The Denver Broncos present a big challenge for the Eagles offense this week. Not only do they have one of the league's most disruptive pass rushers in Von Miller, but they employ a scheme that makes the most of the speed they have in their defensive front. They also use a lot of stunts and twists in their various pressure concepts, something that has given the Eagles offense a bit of trouble this season.
In their base defense, Denver plays a 3-4 front, but more often than not this team is in their subpackage looks with extra defensive backs on the field. Most often, they are in their 'Dime' package, with six defensive backs, four defensive linemen, and one linebacker on the field. The Broncos are one of the biggest Dime teams in the NFL, and they play a lot of man coverage. This makes them one of the fastest and most aggressive outfits the Eagles will face this season.
When you talk about their pressure, however, it all starts with Von Miller. One of the most feared pass rushers in the league, Denver does a great job of finding ways to get him matched up one-on-one with an offensive lineman. Much like what the Eagles do to get Fletcher Cox in those favorable matchups, the Broncos do this by alignment.
What I mean by that, is that they force offensive lines to handle more than just four defenders in their protection schemes. If five offensive linemen have to account for five or more rushers, then extra help can't be give to the player assigned to block Miller. The Broncos do this in one of two ways: the 'five-over-five' look that has become so common throughout the NFL, and the effective 'Split Mug' front.
Shot 1 - #Broncos use alignment to get Von Miller in 1-on-1 looks. Love the 'Split Mug' front in their Dime package. Miller wins vs RT pic.twitter.com/UkZfFdth4x — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
I did a deep dive on the 'Split Mug' or 'Double A Gap' look last year in our preparation for the Minnesota Vikings and Mike Zimmer. Zimmer is probably the best coach in the league at using this tactic, and Broncos head coach Vance Joseph comes from an extension of the Zimmer coaching tree (having coached in Cincinnati as an assistant under long-time Zimmer lieutenant Paul Guenther). By placing two defenders right in the A gaps (the gaps on either side of the center), the Broncos force the offense to block up six potential rushers with six blockers. That means Miller has a one-on-one matchup. Here, Miller beats the New York right tackle Justin Pugh with a bull rush and brings Eli Manning down for a sack. After the play, I'm sure Giants fans watching on television were furious with their coaches. How could they possibly leave Pugh matched up against Miller by himself?? The Broncos made them do it, and it was by their pre-snap alignment.
Shot 2 - #Broncos also love using '5-over-5' look to get Von Miller 1-on-1. Same thing #Eagles do w/ Cox. LBs mugged up on LOS dictate ppro pic.twitter.com/RoGDjkeG8g — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
The second way the Broncos create those matchups is with the 'five-over-five' look that so many teams (including the Eagles) are using now. Here are a couple of examples of the Broncos creeping an extra defender down to the line of scrimmage, dictating to the offense how they need to protect. On both plays, Miller wins his one-on-one to affect the quarterback, but I want you to notice one other aspect of this. On the first play, you see Miller win outside with a Hand Swipe move as he gets to Dak Prescott just as he throws. On the second play, watch Miller sell the outside move before executing a near-perfect spin move to the inside, forcing Tyrod Taylor from the pocket. Miller's spin move is one of the best in the league.
Here's another look at a 'five-over-five', but notice where Miller lines up on this rep. The Broncos stand him up and move him inside over the left guard. This play is a positive one for the Oakland Raiders, but the point I want to make is that they're not afraid to move Miller around to find him a favorable matchup. That's why the argument of moving Lane Johnson to left tackle to 'hide' an inexperienced Halapoulivaati Vaitai is invalid in today's league. Teams will do everything they can to get pressure on the quarterback, including moving their best pass rushers around the formation. The Broncos do that with Miller.
One of the things I noticed about Denver during film study is that they are one of the bigger 'stunting' teams in the league. They love running line stunts and playing games with opposing offenses. Against Dallas, in particular, they utilized a tactic that I thought was very interesting to try and keep Dak Prescott in the pocket, and it wouldn't shock me at all if we saw that this week against Carson Wentz.
The Broncos know that Miller can win the edge against most NFL tackles, and that when he turns the corner, he forces quarterbacks to step up in the pocket. Denver used that knowledge to their advantage against Prescott and the Cowboys.
