In the past few years, the Denver Broncos have been synonymous with offense. Their passing attack, led by Peyton Manning, has set records and has just been a dominating force. However, that potent attack has floundered to begin 2015, due to a combination of age, injury, and a new scheme. The Broncos’ defense, however, has excelled, and is widely regarded as the best in the league so far this year. New DC Wade Phillips has taken the toys he was given and simply terrorized opposing offenses with them. The Broncos’ pass rush is on fire, their secondary is playing well enough to support all of the blitzes Phillips runs, and the run defense is playing very well too.
In their week four game against the Vikings, the Broncos took advantage of a battered Vikings offensive line and tried to rush Teddy Bridgewater to extinction. It almost worked, as the Broncos harassed the young QB all day, picking up 7 sacks and hitting him numerous other times. Bridgewater hardly had time to throw, and the Broncos kept the pressure on him with blitz after blitz after blitz. It didn’t always work for the Broncos, but the pressure was sufficient to shut down a comeback attempt and seal a 23-20 win for Denver to push them to 4-0.
Let’s get down to the subject at hand and look at exactly how the Broncos were able to put so much pressure on Bridgewater:
1-10-MIN 39 (Q1, 13:23) T.Bridgewater sacked at MIN 26 for -13 yards (T.Ward).
On this play, the Broncos successfully create confusion in the Vikings protection scheme. They do this through two things. First, they drop a player who looks like a pass rusher (#48, Shaq Barrett, who’s on the far right at the snap) back into man coverage on a TE. Then, the substitute in #43 TJ Ward to blitz from the other side. Then, they have both the DT and Ware on the left side of the line shift their pass rushes inside a gap. The DT starts out in the B Gap, but moves his rush inside to the A Gap, which forces LG Brandon Fusco to follow him. Ware moves his rush from the C Gap into the B Gap that the DT just vacated. Ward’s blitz comes through the C Gap that Ware vacated.
There are two players that are potentially responsible for the protection breakdown here: LT Matt Kalil and RB Adrian Peterson. Kalil kicks out and engages Ward at the snap, and Peterson immediately turns to the outside blitzer as well. However, this leaves Ware with a free lane up the B Gap. Recognizing this, Peterson tries to recover and block Ware, but it’s too late. Whose fault is it? The simple answer is you can’t be sure because the protection call is unknown. However, my best guess is it’s Kalil’s fault. Fusco shifted over from the B Gap to the A Gap, so it would make sense for Kalil to shift from the C Gap to the B Gap, and have Peterson block the guy off the edge. Additionally, I’d much rather have Peterson trying to block TJ Ward than Demarcus Ware, who’s one of the best pass rushers in the game.
Once Ware gets in Teddy’s face basically untouched, Bridgewater doesn’t have much of a chance. He didn’t even get to finish his drop, and now he has to try to scramble away. Unfortunately, he chooses to scramble right into Ward’s waiting arms for the sack.
3-15-MIN 34 (Q1, 11:59) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater sacked at MIN 21 for -13 yards (D.Ware)
This successful blitz was helped by a different thing the Broncos did to confuse the Vikings’ protection schemes. Just before the snap, they brought Demarcus Ware and Von Miller away from their usual positions rushing the edge and instead put them blitzing the A Gaps, and then they also brought a DB blitz off the edge. In addition to their five OL, the Vikings kept TE Kyle Rudolph in to block. However, after the snap, Fusco tripped over Matt Kalil. This left Demarcus Ware free on a blitz up the middle once again. Rudolph didn’t fare any better than Peterson did, and this time Ware got the sack by himself instead of forcing Bridgewater towards another player.
2-12-DEN 35 (Q1, 2:01) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater sacked at DEN 43 for -8 yards (S.Ray).
Another passing play, another blitz from the Broncos. Like the first time, they bring TJ Ward off the edge. Actually, schematically the Broncos just flipped the blitz that got them the first sack. The Vikings actually got the protection call right this time, with RT TJ Clemmings going to block Shane Ray and Peterson blocking Ward, it just wasn’t executed correctly. Clemmings’ feet killed him. He started to set outside, and then didn’t get moving back inside until Ray was pretty much by him. Watch his left foot. In his first two steps it stays in essentially the same place on the field. That allowed Ray to get inside him and win up the middle, because Clemmings had to reach outside of his frame and had no leverage. Ray didn’t even have to do anything special to disengage, he just ran through Clemmings’ arms. That’s bad pass protection. Peterson didn’t do a great job either, as he let Ward push him into Bridgewater as the QB was falling down.
