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Broncos Film Room: Analyzing the roster’s best building block

Andre Simone Avatar
December 30, 2018

In a lost season, the Denver Broncos have made significant strides in one specific area, as their pass rush has improved from the 22nd-ranked unit in the league in 2017 with 33 sacks, to the sixth-best ‘D’ in the NFL with 43 in 2018.

With all the analysis we’ve done around Vance Joseph and his staff’s ability, or inability, to effectively scheme the defense, the front end has definitely been a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season.

That’s not to say the uptick in production has all been a product of scheme, far from it, nor that this should be a saving grace for Joseph to retain his job.

Whoever does take the rains in 2019, will have some important building blocks up front to build off of, and that’s why we went back to the tape to re-watch all 43 sacks the Broncos have generated this year, all while keeping an eye towards the future and how Denver can build off their significant talent on the defensive front.

Dynamic Duo

The biggest change from 2017 to 2018 has been the addition of Bradley Chubb, the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Chubb and Von Miller have combined for 26.5 sacks this season—61 percent of the defense’s sacks.

The beauty of their partnership is that they operate in significantly different ways.

Chubb is all power and pursuit, as his hustle in constantly chasing down the quarterback has paid off in a big way, generating a franchise rookie-record 12 sacks on the season and 50 total pressures.

Chubb is a versatile rusher who can attack out-wide, standing up, with a hand in the ground, or lined up right over the offensive tackle as a four technique.

His ability to be effective on stunts and twists has stood out since his time at NC State and has really allowed him to shine in his first season as a pro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chubb’s closing prowess, ability to play with great leverage, impressive bend and speed for his size, and hand-fighting skills have all stood out in his sensational pro debut.

Von, on the other hand, is the NFL’s premier speed rusher and it has nothing to do with his superhero-like ability to fly off the ball right as the play is snapped. Don’t get it twisted though, Miller is no one-trick pony, he packs a punch and can beat lineman in a variety of ways.

To be an all-time great pass rusher in the NFL, one must possess both speed and power, and that’s what No. 58 has in spades. He can beat tackles out wide with his electric first step and elasticity to bend around tackles, as everything he does works off of that elite speed and agility.

Miller can set you up out wide, then spin back inside or shake his way with his quick-twitch ability off the inside shoulder, where he’s no stranger to splitting double teams and bursting through his blocks.

What’s more impressive is how he’ll fly off the ball, force tackles into a panic, and right as they try to take to recover that lost ground out wide, Von will knock them on them down to win inside—just watch what he does to Donald Penn here, absolutely embarrassing the veteran RT.

Not only is Miller slippery and vicious at the point of attack, but he’s also a new-school edge rusher who’s not concerned with delivering devastating blows on QBs, preferring to play the ball and attempt to force the football out every chance he gets.

58 has done a really good job of staying disciplined this season, too, not over pursuing and containing mobile QBs in the pocket while also playing stout run defense.

Miller is easily one of the greatest Broncos of all time, and 2018 has been a special season, even for his lofty standards. The addition of Chubb has been the primary reason for the defense’s major improvement in the sack department, but Von is the real catalyst.

Their two strengths as pass rushers are exemplified in this sack where they met at the quarterback against the Kansas City Chiefs Week 8.

Watch Von’s bend and speed combined with Chubb’s power and pursuit. There’s a lot that needs to be fixed on this roster, but Miller and Chubb will be a fantastic duo for years to come.

Front three

When watching every sack Denver’s generated this season, it was staggering to see how many of those came from Von or Chubb. However, the defensive front three has played its part, adding 8.5 sacks to the mix.

Some of those sacks have predictably come off of edge pressure by the dynamic duo, funneling QBs into the interior where the DL has played clean up.

Others, like this sack from Zach Kerr below, have come as a result of one-on-one matchups, in part due to extra attention being dedicated to the outside rush.

In the interior, Adam Gotsis has lead the way with three sacks—interestingly enough, all coming after the Week 10 bye—and had some big-time flash plays this season, though he’s still trying to find consistency.

Much like in this play above against the Cleveland Browns, the Aussie has shown the ability to win one-on-one matchups when lined up as a classic defensive tackle in a four-man front. Which is particularly interesting if the Broncos were to hire a 4-3 defensive coach.

If Gotsis can put it all together, he promises to be an above-average starter with intriguing pass rushing ability combined to his run stuffing skills.

No. 99 has also paired nicely with Chubb on stunts, where they’ve both found their way to the QB, an interesting dynamic that increases his value on the team moving forward.

The power and athleticism combination are all there for the former second-round pick out of Georgia Tech, he just needs to dominate at the level that his ability would suggest on an every-down basis.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Derek Wolfe this offseason, who has been a strong contributor but has battled a litany of injuries. Without Wolfe, Gotsis and the other youngsters on the front line will have to step up.

The aforementioned Kerr and Shelby Harris seem to have a future with this team and have both shown intriguing pass rushing skills when lined up as a one or zero-techniques.

Harris especially has stood out in limited time—35 percent of the defenses snaps—wracking up eight QB hits and four more hurries to go along with his 1.5 sacks. His ability to penetrate opposing backfields has shined against the run too, with eight tackles for a loss on the season.

A line made up of Gotsis, Harris, and Kerr isn’t a finished product, but it’s a solid rotation to start with when added to Von and Chubb.

Manufacturing pressure

The other way in which the Broncos have been able to create pressure has been a product of scheme and play calling. We love to talk about altering the math at the line in football, something that offenses do with RPO’s—forcing defenses to account for the QB as a runner—and defenses can do with blitzes, simply bringing more pressure than the five-man line can block.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been pretty good at doing this, picking his spots and catching offenses off guard, more often than not forcing QBs into rushed decisions where they can’t do much else than hit the ground as the pressure bears down.

This slot-back blitz has been a staple all season and produced some key third-down stops for Denver. Whether it be Chris Harris Jr. or Dymonte Thomas, that unblocked DB in the slot has been too much for opposing QBs and O-Lines to account for when bringing six-man pressures. 

Beyond altering the math or overloading one side, Woods has also implemented NASCAR fronts where Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray have found occasional success as the third edge rusher on the field. At least one of those edges must rush from the interior where they can use their quickness to shake off slower guards, or simply overpower them as Barrett does in the play below.

Keeping one of those two at a bargain price could help keep an elite rotation of outside linebackers at all times, and don’t discount undrafted rookie Jeff Holland who’s shown intriguing flashes of his own this year.

In conclusion

Joe Woods is a winner in this film room, as his ability to scheme the front end has stood out all season. Considering Woods is a DB coach at heart, and his big selling point before getting promoted to DC was his skill in scheming the back end, his work this season has been impressive.

A foundation for a stout defense that can wreck game plans for even the most prolific passing offenses is right here before our eyes, the Broncos just need to add pieces in the back seven and on offense to make this a truly dangerous team.

Assuming some improvements from Chubb and the front line rotation, the Broncos pass rush should be able to reach a whole other level if they have the benefit of better coverage behind them and more leads where they can really hunt quarterbacks.

Aside from a quarterback, there isn’t a more valuable building block you’d want to start an NFL team from than a strong pass rush. The Broncos have that, and it’ll make their roster appealing for any potential new coach.

It won’t take that much or Denver to get back to it’s 2015 defensive dominance as long as complementary pieces through the rest of the roster can be found.

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