Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

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

3 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Shouldn't. He's old and banged up. I know Manning is comfortable with him, but I don't think he's a big enough upgrade over a replacement level young guy (even Walden, who at least has played with the guys around him) to justify the cost.

10 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I was under the impression a variety of football analytics sites (I might be thinking of Pro Football Focus?) rated Saturday quite highly last year. "Old and banged up" is a little too close to Intangibleville for me. Why not have him in there to get the rest of the o-line comfortable for one year, while bringing a new/different center up to speed?

Also, in re: costs, I get the feeling a lot of guys (Saturday, Clark, hell, even Stokley) would take a cut to get a couple more shots at a Super Bowl with Peyton. Saturday seems to be the only guy getting interest from other teams right now. I'm assuming he'd prefer to play for Peyton.

40 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I have no doubt that Sitton would be more excited to be playing with Jeff Saturday at C than with a raw rookie. That doesn't mean he thinks that the O-line will be as good or better than with Wells. I mean, what's he going to say to the media -- "I'm worried that I'm going to have to carry this beat-up 37-year-old guy, but it's better than having a rookie there!"?

But hey, it could work out the Packers might not miss Wells. On the other hand, Rodgers hangs on to the ball longer than Payton Manning did, and Saturday will have to adjust. It could end up like it did with Olin Kreutz when he tried to reset with a new team at age 37 last year.

41 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

No disagreements, though Saturday does seem to get more comments about being able to coach his team mates than I hear about other players. That could all simply be from media bias where the folks who covered the Colts cared about that and most other teams don't so you just don't hear it. If it is true though it could be helpful. But that is about the only thing I see Saturday being better at than Wells. Saturday is a stop gap while they train someone up, so yeah I think your Sitton quote is probably the reality.

Of course I think the biggest help to the Packers o-line will be Sitton having had a full off season to heal up. The nagging injuries last year impacted his play more than I'd like.

2 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Has Clady declined since/recovering from his injury or was he just overrated before he got hurt? I don't watch a lot of the Broncos but I was under the impression that before his injury he was on his way to being one of the top tackles and a key part of the Broncos offensive success with Cutler.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I didn't watch him closely before the injury so I don't know. So I don't know how close to the elite he was. If he was a more physical run blocker back then, I could see where that would be the case. I think he's still above average just because of the his pass blocking.

16 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Clady was drafted by Mike Shanahan and is, IMHO, really well-suited to zone-blocking where athleticism trumps power and was the staple of Shanny's offense. Clady was 1st-team All Pro (for whatever its worth) in 2009 (McDaniels' first year), but even then I thought he was only adequate at power run-blocking; that was also Rick Dennison's last year as OL coach.

I don't think Clady has regressed, rather that the scheme has drifted away from his strengths.

I really concur with all of Ben's observations on the front five (it's nice to have someone of Ben's knowledge confirm what I'm seeing), and I especially like his description of Kuper, who has been one of the better kept secrets at OG. It bears mentioning that Kuper suffered a grotesque ankle injury (the video of his foot oriented 90 degrees from forward-pointing is enough to make you want to calm your stomach by watching the Theismann video) in the season finale. Obviously we have no way of knowing how that will impact him going forward.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I thought Clady deserved his plaudits (but I'm not expert) pre-injury, and from Ben's description of his strengths, I can see how he would have made less of an impression last year -- protecting a left-handed QB, an offense that runs a lot, no offseason / midseason QB change, etc etc.

The player whose decline surprised me was Ryan Harris, the former incumbent at RT whose injury seemed responsible for the end-of-season choke a couple years ago. Harris signed with the Eagles last year as a FA, got cut(?), and returned to Denver as a depth guy, but I think he played more guard after.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

But how will they handle Manning's pre-snap chicken dance? Unless the sign Saturday, Manning will be taking snaps from a new center for the first time in ages. At least they'll have a full offseason to get acclimated with each other.

ETA: I agree that they shouldn't sign Saturday. I'm just wondering how many "Goddammit Donald!" moments we'll be seeing early in the season.

