We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.
INSIDE THE BRONCOS’ OFFENSE
The quarterback is the always the focal point of a team and that’s where I start here with a look at Peyton Manning. Manning came to the Broncos this offseason after being released from the Indianapolis Colts, and he’s injected a significant amount of hope into the franchise. Regardless of what’s been said, the majority of the offense that Manning runs in Denver is what he ran in Indianapolis.
What this means for the Patriots defense is that they will be seeing a lot of 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) personnel. It also means there is a variety of pass concepts that have horizontal and vertical stretches built in to attack the defense at all levels of the field.
The stretches combine to create several concepts such as Smash and Triple Hi-Lo. In most cases, these concepts are accompanied by five- and six-man protections and in some cases, seven man when going to play action.
One of the slight changes that we have seen from Manning’s old offense is the running game, which is led by the powerful Willis McGahee. McGahee is running the stretch concepts (inside and outside zone) that were seen with Manning’s Colts but also the power and crack-toss concepts. Some of this can be seen from shotgun set, where McGahee is offset to either of Manning’s sides.
INSIDE THE BRONCOS’ DEFENSE
Defensively, the Broncos have seen a shift to multiple fronts under former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio bases out of the 4-3 defense but shows a variety of looks that range from no down linemen to three. He will use an ‘Amoeba’ ⎯ zero defensive linemen ⎯ or a 2 man front on third down and long situations to present confusing looks to quarterbacks like division rival Rex Ryan has done in previous years.
Moreover, Del Rio uses a 3-3-5 front with three linebackers, one of which (Von Miller) is often on the line of scrimmage. Two of the defensive linemen in this front can be seen playing three-technqiues (outside shoulder of offensive guard) with the third, the nose tackle, in a flexed (roughly a yard off the ball) 0-technique (head-up on the center).
The flexed nose tackle is also seen in four-man fronts, which also consists of the typical Under (strong-side guard uncovered) and Over (strong-side guard covered) schemes. As one can see, Del Rio’s defense features varying techniques, even when they go to the traditional Under and Over schemes because he will use a reduced end that lines up in a four-technique (head up on tackle) opposed to the usual five-technique.
Along with these varying fronts, the Broncos will use stunts and twists as well as five-man blitzes.
In the secondary, there are several coverages played with cornerbacks that are tightly rolled up to the line of scrimmage. The coverages include but are not limited to Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2, Cover 2 Man, Cover 3, Cover 4 and their variations.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots deep shots - There should be an opportunity for a couple of deep shots from the Patriots offense against the Broncos defense. The defense is very aggressive and the safeties can be caught out of position, so a chance for a deep shot off play action is a possibility. There’s also the chance of a shot off a double move because of how tight the cornerbacks play.
Outside runs vs. Broncos defense - The Broncos are eighth in run defense this year because they’re very stout up the middle. They don’t allow much yards there, so the best chance of getting yards often comes on the outside, where the linebackers can sometimes get caught in the wash and allow run lanes to be created.
WR Demaryius Thomas yards after the catch - Thomas has had some struggles this year but is still a playmaker and very dynamic. The Broncos like to throw screens to him to get him into open space and he’s done damage thus far. He is one to watch.
Broncos seam routes - Like the old Colts days, Peyton Manning still likes to throw seam routes, whether its off of play action or a four verticals concept. Manning often makes throws to his tight end in the final 30 yards of opponent territory.
Broncos Interior OL vs. Patriots DL - The Patriots' interior front will be a tough test for the Broncos. Although the Broncos do a good job of doubling with blockers at the point of attack, they do tend to have an issue with powerful rushers and that’s where Vince Wilfork comes in. Wilfork will be a key in slowing down the Broncos running game and applying pressure up the pocket (along with Jermaine Cunningham) where Manning is least comfortable.
Patriots Front-7 vs. Broncos run - The hardest thing to do against Peyton Manning is to make him one dimensional because he’s far too good in checking into the right plays to get a numbers advantage. Despite this, the Patriots have to find a way to slow down the Broncos running game to make the offense one dimensional and reliant on Manning’s arm. The Patriots could do this with late rotation into the box to counter Manning’s checks and make him wrong.