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Tag:DeMaryius Thomas
Posted on: January 17, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: January 17, 2012 10:31 am
 

Tracking Tebow: And so it ends…until next season

We're Tracking Tebow … because it's impossible not to watch. 

By Ryan Wilson

The Broncos' run ended ingloriously Saturday night, 97 days after Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton at quarterback. Denver went 8-5 in those 13 weeks, a stretch that included six straight wins followed by three straight losses, which preceded a "didn't see that coming, did you?" offensive explosion against the Steelers in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

But the Tebow aerial assault was fleeting; New England wasn't going to let Tebow do to them what he did to an aggressive Pittsburgh defense. Instead, they mixed their coverages, generated pressure with four and five rushers, kept Tebow contained in the pocket and generally made his Saturday night a miserable experience.

But the setback is temporary; after the Broncos started the season 1-4 with Orton, no one expected them to make the playoffs much less win the AFC West. And yet they did, with an unconventional quarterback running a college offense. And guess what? Denver's ready to do it all again next season, too.

As soon as the Broncos' season was over the speculation began on Tebow's future as an NFL starter. On Monday, team vice president John Elway announced that Tebow had "earned the right" to be the team's quarterback heading into training camp and the hall of famer plans to play an active role in Tebow's development.

"There are things that I can add," Elway said. "Where I can help him ... I'm looking forward to it."


Elway's right -- Tebow has earned the job -- but if the organization is truly committed to him (and we're not convinced they are long term) then that means building the entire offense around one person, right down to a backup quarterback proficient at running Tebow's brand of option football.

If it seems extreme, think of it this way: what happens if Tebow goes down? Denver's offense suddenly reverts to its pre-Tebow playbook? And the remaining starters -- all of whom have spent months practicing the option offense, will suddenly be expected to run a conventional offense? In the middle of a game? That ain't happening.

The downside: if Tebow falters next season and the Broncos decide they'd prefer to run a more conventional system run by a more conventional quarterback, then for the second time in as many offseasons they'll be rebuilding the roster based on a new offensive philosophy.

So, yeah, it's a risk. But this is the same team that went with Orton out of training camp and won once in the first five weeks of the season. Tebow, even with all his flaws, fared much better.

And now with an offseason to work on, well, everything, it's reasonable to think that he'll be a lot better in August than he was in January.


                                                   Play by Play



(Note: Below are the plays -- both running and passing -- involving Tebow. You can view the entire play-by-play breakdown here)




                                                        Quotes



"Kind of like our football team, I was really proud where he started and where he brought this team. We are a work in progress. We have got a lot of work to do and that hasn't changed, you know, for some time. And as I mentioned earlier, you know, the two matchups we had against the New England Patriots, I think it is evident that we have work to do."  - Head coach John Fox on Tebow's overall performance this season

"A lot of ups and downs. Overall it's been a very special opportunity for me, something I've very thankful for, very thankful I had the opportunity to build some of the great relationships with teammates and coaches. We've overcome a lot of different forms of adversity, to win some special games, to have great memories of last week and to be able to get into the playoffs. There's a lot of things we are proud of, even though it's hard to see that now.  " - Tebow, after the game Saturday night

"Tim has earned the right to be the starting quarterback going into training camp next year. He made some good strides." - John Elway, executive vice president of football operations


                                                   Audio-Visual




Instead of playing press coverage, the Patriots often disguised their looks. Whatever happened presnap, the outcome was usually the same: contain Tebow, make him hold the ball, and win your one-on-one matchups. Here Tebow is sacked for an 11-yard loss.

(Note: click to englarge photos.) One thing Tebow will have to get better at: reading defenses and going through his progressions. In this play that ultimately led to a sack, Tebow stares down his receiver to the right. By the time he finally looks for other options, it's too late, the pocket has collapsed, and he's taken down. The receiver to the left is open, Tebow just never looks his way.


                                                   Eye on Tebow



Jan 14, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow (15) on the field after the game against the New England Patriots in the 2011 AFC divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Broncos 45- 10. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 3:24 pm
 

Report: NFL to look at coaches swapping teams

The NFL could keep teams from grabbing coaches midseason. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Josh McDaniels, who will reportedly be working from the coaches' box on Saturday, switched teams "midseason" this year when the Patriots hired him to replace departing offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.

