The Denver Broncos will try to get back on the winning track as they take on the Washington Redskins in Week 8. Denver suffered their first loss of the season on the road, losing 39-33 against the Colts in Week 7. They’re hoping that the home field advantage of Sports Authority Field at Mile High will help them right the ship.
Last week the Broncos didn’t do a good job of protecting Peyton Manning. Against the Colts in Week 7 Manning was under duress or sacked 13 times. It was the second highest number of times he's been under duress over the last five years. The last time Manning saw that much heat was a 2009 week 10 game against the Patriots (14).
Manning leads the NFL in passing yards with 2,565 yards so far this year. He’s on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his illustrious career. With nine more games to go in the regular season, Manning only needs to average 270.5 yards per game in order to reach that mark.
Throwing for over 270 is not going to be a problem against Washington. Their pass defense ranks 22nd in the league, and they allow an average of 262.8 yards passing per game. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Redskins would be without free safety Brandon Meriweather against the Broncos due to a one-game suspension.
The Broncos’ rushing offense ranks 9th in the NFL with 200 rushing attempts this season. Knowshon Moreno wasn’t able to get the ground game jump started against the Colts, but that could be a point of emphasis this week against the Redskins.
The Redskins have one of the worst rush defenses in the entire league. They allow an average of 126.2 yards per game. Denver should be able to establish the run and gash the Washington defense early and often.
Defensively the Broncos will have a lot to deal with facing Robert Griffin III. Coming off a knee injury he sustained in the 2012 playoffs, Griffin started off the season slowly after missing all offseason workouts. However, over the last few weeks we’ve seen Griffin look more like the player he was last year pre-injury.
On Wednesday, Broncos head coach John Fox talked about what they’ve seen from Griffin on tape. “Yeah, we went back about six games [on tape]. I think in fairness, anytime you have a guy sit out the entire preseason coming off a long season of rehab, and he’s your quarterback, I think that takes a minute to get in sync. I think they’ve gotten themselves to a top-five offense in the National Football League. So I’d say he’s performing pretty well.”
Containing Griffin as a passer may prove to be difficult, especially since he does a fantastic job of keeping plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. The Broncos faced two mobile quarterbacks earlier this year when they played against Terrelle Pryor (Raiders) and Michael Vick (Eagles).
Fox commented on if the experience against mobile quarterbacks will help the team when preparing for Griffin. “Yeah, we’ve had a couple of those types of offenses. Again, each one of these takes on a new personality; they’re all different. But from a mobility standpoint, he’s definitely as scary as those guys you mentioned. We’ve got to execute and that’s what it comes down to. We didn’t execute too well last week. We’re looking to improve on that this week.”
Alfred Morris is a star running back for the Redskins, but he may have a difficult time breaking many runs against the Broncos top-ranked rush defense. Denver only allows an average of 77.1 rushing yards per game.
However, the Redskins have the 4th best rushing offense in the NFL. They average 141.5 yards rushing per game, and Washington will try to soften up the Broncos defense by using both Morris and backup Roy Helu.
The Redskins offense features Pierre Garcon as a deep receiver who can take the top of the defense in a hurry. Underneath the team has an intriguing weapon with rookie tight end Jordan Reed.
Garcon will be difficult to handle with his speed and quickness in the open field. Reed could be difficult for the Broncos’ linebackers to cover in the seam.
Let's take a look at ways the Broncos will attack the Washington Redskins on both sides of the ball.
When the Broncos Run the Ball
The Broncos should be able to rack up quality yards on the ground against the Redskins. Last week against the Colts we saw Denver struggle to get the ground game jump started. They finished the game with only 20 carries for 64 yards after falling behind early to the Colts.
Denver won’t have to abandon the running game this week. In fact, this would be a good week for Moreno to get his first 100-yard game of the season.
In the picture below we see Moreno run up the middle for a gain of four yards. The Broncos line up tight end Julius Thomas in the backfield where he can block any edge player on the right side. With the problems along the offensive line we could see more formation like this, and maybe even more use of 12 personnel.
This picture we see Ronnie Hillman attack the edge on a run outside. The play gains 14 yards as Hillman shows off his explosiveness in space.
Many Broncos fans want Hillman benched after his fourth-quarter fumble against the Colts. Earlier this week Fox seemed to defend his second-year running back. “If you follow the game and look around the league, most of your top backs have two or three fumbles. It’s not anything you like; it’s not anything we’re happy about. I’m sure if you ask him, he’d probably reply the same. But it’s no different than I feel comfortable having [WR Andre Caldwell] be out there catching the ball. [Hillman] is part of our running back corps —he actually had some very nice runs in the game.”
