for the pass rush to get to him and cause a sack or a tough throw.

Dropping seven men into coverage means that a defense is only rushing four. This is something the Seahawks are comfortable with because of the pressure generated by their defensive line. The addition of Michael Bennett was likely the biggest move of the offseason as he generated the 3rd highest pass rush productivity of 4-3 defensive ends this season, per Pro Football Focus, trailing behind Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake.

The Seattle defense may be unvarying on the back end, but they love to mix up their front four with good frequency. Bennett will rush from both the outside and inside at times and they will use a rotation of Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and Tony McDaniel to keep offenses guessing and adjusting protection schemes. Seattle will find a matchup advantage they like along the line of scrimmage and will consistently try to exploit it in multiple ways to help proliferate pressure.

Denver’s offensive line will be tasked with maintaining inside leverage and keeping the pressure out of Manning’s face. Manning is nearly impervious to edge pressure because his manipulation of the pocket and ability to climb the ladder are extraordinary. If the guards and center can anchor inside then Manning will stand tall and be able to deliver the ball. Everyone knows that Manning isn’t a threat to run the ball as scouts could time his 40 with a desk calendar, so the Seahawks will give little thought of trying to play contain on the edges when rushing.

Manning will see a lot of cover 1 and cover 3 zone from the Seahawks. Earl Thomas is the rangiest and most instinctive free safety I have ever seen play and he’s really the lynchpin that allows this defense to cover in the manner that it does. Thomas plays centerfield as the single-high safety while Kam Chancellor often plays in the box and helps defend the run. The spin that the Seahawks put on their coverages is that they’ll play cover 3 much like they play cover 1 in how the corners will align as if they’re in man coverage. Many teams will play press-bail, where the corners align in press but drop into off-coverage just before the snap, when in cover 3. The Seahawks will maintain their press alignment and be physical at the line of scrimmage, knowing that Thomas is likely to be able to get to ball if it’s thrown deep down the sidelines. It also helps that the corners for Seattle are so tall and lengthy and are able to swat down balls that other corners couldn’t touch.

In terms of personnel packages, the Broncos play predominantly out of their 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, 3 wide receivers). Seattle will want to match up in their base 4-3 personnel, but with Wes Welker and Julius Thomas such receiving threats, they may have to go to their nickel packages more than they’d prefer. Sherman may move around and shadow Demaryius Thomas at times, but I don’t think he’ll align that way exclusively. Seattle will blitz selectively – especially when Bruce Irvin is in the game – and will do so in certain areas of the field or down and distances.

On the opposite side of the ball, no starting quarterback threw fewer times per game this season than Russell Wilson. This offense is built on a physical run game and the passing game plays off of that. Marshawn Lynch will finally be able to stop not-talking and be all about that action, boss. Lynch will see a heavy workload while Robert Turbin may garner a few carries, depending on how the game goes.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Seahawks come out with a very conservative gameplan earlier on. Turnovers are killers in any game, but against Peyton Manning they’re death sentences. Plus, with every second that Manning is on the sideline, that’s another second he’s unable to put points on the board. The offense can’t give points to the Broncos or else they’ll never be able to keep up.

A little like Seattle, Denver’s strengths lie in their defensive line and cornerbacks. The biggest difference is that the Denver safeties can be exploited fairly easily. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been a penetrating force on the interior in both collapsing the pocket in the pass game and disrupting the run. Robert Ayers flashes the ability to rush the quarterback but he’s inconsistent. How Ayers plays could dictate a lot of how this game goes for the Seahawks on offense.

Russell Wilson has looked frenetic and confused lately. He’s faced a murderer’s row of defenses lately, and Denver’s defense is a slight step down from those, but Wilson needs to find the poise that was his hallmark since he started in this league. He seems hurried recently and it’s led to unreliable reads and inaccurate passes. He’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the league at throwing on the run and will make a “wow” throw or 2 on Sunday.

