Last Sunday, the Broncos came away with the win in MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets. However, they did so while losing outside linebacker Danny Trevathan to yet another unfortunate injury. Trevathan had already missed the first four weeks – three games – with a left leg fracture suffered in training camp. This time around, the injury, which was suffered on the same leg but not the same injury, lands Trevathan on the IR with designation to return, meaning he will miss the next eight games.
The Broncos have been in this predicament before, as mentioned above. However, it’s a bit different considering the Broncos are at a different place than they were Week 1. I know that I had a different mindset with this defense even as far back as a few weeks ago. Now, after watching and re-watching the game against the Jets, it feels like this unit is starting to gel and the new guys are getting used to the system.
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Different guys are starting to step up and younger vets are starting to carve their role within the system. Like The Rock says, “Know your role and shut your mouth.” The Broncos defense has done that these last couple of weeks, though maybe the latter part needs some working on. Regardless, these guys knowing their role in this defense is crucial and right now they’re clicking as a whole.
Knowing their role will be no more important than it is right now with Trevathan out. When the season started, the Broncos looked to Brandon Marshall to replace Trevathan. Not much was expected of Marshall, necessarily. More or less, he was expected to just bridge the gap from Week 1 to Week 3 until Trevathan could come back. However, even with Trevathan playing the whole game against Arizona in Week 5, Marshall saw 38 snaps to Nate Irving’s 21. In fact, Marshall has played more snaps than Irving – who’s been the Broncos starting middle linebacker in all five games – in every game.
Not all of the responsibility will fall on Marshall while Trevathan is out, however. Other Broncos will be called upon to try to pick up the slack as Trevathan battles his second injury of the season.
Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Arizona Cardinals tight end John Carlson (89) is tackled by Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) during the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Marshall played 61 snaps against New York compared to Irving’s 15. When I first saw this, I had to double check that Irving didn’t get hurt and wasn’t on the injury report this week – he wasn’t. As I re-watched the game from last Sunday, it was glaring that the Broncos are more comfortable with Marshall in the game right now.
Though Irving has been rock solid in the run game, there’s no doubt he’s a liability dropping into coverage. Marshall isn’t a Pro Bowl coverage linebacker, but he’s a heck of a lot better than Irving. As for Marshall in the run game, this wasn’t his best asset coming into the season, but he’s improved each week, becoming a reliable player on all three downs.
Part of Marshall’s success is due to the play of his teammates upfront, especially Derek Wolfe, Terrance Knighton and even Malik Jackson when he plays inside. But Marshall has been one of those players I mentioned above that looks like he’s gotten comfortable within the scheme.
Marshall doesn’t have the skillset Danny Trevathan has. But he’s an improving, all around linebacker that the Broncos should be able to rely on from snap-to-snap.
The 7th round rookie wearing former captain Wesley Woodyard’s old number surprisingly played 36 of the possible 63 snaps on Sunday. It’s surprising even given the fact that Trevathan got hurt two plays into the game on defense. Coming into Week 6 against the Jets, Nelson had played a grand total of two snaps on defense, which came in Seattle before the Week 5 bye.
On Sunday, Nelson dropped back into coverage 26 times and gave up only one catch for 2 yards. In a scheme dominated by corners, the linebackers are sure to be targeted by opposing quarterbacks. That Nelson only gave up one catch, albeit to a putrid Jets offense, is a good sign.
Sep 14, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Kayvon Webster (36) before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Some may be surprised that I would include Webster on here. However, the Broncos will occasionally use him for man-to-man responsibilities against tight ends. At 5’11, 198 pounds, he’s a bit bigger than most cornerbacks. I was actually surprised he was listed under 200 pounds, he certainly looks bigger on TV.
Nonetheless, Webster has shown he’s a worthy candidate to be placed on tight ends and covering the flat. After being inactive in Week 1, his snaps have increased every game, playing 20 against the Jets. His limited snaps have come with the immergence of rookie corner Bradley Roby. However, Webster could see more of the field should he prove to be a reliable weapon against the Broncos kryptonite this season.
The Broncos record-breaking offense from a season ago has had its ups and downs this season – thought there have been a lot more of the former. That said, they’ve still put the defense in some incredibly tough situations, to which the defense has responded. The Seattle game was a great example of this. I’m especially talking about the fumble on the first drive of that game; the defense subsequently held Seattle to a field goal.
The bar is set pretty high for the offense, and justifiably so. They have the best quarterback in the game with Pro Bowlers throughout the offense. The one thing they could improve upon as a whole unit is staying on the field to let the defense rest. According to Sporting Charts, the Broncos are 26th in the league in three-and-out drive percentage at 25.8%. This just means that 25.8% of the Broncos drives end in a three-and-out.
With Trevathan out, helping out the defense by giving them more time on the sideline only helps. It would be a great thing if the Broncos offense could figure out a way to cut down on the number of short drives.
*All snap count stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus