Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
20 Mar 2012
by Ben Muth
Welcome to the first offseason edition of Word of Muth. The basic plan is to take one team every week and give some quick thoughts on their scheme and personnel. I’ll only be watching about a game-and-a-half for each team I do, so this won’t be the most in-depth scouting report ever, but it still should be fun and informative.
To start things off I chose the Denver Broncos, because I wanted this to be the 47th Broncos-centric article you read this week. I watched all of the Patriots playoff game and the first half of the Pittsburgh game. Then Peyton Manning signed, and I figured I better go back and watch them when they had a more traditional offense, so I also watched the Week 6 San Diego game (Kyle Orton’s last stand).
Here are my quick thoughts:
I like both of Denver’s offensive tackles for different reasons. On the right side is rookie Orlando Franklin. Franklin does everything I thought James Carpenter would do in Seattle this year, and I mean that as a compliment. Carpenter is already a very good run blocker -- it doesn’t matter if the play calls for an outside or inside zone, Franklin can move guys out of the way and off the line of scrimmage. He made one play against San Diego that really jumped off the film. It was an inside zone to the left and Franklin was working in combination with Chris Kuper. They blew the defensive tackle straight off the ball four yards, driving him right into the linebacker and eliminating both defenders from the play. Willis McGahee cut back behind their block and broke into the second level. Franklin saw that and kicked it up to another gear, rumbling down field and getting a block on a safety. It was a great effort play that showed the kind of player Franklin can be.
As good as Franklin in as a run blocker, he could be a liability in the passing game. It’s hard to tell how much, if at all, Franklin improved as the season went along, because Denver ran the ball so much Franklin didn’t have to deal with defenders in pass rush "mode" very often. On top of that, when the Broncos did throw it, it was usually out of play-action where Franklin could jump guys at the line. Maybe he got much better as the season went along -- it's entirely possible -- and he just didn’t get a chance to show it off. If he didn’t, however, his pass blocking will be a problem in a more traditional system.
Franklin’s biggest issue is his tendency to bucket step when he punches. This means that he steps underneath himself right at the point of contact, which turns his shoulders perpendicular (or even up to 180 degrees) from the line of scrimmage. That shortens the corner and allows the defensive end to simply lean into Franklin and complete the rush right at seven yards. If Franklin was better with his feet, he could stay square longer and force the defensive end to run by the quarterback. The good news is that this is not an athletic deficiency, but just a bad habit. A full offseason should do wonders on that front, and when you take into account how good he already is run-blocking (Denver was second in the league in adjusted line yards off right tackle), there’s reason to think Franklin can play on the right edge for a long time.
The other bookend is Ryan Clady, who is a far more polished pass protector. He’s a long, fluid, player who looks very natural in his pass set. His punch isn’t devastating from a power standpoint, but it is quick and accurate. The other thing Clady has is a good awareness of all the moving parts on defense. He seems to know where pressure can come from, and how that will affect his man. There were times when he would step down to cut off an inside move before the defender made it to the spot because he saw the stunt developing around him. Clady’s ability as a pass blocker was surely a selling point for Manning.
It’s the running game where Clady leaves a little to be desired. He’s certainly a willing run blocker, it’s just that he can get knocked around at the point of attack. He’s better at the second level, where he is big and athletic enough to simply swallow linebackers. To be considered an upper echelon run blocker, Clady has to be more physical against defensive linemen. Still, he’s a good enough pass blocker to put up with some run-game deficiencies, and he and Franklin combine to make an above-average duo with appealing upside.
I have to be honest: I don’t think I had heard of Chris Kuper before this weekend. Now that I have watched him play though, I can say that I am a big Kuper fan. I was so impressed that I’m going to do my Jon Gruden impression for him. "This Kruger guy, flat out gets after it out there, doesn’t he Jaws?" Kuper generates consistent movement no matter who he double teams with in the running game. He can also reach a three-technique when he has to, which is the measuring stick for all NFL guards. He plays with a nasty streak, and reminds me a bit of Logan Mankins. He’s a bit of a mauler in the passing game, and I could see where he could struggle against quicker defensive tackles, but he has strong enough hands to control anybody once he locks onto them.
Opposite Kuper is Zane Beadles. I’m undecided on Beadles after seeing just two games. He looks good physically and he’s got obvious athleticism, but he just doesn’t block them like I thought he would. He plays high at times, but not to the point where I worry about his flexibility. He doesn’t do anything particularly poorly, he just doesn’t stand out that much. Beadles seemed to get pushed around a bit against New England. He is just a second-year player, so there is time to grow, but I'd still like to see something flash from a second-round pick who’s played as much football as Beadles has early.
Last, and for lack of a better term least, is center J.D. Walton. The Baylor product struggled against head up nose tackles in both games and really got shoved around at times. He’s listed at 305, but definitely looks smaller than that when he plays. There are plenty of centers that overcome a lack of size and strength with quickness and technique, but Walton is going to need to get a lot better before he goes down as an undersized success story. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Denver go after someone else in the offseason (though not Jeff Saturday) to replace Walton.
I like Denver’s offensive line. They have an above-average left tackle in Clady, a right side that is already one of the better run blocking tandems in the league, and a capable left guard who is still young and has some natural ability. Center is the only real problem up front, and that may be the easiest position to improve upon (or at least hide) schematically. There is more than just Peyton Manning for Broncos fans to be optimistic about.
That does it for this week. In the future I’ll try to talk more about schematic issues, but since I watched more tape than I normally will and the scheme is going to be completely different anyway, I decided to stick with personnel evaluation. Feel free to suggest teams I should do in the comments, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.
41 comments, Last at 29 Mar 2012, 10:17am by DisplacedPackerFan