4 Beadles and Walton

Keep in mind that while they were upper-round draft picks (Beadles 2nd and Walton 3rd), they were McDaniels picks, and he didn't exactly display a sterling ability to properly rate talent -- his guys haven't been busts, per se, but a lot of them went early.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I feel the "good column" comment is by now implied.

Why not Jeff Saturday for the Broncos? Do you just not rate him at this stage of his career?

One comment on the column itself - you describe Orlando Franklin as having a bucket step, but I have no idea what this actually looks like when you see it - is there any chance when you refer to stuff like this you could put an example of a play where its really evident so those of us with access to the replay type things can have a look?

When (if?) you do the Rams could I suggest that you do one of the earlier games when Saffold and Smith were both playing, and we hadn't shifted Harvey Dahl out to right tackle (so earlier in the season)? Seems like that way it might at least have some use for future reference. However, given that the Rams OL only has a maximum of 3 guys who will carry over from last year to this (Saffold, Dahl and possibly Smith) it might not really be worth doing the Rams at all. Unless you wanted to combine them with some other team that's had a similar turnover on the line. Although to break up the monotony of good line play you could watch some of late season stuff. I can't remember if it was Adam Goldberg or Mark LeVoir at LT against the 49ers, but whoever it was it was pretty funny.

Also, have you got any plans to do scouting reports of some of the O-lineman in the draft? I'm not sure if I'd rather see reports from you on the top guys (who I can read loads of stuff about anyway) or if there are any later on guys that you would want to highlight?

11 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

In terms of teams to cover may I request the Bears?

What I would love to know is how much difference can Tice's presumed sanity heal the pass protection woes left by Martz? How much of a difference does allowing the QB to change out of plays make? - ie not having to run into stacked boxes because it was the next play on Mad Mike's sheet. Are the Bears linemen as bad as some think?

Then again maybe Marshall will have a bigger impact than Tice so who knows but I would love3 to read what you think about their line.

12 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Man, the Broncos are going to be fascinating to watch this fall, to gain insights into all sorts of age-old questions. In particular, I'm going to very interested to try to gain some knowledge as to how much an offensive line is helped by a qb who ALWAYS gets the offense into the right play. We have so seldom seen a qb this good change teams unless they were way, way, over the hill. Favre gave some glimpse of it in 2009. The Vikings o-line was a year or more past it's prime when Favre showed up, but that fact was hidden by a qb who knew what he was doing, and could still physically do it.

This qb is mentally much better than Favre, in that he takes fewer dumb risks, and he is very likely with an o-line with talent that is a couple years from its prime. What will it mean to have the right play called, as opposed to what they had in over half their games last year, which was a minimal ability to adjust at the line of scrimmage to what the defense was showing? I can't wait to see it.

14 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I probably spend more time thinking about Chris Kuper than most (given that those of us who attend U. of North Dakota don't have a lot of pro athletes to cheer for); but I think there has to be at least some concern over whether Kuper can return to pre-injury form. His broken leg was pretty bad, and probably reminded most Denver fans of Ed McCaffrey's injury, after which he was never the same. Obviously very different positions, and I'm optimistic, but Kuper playing at the just-below-Pro-Bowl level of the past couple years is certainly no sure thing at this point.

17 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Don't watch it. Seriously, don't. It was severe enough to perceive the change in the shape of his leg, in real-time, from the very top row of the stadium on the opposite corner of the field. I say this while shuddering at the memory.

18 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I try to pay attention to line play as much as I can, but I know that I'm simply not savvy enough to really understand what's going on. That said, I am really unimpressed with Beadles and Walton. It seems like every time a defender just blows through the middle of the line to wreak havoc in the backfield, Beadles is either flat on his back or standing there looking like he forgot where he was. Maybe it's not his fault, I don't know enough to tell for sure. As for Walton, I don't really have a read on his blocking skills, but I sure noticed that he's not particularly great at snapping the ball... which seems like a skill a center should cultivate. With Orton and with Tebow, the QB was having to make significant lunges at the ball in shotgun formations with irritating regularity.
I really hope Kuper can come back, I really, really like him. I'm excited to see what Franklin can do this year, as most of what bothered me were penalties for illegal formation and holding. I'm hoping that the full offseason of improving field awareness and technique can reduce those.
I was the biggest advocate that I knew for Clady before the draft where the Broncos picked him up, and a very big cheerleader for him after that. But to me it looks like he has simply not been as good since the injury. It could very well be what a previous poster was talking about, that the scheme has drifted away from his skill set, but he just doesn't seem to be the same force that he was in his rookie season.

