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Broncos Film Room: How Denver’s greatest strength lost them the game on Monday night

Andre Simone Avatar
October 7, 2018

When a team does just about everything right, but still loses as the Broncos did in a soul-draining defeat on Monday Night Football, there’s always a lot of finger-pointing.

People want to blame the refs for missing an obvious delay of game call, or the play calling for not running the ball more, the coaches for mismanaging timeouts, or missed throws by Case Keenum, and on it goes.

Lost in all that finger pointing is how the Broncos generated plenty of pressure against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, but were unable to close out the game and force a sack, as just one or two of those pressures converted into a QB takedown likely wins the game.

Given how much the organization has invested in its pass rush—two top-five picks including one of the highest paid defenders in football, another first rounder, and three-second rounders—not being able to do more was extremely costly.

Thus, we went back to the coaches tape, tracking every pass play the Chiefs had, to see how they were able to pull off the come from behind win and what Denver’s defense did to limit the potent offense to only 27 points.

Plenty of pressure lack of sacks

The Broncos almost matched their season high in quarterback pressures against the Chiefs, falling just short of their Week 1 total of 21 with 20 pressures—per BSN Analytics, a pressure is sacks+quarterback hurries+and quarterback hits.

Yet, despite all that pressure, the Broncos only sacked Patrick Mahomes once, on a quarterback scramble for zero yards.

Denver tried their hardest; dropping eight in coverage while only rushing three, bringing blitzes with five or more 12 times, mixing coverages, even throwing in NASCAR fronts. Still, despite generating tons of pressure, the Broncos were unable to get that elusive sack.

The Broncos had plenty of opportunities too, as the Chiefs faced a large number of third-and-forever situations in crucial moments in the game. In third down and more than 10 yards KC was 2-of-4 and on third-and-long—eight yards or more—went 3-for-6, an absolute killer for Denver.

With the Chiefs facing 3rd-and-20, 2nd-and-30, 3rd-and-17, and 3rd-and-16, managing just one more sack, on any of those crucial downs, could’ve changed the game drastically in the Broncos favor.

A big part of this was Mahomes’ ability to escape pressure and make positive things happen, especially on third down. The Chiefs you signal-caller was great at getting rid of the ball in three seconds or less, and if he didn’t throw the ball, he took off and ran playing backyard football.

Getting the ball out quickly is how Mahomes found success against Denver’s blitz packages, completing 8-of-12 passes for 121 yards when the Broncos brought extra rushers.


When the Broncos brought pressure on Mahomes, hurrying him off his spot, he wasn’t as good going 4-of-10. Denver’s pressure really worked early, and the defense was able to break down the pocket throughout the game.

A perfect example is this 3rd-and-17 incompletion, with the defense rushing four, and the back end playing sound coverage.


Miller forces Mahomes out the pocket and runs him down, forcing him out of bounds with an extra defender in Bradley Roby insuring the QB can’t turn the corner and run.

The problem is the Chiefs QB got hot throwing on the run, and even good coverage from Denver’s back seven couldn’t hold up long enough as he extended plays.

From two talented closers like Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, you’d expect more in the sacks department.

More disappointing was that the duo wasn’t able to create even more pressure towards the end of the game, as Miller was handled too easily in one-on-one blocks by right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, and Chubb wasn’t able to break through rushing inside on stunts, where he’s done some of his best work.

The biggest downfall in the Broncos plan was not containing Mahomes in the pocket, with a rush plan similar to what they implemented against Russell Wilson in Week 1. This was a big error in scouting and knowing Mahomes’ strength as a passer on the run.

3rd-and-6 left-handed pass

A play that was emblematic of the Broncos issues in closing down Mahomes was his left-handed 3rd-and-6 completion to Tyreek Hill, a true dagger for the Broncos.

Denver blitzed six, playing straight man-to-man coverage across the board, in a cover-zero, meaning there was no safety help for anyone.

Not only did the Broncos blitz six they were in a NASCAR font, with Miller, Chubb, and Shane Ray all on the field at once.

With Ray and Von stacked to the strong side, both out wide, KC was outmatched allowing both to get through instantly as other blockers where occupied by the two added rushers.