This didn't sit well with a number of teams and Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the NFL will look at restricting movement of coaches from one team to another during the same league year.

The Broncos, in particular, didn't appreciate the swap, considering that McDaniels, who has intimate knowledge of their roster and personnel, spent all week helping the Pats prepare to play Denver again. (Probably not helping things: Tom Brady's assertion that McD has "inside information.")

Mortensen reports that "a few clubs lodged complaints" about McDaniels transfer and such complaints could be impetus for a rule preventing coaches from swapping teams midseason.

Implementing such a rule would be a logical move, even if the Patriots have several sound excuses -- O'Brien's already moving towards Penn State, and McDaniels will eventually be the full-time OC -- for bringing in McDaniels right away.

It's clear that having McDaniels on staff gives the Patriots some advantage and it's an unfair leg up on an opponent. It's also a gateway for some team down the road to temporarily hire a fired coach simply for a playoff or late-season matchup.

And that's why the NFL would be wise to nip it in the bud before it becomes a more serious issue.

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Posted on: January 11, 2012 11:59 pm
 

More late-night fun with Tim Tebow

By Josh Katzowitz

Geez, it’s almost like this Tim Tebow guy is slowly becoming a nationwide phenom or something.

First, SNL spoofed Tebow’s love for Jesus in this sketch, and now we have two more clips to show you from two other late-night talk show hosts that poke a little bit of fun and make good use of some well-choreographed legumes.

The first is from Tuesday’s episode of “Late Show with David Letterman” (onCBS!), and it features a Top-10 list of Ten Little Known Facts about Tebow. It wasn’t overly funny, though the “Throws Left, Prays Right” gag was solid.



The second is from Monday’s episode of “Conan” when Conan explains during his monologue that he wanted to show a clip of Tebow’s overtime touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas but that it would have cost him “thousands and thousands of dollars” to do so. Instead, the play was reenacted by the Conan Peanut Players, and it’s a good time.



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Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:40 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 9:40 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Will Gronk get his Gronk on this time around? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It was assumed the Patriots would draw a rematch in their divisional round playoff opener. However, most figured that rematch would be of their Week 8 bout with Pittsburgh, not their Week 15 bout with Denver.

Here’s the breakdown of what could turn out to be the highest-rated divisional round Saturday night game of all-time.


1. New England’s plan for Tebow
Something to keep in mind is the Steelers had a sound gameplan last week, playing man coverage and using a tepid pass-rush to ensure that Tim Tebow stayed in the pocket. What the Steelers didn’t count on was Demaryius Thomas being able to get by Ike Taylor and Tebow being able to pull the trigger on downfield throws. Those two young ’10 first-rounders both had career days.

The Patriots might bet that the two youngsters can’t do it again.

On the one hand, that’s a smart bet given that Thomas and Tebow were inconsistent all season (Tebow especially). On the other hand, it’s foolish given that cornerback Kyle Arrington – who would draw the Thomas matchup, as Thomas almost always lines up on the favorable side of the left-handed Tebow – is not half the cover artist Ike Taylor is, and given that logic says if Tebow can win against the man coverage of the league’s best pass defense, he can surely win against the man coverage of the league’s worst pass defense.

In the last meeting, the Patriots played predominant Cover 3 in the first half:

The Broncos had success throwing skinny posts to Tebow’s left against the Patriots Cover 3 defense in the last meeting. Cover 3 is what you’d guess it is: three defensive backs each responsible for a third of the field. Because there is so much field to cover, the outside defensive backs often play man-to-man concepts (as Devin McCourty is doing on the right side). Cover 3 is something defenses play when they blitz or when they want to force a quarterback to throw (it’s the default zone coverage behind an eight-defender box).

In this example, the Patriots were clearly baiting Tebow to throw. Notice there are only five rushers (which is hardly a blitz considering Denver has seven guys in pass protection – the idea was to keep Tebow from scrambling). Also notice how linebacker Dane Fletcher has his back to the quarterback and is running towards the left passing window. (Fletcher was late getting there; Tebow did a good job recognizing the coverage and getting the ball out quickly. The result was a 22-yard completion to Eric Decker.)

