ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The aerial game and opportunistic pass defense will continue to be the straws that stir the Broncos' beverage of choice. But it was on the ground that the Broncos took some significant steps forward -- both in defending and establishing their run game on offense.
OFFENSE: GOING TO THE EDGE
There's nothing I like watching more in football than a well-executed run play, because nothing on offense requires so much harmony and coordination. On both of Knowshon Moreno's touchdown runs, the blockers and Moreno worked like the New York Philharmonic, and the result was an opus that was performed exactly as its composer intended.
On Moreno's first touchdown, Julius Thomas sets up the play by blocking Justin Tuck, allowing Orlando Franklin to clear to the right side. Eric Decker blocks Corey Webster, and is so close to the Tuck-Thomas engagement that linebacker Jacquian Williams has no room to break through and try to defuse the play near the line of scrimmage. Forced into traffic, he gets caught up among Tuck, Thomas and Franklin, who has arrived for a second block on Tuck. This frees Moreno all the way inside the 10-yard-line, and Franklin is able to peel off Tuck and take out Antrel Rolle downfield, springing Moreno for the score.
The second touchdown is all about Franklin and Virgil Green working together. Franklin and Green both make contact with Mathias Kiwanuka to take him out of the play, but then Green extricates himself from Kiwanuka to block Spencer Paysinger. The entire offensive line has moved to the right off the snap; there is no doubt about the Broncos' intentions on the play, and yet the Giants can do nothing to stop it.
And as with Moreno's first touchdown, Eric Decker helps out; he keeps Webster out of the play long enough for Moreno to make it to the end zone.
DEFENSE: DISMANTLING FROM INSIDE
The Giants picked up 10 yards on their first two carries and just 13 yards on their next 17 run plays. So what happened after those first two successful runs, which saw the Giants seal the left and right sides for 5-yard pickups by David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs?
It started with the next run, two plays after Jacobs' pickup gave the Giants a first down. Wilson took the handoff from Eli Manning out of the shotgun, and the Broncos had six men in the box with Duke Ihenacho sprinting around from the backside, forcing Wilson to try and cut outside. All this did was force him in between Shaun Phillips and Derek Wolfe, the latter of whom peeled off his blocker to engulf Wilson.
The Giants opened their second series with a handoff to Wilson, and he had no chance. Kevin Vickerson made an inside move on center David Baas, who looked slow to react and struggled throughout the game. The quickness of the Broncos' defensive linemen was a common theme of their success against the run; on the next possession, Robert Ayers read a handoff to Brandon Jacobs and made an inside move past a slow-to-react Justin Pugh for a 3-yard loss.
Denver has the league's top run defense in yardage allowed and is second-best in yardage per carry permitted, behind Cleveland. Much of the Broncos' success against the run this season has come from winning the one-on-one matchups up front, which has helped compensate for the loss of Von Miller. Instead of often pushing run plays to the edge where defensive backs can get more involved, the defensive tackles are making more plays off the snap. The presence of Ayers at one defensive end spot has helped, as well; he is stouter and holds his position against the run better than the man he replaced, Elvis Dumervil.
The result? One-dimensional offenses that are easier to attack.
THE GREEN-ING OF THE OFFENSE
After using two-tight end formations on just eight of 68 plays against the Ravens, the Broncos made heavier use of what last year was the closest thing to a base formation they had, lining up 20 times with two tight ends, including the first six snaps after halftime.
Denver's use of tight ends will bear close examination going forward because of Ryan Clady's foot injury and the expected return of Joel Dreessen from knee surgery in the near future. Dreessen figures to fit somewhere in the rotation; his blocking and ability to catch passes down the seam are a blend that will help the offense. But if the Broncos decide they need to help whoever fills in for Clady at left tackle, they could utilize more two-tight end sets, and could look to a three-man rotation that involves Thomas, Green and Dreessen.
Certainly, Green's work as a blocker justifies playing time. But unless the Broncos de-emphasize the three-wide receiver packages or find a way to use Wes Welker as an outside target in two-tight end formations, then Welker could see more games like Sunday, when he played 18 fewer snaps than Decker and 22 less than Demaryius Thomas. Welker was the second-most-frequently targeted Broncos receiver on a per-snap basis; Manning threw to Welker once every 6.0 times he was on the field. (For Demaryius Thomas and Decker, the ratios were once every 11.7 snaps and once every 5.1 snaps, respectively.)
-- The blitz to open the second half was a good example of disguise and confusion. Wesley Woodyard blitzed first, and Danny Trevathan hesitated for a split-second before accelerating. Thinking that Woodyard was the only blitzer and would be picked up by running back David Wilson, center David Baas turned to his left, figuring the A-gap rush would be picked up by Wilson. If Trevathan rushes immediately off the snap, Bass likely picks him up; instead, he was caught looking in the wrong direction and was flat-footed, setting up an easy sack.
It was also the Broncos' second consecutive play with a blitz; a corner pass rush from Chris Harris helped lead to a hurried Eli Manning throw that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted on the Giants' last offensive snap before halftime.
-- On 11 pass plays out of the two-tight end package, the Broncos have averaged 7.91 yards; on 17 runs with this package, they've picked up 4.65 yards a pop. The per-pass-play average in other formations is 8.64 yards; the per-carry average when not in a two-tight end formation is 3.33 yards.
-- The awareness of Harris continues to amaze. On his interception to open the fourth quarter, he's 25 yards away from Rueben Randle when the pass is fired. He sprints nearly halfway across the field to get in position to make the play. This is where Harris' background as a college safety helps him; he already has the ability to quickly process far more than what is in front of him, and sets him up for plays few cornerbacks would make.