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Mile High Morning: How the connection between Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson leads to defensive success 


The Lead

Over the last three seasons, Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson have led the Broncos' secondary to strong defensive play. The key to their success, per The Athletic’s Nick Kosmider, has been the duo's communication. 

Kosmider recounted a play from early in training camp, when the offense attempted to fool the defense with a newly installed play. Jackson noticed a small tell in the formation right away and communicated with Simmons through just a look. With a last-minute adjustment, the defense was able to snuff out the play. 

"The play for the offense was essentially over before it started," Kosmider wrote. "Not because of some otherworldly feats of athleticism in the secondary — though there have been plenty of those; see: Surtain, Pat — but because Jackson and Simmons had put themselves and the nine other defenders exactly where they needed to be, on the fly." 

This automatic communication between Jackson and Simmons has been a crucial aspect of the Broncos' ability to react to opposing offensive formations, and Kosmider presented data that demonstrates how much more successful the defense is when both safeties are on the field. 

"As the Broncos have hovered at or near a top-10 distinction on defense the past three seasons, the impact of Simmons and Jackson has been clear," Kosmider wrote. "According to TruMedia, with both safeties on the field, the Broncos have averaged 2.3 EPA (expected points added) per 100 snaps, which would rank 13th over the past three years combined. When one of them has been off the field during that same stretch, the number drops to -0.4 EPA per 100 snaps, which would rank 22nd. The efficiency drop-off typically comes when Jackson is off the field considering Simmons hasn't missed a meaningful snap since 2017." 

Both Simmons and Jackson talked to Kosmider about their strong communication, noting that they are always in sync.

"It's like we're both thinking the same thing," Jackson told Kosmider. "Anytime you can build a relationship with a guy like that, a player like that, where you guys don't have to say much and you're kind of thinking the same thing and you're seeing things through the same set of eyes, it's always great."

Below the Fold

Kosmider also anticipates a breakout year from Javonte Williams, and he expects the running back to see a greater share of carries in 2022. 

"[T]he prediction here is Williams will start to see at least a little bit of separation in the rush attempts department," Kosmider wrote. "He showed what he could do as a lead back in Week 13 last season (Gordon's only missed game), when he rushed for 102 yards on 4.4 yards per carry and caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. Hackett on Tuesday praised Williams for his growth since first attempting to absorb a new offense in OTAs." 

Kosmider predicts Williams will post 1,232 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns this season.

The Unclassifieds

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