Shot 4 - #Broncos did this a few times vs #Cowboys. Miller off the edge with T/E stunt opposite. Von forces QB to step right into looper pic.twitter.com/8Ba9Z1okGd — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
On these two plays, watch Miller fly off the ball and win off the edge, forcing Prescott to step up in the pocket. The problem is that he's stepping up right into the teeth of a stunt, because a looping defensive end from the opposite side is flying right into the area where Prescott will climb into. By using a 'T/E stunt' on the opposite side of Miller, the Broncos pushed Prescott right into the looping defender, and they did it multiple times.
The effect of this tactic was two-fold, because there were also a couple of reps where the looper was blocked in front of Prescott, which kept him clean in the short-term, but he had nowhere to run or throw. That gave Miller enough time on those plays to get home for the sack. Obviously, the Broncos had tight coverage on the back end of these plays as well, and that's important to note. All the plays I've shown you so far have come from the Broncos' Dime personnel, and with the depth they have in the secondary, particularly at cornerback, they can go man-to-man with any receiving corps in the NFL and feel comfortable. Tight coverage and effective pressure usually equates to quality defensive football, and that's what you see from this Broncos team each week on film.
Those 'T/E stunts' in the two shots above are example of '2-man games' by the defense, where two defenders are involved in the stunt. The Broncos also run a good amount of 'three-man games', using Miller as a looper to come from several gaps over to rush up the middle. The Eagles have had some issues with these types of stunts (among others), and will need to be prepared for things like this...
Out of their 'five-over-five' look against Buffalo, the Broncos loop Miller into the backside A gap, and ensure that the left guard can't help the center because of how distracted he is by the linebacker over top of him. The center doesn't see Miller coming, because he's not on his radar before the snap as a direct threat to his space, and Miller gets home for a big hit on the quarterback.
Shot 7 - When they're in their Dime package #Broncos love that 'Double Mug' look. Expect to see Von Miller twisting in those looks as well pic.twitter.com/P5ImuxKrEp — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
The previous example showed Miller being used as a looper from their 'five-over-five' look, but the Broncos also love to loop Miller around in their 'Split Mug' fronts as well, and it's been very effective for them.
Shot 8 - #Broncos also use Von as one of the 'muggers' inside. Gets him closer to the QB. Watch out for games in those situations as well pic.twitter.com/0oK78VMyj5 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
In those 'Split Mug' looks, the Broncos may move Miller to the inside, and have him on a quick stunt to get him roaring at the quarterback full speed right up the gut. This type of game targets the running back in protection, and the Giants were lucky to get the ball out quickly to prevent a big play. No matter where Miller lines up in these looks, he's either getting a straight-up one-on-one (win for the defense), or he's used as a looper to attack an unsuspecting blocker somewhere else along the line (also a win for the defense).
Think about it from an offensive perspective.
Before the snap, you see that the Broncos are in Dime with a lot of speed on the field. You know they send pressure from everywhere, all of their defenders are viable blitzers. They line up in this 'Split Mug' front, so you have to account for everyone pre-snap, knowing full-well that what you see now will almost certainly change at the snap of the ball. Players will be slanting from gap to gap, looping from spots you didn't expect merely seconds earlier. This is NOT easy to execute on a snap in, snap out basis, and it will require loads of preparation from the Eagles offense leading up to this game.
I want to wrap this piece up with the quick note that this defense isn't JUST about Von Miller, because they have other players that can disrupt the pace of the game as well. Derek Wolfe is a force up front on the interior against the run and the pass. Derrick Shelby has been very disruptive and, like Miller, is used often as a looper in three-man games. They just got Shane Ray, a former first-round pick, back in the starting lineup this past week against Kansas City. Shaq Barrett has turned into a really nice pass rusher and uses his hands well at the point of attack.
Shot 9 - Slide protection to Von Miller? Okay. Better account for guys like Shaq Barrett on other side. Has developed into a good player pic.twitter.com/YtwEmUX2IO — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 2, 2017
The Chargers slide their protection towards Miller on this play, and Barrett beats a double team from the tackle and the running back to win for a sack.
The Raiders are so interested in Miller (watch the tight end leave his area of responsibility to make sure he got a hand on the All-Pro pass rusher), that he allows a safety clean off the edge for a sack.
The Eagles have a huge challenge on their hands this week against Denver. Their pressure scheme is capable of wrecking any game, and they do a lot of things up front that have given the Eagles some trouble this season. It will, without question, be the biggest 'game within the game' that I'll be studying on Sunday afternoon.