There is a chance we could see a door of opportunity opened for rookie Montee Ball. He’s dropped to third on the depth chart because of two lost fumbles earlier this year. Over the last three games Ball has only been on the field for 14 snaps.
When the Broncos Pass the Ball
Against the Colts we saw some wobbly passes from Manning. Some in the fanbase are worried about Manning’s arm strength. That worry became greater when it was announced that Manning missed practice on Wednesday.
Manning missed practice due to an ankle injury he first suffered against the Jaguars in Week 6. Fox helped calm the fear about Manning’s ankle after practice on Wednesday. “It’s nothing serious, just sore. We wanted to make sure it was healed up.”
The Broncos’ passing offense averages a league-high 361 net yards passing per game. Manning will chip away at defenses that play back in umbrella zone coverage. Taking what the defense gives him is not a problem for Manning as he is incredibly patient.
When the time is right, Manning will take shots downfield. In the picture below we see Manning target Thomas on a deep pass that goes for 19 yards.
Manning is watching the safety as the play unfolds. If the safety peels off to Demaryius Thomas, then Manning will go somewhere else. On this play the safety stays with tight end Julius Thomas, so it makes the read easy for Manning.
Demaryius Thomas stops his route down the sideline a little bit after the cornerback bites on the go route. This play is an easy pitch-and-catch for the Broncos.
When the Redskins Run the Ball
The Redskins are dangerous on the ground. Part of that is Morris and his ability to break tackles. Part of that is due to Griffin being one of the most electric scrambling quarterbacks in the league.
In the picture below we see the Redskins running the read option. Griffin is looking at the defensive end, deciphering where he’s going in order to decide how to counter that. The end stays with Morris, so Griffin takes off to run. The result of this play is a 23-yard run.
On Wednesday after practice, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris talked about facing Griffin. “Every quarterback that we’ve played has been mobile it seems like this year and it definitely tests the whole defense as a whole. We have to fit up the runs perfect. We have to be ready for the play-action passes. It’s no different really than playing [Philadelphia Eagles QB] Michael Vick or [Oakland Raiders QB] Terrelle Pryor—you kind of watch those games and what we did and use them this week.”
The Redskins will also run out of a traditional set. Here we see Morris take a run outside the tackles towards a bunch formation to the left. After the snap, Reed cracks the backside blocker running from left to right in order to stop backside pursuit.
Washington may try to run the ball more in order to keep Manning and the offense off the field. They’ll be able to maintain offensive balance so long as the Broncos don’t build a big lead.
When the Redskins Pass the Ball
The Redskins are a run-heavy team, but they can put up huge numbers through the air if necessary. They’re dangerous as a passing offense because of players like Garcon and Reed.
In the play below we see the Bears stack nine players in the box to stop the Redskins’ ground game. Griffin is able to easily hit Reed in the middle of the field to move the chains.
This play shows how Griffin will look for Garcon on deep routes. Once again the Bears defense is playing close to the line of scrimmage.
Garcon is able to split the seam, and Griffin hits him in between two defenders. The pocket was collapsing around Griffin, and he threw this pass with only arm strength as his follow through was disrupted.
The Redskins have multiple weapons to attack the Broncos defense through the air. With the struggles in the secondary we could see Garcon have a big game.
Reed is going to be difficult to stop as the Broncos’ linebackers are known to struggle in coverage. They could even use a back like Roy Helu as a receiver out of the backfield.
Denver’s pass-rushers need to play with heightened discipline facing Griffin on Sunday. If they get too far upfield he will pull the ball down and hurt them with his scrambling ability.
The Broncos want to get back on the winning track. The Redskins have a dangerous offense, so this could end up being a shootout in the Mile High City.
Manning saw some flaws from watching the film from the Colts game. After practice on Wednesday he talked about what he saw during his film study.
“We just have to be more consistent. We did some good things at certain time but just weren’t as consistent as we needed to be and that’s what you have to do in order to win football games, especially on the road. I thought the mistakes that we made on offense were correctable, which is a good thing. But we have to do it. We talk about it in meetings and try to correct in practice but you have to correct it on the playing field on Sunday and hopefully we can get that done.”
The Broncos will try to get more consistency from their ground game. This should help the offensive line play better against the Redskins.
When the Broncos pass the ball we could see more two tight end sets (12 personnel) to help better protect Manning. The Redskins defense won’t be able to put up much of a fight against Manning, and he should be able to have his way on Sunday.
If Denver gets ahead early and can maintain the lead then we could see more from the ground game than some think. This could lead to an increase in production from Moreno, with perhaps a few more touches for Hillman.
Expect the Broncos to come out as winners in Mike Shanahan’s first game back in Denver.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.