|10-27-2006, 10:40 AM||#1|
Join Date: Aug 2005
wild horses? - game of the week
When a defense gives up just 44 points in six games, including only two touchdowns, and leads the league in scoring defense at 7.3 points per game, it's time to go searching for the reasons why.
In doing so, it's always easier to find those reasons with some inside help from an analytical player who isn't afraid to offer the insight.
Baltimore was one victim of Denver's speedy defense. (Getty Images)
So that's what we did in our quest to determine how the Denver Broncos defense has been so dominant this season. We enlisted the help of defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban, one of the four former Cleveland Browns defensive linemen now playing key roles for a Broncos defense that has been suffocating.
Ekuban said there are three main reasons. One is the change of the style of play by the defensive front. Another is the speed of the linebackers, a group as fast as any in the league. And the third is a guy who just might be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, cornerback Champ Bailey.
"That pretty much sums it up," Ekuban said.
All of those facets of the defense will have to be working well Sunday when the Broncos play the Indianapolis Colts at Invesco Field. The 6-0 Colts are a big step up in competition.
Of their six opponents so far, the Broncos have faced just one top 10 offense (St, Louis); three of those teams have offenses that are at the bottom of the league rankings. The Ravens (28th), Raiders (31st) and Browns (32nd), the past three teams the Broncos have defeated, are struggling to move the football this season.
The Colts never do. The Broncos know that well from playoff losses in 2003 and 2004. In those two games, the Colts scored 41 and 49 points. Peyton Manning threw for 835 yards and nine touchdowns.
A lot has changed for the Broncos defense since the '04 playoff loss to the Colts. Only four players who started that day are still starting for the defense. None are defensive linemen. The four are linebackers Al Wilson and D.J. Williams, safety John Lynch and Bailey.
But one of the biggest changes is the way the defensive front plays, even different from 2005. Let Ekuban explain it.
"Last year we were more of a read front," Ekuban said. "We were flat with the offensive line. This season, we're attacking the line of scrimmage. We're doing our job with our speed, getting after the ball and the quarterback. It's a lot better for what we have on our line. We can attack. We like it that way."
The four starters up front are all Browns castoffs. In addition to Ekuban, there are defensive tackles Gerard Warren (although he might miss Sunday with an injury) and Michael Myers, and end Kenard Lang. In Cleveland they were considered underachievers, which is why when Mike Shanahan brought them to Denver it opened a lot of eyes and he faced plenty of questions about it.
As it has played out, Shanahan was right. All four have played well this season, but when you look at the pedigree it shouldn't be a surprise. Warren, Lang and Ekuban came into the league as first-round picks. Myers was a fourth-round choice.
"When you're losing, like we were in Cleveland, you're all bad players," Ekuban said. "But we're no different than we were then. It's just that we have a winning atmosphere. We look like we know how to play football. That's why we get a lot of praise. But, hey, we're all the same guys. Now that we're winning, it makes us all look good."
The second key to this Denver defense is the linebackers. Wilson, Williams and Ian Gold all can run. That allows them to get to ball carriers as quickly as any group in the NFL, and that speed allows them to play good coverage against backs and tight ends.
That ability to run to the football is what makes the front seven special. Few teams, if any, have that type of speed at the linebacker position.
"With their speed, the offensive linemen stay on us up front for a second and then try to get to the second level," Ekuban said. "When I was in Dallas and Cleveland, it wasn't that way. The offensive linemen could stay on us longer. It made it tougher for us to make plays up front."
Then there's Bailey. He is the best cover corner in football. His ability to play man coverage on the other team's best receiver allows defensive coordinator Larry Coyer the flexibility to blitz when he wants and to play other coverages away from Bailey. It is a luxury few teams enjoy.
The trendy thing is to say there are no real shutdown corners. That might be true because even the great ones get beat once in a while, but Bailey is as close as you can get.
"His ability to cover makes us better players up front," Ekuban said. "That split second when the quarterback holds the ball can mean the difference in getting a sack."
In the past couple of season, the Broncos have blitzed a lot more. But the new aggressive approach up front has cut down on that. Coyer still likes to come more than most, but it's not as aggressive as it has been, which has cut down on big plays. It has also helped get the Broncos off on third down. Teams are converting only 27.7 percent on third down, which is second only to Chicago (23.2)
Not blitzing as much might be a good approach this week against Manning and his receivers. In those two playoff games, the Broncos blitzed and Manning killed them. Even Bailey will have problems with Marvin Harrison in man coverage if he's doing it all day long.
So look for the Broncos to try less blitzing Sunday, which will put even more pressure on Ekuban and his fellow defensive linemen. The Broncos have 15 sacks on the season, 11 of those coming in the past three games.
"It gets no better than having the challenge of playing a game against Manning and Harrison and those guys," Ekuban said. "You're not going to stop them, you just have to hope to contain them and keep them out of the red zone and the end zone. That's our challenge."
For whatever reason, this Broncos defense isn't getting its due. Maybe the lack of quality offensive opposition has something to do with it, but if you asked most people to name the best defenses in football, the Bears, Chargers, Ravens and some others would be mentioned before the Broncos. Those three are ranked ahead of the Broncos in the yardage ranking, but the Bears have given up five touchdowns, the Ravens six.
That's not nearly as impressive as two. If the Broncos can keep Manning out of the end zone, attention will come in a big way.
"I hope not," Ekuban said. "We kind of like being under the radar."
Sorry, Ebenezer. If Manning is contained, the entire league will go looking for the secrets of the defense's success, which, as you read here, really aren't that secretive after all.
|10-27-2006, 02:20 PM||#2|
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: South of Boston
This is one of those "what happens when the unstoppable force meets immovable object" scenarios.
I know I'll be watching.
|10-27-2006, 02:55 PM||#3|
Champion of the Godless
Join Date: Oct 2003
SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. Denver Broncos lead regular-season series, 11-4. Indianapolis, however, has won both post-season meetings between the two franchises. The last time the two teams hooked up for a regular-season game was January 2, 2005 with Denver coming way with a 33-14 home-field victory. The Broncos are 6-1 at home against Indianapolis. Denver's .733 all-time regular-season winning percentage against the Colts is its second best against any opponent it has played at least 10 times in the regular season. The Broncos' .857 all-time home regular-season winning percentage is its second best against any opponent it has played at least five times at home in the regular season. Indianapolis' last regular-season win in Denver was a 23-20 overtime decision. It was the first-and-only win for the franchise in Denver. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/footb...colts/home.htm
Why is the "conventional thinking" that Denver's going to have problems? I mean, it isn't conventional or historical.
|10-27-2006, 03:19 PM||#4|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: In a van down by the river
Montgomery Burns picks us...