The Broncos used great routes for beating this anticipated coverage, but Tebow was unable to connect on some of the throws.

Still, throws against Cover 3 are easier than throws against quality press-man, as long as the pass protection holds up. Denver’s protection was tremendous last week.

If tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin (who may need some help on the right side) can keep speed-rusher Mark Anderson at bay, the Broncos will be golden. (Keeping a backup like Anderson at bay may not sound difficult, but the former Bear was actually very disruptive in the last meeting.)

2. Stop the run!
The Patriots gave up 167 yards rushing in the first quarter of the Week 15 contest. They wound up winning the game handily, but they were on the fortuitous side of a few fumbles.

Common sense says you can’t bank on having success with such porous run defense. The issue last game was outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s inability to set the edge and the defensive line’s inability to prevent the Bronco linemen from contacting inside linebackers. This was a problem both with New England’s 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork must stand out more this time around. The Broncos will be willing at times to block him one-on-one with J.D. Walton. The second-year center has been up-and-down (in a good way) handling tough solo assignments against nose tackles down the stretch this season. He was phenomenal against Antonio Garay of the Chargers in Week 12 but had been just so-so the previous week against Sione Pouha of the Jets. In Week 15 he held his own against Wilfork, but in Week 16 he got schooled by Marcell Dareus.
 
If Walton has a strong game, the Broncos can pound the rock inside. If he struggles, Denver’s at least capable of getting to the perimeter, though they’ll miss the fervid blocking of wideout Eric Decker.

3. Defending the Patriots tight ends
Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show, did an excellent job breaking down the Week 15 film back in December. Cosell wrote that the Broncos focused their coverages on Rob Gronkowski, successfully disrupting his timing by hitting him at the line of scrimmage.

However, that left fourth-round rookie safety Quinton Carter on Aaron Hernandez. Carter, like the rest of Denver’s safeties, is not great in man coverage, which Hernandez proved by posting what were at the time his career highs in catches (nine) and yards (129).

Though still a little green as a route runner (particularly against zone), Hernandez has the movement skills of a wide receiver. The Broncos may choose to defend him with rising rookie nickel back Chris Harris. That would leave safeties and linebackers to cover Gronkowski.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen may figure he can get away with that as long as coverage linebackers Wesley Woodyard and D.J. Williams are once again physical with the second-year superstar.

The Patriots’ counter to this would be splitting Gronkowski into a slot receiver position (likely in a spread 2 x 2 or 3 x 2 set), where he could line up a few yards off the line and operate against an overwhelmed defender in space. Even if the Broncos decided to sacrifice their run defense by going with dime personnel against the two tight ends, they still would be overmatched.

After all, just because Jonathan Wilhite is a corner doesn’t mean he can cover Gronkowski. This is the problem New England’s offense poses, this is why the Patriots are the No. 1 seed.

4. If lightning strikes twice ...
As the tight end analysis just suggested, the Broncos are faced with a very serious matchup problem that can only be solved by their players rising up and doing things no one thought they could do. It’s improbable, but as Denver’s offense showed last week, not impossible.

So let’s say for the sake of extra analysis that the Broncos can stop Gronkowski and Hernandez with their inside pass defenders. That leaves outside corners Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman on Wes Welker and Deion Branch (who did not play in the last matchup).

If the Broncos want to avoid the matchup problems that New England’s flexible formations create (such as Welker working against a linebacker in the slot), they’ll have to play man-to-man, with Bailey assigned on Welker and Goodman on Branch. Those aren’t bad matchups for either side – it would come down to who executes better (general rule of thumb, over the course of 60 minutes, put your money on the offense).

What we’re not considering is New England’s ability to run the ball. They’re not known for that, but against nickel or dime defense, they’re capable of controlling the game the old fashioned way.

Danny Woodhead has great lateral agility. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady, highly professional runner. Of course, he may lose snaps to the more dynamic Stevan Ridley, a third-round rookie who has come on as of late. The Patriots have an excellent run-blocking front five with LG Logan Mankins being a premier puller, RG Brian Waters a shrewd playside anchor, LT Matt Light a crafty angles-creator (including at the second level) and RT Nate Solder a ridiculous athlete out in front.

