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Upon Further Review: Broncos vs. Raiders

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --With a compressed schedule leading into Sunday's game with the Eagles, you can't blame Head Coach John Fox for not spending any time dissecting the tape of Monday's 37-21 win.

"I haven't looked at it," he said Tuesday. "We're on to Philly. They've had ten days; we're on six. All our focus is on Philadelphia."

But before jumping into the Eagles' full-throttle attack, let's take one last review:


In Chris Clark's first NFL start at left tackle, the basic task was simple: keep Lamarr Houston away from Peyton Manning. For all but one snap, Clark succeeded; he used Houston's predilection for working the edge against him, steering the pass rusher to the outside and away from Manning repeatedly.

Since Manning emerged unscathed from the third-quarter sack/fumble, the Broncos can breathe easier, knowing that the game was a necessary learning experience for Clark, who was composed and generally did a good job quickly getting set and squared up to block after the snap.

No time was wasted in throwing him into the fire; on the first 28 plays of the game -- during which the Broncos mounted three scoring drives -- Clark lined up without a tight end to his left 19 times. The offense was virtually unchanged with Ryan Clady out and Clark in; fortunately for the Broncos, the results were, too.


No coach or player will admit this -- nor should they -- but one of the best parts of building three-score leads is that such situations offer the flexibility to move away from core competencies and diversify the attack. The benefits are two-fold: you can work on areas you need to strengthen, and you can put more looks on tape to give opposing coaches more to ponder.

This will be the lasting legacy of the Broncos' first series of the second half, which they began by running eight plays with all three active tight ends on the field. But after using the package primarily to stabilize and set up the run in the first two weeks, they used this personnel grouping as a passing weapon, lining up Jacob Tamme and Julius Thomas in stand-up slot positions to capitalize off their receiving skills while catching the Raiders in a personnel mismatch.

Denver passed on four of its eight snaps with the three tight ends. The offense gained 34 yards on those plays, which were executed with the running back lined up as a wide receiver. In the first two weeks, the Broncos ran on eight of nine non-kneeldown plays with three tight ends; the only exception was in the final moments of the Ravens game, when Manning hit Demaryius Thomas on a 10-yard pass.

In the first two weeks, the three-tight end package was an instant tip-off that the Broncos were a near-certainty to run; as a result, the eight carries picked up just 13 yards. In future weeks when the Broncos leave the sideline with Tamme, Thomas and Green together on the field, defenses will have to adapt accordingly. That should make this formation much more effective in the run than it has been through three weeks, when it accounted for 20 yards on 12 carries.


Persistence is the most crucial attribute, which helped Malik Jackson get his first career sack -- albeit a split one with Wesley Woodyard on the last play before halftime. Jackson was rushing from the left defensive tackle spot, but took advantage of a double-team on Shaun Phillips and stunted outside, giving him a free sprint at Pryor, who ran away before eventually being brought down 5.03 seconds later with the assistance of Woodyard.

Jackson was partially responsible for the first of Robert Ayers' two sacks; on that one -- which was the Broncos' first of the game -- he and Derek Wolfe trapped Pryor outside of the pocket on the right side of the field at the Oakland 16. Ayers happened to be behind Pryor, who capitulated, falling down and allowing Ayers to get credit for the sack.

This is the kind of work the Broncos will need to repeat their three-sack output this Sunday.

"I likened Pryor last week to a young Michael Vick," Fox said Tuesday. "I think he's got a lot of talent, he throws the ball very well. So there should be some carry over and that can work for you or against you."

Much of it will depend on how much the Eagles study the tape and whether the Broncos can throw some different wrinkles into their pass rush this week. It would be a surprise if they didn't.

Other notes:

-- Only four teams have used fewer offensive lineup combinations than the Broncos' 29: Philadelphia (19), Green Bay (26) and Chicago and Buffalo (27). On defense, the Broncos are toward the other end of the spectrum; their 71 lineup combinations are tied with the Eagles for seventh-most in the league.

-- Manning has achieved near-perfect balance in distributing passes to his top three wide receivers: Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have been targeted 28 times, with Wes Welker just one behind. But on a per-play basis, Welker is the most frequent target; Manning throws to Welker once every 5.7 plays that No. 83 is on the field.

That rate is once every 6.5 snaps for Decker and once every 7.5 for Thomas, who has played 210 snaps -- 28 more than Decker and 55 more than Welker.

-- Ayers' fourth-quarter sack was straightforward; a bull-rush on Khalif Barnes that Ayers quickly turned into an inside move, using Barnes as leverage to get to Pryor for the sack.

And while sacks aren't the sole measure of a pass rusher's effectiveness -- or even the most accurate metric -- Ayers' three sacks are one more than the current total in Baltimore for Elvis Dumervil, the man he replaced in the starting lineup.

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