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Published on 09/22/2008 at Mon Sep 22 07:28.
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Broncos Defense Halts Saints March
Broncos Defense Halts Saints March
(Photo Darin McGregor – The Rocky)

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.

  • LorDog

    Great article, Ian. I appreciate the breakdown of the coverages. Would you consider doing a further breakdown of the difference between the nickel and dime packages and who’s the best employed from our roster in each situation. Thanks again for a great article!

  • mark

    Defense? We don’t need no stinken defense…

  • Arden

    Thanks also to all the fans on Broncotalk for being objective and honest about football. There are way too many obnoxious “my team is perfect!” folks out there that make discussions into a little kids’ shouting match.

  • Richard

    The problem Mark is we HAVE a Stinkin Defense. I posted a blog to Josh Temples “Could the D Be keeping this squad from being something special” article this morning that echoes what Ian is saying. Give it a look Ian, we seem to be on the same page.

    I’m not sure getting Abdullah back is anything more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  • Mike

    Isn’t the problem really that there is no pressure on the QB?

  • Ian Henson

    Mike- I think that it’s a double sided blade, receivers need to be covered a bit longer and the rushers need time to penetrate the line. Pressure would come if either side would improve.

  • Truman

    Great article.

  • daveb

    “For Denver fans- the problem is not the Broncos pass rush, the problem is the coverage.”

    Not sure I agree with this…we need to get some penetration at some point and we haven'[t seen it much at all in three games.

    One of my other frustrations is the apparent inability to make the adjustments we need to make during the game. the zone coverage was obviously NOT working but we didn’t seem to adjust. Is that a coaching issue (i.e. coaches being stubborn) or a player issue (i.e. the coaches don’t think the players can adjust)?

  • E. Halsey Miles

    I have felt that Brees has been able to get the ball out very quickly. When he drops back 5 steps, look, look, throw…only the very very very best defensive lines in football are going to be able to get to a quarterback fast enough to prevent that.

    Brees beat us with Reggie Bush and the two tight ends. Only 13 of his 39 completions went to wide receivers. 11 of those others went to Reggie Bush, and the rest were spread between tight ends and backs not named Bush. That suggests soft coverage underneath. In other words, as the offense likes to see, “We take what the defense gives us.”. When you rush 3 and put 8 into coverage, lots of times the short, underneath routes are open because the coverage is trying to prevent the big play.

    Unfortunately, giving the ball to Reggie Bush in the flat is a great way to GET a big play.

  • Ian Henson

    LorDog- Thank you, I have a couple more coming up- the dime coverage will definitely be in there.

    Richard- I’m going to go over there right now =) You may be correct about Abdullah, but he was handed the Strong Safety job in training camp prior to his injury. He’s the best that we’ve got right now and I liked him last year, late in the season.

  • Dario

    In contrast I watched Green Bay and Dallas who both have strong defensive lines. What I noticed most in relation to those defenses is that the Bronco pass rush at the DE is almost always to the outside. There’s very little inside penetration for the DEs. Brees had lots of pressure on his back, but all he had to do was step up in the pocket. None of the pressure came at his face. Watching Ware and Kampman rush from the ends was interesting because they put pressure on the tackles by going outside and in. Their most effective rushes tended to be those going on the inside rather than the outside.

    I’m also disapointed by our blitz packages. They seem to get picked up rather easily.

  • jchase8410

    First I agree with the defensive player’s post game comments. A win is a win, and I am glad we got it. However, I more agree with Jay in his post game comment. He said, “we can’t keep doing this every week. We need to figure something out.” I completely agree that they need to give Jack Williams his shot to prove himself, because Paymah has definately NOT shown me anything.

  • kerry

    does anybody notice how often we got killed on the “simple dumpoff plays”? a small dumpoff for 5 yards that gets turned into 20 yards. we had a 3rd and 11 yesterday and they dumped it off and Reggie Bush turned it into 22 yards. Al Wilson is sorely missed on this instance. either Webster is that terrible in coverage or the scheme Bob Slowik uses doesnt work. i mean come on we went to the prevent defense. IN THE FIRST QUARTER!!! we get up 21-3 and slowik plays prevent!! whatever happened to “not taking your foot off their neck?” i mean this is the worst defense ive ever seen on a mike shanahan team. Jarvis Moss is a bust! he was getting tossed all over the field yesterday. by a backup!!!! Moss is not cutout to play in the 4-3 d-line. but he would be an excellent 3-4 outside LB.

  • anon

    “with two of the best defensive backs in the league, are we not playing man-to-man coverage?”

