Denver Broncos: How Their Goal-Line Passing Won the AFC Championship Game

Scotty McGrawCorrespondent IIIJanuary 20, 2014

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) runs into the end zone on a three-yard touchdown pass against New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard during the second half of the AFC Championship NFL playoff football game in Denver, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The Denver Broncos defeated the New England Patriots 26-16 on Championship Sunday, punching a ticket to the Super Bowl. Quarterback Peyton Manning's two touchdowns, kicker Matt Prater's four field goals and a strong defensive performance propelled the Broncos past the Pats. 

Manning's two touchdowns both were thrown during two goal-to-go situations. 

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

In the second quarter, the Broncos were up 3-0. It was 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line when Denver lined up in a goal-line power left formation.

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

Manning play-actioned with a fake handoff to the power (left) side, followed by a bootleg to the weak (right) side. An end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL)—which, in this case, was a linebacker—froze. The linebacker ran across the open side of the field and slightly toward Manning. Since the EMOL moved, a hole in the zone defense was created. 

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

Tight end Jacob Tamme "sat" in the zone and was on the receiving end of Manning's first touchdown of the day. 

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

In the third quarter, the Broncos were up 13-3 and were in a similar situation. They had a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. They lined up in a single-back formation, with Y-Trips left (a tight end and two receivers off the line of scrimmage) and a split end right. The split end, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, was in position to execute a goal-line fade, one of the Broncos' most consistent passing plays. 

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

Manning play-actioned off of a fake handoff to the open (right) side. Instead of a bootleg, he centered in the pocket. Thomas edged outside as if he were running a fade, but then he cut inside. The cornerback played the fade. A Patriot EMOL was in a hook-curl zone tight to the line of scrimmage. 

Photo courtesy CBS
Photo courtesy CBSCBS

The EMOL stayed planted in the zone, and all Thomas had to do was create moderate separation from the cornerback. For Manning, it was an easy pitch-and-catch.

The Broncos' goal-line passing was easily the most overlooked factor of the AFC Championship. Both of Denver's touchdowns resulted from goal-line passing plays.