Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

by Ben Muth

The last time I wrote about the Broncos offensive line, things looked pretty bleak. They had struggled against a good Chiefs defense in a game that saw Peyton Manning get knocked out in the third quarter. Since then the Broncos have won three straight, including an overtime thriller vs. the Patriots. The offense has not looked great, but it has been good enough and the defense has been just as dominant as it has been all year.

Denver started out Sunday's game against the Chargers with two straight bootleg passes by Brock Osweiler. The bootleg was always a staple of Gary Kubiak's offenses in the past. They ran a bit of boot action earlier in the year, but it was clear that Peyton Manning wasn't comfortable operating on the move in 2015. He didn't have the speed to get outside comfortably, or the arm to throw on the run. So gradually the bootleg disappeared from the playbook.

With Osweiler playing the last few weeks, the bootleg has re-emerged in Denver. Not only is the play itself a weapon for the Broncos -- the second of the two bootlegs to open up the game went for 16 yards -- it has helped out some of the other aspects of Denver's offense, mainly the outside zone game (though the running game wasn't as good this week as it was in Osweiler's first two starts).

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This was the third play of the game for Denver. Left guard Evan Mathis (69) does a nice job of shoving the defensive end onto Ryan Harris (68) before absorbing the linebacker. At center, Matt Paradis (61) also makes a good block to cover up the nose tackle without allowing penetration. Running back C.J. Anderson makes a cut off the tight end's mediocre block and takes advantage of the good blocks by Mathis and Paradis for a 10-yard gain. The fact that the unblocked edge defender can't make the play from the backside is something that should be expected, but far too often early in the season it wasn't happening because defenses didn't respect the play-action fake. Too often, that edge defender would make a play for a short gain.

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Now this is cheating a bit, because the Browns were bringing two off the edge so the defensive end could be extra aggressive, but it took me about half a quarter to go back to a Peyton Manning start and pull up a play where a defender who went unblocked by design made the play for a short gain on the outside zone. The Broncos' offensive line isn't filled with a bunch of trained killers, so they need all the help they can get. Being able to hold that backside edge player off with play fakes has made a positive difference.

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In general, I think the Broncos' offensive line has played better in recent weeks. Paradis in particular has taken a big step forward. He's playing with much more power and isn't in the backfield nearly as frequently as he was early in the year. The second-year player is starting to look like he could be a long-term answer for the Broncos.

Louis Vasquez has been the Broncos' best offensive lineman this year, and Evan Mathis has been much better in recent weeks after a disastrous start to the season. Along with Paradis' improved play, the Broncos' interior linemen did a really nice job in pass protection this week. The run blocking was a little below average, but for the most part the pass protection was very good, with one notable exception.

(Note: A twitter user points out that Louis Vazquez missed almost the entire game, and it was rookie Max Garcia playing right guard the last two weeks. The fact that I didn't notice any drop in play speaks very highly of Garcia's performance replacing the injured Vasquez. )

At right tackle Michael Schofield had another rough game. Unlike fellow second-year player Matt Paradis, Schofield just hasn't seemed to make any progress as he has gotten more experience in 2015. Last time I wrote about Schofield, Justin Houston continuously abused with up-and-under moves to generate consistent pressure throughout the game. This week, it was Melvin Ingram around the edge that gave Schofield his problems.

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Schofield (79) isn't terrible here, but this is a microcosm of his struggles throughout the game. The interior line is really good, so Osweiler has plenty of room to step up in the pocket, but Melvin Ingram was consistently getting to a spot 8 or 9 yards behind the center -- or right where the quarterback tends to set up on shotgun passes -- and forcing Osweiler off the designed launchpoint.

Schofield's biggest issue is that he doesn't punch so much as he reaches. He's not disrupting Ingram with his hands at all, he's just placing his hands on the defender gently. Ingram is able to run the hoop on Schofield and make the quarterback uncomfortable because the offensive line never knocks him off his track. Let's take a look at another play.

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This time Osweiler can't step up in time and takes a sack. Again, the issue is Schofield is reaching outside of his frame and not delivering any kind of blow. You'll also notice that Schofield has a terrible of habit of false-stepping as he punches. In both GIFs you can see his outside foot actually lose ground inside when he punches, and as a result he ends up chasing Ingram from behind. This is called stepping in the bucket.

Aside from Schofield though, it was an OK performance from Denver's offensive line. The run blocking needs to step up, but the pass blocking was there. I don't think this is a line that's ever going to be considered a true strength, but if they can keep playing at an average level, it will make a huge difference for Denver moving forward. To paraphrase Tin Cup, the greatest movie to ever run six to 15 times a week on the Golf Channel, sometimes par is good enough to win (if you have the best defense in the league).

Comments

17 comments, Last at 09 Jan 2016, 4:50am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

That last GIF looks like totally unproductive play design for the right tight end (#81). Instead of helping out a tackle who has been struggling all game, he pulls across the formation just to stand there on the side of the field where a TE is actually helping block. I guess they're faking an arc block to try to sell the PA, but the result is that they take one of their eligible receivers entirely out of the play. They end up with only two guys running routes and no help for the lineman who most needs it.

2 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

The best coach I ever had played a lot of years in the CFL, and knew his stuff. When he saw someone on film doing what Schofield does, he'd slow it down, back it up slowly, then go forward slowly, back it up again, forward slowly again, etc., while exclaiming "(player's name), WHAT are you doing???????......Are you...........NEGOTIATING!!!!!!??????? Let's see this again.........1...2....3.....NEGOTIATE!!!!.....1....2.....3.....NEGOTIATE!!!!!"

Fun times.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

If reports are true that Manning still hasn't accepted retirement yet, and given the obvious fact that Kubiak and Manning can't be made schematically compatible, does Manning have a landing spot acceptable to him, and if so, where? I really can't think of a good fit, at this point.

11 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

While he's certainly worse this season there were also some factors that probably helped make him look even worse.

They spent the preseason preparing with a scheme he clearly couldn't use successfully and forced him to take a lot of hits in early games. Mid-season they transfer to a new scheme that is somewhat more successful and he eventually has a few good games (GB, Indy) before injuries catch up with him.

If they had started with a scheme more suited to his talents and/or had better play from their O-Line we probably wouldn't have seen nearly as much of a decline.

12 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

This is really where Sambrailo's season ending injury stands out, right? Because if he were playing, Harris would be at right tackle and Schofield would be on the bench where he belongs.

13 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

Two rhetorical questions for a lineman's response:
1. in the first GIF, how does Harris wrestle his man from his right across his front to his left without holding? It looks pretty obvious from the rear view...I understand this isnt often called but still..

2.In the second gif, when Garcia reaches over to hit Paradis and tell him to go solo, if I'm the defensive lineman, taught to go on motion, why don't I go (and I know it's because the flag will go against you, but why should it. He rocks and moves his arm, and the defender is at a disadvantage if they have to sit thru such movement, no?

15 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

I'm still not sold on Osweiler being an above-average NFL QB, but in the third GIF he shows a nice ability to keep his eyes downfield and look off the LB while dancing around the pressure.

In the best case, he just needs time against real defenses to perfect that sort of subtlety.

16 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

Khalil Mack sacked Osweiler 5 times yesterday. Would be interested to see a dissection of why he so obliterated Denver's OL.

17 Re: Word of Muth: Big Changes in Denver

Lordy, running a hoop is much much harder than it sounds.

Coach: Run around that hoop, DE, and then back around the other one.

DE: Sure thing coach!

DE: F this hoop and F you too, coach.