The Seattle receivers aren’t imposing or dominating, but they’re slippery. It’s hard for defenders to get a good jam at the line of scrimmage because they’re quick and it’s hard to get hands on them. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are deceptively quick and sort of oddly get over top of cornerbacks with consistency even though neither are burners. My favorite receiver to watch on film is Jermaine Kearse who is a blast in the run game, both figuratively and literally. Kearse is one of the best blocking receivers in the league and will wall off defenders with ease, or blow them up when he cracks down on them. He also has some big-play capability in his game and if they Seahawks can get him matched up on a safety, he’s likely to hit for a big gain.

There are a couple of keys to the game that I believe will turn this game in favor of one team or another. I’m omitting turnovers from the discussion because they’re always a key to the game. Instead, I believe that physicality and interior line play will determine the outcome of the game on Sunday.

The Seahawks are the most physical team that the Broncos will have faced all year because, well, they’re the most physical team in the league. The Seattle secondary isn’t dubbed the Legion of Boom for nothing. How the Denver receivers handle that physicality is going to drive how effective they can be. Welker has shown that he doesn’t like getting knocked around. Decker and Demaryius Thomas aren’t afraid to get physical but I’m interested to see how they respond after getting hammered by Chancellor or Thomas one good time. If they can take the hit and keep going after the ball in the air with no regard to life or limb, they’ve got a shot.

Interior line play is important because of the effect is has on quarterbacks, especially immobile quarterbacks like Peyton Manning. But the real key here is how well the front seven of Seattle can stop Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball without help from the secondary. I actually anticipate that the Seahawks will play more 2-deep coverage this game than normal, but will still stick to their base cover 1 or 3 defenses. Cover 2 means there is less help against the run and more space for running backs to roam. If the Seattle interior line can stuff the run without much help, then it turns Denver into a one-dimensional football team and lets the pass rushers tee it up against Manning.

Interior line play for the Broncos is going to be important in keeping Lynch & Co. from getting to the second level and using his Skittles-fueled burst to run through and over smaller players. Knighton has played tremendously well of late and I don’t expect him to have much problem with the guards of Seattle. It will be interesting to see if offensive line coach Tom Cable decides to double team Knighton for most of the game. If the Broncos can force Wilson to throw more than he’s used to, I believe they’ll have shots at turnovers, and that’s the only way I see Denver winning this game.

It’s hard to factor in the “Peyton Manning effect” in terms of how impactful he can really be, but I think the Seahawks are a better team all-around than the Broncos are. The problem is that the Broncos are better at the one spot that truly matters: quarterback. The highly-touted matchup is the Denver offense versus the Seattle defense, and it’s fun to discuss, but the difference in level of play there isn’t vast. Where I think the greater gap in talent/matchup differential is the Seattle offense versus the Denver defense. I think that Seattle has the chance to keep Manning at bay with the physicality and scheme of the defense, while the Denver defense doesn’t have the best matchups against the Seattle offense.

Final verdict: If Russell Wilson takes care of the ball, Seattle should win this game. The immovable object gets moved, but still halts the unstoppable object.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Posted in Game Preview | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Relationship of Coaching, Players, and Winning in the NFL

In watching the playoff games this weekend, I’m reminded of an analogy that I’ve made in previous posts:

The building of a professional football team is much like a master craftsman building a piece of furniture, statue, or a work of art.

The quality of the finished product is not the result of the craftsman by himself, or the tools themselves, but a combination of the two. The tools themselves won’t chisel, saw, and sand a monument into shape. The craftsman himself can’t chisel, saw, or sand without the proper tools. It’s the coordination of the craftsman with his tools that allows him to shape and mold a piece of work into form. Neither can operate without the other, but the quality and creativity of the tools and craftsman together will ultimately determine the final product.

In the same fashion, an NFL team can’t succeed without the proper players (the tools) and the proper coaching staff (the craftsman). The variety and quality of the players dictate what a coach can do with his tools. The best coaches take the tools they’re given and are able to use them in unique and effective ways. Creativity with the tools at hand is a necessity.