5. Broncos pass-rush slowing down?
Pass-rush pressure is always a prerequisite for beating Tom Brady. Lately, the Patriots have nullified it with an increased emphasis on three-and five-step drops. Brady is especially sharp at this when working out of an empty backfield.

The Broncos have not had the most fervid pass-rush the last month anyway. They sacked Brady just twice in Week 15. They got Ryan Fitzpatrick just once the next week and Kyle Orton once in the season finale. They got to Ben Roethlisberger in the wild card round but that’s a product of Roethlisberger’s style of play. Denver’s pass-rush did not control the flow of last Saturday’s game. Von Miller has had just one sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all divisional-round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:00 am
Edited on: January 10, 2012 10:01 am
 

Tracking Tebow: wild, wild, wild-card weekend

We're Tracking Tebow … because it's impossible not to watch. 

By Ryan Wilson

After three weeks off, Tim Tebow has returned with a vengeance that only God could appreciate. The Steelers' game plan against the Broncos was what everybody expected: stop the running game and make Tebow beat you with his arm. Because for as fantastic as the second-year quarterback had been for the floundering franchise, the reality was this: head coach John Fox and executive vice president John Elway appeared wholly uninterested in moving forward with Tebow as their starter, and it would surprise no one if they had already given some thought to who else might be under center in 2012 -- especially given how the final three weeks of the season unfolded.

But in typical Tebow fashion, defying logic and physics along the way, he proved that above all else, he's a winner. The Steelers were successful in what they sought out to do: shut down the league's best rushing game. It's just that they didn't account for Tebow's sudden mastery of the deep ball, nor did they expect cornerback Ike Taylor to have the the worst game of his career.

Pittsburgh crowded the line of scrimmage with eight players and left Taylor in single coverage on Demaryius Thomas all day. And all day, Thomas did what he wanted and Tebow had little trouble throwing on time and with accuracy. We joked about it on the most recent episode of the Pick-6 Podcast, but nobody -- Tebow, his family members, Urban Meyer, his high school coach, Thomas -- figured he'd be stroking it like he was Jeff George playing a pick-up game against a bunch of middle schoolers.


Will it last? Common sense says no because every expert proclaimes that Tebow isn't an NFL quarterback. But every time we doubt this guy, he proves us wrong. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has a saying: "Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you." On Sunday, Tebow was a grizzly and the Steelers were salmon. But there's no way he can do that against the Patriots, right? Right?!


                                                   Play by Play



(Note: Below are the plays -- both running and passing -- involving Tebow. You can view the entire play-by-play breakdown here)




                                                        Quotes



"We felt we had a good grasp of what they would try to do to us. They made more plays than we thought they were capable of making. We really hadn't seen that out of [Tebow] on tape." - Steelers linebacker James Farrior

"We saw on film that their safeties pressed [toward the line of scrimmage], so we knew we had to throw the ball to beat them. They were the No. 1 defense, so I feel they wanted to make a statement to stop the run. I don't know if they forgot about our passing game, or what. The past few games, we weren't passing the ball that great. They gave us opportunities." - Broncos wide receiver DeMaryius Thomas

"I think that's fair to say. We were down, but it was like a focus and very intense frustration that we wanted to get back on the field to show that wasn't us. I feel like our attitude and mind-set kind of grew all week. … We tried to be aggressive. I wanted to be aggressive and (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy taught us to be aggressive, and guys really stepped up and made some great plays." - Tebow


                                                   Audio-Visual




Join CBS Sports' Jim Nantz and Phil Simms for a recap of all the action in Sunday's Steelers-Broncos game.


Denver quarterback Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80 yard touchdown to send the Broncos to New England for the divisional round of the AFC playoffs as they beat the Steelers 29-23 in overtime.


(Note: click to englarge photos.)
Above is a breakdown of the Broncos' first touchdown, set up by the first of many deep balls from Tebow to Thomas. On the scoring play to Eddie Royal, Tebow sees that William Gay is in single coverage (first frame, rightmost arrow and that Ryan Mundy is playing centerfield (left-pointing arrow). Tebow knows now that he's going to Royal. But first, some post-snap manipulation of the Steelers' secondary. In the second frame, Tebow uses his eyes and shoulders to move Mundy to the left. In the third frame, he looks back to the right, throws on time, and finds Royal, who makes a great catch in the end zone. Mundy has no chance to help on the play. Presnap he was on the right hash, Tebow moved him to the left a few steps, and that was enough to give Royal a one-on-one matchup.