21 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

You like Denver's OL, but they ranked 29th in pass protection last year?!? Sounds like a pain in the neck for Peyton...

22 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

29th in ASR doesn't necessarily mean they were bad at pass-blocking. ASR is hugely influenced by the quarterback, and there are few quarterbacks more sack-prone than Tebow (and no quarterbacks less sack-prone than Peyton Manning, possibly ever).

26 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

This gives you a practical cap on the "QB effect" for pass protection. Replacing Manning with three terrible QBs (with the added effect of no in-season continuity) dropped the Colts 17 places in OL stats, or if you prefer added 4.1% to their ASR.

(as kamiyu206 said, there were other changes, but you get the point)

It's hard to imagine a worse QB situation for pass protection, so you might estimate that Manning himself was worth about 1-3% ASR, with the rest due to the bad QBs and other factors. That's huge... worth about 8 places in OL ranking by itself.

It also puts the kibosh on the idea that the Colts OL was terrible at pass protection, or ever has been during Manning's tenure. At their worst they've been average, with the "Manning effect" elevating them to near the top of the league.

As for the future, if we assume that Tebow had an historically bad "QB effect" and that Mannign hasn't declined at all, you might project the Bronco's ASR to improve to around 5%. It won't lead the league, but Manning will make them look better than average.

Whether that will be enough to keep Manning healthy and happy remains to be seen.

27 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

1. It's just not reasonable to assume that the 2010 and 2011 Colts offensive lines were equivalent.

2. Some of the effect of offensive line badness (often a significant part) shows up in passes thrown early, rather than in sacks. Manning's yards per completion fell by 1.1 from 2009 to 2010, while his completion percentage fell 2.5% (when you would expect throwing shorter passes to increase it).

Manning's Colts led the league in ASR every year from 2005 to 2010 except for 2007, and only in 2007 was the absolute figure even above 4%. You clearly think solid line play is a significant part of the explanation for that, and are confident in the ability of statistical analysis to validate this conclusion. I don't, and am not. I would bite your hand off to take the under on 5% ASR for the 2012 Broncos with Manning under center.

33 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

My position is a bit simpler than you suggest. The assumptions I'm making are that the 2011 line wasn't a huge upgrade, and that the 2011 QBs suck. Yet they were still nearly average in ASR.

Since we all agree that the line used to be better (pre-2010 anyway) it follows that they were well better than average.

Colts fans have been spoiled by excellent pass protection in the past, and whined when the line weakened to the point that the only way to stay at the top in ASR was to adjust the scheme. But they didn't have to change the scheme. They could have dropped a few places in ASR, but would still have been in the top quarter. That was a choice, perhaps driven by Manning's health concerns.

34 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Fair enough. We're clearly not going to agree on this. I'm not a Colts fan, but I am a fan of a division rival and the Colts are in any case on TV quite a lot here (and I have Gamepass anyway). My assessment of their 2010 pass blocking as atrocious is rooted in my own viewing, rather than any statistics. They struck me as being almost on a par with the 2005 Texans or 2011 Jaguars. I guess I'd say that I think the improvement in 2011 was significant, that in any case overall QB quality correlates very imperfectly with sack-proneness (otherwise Eli would be by far the best of the 2004 quarterback trio), and that I think without the scheme change the increase in ASR would have been much larger than you do.

35 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I will say that the Colt's line was a very smart group that basically always made initial contact. Peyton very rarely had to deal with an unblocked defender running at him.

They weren't any good at sustaining the block, but they did make initial contact.

36 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I think - based on limited viewing compared to Colts fans - that this is exactly right. They've always had the reputation of being smart, quick, and undersized. That's a recipe for nearly error-free pass protection that nevertheless doesn't look physically dominant, and may even look physically bad.