It’s always important to use the tools in the most effective way possible. In the same way that using a saw as a hammer isn’t particularly effective, using Darrelle Revis (the best man coverage cornerback in the NFL) in zone coverage is a failure to maximize the use of the tools at hand.

Leonardo Da Vinci tested many different forms of brushes, paints, and surfaces for his artwork. He mixed styles and brush strokes so that he could become familiar with how they worked. He fashioned many of his own tools to erect his inventions. Da Vinci was the perfect mix of a creative and a perfectionist. He wasn’t afraid to use a chisel as a brush or a pencil to draw lines on his paintings, but he also understood what a chisel was truly meant for.

Coaches should have the same approach to the use of the personnel at their disposal. They should understand that a chisel is most effective in engraving or chipping, but have the awareness that it can be used in other ways. A coach should also know when to use a chisel as a chisel or a chisel as a pencil. Being able to understand his tools and use them in creative ways is a way for that craftsman to set himself apart from the rest of his colleagues. Coaches who understand their personnel and find ways to use them in creative and unique ways without resorting to it too much will be able to craft a much better product on the field than an unskilled coach who is afforded better tools.

There are two shining examples in recent years that illustrate this point quite clearly: the 2010 and 2011 49ers, and the 2012 and 2013 Chiefs. In the former years of each of these teams, they were talented teams with poor craftsmen as head coaches. The tools were there, yet the coaching staffs produced shoddy results. The effect to that cause was the termination of said coaching staffs.

In moving from Mike Singletary to Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers took a 6-10 team in 2010 and crafted them into a 13-3 team. The 49ers gave the same tools to a better craftsman and the result was a terrific product. In the transition from Romeo Crennel and his staff in 2012 to Andy Reid and staff in 2013, the Chiefs had a similar turnaround. The Chiefs finished the 2012 season with the worst record in the NFL under Crennel. In 2013, the Chiefs started the season 9-0 and finished 11-5 under Master Craftsman Reid. The Chiefs had the tools in 2012, evidenced by 6 players being invited to the Pro Bowl, but a craftsman who didn’t know how to manipulate them correctly.

One of the qualities of both of these teams that I’ve noticed is that both already had a variety of talent. This is something that has been a hallmark of Bill Belichick’s rosters in New England for the past decade. The team isn’t built do to play just one way. It’s built towards a philosophy of eliminating big plays and turnovers while increasing turnovers and big plays for itself. That’s a very broad tarp to throw over a team, but that’s the idea. The roster is built to be able to manage this philosophy in a multitude of ways.

The game of football, as played on Sundays, is very matchup specific. Good teams identify and exploit matchups that lean in their favor. The team that can continuously exploit the most matchups usually wins the game, barring anomalous circumstances. Belichick builds a roster that has a variety of weapons so that he may pick and choose which matchups he wants to exploit each week. This variety of talent also allows him not to get pigeonholed into a corner when other teams try to exploit matchups against his team.

The 2007 Patriots offense was a pristine example of this philosophy. The offense ran through Brady who was in the peak of his career in his ability to decipher a defense and throw it short or attack them over the top. With Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth on the outside and Wes Welker in the slot, the receivers were able to attack defenses anyway they wanted. Benjamin Watson was an athletic freak at the tight end position and Kyle Brady was a hard nosed blocker who could catch a pass if needed. The offensive line was built for power but possessed the athletic ability to zone block when asked, and the running backs (Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk) fit perfectly whether the Pats were trying to run through a defense, around it, or pass over it.

Because of the personnel of the roster, defenses that face the Patriots could never hone in on one weakness or matchup. Take away Welker and the middle of the field and Brady and Moss will play pitch and catch on the outside for long gains all day. Take away the deep ball with cover 2 and Wes Welker will catch 15 balls underneath for 200 yards. If a defense predominantly dropped 7 or 8 guys into coverage, Maroney/Morris/Faulk (whoever Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels thought fit the gameplan better that day) would gash the defense for 6 yards per carry.

