ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It took a while Sunday, but the Broncos found their form and delivered the most prolific 30 minutes of the year.
RUNNING DOWN RGIII
Mobile quarterbacks will become a running theme again during the second half of the season; the Broncos are likely to play at least four games against quarterbacks capable of taking off, namely Kansas City's Alex Smith, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor and Tennessee's Jake Locker. But Robert Griffin III offered a particularly unique test for the defense, which passed with flying colors.
The success was not simply about sacks and turnovers. Containing Griffin was as much about limiting the space in which he could work as directly affecting his throws with contact, which required quick diagnosis of the play. That's what allowed the Broncos to get a key stop on third-and-7 at the Denver 48-yard-line with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter.
On this play, the Broncos only brought three pass rushers off the snap: Shaun Phillips, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. Phillips was first into the backfield, and even though he was pushed out of the play, he drew a double-team, taking 40 percent of Griffin's
protection out of play. Von Miller bided his time, then attacked, running to Griffin's left flank. Seeing Miller's rush, Griffin sprinted left, which allowed Jackson to shed his blocker and take off in lateral pursuit.
Knowing that Griffin has showed an increasing tendency to look toward the sideline when he leaves the pocket, Jackson didn't have to accelerate toward the quarterback. Instead, he ran parallel to Griffin until the passer turned 30 degrees -- still on a sideline angle, but gradually moving upfield. At this point, Griffin has only two options: run, and risk being in a position where one of four Broncos could bring him down before the line to gain, or settle for the only receiver in his line of sight: Pierre Garçon, who was at the sideline, four and a half yards short of the line to gain, with no chance to get the first down.
Speed in the pass rush mattered on this play, but so did awareness and film study.
"Freak (Miller) and Shaun got some good pressure on him. (Griffin) peeled out. Luckily I saw him and ran after him," said Jackson, who then joked about the "4.3 speed" he displayed.
The other part of this play that stands out is the personnel grouping, with Jackson lined up on the nose, as is occasionally the case. He got a sack working from this spot against Jacksonville 14 days earlier. Jackson's relatively lean body type -- 6-foot-5, 293 pounds -- is unusual, but effective, for a situation in which the Broncos want to generate more speed and quickness. Further, with Phillips advancing the cause by drawing two blockers, Jackson, Wolfe and Miller could all face one-on-ones; you figure at least one of those duels will go in the Broncos favor, and achieve the desired pressure on Griffin.
J.D. Walton could return to the roster at some point in the next eight days; the Broncos have to make a decision on whether to bring him up to the 53-man roster or place him on injured reserve after his three weeks of practice following a stint on the physically-unable-to-perform list. But if Walton returns, it's likely as a backup, as Manny Ramirez has taken the opportunity to start at center and seized it.
Ramirez hasn't allowed a sack in the last four games and has given up just one all year, but Sunday was probably his best all-around game, and is evidence of his growing comfort. He had a crucial role on Knowshon Moreno's touchdown catch, blocking cornerback David Amerson between the 30- and 25-yard lines to spring Moreno into the open field. (The keys to Demaryius Thomas' screen-pass touchdown were Chris Clark, Wes Welker and the downfield hustle of Louis Vasquez.)
But what is equally notable is Ramirez's work as a run blocker, which could prove valuable later. His comfort showed on Montee Ball's 8-yard sprint on the Broncos' first series; on that play, Ramirez quickly helps block Stephen Bowen, then turns upfield as Ball accelerates and removes London Fletcher from the play.
ProFootballFocus.com grades Ramirez as the Broncos' second-best run blocker to date this season, just behind Vasquez. Plays like these are the reason why, and he has justified the Broncos' choice to install him as the starting center.
-- The most notable formation tweak for the Broncos was the use of what has been called a "pistol plus" -- or in some circles, a "buckeye pistol" -- a pistol formation that features an extra man in the backfield with the quarterback and tailback. The Broncos opened with this package on their first two plays: a play-action pass to Knowshon Moreno for 13 yards and a subsequent handoff to Moreno that gained eight.
-- What made the game-tying, fourth-and-1 touchdown work? The ability to create total confusion in Washington's defense. With three tight ends split out to the right in a bunch formation, Washington didn't have enough defenders to account for all three -- especially after Joel Dreessen cut behind Jacob Tamme and Virgil Green, who were between Washington's defenders and himself. It was a perfect call that also serves as a reminder of the flexibility the Broncos have in their three-tight end formations, which are not strictly about running, even with Julius Thomas sidelined because of an ankle injury.
-- The Broncos ran a season-high 80 plays Sunday. Their pace of one snap every 24 seconds was only fourth-quickest of the year, but it was a shade quicker than their season-long average of one snap every 25.3 seconds of possession time.