Broncos vs. Cardinals Analytics: Attacking the Second Level


Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Broncos vs. Cardinals, Week Five

We all know that the Arizona Cardinals are one of the best teams in the NFL right now, and a matchup in Denver has provided the rest of the country with a stage in which to see this team up close and personal. The Broncos know where the Cardinals are strong, but they also know their weakness.

Specifically, I want to look at how the Broncos can exploit this Cardinals team defensively, a team that is filled with big names and star players. It starts up front with Calais Campbell, one of the best and most underrated defensive linemen in the league. Campbell will anchor the line, while Patrick Peterson, Antonio Cromartie, and Tyrann Mathieu are floating around in the secondary.

The weakness of this Cardinals’ defense is at the linebacker spots, where only Kevin Minter (0.8) has a positive grade this season according to Pro Football Focus.

Like the team the Broncos just played in Seattle, the Cardinals are built to defend against the run. That’s not a coincidence given the division they play in, but the Broncos need to be ready to attack these linebackers in the passing game, where they are overwhelmingly poor in grade. Peyton Manning has probably studied this Cardinal defense — coached by Todd Bowles — to a great extent. If the Broncos can prevent guys like Calais Campbell from wrecking things at the line of scrimmage, they should have some really favorable matchups going across the middle of the field and attacking the second level of the defense all day if they want it.

It’s no secret that the Cardinals play phenomenal team defense, but the Broncos last I checked are one of the best offenses in the league, and with two weeks to prepare, you have to think Peyton and company are going to be up for this game, ready to exploit a major weakness in the Arizona armor.

This is not a matchup for the Broncos to take lightly. With guys like Wes Welker and Julius Thomas able to work the middle of the field the way they should be able to against these linebackers, it will force the Cardinals to help in that area and exploit weaknesses on the outside with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

One thing is clear — the Broncos need not try to beat the Cardinals by running the football down their throat, because they are well equipped to stop it if the need is there. Use the pass to set up big runs, and be aggressive early on, using Montee Ball on screens or check downs as an extended running game.

This is an area I see the Broncos exploiting early and often on Sunday.