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Upon Further Review: Broncos at Colts

Posted Oct 22, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes his weekly look back at the game film.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's time for one final look at the 39-33 loss to Indianapolis before we move on.

MILLER'S RETURN

He's listed as a linebacker, but, as has been the case since he broke into the league, Von Miller was all over, working as a standup defensive end on the left and right sides, as a strongside linebacker, and as an outside linebacker who flanked one side of a three-man front, with Shaun Phillips often working on the opposite side.

It became apparent as the game progressed that the Colts were going to scheme their running game by doing everything possible to get away from Miller. He singlehandedly blew up a third-and-1 play with 10:36 left in the second quarter, engulfing Trent Richardson for a two-yard loss after overpowering the blocking scheme.

In the pass rush, he mounted pressure that affected Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on six occasions -- or just less than one-sixth of the times when he was involved in going after Luck. (ProFootballFocus.com also credits him with six.) No front-seven Bronco was more consistent at affecting the trajectory of pass plays than Miller, and even though it didn't result in a sack, he was indirectly a part of both Broncos sacks.

On the first, he penetrated the pocket from Luck's right side, and closed off a potential escape route for the mobile quarterback. This allowed Shaun Phillips -- who was lined up on the opposite flank -- to complete his stunt inside of Malik Jackson for the eight-yard loss.

The second sack saw Miller draw a double-team, as Richardson stayed to help right guard Hugh Thornton try to contain him. When Terrance Knighton flushed Luck to the right, Miller broke free and began stalking Luck, serving as a barrier between the quarterback and his receivers in the end zone. With nowhere to go, Luck absorbed the sack from Knighton.

Sacks will come, but Miller was a significant part of the reason why the Broncos allowed 4.7 yards per play -- their best showing since Week 1 -- and one first down every 3.73 plays. That was their second-best ratio of the season, best since Week 3, and a long way from the rate of one first down every 2.98 plays allowed in the last three games.

"AN ACT COMMON TO THE GAME"

Wish all you want, but Eric Decker's lunging-toward-the-pylon near-reception late in the third quarter was never going to be ruled a catch in the end. Had it been ruled a touchdown on the field, it would have been overturned by the required instant-replay review.

Most of the questions regarding this play are answered in the 2013 rule book -- Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3. The first, of course, regards the football coming loose; Items 1 and 2 of the article leaves no wiggle room:

Item 1: Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control,the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete.

Item 2: Sideline Catches. If a player goes to the ground out-of-bounds (with or without contact by an opponent) in the process of making a catch at the sideline, he must maintain complete and continuous control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, or the pass is incomplete.

The question then becomes whether Decker made a "football move" when he reached the football over the goal line -- and well into the plane of the end zone, based on a reverse-angle, goal-line replay from NBC's coverage. This would turn Decker from a receiver into a runner, and change the template.

While the words "football move" do not appear in the rule book, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, subcategory (c) defines the "act common to the game," which includes "maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc."

Because Decker only managed to get his second foot down simultaneously with the reach over the goal line -- and because he was descending to the ground the entire time -- this would have required a liberal definition of the term "act common to the game."

The feet come into play in subcategory (b) of Article 3, because he must have both feet (or any part other than the hands) down and inbounds. The reach began as his right foot hits the ground; this is his first foot, as he had not established possession before getting his left foot down the first time. He then gets his left foot down to establish being in-bounds, but as he reaches, he's tumbling out of bounds.

It all depends on how you define his reach -- as a separate advance of the football or as part of the act of catching and then needing to maintain the grasp all the way to the ground -- which brings up the "Calvin Johnson rule" from Item 3 of Article 3, since the ball has crossed the plane and is in the end zone.

The requirements for a catch in the end zone are the same as the requirements for a catch in the field of play.

Thus, the rule applies regardless of whether the player is in the end zone or not.

If the catch had stood, the Broncos would have obviously been helped, but the call would have been incorrect. Refeee Carl Cheffers would have needed to possess an unusually generous perspective to have defined Decker's move as an "act common to the game," and a challenge would have been a wasted timeout.

NOTES:

-- The Broncos allowed more pressure on Manning than at any point this season. He was hit nine times. Four resulted in sacks for a combined 21 yards in losses; one resulted in an interception. Overall, the Broncos averaged 1.56 yards per play when Manning was hit. Indianapolis averaged 2.88 yards on the eight plays where Andrew Luck was hit.

-- Prior to the Colts' first pass-interference penalty of the game -- a 22-yard infraction committed by ex-Bronco Cassius Vaughn with 4:02 left in the third quarter -- the Broncos averaged 5.12 yards per pass play and picked up a first down every 3.57 pass plays. After Vaughtn's penalty, they averaged 8.46 yards per pass play and moved the sticks once every 2.33 pass plays.

-- The struggles on third-and-short defined a rushing performance that for the Broncos was among their most inefficient in recent memory. Sunday, 10 percent of the Broncos' 20 run plays (not including kneeldowns) went for first downs, the lowest figure since Week 1, when only 9.5 percent of the team's 21 rushes moved the chains. In the five games in between, 28.6 percent of Denver's carries netted first downs.

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