This same principle is the reason that I believe the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense was so incredibly successful. While there were weaknesses in the defense, there was never really any one way to attack it because if a team tried to test the safeties, the scheme would adjust to protect them. There was no running against them with Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa, Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, and Jamie Sharper manning the front 7.

The Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos, and Patriots are all built in this same fashion and all have terrific craftsmen for head coaches that are handling the tools. It’s the combination of these aspects that lead these teams to be great, year after year.

I’ve long promoted that the effect of good or bad coaching is vastly underrated in the NFL but I could never articulate it in a way that accurately conveyed my point. Thinking of teams in terms of craftsman (coaching) and tools (players) may help me to illustrate it more concisely.

Neither the craftsman nor his tools are more important than the other, as both are needed to create a masterpiece. But in thinking this way, it’s important to point out that better tools doesn’t necessarily make a better craftsman, but a good craftsman can have only a few key tools at his disposal and still create a magnificent work of art.

Put another way, getting a better set of clubs doesn’t make you a better golfer. Instead, now you’re just misusing more expensive clubs. Better irons may have a bigger sweet spot that will be more forgiving when you do mishit, and therefore they might make you look like a better golfer. But the truth is, a good golfer can take shoddy clubs and out play you with your brand new expensive set any day of the week.

A team that has better players doesn’t always win the game. More often, it’s the better-coached team that wins the game. This doesn’t devalue the impact that players have on the game. They are the ones who have to go out and execute, but it’s the coach that puts them in the best position to execute successfully.

These analogies help to illustrate the idea that the impact of coaching is a bit understated. I believe that this is a hard concept for many to grasp because of our current inability to quantify the impact of coaching. With players we quantify productivity into box scores and statistics. We use measures of yards, touchdowns, tackles, and completion percentages to quantify a player’s success on the field. (While I believe the mainstream stats we currently use are exceptionally flawed, I’ll leave that discussion for another day.) If a quarterback has 300+ yards passing, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and completes 65% of his passes, we consider that a successful day. The only current statistic that we have for coaching staffs are win and loss records, and even that is often heavily attributed to the talent (or lack of talent) on the roster.

How do we measure a coaching staff’s success on any given day? We don’t currently have a good ruler with which to accurately measure a coach’s impact for a given game or a given play. A win or loss is a very broad statistic that encompasses too many variables to attribute specifically to a coach (or a QB for that matter – yet another discussion for another day). Yards or touchdowns seems to be more concise but again relies heavily on the execution of players. That’d be like judging a CEO by the work that an intern does.

There is currently only one website that I know of that is attempting to quantify the productivity of coaches. QuantCoach is a site dedicated to the use of loosely-based economic theories and developed equations to try to quantify the “production” or impact of coaches on games. The thinking is unique and based on some very solid principles, on which I mostly agree.

Coaching statistics are barely in their infancy. Mostly we have analytics that tell us whether a team should go for it on 4th down or kick the ball (almost always in favor of going for it, by the way) or whether a coach should be passing or running in certain situations – an idea which is inherently flawed because excessive screen passes and draws on 3rd downs heavily tilt the success rates one way or another. Those analytics don’t quantify how much a coach contributes or subtracts from a team’s probability of winning.

Analytics have entrenched their way into front offices across the league. Any team that isn’t heavily invested in the dissection of numbers within the game is years behind the competition. This doesn’t mean points and yards. It’s the in depth study, qualification, and extrapolation of data that goes deeper than just compilation statistics.

With relevant and accurate data, teams could analyze the use of pass concepts (levels, mesh, smash, verts, scissors, etc.) based on down and distances and opponents. They could even drill down to how effective each team is at each concept based on the situation and the coverage against it. This involves a lot of manual work of charting every snap of every team and the outcome of each play, but it may very well be worth it. The output of data from this information could provide a snapshot of what each team likes to do in different situations.

