Denver Broncos Defense Needs Less Bend


Well, the good news is that we won’t have to watch the Broncos play on that monstrosity of a field at Mile High this week. Oh, and the Broncos won last week against the Chiefs. Yay!

The bad news is the Broncos will have to fly to Seattle this week for a Super Bowl 47 re-match against the team that blew them out and embarrassed them 43-8.

Last week was a torturous win if there ever was one. As always, the Broncos offense came out of the gate swinging. But as usual, the defense lets the opposing offense drive all over them in the second half. This week it was at the hands of Alex Smith and the mostly Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs.

The rough start the defense has suffered doesn’t fall on a singular player or position group. The defensive line has struggled to consistently collapse the pocket. The linebackers sans Danny Trevathan haven’t been able to shut down tight ends in coverage. The defensive backs sometimes haven’t been on the same page. And defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio at times just doesn’t let his players play to their potential.

The Broncos have a star-studded defense, riddled with pro bowlers. This includes some of their free agents from the offseason, an occurrence that should enable this defense to have more responsibilities.

So far this season, Del Rio has been prone to having these guys play a lot of zone instead of letting his playmakers man up.

Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is sacked by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

These linebackers watching what’s going on in the backfield and feeling for opponents in their area simultaneously just isn’t something they seem to be able to do. I’d rather put them in man, that way they know what they’re doing on a given play and just need to rely on their pure athleticism. Nate Irving and Brandon Marshall may not have the athleticism that Trevathan has to hold up in coverage, but playing zone hasn’t been doing them any favors.

A personnel grouping that I liked for the defense was on a third and four in the first quarter; the Broncos used T.J. Ward and Quinton Carter as ipso facto linebackers, along with leaving Brandon Marshall out there. On this play, everyone had a man. The result: an Alex Smith incomplete pass. This defense has the personnel to play man.

The risk of this defense playing zone is something we’ve constantly seen, dating back to last year. They become an opportunistic, bend-but-don’t-break defense that leaves holes in coverage for good quarterbacks to take advantage of.

The risk of playing man with this defense is possibly giving up a big play on any given pass play. It sounds bad, but when you’re putting players on the field like Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Ward, and Rahim Moore each down, letting them man up is exactly what you should be doing. These guys have the talent to limit big plays.

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Another thing that bothers me is when Del Rio gets soft with the play calling. On the first drive of the third quarter he called for a three-man rush on a 3rd and 18. This left Von Miller, Malik Jackson, and DeMarcus Ware to go up against six Chiefs offensive lineman. Since most of us know simple math, Alex Smith had approximately seven seconds to throw the ball from snap to release. Because of all the time he had, someone was eventually able to seep through coverage, which of course was a tight end, Travis Kelce.

As I’ve said, you need to let this particular group of guys do what they’re capable; rush the quarterback and man up. Playing a quasi-prevent defense on the first drive of the third quarter tells me two things: a) You don’t trust your guys enough to play a regular defense and stop them on a 3rd and 18 and/or b) You’re not putting the pedal to the metal. I don’t mean to bash Del Rio either. This team seems to love him as a coach and he’s forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know.

The Broncos M.O the whole game seemed to be to not get beat deep. It worked, but they also got burned in different ways. Like on a 3rd and 11 near midfield in the 3rd quarter: Rahim Moore positioned himself about 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage and backpedaled as soon as the ball was snapped. His goal of this play was to give Chris Harris help. Yea, give Chris Harris help. Harris was covering speedster Donnie Avery on this play. It was apparent the whole game that the last thing the Broncos wanted to do was to give up a big play to Avery, having Talib give him a respectable cushion on most plays. Moore effectively took himself out of the middle of the field, which left rookie Bradley Roby all alone with Dwayne Bowe in the slot. The result: a 14-yard gain and a first down.

Sep 7, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore (26) react during the second half against the against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

I’m all for letting guys man up on the opposing offense, but giving help to a pro bowl type player like Harris over a rookie corner is just overdoing it. Even though Avery is one of the fastest receivers in the league, Harris can hold his own against many receivers in the league, inside or outside. I just thought this was more evidence of the Broncos defense playing a bit too cautious and it ended up biting them.

Now, I don’t want to sound like there’s no chance for this defensive unit and that it’s filled with a bunch of 2nd stringers. It’s actually a great unit. And what they displayed Sunday wasn’t horrible in a vacuum. It was just really sloppy and not up to expectations. Maybe the Broncos could bring in a savvy veteran defensive player and 12-time Pro Bowler (just a random number off the top of my head).

Boy was it sloppy; seven 3rd down penalties, two of those on the final defensive drive of the game. Also, I noticed at least a couple of miscommunications involving Harris and Roby, one of which Harris was expecting Roby to take any underneath routes. Roby stayed on his man and left A.J. Jenkins open for an eight-yard gain.

Some of this stuff I’m supremely confident will be cleaned up; we must remember we’re only two weeks into the season. The Broncos brought in a whole new set of toys to play with on defense including Ware, Talib, and Ward. You can throw Von Miller and Moore into that group as well since they missed a lot of time due to injury last year. Harris is also recovering from his own ACL injury.

This defense will get better in some areas. In other areas, I’m not so confident. Until Del Rio gives his defense more individual responsibility, I think the defense is limited in what it can do. The Broncos signed a bunch of high quality free agents to improve the talent, but it just feels like a lot of them are being held back by scheme. I’m not too sure that changes throughout the season.

That said, anything can happen with all the talent on this team and the leadership of Peyton Manning. Hopefully Danny Trevathan comes back soon. And hopefully the Broncos’ A-plus defense shows up in Seattle this Sunday – and the offense, of course.