Saturday, June 28, 2008

Broncos Defensive Expectations

Defense, especially against the run, was a big problem for the Broncos in '07. Jim Bates and his defensive philosophy have come and gone. Some seem to think that Mike Shanahan knows nothing about defense and has to find a DC that he can trust, from whom he can just walk away and be completely hands off. If that was ever the case in the past, which I doubt, '08 will be a season where coordinators and assistants will look up and see Mike in their position practice, at meetings, etc. He has always been hands on with the O and I think he is going to be all over his whole team in '08 (including ST).

Having said that, what does Mike Shanahan want his defense to be? It seems obvious that he is much more comfortable keeping an opponent's running game shut down, or at least greatly inhibited, rather than the other way around. That makes sense for a former option QB who, as an OC and head coach, clearly likes to run the ball.

There are two widely used defenses currently seen in the NFL: a variation of the Oklahoma 50 which most call the 3-4; and the split front 4-3 w/two corners and two safeties which many teams employ in cover 2. Since someone on another site mentioned it, I've been thinking. It has to do with Shanahan's inclination to keep one of the safeties in the tackle box. We saw this often in Larry Coyer's D. Another Bronco fan commented that it's really more like a 4-4. I finally snapped. That's very similar to the split six D run for years by the HS team I used to help. We called it the 60.

The split-six (4-4) is excellent at stopping the run. Years ago many of our opponents ran the Wing-T offense and our 60 was good against it if the players avoided certain bad habits. Option teams used to cause problems, but the 60 was pretty good vs. the run if coached, called and played properly. Our opponents started throwing more, but as long as we had good corners and a good FS, cover 3 worked well along with cover 1, 0 and variations ... , but never cover 2.

Many NFL teams use cover 2 in some form, but I haven't seen the Broncos use it much. With the personnel they have, I guess the corners could be inverted to take deep halves and position the deep safety where the deep halves start to pick up a receiver running post up the seam. This S would need to: cover, break on the ball and hit hard. One approach to attacking cover 2 might be X and Z fade and Y post out of pro or some formation w/X & Z on opposite sides. Then switch it up: X fade , Y chair, Z post; X post, Y corner, Z curl, etc. If the Y is a TE, then run must be respected. Which is what needs to be done against cover 2 teams ... run the ball.

There have been indications that Denver's '08 D will line up in a split front with three backers and a S (SS?) in or near the tackle box. The front seven or eight will play a gap control run D in which the DL will often slant, angle, pinch, gut, loop as well as jam and slide some. There will be blitzes (not on 3rd & long, I hope) and twists. Every conceivable zone coverage will be seen along with cover 3, 1 and zero. Cover 2 might even be thrown in rarely.

Preparing the D for a game is much more time consuming than O. Some NFL teams can change their offensive or defensive personality from week to week. I've seen the Pats do it. However, each team's personnel (including coaches) is the center of gravity from which they won't stray too far. Pretty soon the Broncos will need to start grooming a young box safety and a new deep safety. Could this be what they have in mind for Wesley Woodyard and Josh Barrett?

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