The Denver Broncos defense continued it’s dominance in Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings, sacking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seven times for a total loss of 57 yards. Using a medley of pressure schemes in an attempt to harass and confuse the second-year QB throughout the tightly contested game, Brian Filipiak shows how the Broncos overload blitz earned the victory and remain undefeated.
Leading the league with 18 sacks through a quarter of the 2015 season, the Denver pass rush has been a relentless force, making life easier for an already solid secondary. Allowing only six-yards per passing attempt and two passing touchdowns (to six interceptions) on the young season, the Broncos success against the pass largely starts up front, buoyed by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and his blitz heavy looks.
In an effort to overwhelm the Vikings offensive line, the Denver defense sent five or more pass rushers 20 times out of Bridgewater’s 50 drop backs (included are two quick wide receiver screens with no pass rush grade). In those 20 instances, Bridgewater completed eight passes – one for a red zone touchdown – for a total of 43 yards, and was sacked four times for a loss of 39 yards, including a strip sack turnover in the waning seconds of the game.
The Set Up
Trailing 23-20 with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter, the Minnesota’s offense was in the midst of a potential game-tying drive, moving the ball down to their own 47-yard line. Facing a 2nd and 10 after an incompletion, the Vikings use 11 personnel and set up out of the shotgun formation with running back Adrian Peterson offset right. The Broncos counter with their dime defense, dropping safety T.J. Ward into the box as a pass rush threat while the rest of secondary plays off-coverage, showing a Cover 4 look.
The Vikings, with only one timeout left, aim to pick up a good chunk of yardage on a pass play that can also give the receiver an opportunity to get out of bounds. The main read for Teddy Bridgewater on the play appears to be wide receiver Adam Thielen (#19) on a drag route:
With the Broncos protecting against the deep pass along the sidelines, the Vikings essentially run three clear-out routes down the field, potentially providing Thielen with plenty of running room after the catch over the short middle. A simple concept that should result in an easy read and completion for the QB.
Only the Denver defense unveils a pressure wrinkle not yet seen by Bridgewater up until this pivotal point in the game:
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In a flash, the Vikings fumble away a chance to win the game while the Broncos prove victorious once again on the strength of their defense. Now, here’s how Denver was able to get two unimpeded pass rushers into the backfield, leaving Bridgewater with almost no chance to do anything about it.
Fire Zone Blitz
At the snap, the Broncos unleash a fire zone blitz with defensive end / outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (#94) dropping into coverage on one side and middle linebacker Brandon Marshall (#54) and Ward (#43) rushing the passer on the opposite end. Here’s a closer look at the five-man blitz scheme:
The defensive front presents three potential pass rushers to each side (from the offensive guards on out), but the Broncos target area is rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings and the C gap on the right. The interior rushers, defensive tackles Sylvester Williams (#92) and Malik Jackson (#97), will slant left down the line of scrimmage one gap over from where they were aligned pre-snap
But defensive end / outside linebacker Von Miller (#58) has the most important task within this pressure scheme. Starting from a wide 9 alignment, Miller will slant across two gaps, aiming for the A gap between center Joe Berger (#61) and right guard Mike Harris (#79). Marshall, meanwhile, will cross the center and follow tightly behind this elongated slant by Miller, which aims to draw Clemmings out of his gap.
However, even if Clemmings is able to pick up Marshall on the twist – which he doesn’t – it still leaves the blitzing Ward unaccounted for off the edge:
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Once Bridgewater completes his drop, he appears to lock on Thielen across the short middle, especially with Marshall rushing the passer and vacating the underneath zone. The QB starts to bring his arm up to deliver the pass but then halts his throwing motion after noticing that Ware has replaced Marshall in coverage and is driving toward Thielen. Bridgewater brings the ball down and begins to reload – perhaps looking over the deep middle now. But it’s too late. Ward whacks the ball loose and Miller – continuing to do the dirty work on the play – scoops up the fumble.
Here’s an All-22 view of the coverage on the play:
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Without knowing the protection and offensive line calls, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Vikings. On a six-man pass protection, Peterson likely would have been responsible for Ward (or Marshall) before releasing out of the backfield. The running back does appear to hesitate instead of immediately proceeding into his swing route. However, it’s also possible that Peterson is the built-in hot read on this play in case of a blitz. In either case, Bridgewater and Peterson weren’t on the same page.
But that’s what well-schemed zone pressure can do: confuse and confound. If even one link in the chain proves faulty, the whole thing can break down in a heartbeat. The Broncos talented defensive front teamed with Phillips and his bag of tricks – from line stunts to zone blitzes and pass rushers from all angles – has been a force to be reckoned so far this season.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.