Playoff Observations: PIT vs DEN (20-13)

Onto the next round. Here are some of my observations after today’s game.

  1. Broncos receivers did not catch the football well today.
    • It’s hard to throw the ball when the conditions change the flight path of the ball. But it is also becomes frustratingly hard when your receivers don’t come down with the ball. That is what happened tonight as 7 drops occurred when the game finally came to a close.
    • For those of you who don’t know, I am in the process of becoming a receivers coach at the collegiate level. There is a cardinal rule that all of us stress on the first day of training camp: If you get your hands on the ball you have to catch it. Once you get one hand on it, it becomes yours. Get open, get your hands out, put a frame around the ball, eyes on it all the way through, secure it, then score. These are shortly known as the “commandments”:
      • Go for it
      • Eyes on it
      • Catch it
      • Score
    • If you don’t do any of the first three commandments, then it’s going to be really hard to get to the fourth one. The Broncos lost a lot of third down conversions because of dropped balls which led to not scoring until the fourth quarter where they did finally start to catch balls.
    • Off topic: They say the the QB makes the WRs. Well… That is only if the QB is among the best in his profession. I can personally guarantee you in every other situation that the WRs make the QB. Somebody has to get the ball, somebody has to get open, someone has to get the TD. The way I see it, QBs don’t score TDs unless they run it.
  2. Once the Broncos O find something that works, they stick to it.
    • On their TD scoring drive, the Broncos decided to run Split Inside Zone to the bunch side. The first one worked really well so they decided to motion to bunch and run the same play five times in a row. These runs got Denver to a GL situation which led to a seven point Denver lead.
    • Kubiak has shown in the past that when the defense gives a consistent look to something that leaves them vulnerable to a certain concept, he is the type of guy that will run it, run it, and run it until you stop it. This paid dividends when it needed to.
    • The only thing that I think could have made the series better was if they started in bunch and then up-tempo’d it instead of motioning to it.
  3. Peyton’s pre-snap abilities helped the Broncos win the game.
    • I mentioned on the game thread that Peyton can play with defenses. On a second and long early in the game, the Broncos had a play call that they didn’t like vs a certain front. When the Broncos “kill” to another play, that play is usually outside zone. Defenses have caught onto it late in the season which takes the kill call to outside zone out of the game essentially. This is where I think Peyton and Greg Knapp got together and talked about another type of call that would check to a play pass off outside zone and take advantage of defenses that were going to overpursue the run. Peyton yelled, “Haley, Haley” (haha) and they ran that play with a WR open deep but Peyton overthrew him forcing the Denver Broncos to kick. Not a lot of QB’s can recognize all of the blitz indicators that the Steelers have, but Peyton sure can and he was able to take advantage of them in that fashion.
    • Then later in the game, Peyton came up to the line and saw they could get numbers and leverage if they ran OZ to the TE side. That’s when the Steelers showed their blitz, which forced Peyton for another adjustment. Peyton saw the backside defender off on Emmanuel at about 9 yards which indicated the Steelers were blitzing with three deep behind it. Peyton checked Emmanuel’s route to a “smoke” which means the WR is just going to sit, the QB will throw it right away, and then the WR takes off with it. This throw led to an Emmanuel Sanders 8 yard gain and a crucial first down.
    • Brock is going to be good someday. Only Peyton can read that kind of stuff right now. The last two situations I just described weren’t the only ones I saw over the course of the game either.
  4. The offense needs to continue building their runs through the bunch package, especially vs NE.
    • Last time Denver played NE, they were able to take advantage of NE’s jam front (3 DL over the core of the OL plus a mike over the top) by running a pin and pull toss play out of bunch. Now that they have an inside zone and an outside zone away from the strength of the defense working for them, they can force NE to do things that they don’t want to get involved in the run game.
    • The best three ways to play against a Jam front is outside zone away from the strength, pin and pull out of bunch, or throw it over the top of their corners. The Broncos have two, now they just need to get play pass and some deep balls in practice this week so that they can get some big yards.
    • Also, the Broncos will have the same match up problem outside that a Gronkowski can cause. They need to really evaluate whether they want a LB on him when is flexed out or is they can leave a safety on him instead. Hope that doesn’t bite them.
  5. Miscommunications are prevalent in zone coverage.
    • There were times today when the safety wasn’t in the right place, when the corner wasn’t in the right place, and when both wren’t in the right place. This mostly happened in zone coverage and the Steelers exploited it using Sail/Flood concepts.
    • The Broncos aren’t a zone coverage team for sure. But the talent of the WRs they have been playing against have forced them to play zone more often than they should.
  6. Broncos gave help to their tackles in the pass game and pressure did not get to the QB.
    • When the Broncos were passing the ball, they left Schofield alone very little having a RB or TE to his side the majority of the game.
    • Given his current problems in pass pro which I don’t think I need to document any further, it has been nice to see that the broncos have placed a special focus on giving their struggling tackle some help in protection. Not that they haven’t noticed it since he has been in camp.
    • The problem that this is creating though is defenses can now key that if the Broncos are in 2×2 sets and the TE is to Schofield, they are going to be able to key in on this and adjust accordingly. I don’t know if you want Bill Belichick with that kind of key considering you can gauge how a protection is set based on the structure.
  7. Broncos defensive front still playing as great as they do.
    • The one thing that is truly admirable about the Broncos run defense is that they work in unison.
    • This seems like a cliche thing to say because this is how all defenses are supposed to work. however, the Broncos D plays like this almost every time teams run the ball, which is why runners can’t find any gaps to run through. If you want to see how a defense is supposed to defend the run, turn on the coaches film of the Denver D and watch them go to work.
    • I will also say that the pass rush is something that I have never seen before this year. The pressure comes from everywhere. Guys are getting pushed into the QB. You get my drift.

What are some of your observations? Feel free to comment below.

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I am a former film coordinator for a FCS school. Currently serving in the Navy. I was glad to be around the game of football and had the chance to learn from a lot of great people. I wouldn't be where I am without the gracious support of my family, coaches, assistants, players, and friends. I also greatly appreciate you guys who take the time to read my stuff and show genuine appreciation. It means a ton! You guys are awesome! Twitter Handle: @FBDubs