3rd and 3 inside the 15? Team A likes to run the crossing screen underneath 65% of the time. This could be vital information in a situation that could keep 4 or more points off the board. Even more importantly, it could give a glimpse into the thinking of a coordinator or staff and allow for better real-time predictions. Teams can glean tendencies for other teams as well as themselves, because self-scouting is as important as scouting opponents.

All of these ideas play into one idea: the impact of coaching. We don’t currently have the necessary information to be able to accurately evaluate the impact of coaching. Right now, it’s more of an instinctive feel that some get. 4th down calls and clock management at the end of a game play a big factor, but it’s often the best coaches that hardly ever see themselves in those situations.

It’s also impossible to quantify exactly how a coach manages the personalities of his team, something that is critically important and often goes overlooked because we don’t readily see it every day.

The best coaches know how to manage and manipulate the tools at their disposal. The more tools available to them, the better. If you need an example, just look at the 4 teams playing this weekend.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Notes from NFL Divisional Round Games

…with a focus on divisional rounds games.

I want Jermaine Kearse on my team, and if I were a GM, I’d be paying attention to what the Seahawks do with RFA Doug Baldwin and UFA Golden Tate. If Seattle keeps both Baldwin and Tate, I’d make a call to them asking what they’d want for Kearse. He’s a terrific route runner with solid hands, but what I love about Kearse is his run blocking. It’s something I’ve noticed all season in his limited snaps but it really shined against the Saints.

The Saints were extremely effective out of 22 personnel (2 running backs, 2 tight ends) against the Seahawks. Yards gained on plays out of this personnel grouping in the 1st half: 4, 4, 12, 0, 13, 17, 5, 1, 0.  The Saints were 2 for 2 when passing out of this grouping for 13 yards and 6 yards. In the 2nd half, outside of the 5-yard line, the Saints only used 22 personnel twice, for rushes of 1 yard and 9 yards. New Orleans mostly used a balanced-I formation and were not successful when they went heavy to one side or the other. They went heavy right on 3 plays that netted 0, 1, and 0 yards. This is something that the Seahawks should be aware of as the 49ers will use this grouping a good amount and have personnel better suited to this style than the Saints do. Seattle should do some serious work to clean up their defense of this personnel and formation this week.

The 49ers may be the most complete team in the playoffs right now. The offense and defense are both playing at very high levels, as opposed to the Seahawks whose defense has been fantastic but the offense has been middling of late. The addition of Michael Crabtree has given Colin Kaepernick the exact type of receiver he needs to succeed. The one trait that I’ve dinged Kaepernick for – and one that gets him into a lot of trouble at times – is his lack of efficiency through his progressions. He’ll sometimes freeze up when his first option is taken away. Because of this, he needs a receiver who can win immediately off the line of scrimmage like Crabtree does. It gives him a consistent option as a 1st read. When Crabtree doesn’t win, the 49ers have a definitive 2nd option in Anquan Boldin (short) or Vernon Davis (usually on a deep route). If these 2 options are taken away, that’s when Kaepernick begins to move and use his feet and scan the field while on the move. The combination of this personnel setup and play calling is the perfect mixture for Kaepernick to succeed. Kap is a good quarterback with tremendous physical abilities that are enhanced by the team around him, but he can also enhance the players around him as well. It all adds up to a great combination that is incredibly hard to defend.

It’s sad to know that Glenn Dorsey wasted years of his career under Romeo Crennel in Kansas City. The difference in his film last year vs. this year is Exhibit A through F of how much coaching and the correct scheme matters. As one scout recently said to me, the biggest mistake that front offices make is signing a free agent based on previous film and then asking him to do something different in your scheme. The 49ers did the positive reversal of that idea. They took Dorsey knowing that he was misused in KC and put him in a scheme better fit to his punishing presence up front. They’ve allowed him to attack and to squeeze the gaps inside. He’ll sometimes end up one on one against a guard, which is pretty much a guard’s worst nightmare. Dorsey’s success up front is one of the biggest reasons for Ahmad Brooks’ emergence as one of the best linebackers in the game this year. He’s getting more favorable opportunities than he has had in the past. Seattle will again have their hands full with this front seven. In fact, this will be a matchup of the 2 best front sevens in the NFL in my opinion.