1-10-MIN 48 (Q2, 14:06) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete short left to Z.Line (M.Jackson).
The plan for the Broncos on this play is to overload the right side of the Vikings’ OL. Once again, the Vikings’ protection gets confused and it causes a free rusher. On the right side of the offensive line (or the left side from this angle), the Broncos have four potential pass rushers: #58 Von Miller, #96 Vance Walker, #54 Brandon Marshall, and #92 Sylvester Williams. At the snap, they drop Miller and once again send Ward on a blitz through the A Gap. The real problem for the Vikings comes when TJ Clemmings screws up his assignment. #85 Rhett Ellison is tasked with blocking Miller, then logic would dictate that Walker is Clemmings’ responsibility. However, at the snap Clemmings moves to block Marshall. This completely goes against the flow of the OL. Ellison initially steps to block Miller, but when Miller drops into coverage he looks to help with Walker. Clemmings realizes his mistake when he runs into RG Mike Harris, and tries to go to Walker as well, but Walker was already past him, and flushed Bridgewater out to his left. To make things worse, Ward’s blitz up the middle caused Peterson to have to block him, and Peterson tried to kick Ward out to his (Peterson’s) left. This would have been fine if Teddy had been able to stay in the pocket, but actually ended up helping Ward get pressure on the QB as well. It took a miraculous play by Bridgewater to escape the sack and throw the ball away.
3-6-DEN 48 (Q2, 13:13) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass deep left to S.Diggs to DEN 23 for 25 yards (B.Roby) (V.Miller).
At the snap, the Broncos show a heavy blitz on this play, with 7 players on the line of scrimmage. However, they only actually send four guys after the QB. Just showing the blitz did enough to disrupt the Vikings protection scheme and give the Broncos the favorable matchup they wanted: RB Matt Asiata blocking Von Miller. Miller might be the best pass rusher in the NFL, so having a RB blocking him one-on-one is a problem. So, because of the look the Broncos showed presnap, the Vikings ended up with two offensive linemen with virtually nothing to do and a RB who is simply overmatched. Asiata tries to cut block Miller, but he makes Asiata whiff, and gets a free lane at Bridgewater. He gets his arms around Bridgewater’s legs, but while he is bringing him to the ground Bridgewater gets off a really impressive throw, that ends up complete to Stefon Diggs. This is an amazing throw by Teddy, and unfortunately for the Broncos the best efforts of their pass rush went to waste on this play.
3-9-MIN 6 (Q2, 9:58) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater pass incomplete short left to K.Rudolph.
On this play, the Broncos’ pass rush doesn’t actually get to the QB, but it does cause a wasted play for the Vikings. The Broncos have them pinned deep in their own territory, and the Broncos run a pair of DL stunts on this play to try to confuse the Vikings blockers. The left side of the Vikings’ OL just does a bad job taking care of the stunt. Matt Kalil loses badly on Demarcus Ware’s spin move back inside, which once again forces Bridgewater to move to his left. This means #90 Antonio Smith is free on the stunt and is right in Bridgewater’s face. Teddy has no choice but to throw the ball away at the feet of a receiver.
3-7-MIN 36 (Q2, 3:56) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater sacked at MIN 22 for -14 yards (sack split by D.Ware and V.Miller).
The Broncos don’t do anything fancy to get pressure on this play, their guys just beat the Vikings players. On the right side, Von Miller sets TJ Clemmings up outside and then comes back across his body with a spin move and gets a path to Teddy. However, the player that gets even more pressure on the play is Demarcus Ware, who has a one-on-one with Matt Kalil. Ware fakes inside, and gets Kalil to overcommit way too far. He gets by Kalil basically untouched, and gets a pretty simple sack.
3-10-DEN 31 (Q2, 2:04) (Shotgun) T.Bridgewater scrambles up the middle to DEN 20 for 11 yards (D.Ware).
On this play, the Broncos once again get pressure through the use of a stunt, this time involving Miller and #97 Malik Jackson. Miller comes inside with a spin move again (although this one was not as effective as the last one) and Jackson loops around him. Miller collapsing the middle and Ware getting some pressure off of the other edge causes Bridgewater to step up and to his right, which is theoretically right into the arms of Jackson. Jackson gets an arm on the QB, but Teddy slips the tackle and is able to run up the middle and pick up a first down deep in Broncos territory.