Von and Ray ran down Mahomes who bailed out the pocket within a second, running for his life. 99 out of 100 times that blitz and Miller running free equals a sack.

Instead, No. 15 made a backyard football play, finding Hill on a crosser to get the conversion.

Sometimes even your best players and best units get beat.


That play happened with 3:30 left in the game with the Broncos leading 23-20. They made the gutsiest possible defensive call they could make with KC at their own 45 and out of field goal range. The play worked perfectly for Denver, Mahomes just made a play above the Xs and Os.

Scheming the back end

For maybe the first time in two seasons, as someone who’s watched and written about Joe Woods and Vance Joseph’s defensive scheme on a regular basis, this was the game that showed me why these two have their jobs.

Mind you, Woods and Joseph’s biggest calling card was their ability to scheme the back end of a defense, and in Week 4 they were able to really limit the Chiefs’ powerful offense with their game plan.

Aside from their QB, KC has a dynamic scheme and a multitude of playmakers who can execute their offense to perfection, with an abundance of speed. Making them a really tough group to match up with.

A big part of their success was that Denver’s cornerbacks had a terrific game, with Chris Harris Jr. handling both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill at different points. Bradley Roby did a great job against Hill as well, and even Adam Jones had a strong showing, as the Broncos corners and even safeties were able to match the Chiefs speed outside, never allowing anyone to get open over the top.

The Chiefs big playmakers were shut down early on and greatly limited, and this was in large part due to the secondaries phenomenal game.

The Broncos showed a lot of zone coverages early that worked marvelously, leading to several incompletions and some near coverage sacks. What seemed to work best was a mix of cover-3 looks with the strong safety and three linebackers—or two linebackers with a nickel defender—creating a four-man wall underneath, where the Broncos were much better in coverage then they’ve been all season long.

In a similar look here, in a dime package though—with a safety instead of a backer covering underneath—the Broncos sealed everyone up forcing the third-down stop.


Having seven men in coverage was key in locking up the Chiefs, as demonstrated by the numbers above when the Broncos borough extra rushers, as the ‘D’ had much greater success when playing KC straight up.

The results were much more mixed in cover-2 and cover-4 formations, where having both safeties drop deep opened up space underneath that the Chiefs were able to exploit with crossers from Hill and comeback routes from Kelce.

Switching it up late, the Broncos played sticky man coverage but couldn’t overcome Mahomes extending plays with his legs.

Criticism of the coaching staff for making the switch seems exaggerated, as any coverage would break down with the kind of time KC’s QB was able to create for himself, zone or man it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, give credit to the Broncos for still preventing any long bombs.

There was also a good dose of luck for Mahomes who got away with a left-handed pass and an outlandish throw across his body, two plays that 99.9-percent of the time, in the NFL, don’t end up working out.



A play that’s been discussed a lot and was emblematic of the defense’s struggles against the Chiefs was this 2nd-and-30 play. Again, Mahomes extended the play forcing Denver to cover for a full six seconds from the time the ball was snapped to the time he released it. 

In a Cover-1 look, with a deep safety and Brandon Marshall underneath roaming the middle, the secondary had everyone covered, with the back-seven playing in unison and working off of each other. The only problem was Demarcus Robinson in the slot, who had time to come back to the ball as the play was extended for a big gain.

On second down and over 10 yards Mahomes only completed 1-of-4 passes, but this one was a gut punch.

The coverage wasn’t the issue here, the Broncos needed to sack the QB or force an errant throw up-front.


In conclusion

The Monday night loss was certainly tough to swallow, and at some point, you need to give credit where credit is due as the Broncos defense played great but the Chiefs quarterback just played better in the fourth quarter.

This game showed a lot of encouraging signs though, as the secondary seemed revived and played in unison all game. The pass rush created plenty of pressure; they just couldn’t finish.

With Mahomes making plays with the odds against him, it’s a loss you can live with defensively, even if it hurts.

The plan was sound, and the execution was almost perfect, against another offense this would’ve been a winning performance, and who knows maybe even the Chiefs young stud QB won’t be so lucky next time he faces Von Miller and crew.


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