    Well, let’s start here. We don’t have two of the best DBs. We have one outstanding DB (Champ) who thus far this season has not been playing to his potential, and another (Bly) who flat out sucks thus far this year. Bly has been a liability in all three games thus far — he’s a middling DB at best. Add to that two middling safeties, a horrific rotational player like Paymah, just-average LBs, a far-below-average DL, and the most nonsensical schemes ever devised by a defensive coach, and you have a recipe for disaster. Which is what this defense is.

    Here’s the reality. We have three good players on defense. (Champ, DJ, Elvis.) That’s it. Poor talent and poor coaching means that our D is going to be very very bad all year, and this is what is going to wreck the season. The offense is going to eventually crack under the weight of a bad defense. So simply enjoy the offense for its entertainment value and write off the year as a transitional one. Poor drafting and poor hiring/coaching on the defensive side of the ball can not and will not be corrected in-season. The D is done — put a fork in it. And we’ll finish 8-8 or 9-7 as a result.

  • ryan k

    Armstrong said in the paper what I keep posting on here- make a deal for a DE NOW!! In a year in which Brady is out and the AFC is wide open, you have to do all you can to win now.

    I am sorry I strongly disagree with the idea that the coverage is to blame. Sure it plays some role, but give any QB five seconds in the pocket and he will find someone. Give up a second rounder and go find a DE. The fans deserve it and so does that dynamic offense.

  • craig l.

    we know we can score 40+, we know we can give up 40+. these are fun games to watch, very exciting.

    i know some may want scores like broncos 150, other teams 0 but wheres the fun in that?

    only difference with this team and teams in the past is that i get the feeling that our defense………will…….sometimes……….hold.

  • jchase8410

    Here is my problem with Denver’s defense. It is like we don’t have a defensive game plan. If you can’t figure out that the Saints are going to throw their swing pass to Bush on the 5 yardline from watching film, they diagramed that very play on playbook 3 days ago. I as a fan know exactly how that play works, and when they use it. Where are the coaches on that one? I coach Pop Warner football, and I at least come with a game plan.

  • Steve

    it’s all of the above (pressure and coverage). slowik plays too many 3-man fronts with zones behind, considering that (i) he’s got premiere CBs and (ii) he has a deficient pass rush. slowik rolled out the 3-2-6 late last year and continues to use it on 3rd-and-longs. yesterday he outsmarted himself with a one-game switch to a 3-4, never mind that he doesn’t have the personnel up front to play it. he just doesn’t seem to get that any decent QB will patiently pick apart the D, no matter how many people you jam into the secondary, if you give the QB time against a 3-man rush. slowik’s also the mastermind behind (i saw this a lot in the preseason) blitz packages where the CBs play off the receivers. so the opposing QB takes the snap and immediately swings it out to a WR, who has an 8yd cushion from the CB. what’s the point of that?

    i think given the personnel, we’d all prefer more LB blitzing (although the broncos don’t really have great pass-rushing LBs) and man coverage on the WRs. higher risk, but really how much worse can it get than the current strategy giving up 30 pts and 400 yds / game? certainly it seems like a strategy that would’ve worked against the saints, who were short their #1 WR and whose WRs could’ve easily been handled by champ/dre alone without safety help. bizarre time to use soft zones.

    agree with henson that the kc game is a good opportunity to try out some more aggressive blitz packages, esp against a mediocre QB.

    lordog: nickel they take out webster (it’s unusual to take out the MLB but makes sense on this team) and put in paymah. dime they additionally take out boss/windborn and put in jwilliams. coverage packages are the same, just reallocate responsibilities to the extra DB.

    hamza’s inconsistent but he would be an upgrade over manuel if someone would teach hamza to lay off the big hit a bit and wrap up instead. this is a position of need that needs to be addressed in the draft, along with MLB. broncs are unlikely to get a good DE in the high teens where they normally draft, but they could get a good SS or MLB there.

  • Steve

    henson: paymah doesn’t tackle well enough to be a ss

  • Steve

    chukwurah’s available. i always liked his energy. ferocious intensity, to the point that he was hurling chunks through his facemask. cheap and effective coming off the edge on pass downs, opposite dumervil? i don’t see i’m-weak-but-going-to-do-nothing-but-bullrush-jarvis moss bringing more off the edge than chukwurah did.

  • hercules rockefeller

    You’re giving boss bailey way too much credit.

  • mikebirty

    oh the defense. What to do? The chargers and the saints scoring 30+ points is awful but they’re good teams, if we make the jags, bucs and chiefs look good then we’ll come back and start worrying about defense. I’m in a don’t panic mode at the moment.