                                                   Eye on Tebow



DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos runs against Ike Taylor #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 11:55 pm
 

Ike Taylor sorry for 'worst game at worst time'

D. Thomas gives a hellacious stiff-arm to I. Taylor (Getty).By Josh Katzowitz

After Denver’s upset win of the Steelers on Sunday was complete, Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor -- who got smoked by Demaryius Thomas on the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass and had a bad day in general -- didn’t talk to reporters.

Instead, he sat in front of the locker he apparently destroyed and stared at the ground.

"On defense, we felt like we let the team down," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said after the game, via ESPN. "We felt like we had a good grasp of what they were going to do to us or try to do us. They came out and made way more plays that we thought they were capable of making." 

Either way, Taylor felt bad about his role in making Tim Tebow and Thomas, who gave a hellacious stiff-arm to Taylor as he ran to the end zone, the heroes of the game. So, he apologized on Twitter today.

“First off congrats too (sic) tebow and the Broncos … Second I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time apologize to my teammates steelernation and family. Luv y'all to def.”

Of course, Taylor shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame. He wasn’t the only man who allowed Tebow to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns and to allow Thomas to catch 204 yards worth of receptions. Also, as ESPN’s Jamison Hensley notes, “The Steelers put him in a precarious position by putting him on an island against Thomas, because they were more committed to stopping the run than the pass.”

In fact, as Tebow snapped the ball on that final play, all Pittsburgh defenders were within five yards of the line of scrimmage, because safety Ryan Mundy moved up to defend a possible rush attempt. In effect, the Steelers sold out for the run, and when Thomas made his move, Taylor -- who was on the outside of him -- had no help from his safety.

But yeah, Taylor was the face of the inept Steelers defense on that final play as we saw replay after replay of the game-ender. And while he shouldn’t have to apologize, it’s not hard to recognize how badly Taylor must feel about the whole scenario. That must hurt much worse than the stiff-arm.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 28, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Chiefs preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Reputations will be on the line in Denver this Sunday. A Broncos win keeps the Tim Tebow mania alive, as it means the Mile High City will host a playoff games for the first time in six years. John Elway would almost certainly be compelled to keep his promise of bringing Tebow back in 2012, and the Broncos might start building around their unconventional quarterback.

A Broncos loss, however, jeopardizes the Tebow mania, as the unskilled passer who does nothing but win would have finished the season on a three-game losing streak. The fallout would be even worse for Elway given that the loss will have come at the hands of Kyle Orton, the veteran quarterback whom Denver allowed Kansas City to claim scot-free. Here’s the breakdown of Sunday’s matchup:

Last time
1. The Week 10 matchup
When these teams met back in Week 10, the Broncos completed just two passes (total!). One of those passes happened to be a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Decker, which, mixed with 244 yards on 55 rushing attempts, was enough for a Broncos victory.

Schematically, the Chiefs were prepared to stop the Broncos’ freshly unwrapped read-option run game; they had athletic inside linebacker Derrick Johnson spy Tebow, brought safeties into the box and had outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston stay home on the edge.

Physically, however, the Chiefs defensive line got manhandled. Their lack of penetration allowed the Broncos to continuously pick up three and four yards on banal inside carries. Tebow registered two big runs off the read-option, isolating end Glenn Dorsey on one run and Lawrence Jackson on the other. Because those two former first-round picks were neutralized by one-on-one blocking, Denver’s interior linemen consistently got bodies on Kansas City’s linebackers.

On the other side, Denver’s pass-rush got to Matt Cassel and their back seven defenders simply “out-athleted” Kansas City’s skill players.

This time
2. Chiefs D vs. Broncos run game
Some of the sizzle has naturally left the read-option, but that isn’t to say it’s not still an effective approach. The read-option forces a defense to play ultra-sharp, assignment-based football. As we saw early in the Week 15 Patriots game at Denver, when defenders fail to take on blocks at proper angles or keep the action from going outside, they get gouged.

