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Running a Tall Task vs. Bulky Broncos Line

Posted Sep 20, 2013

The Broncos have made the Ravens and Giants one-dimensional in the first two weeks of the season. Andrew Mason writes that it comes from the defensive linemen winning their one-on-one battles.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There were two primary reasons why the Ravens and Giants gradually became more one-dimensional as their games against the Broncos progressed. The first was Denver's offense: the leads it built and the tempo it maintained forced opposing offenses to pass to try and keep up and come back.

But the other reason resides with the Broncos' defensive front four, comprised of a rotating cast of players that shares two characteristics: the jersey color each wears and a penchant for winning one-on-one duels up front and arriving at the ballcarrier not long after the handoff is completed.

The result is a defense that has seen just 40 run plays attempted against it in 156 snaps -- a run percentage of 25.6 percent, the lowest in the league. No one has forced opponents to be more one-dimensional than the Broncos, and only one other team has run more often than Monday's foe, the Oakland Raiders, who have kept it on the ground on 54.0 percent of their snaps, just 1.7 percent behind the Seattle Seahawks.

"If you don't stop the run and make a team one-dimensional, it's hard to win," said defensive end Shaun Phillips. "Not only the Oakland Raiders, but any other team. This week, with a great player like Darren McFadden, we're definitely going to have to put a little extra emphasis into stopping the run.”

Emphasis will help, but it's hard to imagine the Broncos being more effective than they were the last two weeks -- particularly against the Giants, who opened the game with 10 yards on their first two carries -- and then gained just 13 on their next 17, effectively ending their hopes of making the run game a threat.

Four different defensive linemen each posted a tackle for a loss against the run: Kevin Vickerson, Malik Jackson, Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe, who split a stop for a loss with strong-side linebacker Nate Irving. All consistently won their one-on-one battles, showing quickness off the snap that wasn't always there last season.

"That's just what we have to continue to do, continue to force our will, continue to play our ball and continue to dominate the one-on-one block," said Vickerson. "Whatever block you really get, you really have to dominate it."

The quickness off the snap wasn't always there for the defensive linemen last year, particularly on the inside. Some of that improvement is due to the return of Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio for a second season on the sideline, but Jackson suggests it's rooted more in the cohesion the defense has.

"I think it's that (Del Rio staying), but I think we're a lot more comfortable," he said. "We have me and Wolfe, and we've grown up a lot more with these vets in Vick and T-Knight, and I think it's just growing together and really understanding what we need to accomplish to get where we want to go."

The practice work hasn't hurt, either. Just as cornerback Chris Harris cites the improvement that comes from facing an elite slot receiver like Wes Welker during offseason work and training camp, so does Jackson note the impact of facing a No. 1 offensive line that featured two Pro Bowlers until Ryan Clady's season-ending injury.

"We have a great O-line to work against day in and day out with these guys over here," Jackson said, citing the technique of Manny Ramirez as a specific example of an offensive lineman forcing him to improve.

"When you go into a game, it really kind of makes it easier, because we've got some great guys on this O-line."

And that's potentially bad news for anyone who tries to run on the Broncos' stout front four.