  • BroncoFan18

    You can have the best CB’s in the world (I believe we have one of them), but if the d-line gives the quarterback 7 seconds to throw the ball, it doesn’t matter, they will still get burned.

    We need to lay off zone coverage. That’s for third and long, not 1st and second down. Champ and Bly need to press up on the recievers and bump them off their routes, upset the timing. With zone defense, we leave too many holes open, especially on 1st and 2nd down.

    Also, our defense can’t play like we are ahead 21-3.

  • Dario

    With the Bronco’s man coverage I wonder why that can’t go all in with something like this:

  • LorDog

    “lordog: nickel they take out webster (it’s unusual to take out the MLB but makes sense on this team) and put in paymah. dime they additionally take out boss/windborn and put in jwilliams. coverage packages are the same, just reallocate responsibilities to the extra DB.”

    Thanks Steve!!

  • Ian Henson


    1. Darren Sharper 51
    2. Champ Bailey 43
    3. Dre Bly 38

    There’s really no denying the talent of Dre Bly and Champ Bailey, well, you could, but you’d look a lot like the people in Oakland who were excited about DeAngelo Hall.

  • anon

    1. Darren Sharper 51
    2. Champ Bailey 43
    3. Dre Bly 38”

    Ah, statistics. So easy to misuse. Bly’s been a negative this year thus far, and only slightly better than a non-factor last year. He’s on pace to record exactly 25% of the INTs he had in Detroit. He’s been coasting on a good 2003 season for the last five years. Tell me again how one INT every four games — his Bronco average — translates into stellar work? Moreover, when you weight that stat against the many many many times he’s been burnt or blown coverage or failed to make a play, he becomes even more of a liability.

    Case in point. We had the Saints at 3-11 deep in their end. We’re up 21-3. Bly dogs it on his blitz, Brees connects, Saints go on to score and the comeback is joined. If Bly puts a little effort into that play, the game is entirely different.

  • jcampb72

    I am not bummed about these two close games against Nawlins and SD. This two offenses are in the top 5 in the league. Yeah so our defense needs to play better in coverage but when it came time to make plays our D came up big. Some, Woody Paige, would call these wins luck. I simply don’t believe that. It is not luck that our O is putting up 38 ppg, it’s our QB and WRs. It’s not luck a decorated zebra made a bad call, that happens every game. It’s not luck gramatica missed a supposed game winning fg, thats called the 12th man bringing the thunder and a bad hold. Some would want you to bring a horseshoe, lucky charms and a leprechaun to the game. Thats truely rediculous. Luck…..I think not.

  • Richard


    In line with your lucky charms and leprechauns, the Broncos just announced that they have retained the services of Father Liam O’ Malley S.J. to administer the last rights to Kansas City Chef fans prior to the opening kickoff.

  • Ian Henson


    I am by no means a fan boy and I’m sorry to come off that way. Statistics are basically the proof of outcome, it’s a record of what has happened. I do not see how skewing takes away the fact that Dre Bly, interception wise, has the third most out of any active corner in the league. He even had more than Champ last season, the game where Bailey had to sit (Pittsburgh) he (Bly) was the secondary basically. Yes, he got beat against Green Bay, it happens.

    Everyone had a terrible year defensively in ’07- Bailey had three total interceptions (2 against KC and 1 against Oakland) and this season, defensively is shaping up to be worse than last season.

  • rcsodak

    LOL.. Then let me say it for you….

    ….the KC game is going to be a TRAIN WRECK!!!!!

    Atlanta put up 38!!!!! ATLANTA!!!!!

    If Denver can’t put up “half-a-hundred” I’ll be amazed.

    I also see 5 sacks and 3 KC turnovers.

    The D will get a chance at another scrimmage.

  • Ian Henson

    Herc- I’m not giving him too much credit, you just need a tinted shade on your glasses obviously. That man could beat Champ in a 40-yard dash, if he clipped him after 10.

    In all reality though, he shut down both Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates last season- Boss full-strength is my guy and I will take him, in Denvers’ package over any SLB in the league.

    What’s most surprising to me is how quiet fans have been regarding Niko Koutouvides. He was our personal linebacker and savior in the off-season. Guess that means people like Webster and his incredible Jerome Bettis like abilities.

  • Danh Hoang

    Ian, you are absolutely right on all levels. If this team does not get their act together, they will get stomped at the wrong time of the season.

  • SivNiz

    Dude! We have a leprechaun at every home game.