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

Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Sunday's Denver-Kansas City game was an absolute disaster for the Broncos. Obviously the big story is Peyton Manning's performance, but the entire offense played poorly. The only positives I can think of were that Ronnie Hillman had a couple of nice runs, and Demaryius Thomas made a nifty one-handed catch. There's not much else to say, so let's just get right to the GIFs.

We'll start with the Broncos' first passing play of the game, and if I were just writing about Michael Schofield at right tackle (79), this play does a fine job of paraphrasing his entire game. Justin Houston is a great player, so it was going to be a tough task for someone who came into the year as a third tackle, but Denver was probably hoping Schofield would be a bit more competitive. Schofield's biggest issue is that he got beat with inside moves very early and so often that I'm not sure that he wasn't the worst Bronco on the field Sunday.

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Here he's trying to catch Houston off-guard with a quick inside arm jab. Coaches teach the inside arm-only punch as a change-up because it throws off the defender's timing, and you can stab the defender's chest before he can knock your hands down. But you typically only do it when you know the guard is sliding with you and you have inside help, because it's tough to come back on a hard inside move when you lead with the inside hand to the middle of a guy's chest.

I'm not sure if Schofield saw something on film, and he thought he could catch Houston off-guard, but this clearly went poorly. The other thing I don't like about what Schofield did is that if you have an immobile quarterback, the last thing you want to have happen is to get him flushed out of the pocket. If you get beat around the edge, the quarterback can step up and make a play, but if you're getting beat underneath and forcing a statuesque pocket passer outside of his comfort zone, you kill the play.

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Of course Schofield wasn't the only one to have trouble with inside moves. Left tackle Ryan Harris (68) is so bad here, I can't tell if this is a designed tackle-end stunt from Kansas City, or if Harris overset outside so much that Tamba Hali just had to make a hard move inside. I mean, I know you want to sell the run, but shuffling two steps outside, ducking your head, throwing your hands, and hoping for the best probably isn't coached in OTAs.

The disheartening thing about this play is that the Chiefs rushed four, the Broncos kept eight in to block, and the Chiefs won decisively. They flushed Manning out of the pocket and caused the sack/fumble. What do you do as a playcaller when you can't block 8-on-4?

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Not much, is clearly the answer. Here the Chiefs once again take advantage of the 4-on-8 mismatch. This time center Matt Paradis (61) lunges at the shaded nose and can't get back to the blitzing linebacker. As a unit, the Broncos' offensive line may have the worst balance I've ever seen. Blockers are constantly lunging at guys in pass pro. Their balance ranges from "not ideal" to "drunken sailor on payday" to "drunken sailor on payday who accidentally stepped on a giant pile of marbles."

The back is there to slow down the linebacker but he's not expecting the rusher because that's not his man, so he doesn't get much of a block. Also, notice that Harris and left guard Max Garcia (73, who was in for Evan Mathis on this play) failed to pass off a twist, so even if the linebacker had been picked up, there still would have been a very large defensive tackle coming down the shoot at Manning.

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If you recall, the last time I wrote about the Broncos I was a little optimistic because so many of their pressures were the result of poor cohesion among the front five. I had hoped that playing next to each other more would iron out a lot of that. It hasn't. As you can see from the above GIF, they haven't gotten any better at passing off stunts. If you could pass out half-blown blocks like they pass out half-sacks, Harris and Evan Mathis would split this one.

We'll start with Mathis, who has been a good player in the NFL for a long time but has had a miserable season. He needs to realize that Dontari Poe is not rushing the passer. No defensive tackle runs a gigantic arc to get to the quarterback; they only run gigantic arcs because a tackle-end stunt is on. Mathis has played enough football to feel that Poe is rushing way too wide for a straight pass rush, and needs to start looking for a twist coming back inside. It's a tough play, but guys make it all the time.

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Harris has to quit lunging at guys. His head is out over his toes as he's punching and he's got no chance. Harris has never been the player Mathis was in his prime, but he's played enough to not embarrass himself with stuff you see from swing tackles playing in the Sun Belt.

That's it for now. Sorry for the short column this week. I actually had more GIFs made, but we aren't going to learn much more from watching Schofield get beat underneath again, or Paradis getting collapsed into the pocket. I'm anxious to see how this offensive line responds to their worst performance of the year. I also think getting a new quarterback in there (one who can move a bit better and is more willing to hang in there and take a hit than Manning is at this point) will do for them. At the very least, being able to run boots and throw it deep down the field should help the running game.

Oh, and one last thing. Astute readers may have noticed that Chiefs didn't rush more than four in any of those GIFs. There was no need to.

Comments

30 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2015, 9:10am

2 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

This also helps explain why Manning had such a poor day. When you can get to the passer rushing 4 that's going to leave a lot of guys in coverage downfield.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Their balance ranges from "not ideal" to "drunken sailor on payday" to "drunken sailor on payday who accidentally stepped on a giant pile of marbles."

Classic.

After the 3rd gif you identify the left guard as Mathis (69), but it looks like 73 is playing left guard there.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

It doesn't appear to be Mathis at left guard in the third gif, it's number 73.

Edit: Damn you Tuluse beating me to it!!!

4 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Coming into this year the Denver OC was one of the most highly regarded line coaches in the game, now I know he's not specifically coaching that group this year but wouldn't you expect him to either have been able to pick a quality line coach or to be a little more involved in their coaching? It's a little odd to see a line even vaguely associated with him to be such an omnishambles.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

People have been saying that line play has been down across the board for the league as a whole. I would be curious to see if this is really true and its being reflected in lower offensive dvoas. I havent looked at the numbers much.

