Resident offensive line expert Ben Muth previews the three teams on which he'll be focusing this season: Dallas, Denver, and Cleveland.
15 Oct 2012
by Andy Benoit
The Broncos might not see the kind of pedal-to-the-floor offense they saw last week in New England, but the offense they’re facing Monday is plenty aggressive in its own right. Philip Rivers – who, by the way, was tremendous against the Saints –- takes as many smart risks as any quarterback in football. He has the arm strength and pocket toughness to do so.
Norv Turner’s offense is built for the quarterback to play this way. What always stands out on Chargers film is the depth of the wide receivers’ routes. They do everything about 20-25 percent further downfield than a typical team. This vertical approach is a big reason why teams have trouble defending Antonio Gates. It’s also why San Diego gets such good mileage from its backs in the underneath passing game. It doesn’t matter if it’s the fleet-footed Ryan Mathews, downhill-grinding Jackie Battle or methodically-agile Ronnie Brown –- the Chargers will throw to whoever is coming out of the backfield.
A passing game like this can operate out of base personnel. That’s critical against Denver because it means defensive end/standup joker Von Miller will play at the more-confining strongside linebacker spot. In Week 5 last season, the Chargers went after Miller here, using formations and play designs that required him to think (instead of react) and play man-to-man coverage. Miller responded terribly, and wound up being benched. He’s shown improved football IQ and fundamentals, and the Chargers won’t be able to make this a weakness this time around. Still, the less he’s able to rush the passer, the less of a strength he is for Denver.
The rumors about Peyton Manning’s declining arm strength are true, which is why Manning’s offense in Denver is based a little more on intermediate combination routes as opposed to the downfield isolation patterns that he preferred in Indy. Denver’s intertwined crossing and seam patterns should be very effective against a Chargers defense that’s most comfortable in off-coverage schemes. Inevitably, there will be either a linebacker or strong safety isolated on a tight end every time Manning drops back Monday night. Don’t be surprised if Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen combine for 10 or more catches.
The guy Manning will want to attack is strong safety Atari Bigby. The Falcons had a field day splitting Tony Gonzalez out and forcing Bigby to play him man-to-man. The Broncos receivers aren’t as threatening as Roddy White and Julio Jones (especially downfield), so it’s possible the Chargers will find ways to help Bigby. They could get Eric Weddle more involved in the intermediate coverage levels. That would be a fairly cautious approach, though, as Weddle is the secondary’s only true playmaker and a key to their coverage disguises.
If Denver’s tight ends don’t catch a heap of balls, it will likely be because the Broncos went three-wide so they could get Brandon Stokley involved and run inside against San Diego’s nickel defense. That’s a prudent tactic, as inside running out of base personnel hasn’t been particularly easy for San Diego’s opponents this season. Linebacker Donald Butler regularly slips blocks with great agility, and stalwart veteran Takeo Spikes identifies and fervidly fills holes between the numbers.
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