LeGarrette Blount has always been a talented back.  He has a terrific size and speed combo and he’s incredibly light on his feet for his size. He’s one of the most intimidating players I’ve ever seen in football pads. He’s not actually a “punishing” runner as he often doesn’t “deliver the blow” at the end of runs. His power comes from his size and balance that leads to tacklers hitting him and just falling off. He can’t be tackled via arm tackles and it usually takes more than one defender to bring him down. The best way to tackle Blount is to go low, which is why you see him hurdle so many would-be tacklers. What impressed me most from the game against Indianapolis is how well he pressed the hole and then cut back into the gap. He’s best when he’s able to get some steam and flow and the Patriots scheme and offensive line did a good job of allowing him to do that. Something that should be noted is that Blount has never been a good short-yardage back in the NFL. This might be important in a crucial situation this weekend against Denver.

Patriots’ rookie linebacker Jamie Collins has been a solid player all season but many people may just have discovered him this weekend when he flashed against the Colts. It was clearly Collins’ best game of his career. He was a combine standout because of his speed and athleticism. He is explosive in so many ways and has the speed and flexibility to cover in space. His playing time increased when Jerod Mayo went down with an injury and Collins appeared to progress in every game he played, culminating in his 6 tackle, 1 sack, 1 interception, and 1 pass defensed showing against the Colts.  He still has some work to do in instinctively sifting through trash to stuff the run, but this kid is going to be very good for a very long time.

Bill Belichick’s gameplans are completely exclusive from week to week. What he planned last week against Andrew Luck and the Colts would usually have very little significance to how he’ll defend Peyton Manning and the Broncos this week. With that said, these are similar offenses where the offense runs through a terrific quarterback. The difference is that Peyton is currently playing on another level and has more weapons than Luck does. The Patriots were more about crowding specific areas of the field (middle of the field early on) than defending any one particular weapon. They felt that bluffing pressure and dropping into a base cover 2 or Tampa 2 would keep Luck dumping off and keep him from hitting TY Hilton over the top. It worked except for a couple of plays where Luck had to escape pressure and make a freelance throw. The Patriots were perfectly fine with letting their front get the pressure and then playing forward to the ball against the run or on dump-offs. This gave the Colts’ running backs space to run and my guess is that Belichick was perfectly alright with that. Then when it came time for Luck to have to throw, Belichick’s defense took away the anticipation throws that Luck likes to make by pressing his receivers and playing more 2-man under. Luck has never been afraid to force a throw or 2 and the Patriot defense preyed on that tendency to the tune of 4 interceptions. This same thinking should carry over to the Broncos this week but the defense will be facing a better QB and better personnel and the results could look very different.

The presumed weakness of the Broncos offense is supposed to be it’s offensive line. I think that’s just a perceived weakness based on the talent at all the other positions. This offensive line has played terrifically of late, and disposed of the Chargers’ front seven consistently and with relative ease last week. Knowshon Moreno didn’t seem to have the same power and juice he normally does but Montee Ball made up for it. Moreno is a tough runner inside and provides a great option in pass blocking on 3rd down, but Ball is the more talented back with the ball in his hands. The Broncos used the two well in unison last week against the Chargers, but the real credit goes to the offensive line who is becoming a strength of this offense and allowing any RB lined up behind them to be successful.

The Broncos defense hasn’t been great all season, and losing Chris Harris, Jr. is a devastating blow. At this point, Champ Bailey is a downgrade from Harris. Harris is terrific in the slot and on the outside and can move all over the formation. Digging into the depth of the Denver defense is a tough prospect. The more plays that Michael Huff plays this weekend, the better for the Patriots and Tom Brady.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Posted in Game Notes | Leave a comment