13 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

I've heard theories that the new CBA restrictions on padded practices and off-season work have hurt linemen more than any other position. It makes intuitive sense, and as older guys retire and new guys come in without ever having had the benefit of those reps, we can expect the situation to continue to get worse.

18 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

I've got nothing against Ben Muth, I swear, but I really would be entertained by a column he wrote, after watching extensive video, from beginning to end of the season, to determine which has been, in Muth's estimation, the worst offensive line this season.

30 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Those GIFs look an awful lot like that circa 2008 Steelers OL. Stress on awful. But that 2008 unit did manage to make it to and win the SB. Which Michael Lombardi, among others, dubbed as the worst OL ever to make the SB.

They look indistinguishable to me. Curious what unit Muth thinks is/was worse? Can't remember when he started this column, but I thought he covered that Steeler unit, or close to it.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

I was wondering why I was feeling depressed this morning, and, voila, this shows up. I remember in the Cleveland game when Denver had the ball at the 9 and actually set up a great running play for Hillman. Everyone got their man... except Mathis who totally whiffed on his block and the play got held to 2 yds instead of a potential TD.

Funny anecdote: I have a friend at work who is a UofM alum, and he bleeds Wolverines everything. When Denver drafted Schofield, I of course asked him if he was any good. Michigan had one other guy on that line drafted in the first round that year. My friend's response was that, other than the first round guy, the rest of the line was the worst that UM had in years. He didn't think much of Schofield. I took it as a bad sign that I couldn't even get the homer stamp of approval from him.

It's funny though, I remember reading a bunch of comments from here and other places after Clady went down suggesting in so many words that it doesn't really matter who's blocking for Manning. That's one argument that left skid marks from the backtracking.

Side note: an ASU alum friend did not give me a homer stamp of approval for Osweiler either. Now I'm really depressed.

10 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

My ASU alum friend doesn't think Osweiler will be very good but is cautiously optimistic that he may be okay.

With the Drunken sailors falling on marbles up front at least Brock and Roll is more mobile and has a big arm so he can maybe just run away and sling it to Thomas (if he decides he wants to start going to get balls on a regular basis).

27 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Yes, I remember well the arguments about how it doesn't matter who blocks for Manning. Maybe Manning in his prime. More realistically, his lines were never this bad. We've seen it time and time again, how even the greatest fail when under significant pressure.

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Who, me?

29 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

The 2010 and 2009 lines were this bad. Charlie johnson and 100 year old ryan diem were the starters at tackle, with mike pollack and joe linkenbach types lurking on the depth chart. Younger manning was running mannings offense, so he had more freedom to call out specific slide protections or rb help. He also had the right play to get the ball out quick. He also had the arm strength to threaten defenses from squatting on all the short routes.

9 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

When you can't pass block or handle stunts, then it becomes even more important that you be able to run the ball. Oops.

I'm tempted to say that the Broncos are dead, dead, dead, but then I remember how surprised I was that they ran so well against the Packers.

I guess I still lean towards dead, dead, dead.

12 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

At times they've managed to look okay, like with Green Bay and Indy. That was only 2 weeks ago so I'm not sure how they managed to fall apart so completely against Kansas City.

Kubiak and Elway's plan for this season seems misguided in retrospect. They took away Manning's strengths by moving away from the Tom Moore offense and the lack of talent on the line meant that they couldn't establish any kind of run game or protect Manning. So you're now stuck with an offense that can't block, can't pass and can't run.

21 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

The Chiefs are a well coached team with a lot of pass rushing talent. They had the added benefit of already having faced the Broncos this year, with a bye week to prepare this time around. In hindsight, the O Line improvement seems like something of a mirage, and more of a poor reflection on the defenses of Green Bay and Indy.

19 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

The thing that is so weird about this is that Dennison and Kubiak should have a lot of cohesion, and they've had really good lines in the past as well. On top of that, while some of those players aren't great, they're definitely capable of playing better than that. So I am not sure why they're playing so horribly if it's not chiefly a coaching or a personnel problem. Best I can think of is that the team has tied itself up into so many knots trying to keep things workable for Manning that they've basically shot themselves in the foot with a really confused and impure scheme.

23 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

I love your work, Ben. But I don't know about your description of that first play.

It wasn't a classic stop-him-in-his-tracks block. But when a rusher goes very lateral in either direction, one effective tactic is to just guide him further and further in the same direction he started in. You usually see that to the outside, but it can work in either direction. Why not?

It's not as if Manning was actually flushed from a pocket on that play. He stepped the width of a hash mark (perhaps without an urgent need to do so) and then had a ton of safe space and time to throw, with all four rushers contained to the left of the hash mark and no immediate threats to force a hurried throw.

As for the rest, yeah, some bad stuff there.

Good writing. Good football knowledge. Excellent all around.

25 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

It's better than completely missing the block but directing the pressure inside is going to force the QB to think about moving from his spot so it's not ideal. If Houston managed to get away he would have immediately been right on top of Manning. Maybe it's okay if you have more confidence in your tackles.

26 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

The play I showed wasn't terrible (it wasn't good) but I chose it cause it was the first pass play of the game and it resulted in a pick because the ball was late, because Manning had to move off his spot. I probably could've explained that context better. Schofield gave up another few hits (and I think one sack) on the exact same type of play as well. I was going to include another one, but just seemed unnecessary as the general gist of the Broncos OL being bad was already hammered home. But I get what you're saying when pointing out the first GIF isn't terrible in a vacuum.

28 Re: Word of Muth: Mile High Meltdown

Fair enough.

Me, I don't see this as thrown late because of the protection. But Manning did move and the throw was late, so I don't disagree very much, either. Any other year or any other Manning and that would have adequate protection. This Manning needs more time and space to make plays.

Getting old sucks.