Expect the Chiefs to be better against the read-option this time around. Hali and Houston have been excellent edge run-defenders in recent weeks.  Dorsey and Jackson are still hit or miss, but they’re more likely to “hit” when they can play finesse and attack gaps or work down the line of scrimmage. Their misses pile up when they’re forced to play with power in a phone booth.

The Chiefs know this and now know how to gameplan accordingly. They just watched the Bills defensive linemen last week attack gaps to eliminate some of the running lanes for Bronco ballcarriers. Those defensive linemen did not make the tackle or even always occupy multiple blockers, but by taking some of the “options” out of the read-option, they made the ballcarrier hesitant and, thus, predictable. That translated to minimal gains against an eight-man box.

3. Kansas City manning-up in pass defense
The Bills were able to be aggressive with their eighth box defender because they knew they could stop the Bronco passing game with man coverage. That’s a great defensive tactic against Denver’s offense, as possession type receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are best handled that way.

Man defense also takes away the surprise factor in the screen game and keeps a spy on Tebow, which limits his scrambling. The irony is that Tebow has shown he’s more inclined to scramble against man coverage. The reason for this is, not being strong-armed or a precision passer, Tebow is uncomfortable fitting the ball into tight areas. To a young quarterback, NFL man coverage makes all areas appear tight. If Tebow’s first read isn’t there, his first instinct is to tuck and run.

The defensive risks in a man coverage approach are linebackers missing their assignments when they bite on a good read-option fake (which Buffalo’s did on Dante Rosario’s 32-yard catch-and-run), or players allowing themselves to be taken out of run defense position by an easy release (which is when a tight end runs a pass route away from the point of attack on a run play, carrying his man-defender with him right out of the picture).

The Chiefs – with two superb press corners in Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers outside, a shifty slot corner in Javier Arenas and athletic linebackers – should eagerly bog down and play man this Sunday. They beat the Packers with this formula two weeks ago and would have beaten the Raiders last week if they had stayed with it the entire game (they went to Tampa 2 a small handful of times and saw their safeties get burned by speedy receivers on two long passes that decided the outcome).

Broncos vs. Chiefs: Orton's revenge? (Getty Images)

4. Kyle Orton
In some ways, the seven-year pro is the consummate system quarterback. Whatever the system calls for, Orton delivers. He can post big numbers in a wide open aerial attack like he did two years ago under Josh McDaniels, or he can move the chains in a ball control scheme like he did two weeks ago under Romeo Crennel. His issues are consistency and playmaking.

Orton managed the game brilliantly against Green Bay two weeks ago and then threw two costly interceptions by failing to read basic safety help last week against Oakland. In Denver, Orton’s limitations showed up when John Fox and Mike McCoy installed a more traditional system to run with only mediocre receivers. Orton was unable to extend plays and improvise, which is why the Broncos offense was lethargic until Tebow replaced him.

Overall, the Chiefs can feel good about who they have under center in this game. Orton is certainly familiar with the opponent. He has terrific ball-handling skills, which allow him to manipulate safeties and execute play-action effectively. And since taking over, he’s made good use of his tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

5. Chiefs base offense
Tight ends and running backs could be prominent in the Chiefs’ passing attack this week given that linebackers Joe Mays and Von Miller aren’t great in coverage out of base defense. The Broncos will spend more time in base defense than they have in recent weeks, as the Crennel-led Chiefs predominantly utilize run-first personnel.

The run formations will keep Miller at strongside linebacker, nullifying his punishing first-step off the edge. Miller doesn’t have to line up at defensive end in order to rush the passer; he’s a great blitzer from the second level. However, teams lately have used a lot of three-and five-step drops against Denver, which completely nullifies a second-level blitzer and significantly softens the impact of pass-rushing ends. That’s the best way to contain Miller and Elvis Dumervil (who has come alive after a slow start).

Against the quick drops, the Broncos should tighten their coverage and force the Chiefs receivers to beat them early in the down. Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin are strong but not savvy enough to outmaneuver veterans like Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. Steve Breaston is quick and can get early spacing by lining up off the line, but most of his (limited) damage this season has come on deeper crossing patterns, not quick strikes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 17 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
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