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» Four Downs: AFC West

There's a serious need for defensive help in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In Denver, meanwhile, the Broncos must determine whether or not Case Keenum can really be a long-term solution at quarterback.

15 Oct 2012

Film Room: Chargers-Broncos

by Andy Benoit

Chargers offense vs. Broncos defense

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.

Broncos offense vs. Chargers defense

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.

Posted by: Andy Benoit on 15 Oct 2012

4 comments, Last at 22 Mar 2013, 7:18am by Wynn


by justanothersteve :: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 2:45pm

That Atari Bigby is still starting shows just how little depth there is at the safety position in the NFL.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 3:00pm

RE: Peyton Manning's arm strength:

His arm has been weaker for years now. Starting somewhere between the Bears Super Bowl and 2009, when it was definitely different, his arm went through a substantial decline due to the creeping nerve issue that eventually killed his 2011. You can see it clearly by 2009 or 2010 on tape. By then, however, his offensive line had regressed - a lot - and he was throwing a lot of very short passes not due to lack of arm strength, but to avoid being sacked.

It's more noticeable in Denver because (a) His arm may or may not be as strong as it was before surgery (although it is probably stronger than in 2011 offseason rehab); (b)Denver has a serviceable, if not great, offensive line, permitting him to challenge down the field much more often than in 2010.

I think the easiest place to see this is in his interception and YPA numbers after 2006. The only problems with this theory are:

2006 also lost him the competent coaching staff of Tony Dungy. This was not too important for him, but it made a world of difference to his fellow skill players as time went on.

2006 was also the last year with Tarik Glenn at LT.

by theslothook :: Mon, 10/15/2012 - 3:04pm

Think about how many teams actually field good safeties to begin with. Seattle is far and away the best, and actually the best secondary in general, but after that, who has good trustworthy safeties? Giants have good ones, maybe the cardinals? Then who? the bills maybe, ravens? steelers? Packers? Those are about the only one's i can honestly think of.

by Wynn (not verified) :: Fri, 03/22/2013 - 7:18am

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