"It’s just the preseason" is the cry of every media outlet. However, try as they might they can’t escape the reality that the preseason is the time to work out the kinks in the game plan and execution. With that in mind, a new weekly segment called “Film Study” will recap a few plays that impact net results. This week’s segment on the defense focuses on some of the errors made in the game against the San Francisco 49’ers on Friday night in California.
By and large, all of the following errors are correctable. Some of it could be related to coaching and scheme however the greater void is in play anticipation and scheme execution. These are all errors that led to big plays for San Francisco. Ironically enough all of these errors are correctable.
On the second play from scrimmage San Francisco QB Shaun Hill picked up on Darcel McBath lining up on the strong-side blitz. He then calmly hit the tight end Vernon Davis for a twenty-three yard pick-up. This wound up being a blown assignment as there was no Bronco defender directly picking up the TE as he worked to find a gap in space. The replay showed Champ Bailey in between an outside receiver running a short out and the TE Davis with LB Andra Davis slow to the punch in coverage and missing the tackle.
This is a play that was flawed from the play call to the execution of the defensive scheme. If the defense is going to send safety Darcel McBath on a blitz from the outside, they have to have better coverage over the vacated tight end. That much is obvious. What should happen is that the Broncos should not have linebacker Andra Davis trying to cover tight ends with receiver type abilities like Vernon Davis.
The Broncos defense needs to compensate for the gap in space. Utilizing a faster linebacker in coverage is one option, having the free-safety cover tighter is another option.
Broncos fans will probably see a great deal of Darcel McBath blitzing over the course of his career, however the team must shutdown the open alleys to ensure success.
The problem really seems to be the play call related to the available personnel on the field. Champ Bailey is caught in between two wide open receivers and can’t really use his abilities at all on the play.
In this personnel set the Broncos are probably better off not blitzing the safety but rather a linebacker.
After two solid displays of defensive strength in making a run stop and then a sack, the Broncos once again showed they have work to do.
On third and fourteen, the Broncos send four pass rushers as they sit back in the zone defense. Vernon Davis again is able to find space. This time he is lined-up on the left-side instead of the right, then worked his way across the middle of the field to find space behind Andra Davis for another first down with a gain of sixteen yards.
If the Broncos are going to hang back in space they need to force the receivers to go underneath and not over the coverage. Andra Davis should have had a deeper drop to shut down the passing lane. The Broncos could have also had a little more anticipation on the receiver routes given the down and distance to go for the first.
Kenny Peterson missed QB’s ankles as Hill worked to escape the pocket. Ron Fields then abandoned the middle of the field to cover the running back, prematurely anticipating a screen dump-off.
The obvious errors here are on tackling and anticipation. Admittedly, it is hard for D-line players to always wrap up the QB in full, let alone by the shoe laces. However a better job by the front seven could have forced a short gain, incompletion, or possible interception. Fields can’t abandon the middle early for the obvious result on the play. The nose tackle has to plug the middle. Fields should be applauded for having the anticipation; however he took himself right out of the play.
The Broncos were then gashed a few plays later by an inside trap that crossed up the front seven with little support behind them. The 49’ers rookie running back Glen Coffee was made to look like Roger Craig in open space carrying the rock for a first down.
The two clear problems on this play are the Broncos not being ready for a trap call and being blocked entirely out of the play. This a situation where the defensive front seven must take control physically and utilize technique to minimize the overall gain on the play by the 49’er ground game.
On the third 49’er offensive series backup QB Alex Smith completes a seven yard hitch to Arnez Battle on second and eight with five Broncos pass rushers on the attack.
It goes back to anticipation. The Broncos had the 49’ers in a second and long situation. There should have been better foresight to see the routes that could either give the 49’ers a first down or put them close to it. Hitches, slants, outs, and hooks, have to be given proper coverage considerations.
On third down Glen Coffee runs a dive up the middle for a gain of three and a first down.
This is where the Broncos need to have a greater push up front along the front seven to stuff the run in key situations.
Following the third Kyle Orton interception Alex Smith hooks up with TE Britt Miller on a short out route for the touchdown.
The real issue here is that the Broncos have had three turnovers to this point in the game and are on the verge of giving up a big score. The thing the defensive unit needs to do is anticipate smash runs and quick out routes that are so common in goal line situations.
On the whole the Broncos defense did play well, in fact keeping the team in the game despite three early Kyle Orton interceptions. The straw that was breaking the Broncos back however was the minor lapses in communication and scheme execution. This all led to the defense giving up big plays in late down situations. Fortunately none of the plays were too big to take the Broncos out of the game. The Broncos had a number of short stops against the 49’er ground game and had good pressure resulting in sacks against San Francisco. While not a perfect outing, the Broncos defense showed a lot of positives.
This week’s grade: B