The results speak for themselves.

Pass protection is mostly about making all the right blocks. If you have a good QB and good receivers (as the Colts with Manning always did) you don't need to hold a block for 5 seconds to be well above average in pass protection. But you do need to avoid blocking errors. (Dammit, Donald!)

24 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

Marino was notoriously difficult to sack. A numerical comparison bears this out (1.110 sacks/game for Manning, 1.115 sacks/game for Marino). Very slight edge to Manning.

Of course it depends on their lines. Manning was brutalized for his first few years, while Marino's sack rate increased dramatically when he hit 30. I think Marino's quick release made him harder to sack at his peak years: in 1988 he was sacked only 6 times and yet threw over 600 passes. Even Manning's best years don't have a ratio that low.

Looking through a handful of other top QBs yields sack rates much higher than either of these two have. Not an exhaustive search, mind you, and limited by the lack of sack stats before 1969.

25 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I believe I remember reading on PFR that one reason Namath was now widely under-rated was that he was extremely good at avoiding sacks. Will Allen will tell you that Tarkenton was also pretty incredible in that regard (though in his case more because he was extremely elusive than because of a remarkably quick release).

Marino's certainly a plausible candidate for being better in that regard than Manning - one of the very few - but I'm not sure he ever played with a line as bad as the 2010 Colts'. Regardless, I think it highly unlikely the Broncos will give up a lot of sacks with Manning under center, whatever the 2011 numbers may say.

28 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I think Saturday is a lock to be signed by Denver if he doesn't retire. Same thing for Clark and/or Tamme and I wouldn't be surprised to see Addai show up at some point. This has very little to do with talent and everything to do with scheme. Manning ran an incredibly complex system in Indianapolis that required discipline and a very high football IQ for everyone on the offense. He developed that over time working with those guys a luxary he does not have in Denver. Saturday can help prepare the offensive line, which among other things has to stay in stance for extended periods and be prepared to change up plays and assignments at the last second or beyond. Clark (Tamme) can prepare the receivers for change ups in routes and plays and hopefully impress upon them why precision routes are going to really pay off for them now because the ball will be where it is supposed to be when it is supposed to get there. (Addai can help the backs avoid those "dammit Donald" moments.)

The point is that the Denver offense needs to be educated in a hurry and tutors are being sought and will be hired. Even with that I expect Denver to be a bit slow out of the gate this season particularly early.

29 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

the Broncos gave up 40 sacks in 2010 with Orton and 42 in 2011 with Tebow - their OL is below average in pass protection no matter who you put behind center. Manning is obviously an excellent field general, but that doesn't necessarily mean Denver's going to become a good pass blocking unit overnight. Clady is above average, Franklin, Beadles and Walton are all below average, and Kuper's injury makes him an unknown right now. I think the Broncos would be well served to try to bolster their line as much as possible through FA or the draft in order to keep Peyton upright and healthy.

30 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I'd love to see an analysis of the Chargers OL.

Last year most of the offensive decline was due to a disaster mid season on the OL. But after Gaither arrived and the line got to play together consistently (last 5 games) everything turned around.

The turnaround was dramatic. In one game mid season Rivers was touched by defenders on about 2/3 of his drop-backs. Late in the season after the line stabilized, against strong pass rushing teams, he was barely touched.

31 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos


FO has them with the #7 ASR last season, but I suspect that has a lot more to do with Matt Ryan than the O-Line's performance. I would love to know for sure.

After losing Dahl, and having Baker regress, the line really seemed to struggle last season. The Giants playoff game was just ugly.

Why do I feel like our line was terrible while FO's stats say otherwise? Is Manuwai really going to be an answer?

38 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Broncos

I would think that a review of the Lions' OL would be very entertaining. I don't think I've seen them produce anything that looked like a pocket in pass pro, yet they have been in the top ranks in sack rate the past couple of years. I'd love to hear how 5 guys that look like they're floundering manage to keep a QB upright so well, and without much help from extra blockers, for that matter.