Posted Mon Sep 22nd by Ian Henson
During the live blog it was hard to not notice that the Denver Broncos, while very aggressive in the first-quarter, backed off completely as they took a 21-3 lead. The tides and the blog readers turned quickly, as Denver started to give up more and more to Drew Brees and Reggie Bush. Earl and I went back and forth over why, with two of the best defensive backs in the league, are we not playing man-to-man coverage?
Typically zone coverage can be broken down into several different “Covers.”
- Cover 1: One safety is left to cover anything deep.
- Cover 2: Two safeties cover the back half of the field.
- Cover 3: Three players split the back half of the field into thirds.
- Cover 4: Four players split the back half of the field, into fourths.
- Cover 0: Everyone man up, someone is either getting beat deep or picking off a play.
- Tampa 2: A mixture of Cover 2 and Cover 3, usually a middle linebacker is employed to take care of anything that comes across the middle.
Against New Orleans, Denver employed a slight variation of the Tampa 2. Predominantly, leaving middle linebacker Nate Webster or D.J. Williams to protect the middle. In Denvers’ defense you will hardly ever see Champ Bailey in zone coverage, he will be man-on-man 98% of the time this season. The same can be said for Dre Bly, who will be normally covering the opposing team’s second wide receiver. By proxy, Bly will see more targets.
Here’s where bringing in Boss Bailey looked like the best off-season move Denver made, he’s one of the best cover linebackers in the league. Yet, he tends to get injured. Due to lingering injuries, he has to take plays off, usually one or two on a long drive. His replacement thus far has been Jamie Winborn, who is very good against the run, but can’t hold a candle to Bailey, pass coverage wise. Opposing offenses know this and this is when you will see a pass to a tight end or a dump off to a running back go for big yardage.
The other major weakness, did not affect Denver much against the Saints, but killed Denver when they played against the Chargers- their lack of strength at nickel back. Though Karl Paymah may have stepped up a bit, he nearly gave up a play that would have gone for six, prior to the Broncos successful defensive goal-line stand. Paymah was beat for three-yards on an inside slant, but Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel pounced on Paymah’s receiver immediately stopping him at the three yard-line.
Yesterday, in my last Broncos Status Report article, I called on Denver to give a look to rookie Jack Williams at nickel; which I fully expect them to this week in practice. Paymah, given his speed, would suit Denver perfectly as a strong safety. However, that would leave the Broncos bare naked at corner; there are only four cornerbacks currently on the Broncos roster.
My instincts are saying that we need Hamza Abdullah back on the active roster, as he’s the only safety Denver has that can actually pick a ball off. McCree and Manuel are not being used properly, as both are free safeties, but Manuel has been used predominantly as a strong safety. I was excited at the potential of having both of these hard-hitters line up next to each other, merely for the fact that they both can blow up a ball carrier. However, it has become clear that Manuel is being used improperly, he deserves to be lining up in the box- not in coverage. Abdullah can handle coverage.
Back to Williams for a second, my case for him taking over the nickel back position is that he is small, with huge jumping capability. An opposing quarterback going through his reads will spot Williams’ receiver as open, practically every time. As fans saw in preseason, this is not the case and Williams will take an interception as far as his legs will carry him. Using Williams in tight coverage, instead of Paymah will allow the rushing defense that extra second or two they were missing against Brees’ Saints. Too many times, the Broncos were milliseconds away from a sack or a backfield turnover, but Brees was able to get the ball away.
For Denver fans- the problem is not the Broncos pass rush, the problem is the coverage. At least most of the time; when the Broncos employed a three man rush, of course the quarterback is going to have time to make a play. To me the real problem is that there’s absolutely no sense of urgency on the defenses behalf, check out these post-game quotes:
Boss Bailey, “We don’t want to give up that many points, but we found a way to win. We came out of the game healthy and we will continue to improve.”
Dre Bly, “That’s not going to happen all season. When you have an explosive offense and they score quickly, the other team will have time to make adjustments. It wasn’t as we would have liked on defense, but it’s a win.”
D.J. Williams, “Each game this season we have started fast in the beginning and tapered off later in the game. We have played well in the first half, we just have to work hard, get back to work, and start finishing games. We know what type of talent we have, and we know that if we want to be the best, we have to step up and beat the best.”
Champ Bailey, “This week we will look at film, and try and figure out what is wrong. We were disappointed, but we got the win, and that is all that matters. This week we will get back to work and hopefully improve our performance next week. We want games that end 32-13, not like our past two games ending 34-32 and 39-38.”
It’s pretty evident in those quotes that the defense is, at least not publically, taking responsibility for the fact that they have given up 84 points (third only to St. Louis and Detroit) in three games. If Denver wasn’t currently employing the number one offense in football, Denver would be getting blown out.
How is this okay?
Next week against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos are afforded an opportunity to play an offense that isn’t amongst the top five in the NFL (for the first time in two weeks). They will have an opportunity to test people at positions and not have to worry too much about being killed for going one-on-one during coverages. I am not at all saying that the game against he Chiefs will be an easy win, I’m merely saying that this game gives the Broncos an opportunity to try out a few different types of blitzes and see who can hold their own in pass coverage.