The Broncos have a fast and aggressive defense that prides itself on getting to the quarterback and making hits on running backs in the backfield. When that does not happen they can be exposed, and in the first half yesterday the defense might as well be called Kate Middleton because they were exposed for all to see.
Throughout the season the Broncos linebackers at the snap of the ball tend to lean and take steps toward the line of scrimmage, eager to make a big play. Joe Mays seems to be particularly susceptible, and on some plays actually took off on a run toward the line at the snap of the ball (these were not blitzes because a few times he backpedaled after he read pass). This is a fine strategy if the linebacker is lucky enough for the running back to come right at them, but in pretty much all other scenarios this can lead to the defense getting burned. It seems like the Texans did their homework, as they assaulted the Broncos with play-action passes and exhibited patience in the running game to open up an early lead that they would never relinquish.
You cannot blame the play-action bombs (two touchdowns, two drops by Andre Johnson) on the linebacker not getting into coverage, but you have to think this is more a system wide decision to be aggressive in the run game. This reflects the coaches confidence that the bookend rushers (Dumervil and Miller) can pressure passers so the Quarterback does not have time to take advantage of the Broncos porous secondary. Well, on both of the long play-action touchdowns the pressure did not get there and big plays were for the taking. The linebackers over-eagerness hurt the Broncos on several crucial first-down conversions. On these play-action passes the tight ends were so open no Broncos defender was close enough to shout at Owen Daniels or Garret Graham, let alone defend them. This led to long drives, further extended by Arian Foster and Ben Tate’s willingness to let the first surge of defenders run downfield pass them, leading to one-on-one opportunities on the second level. Neither had any long, explosive runs, but plenty of three to five yard runs that kept Peyton Manning and the Broncos passing attack off the field.
The defense was able to make stops when the Texans took the foot off the gas and played conservatively (similar to last week against the Falcons), but the damage had been done. They had dug themselves into too large a hole and no amount of last gasp heroics could save the Denver Broncos.
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Written by Brandon Keller