The Denver Broncos defense played unquestionably their worst game of the season in arguably their biggest. A road matchup against Tom Brady at Foxboro is always a big contest, but when that game is between Brady and Peyton Manning and could be a preview for the AFC representative in the Super Bowl, the defense is expected to show up.
Against the run, the Broncos defense continued their outstanding performance, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry. Against the pass, it was a different matter. They sacked Brady just once and, while intercepting him once, allowed 333 yards passing.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio did a good job early in the game at creating exotic looks. He used a 6-man line (8 in the box), Von Miller off the line and overload blitz looks on key first-down drives. Not coincidentally, the Patriots averaged just 4.6 yards per play in the first quarter.
However, this was a poorly coached game overall. There were far too many defensive scheme mismatches. On the first play, Von Miller was used in coverage on Brandon LaFell as the Patriots’ 3 WR set matched up against the Denver 3-4. Miller and DeMarcus Ware were also used to cover Rob Gronkowski at other times, with no success.
In fact, no one could cover Gronkowski. Not Brandon Marshall, Nate Irving, Corey Nelson, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, Ware, Kayvon Webster, or Miller. All eight of these players were tried at one point or another. Del Rio even once tried to bracket Gronk with Marshall and Ward. However, Shane Vereen was left wide open for a gain of 18 yards.
Most frequently though, it was a simple failure by defenders to execute their given responsibility during the play.
Here, Nelson over-pursues Edelman and leaves himself wide open to the cutback route.
Nelson played a very rough game and was exploited by Brady several times. Here, on a playfake, Nelson attacks the run. You rarely ever see anybody bite this hard. Nelson leaves his zone wide open for Gronkowski, who makes a big gain.
Rahim Moore inexplicably freezes at the 40 and doesn’t backpedal until it’s too late.
Nate Irving floats over to take Shane Vereen out of the backfield but keeps continuing to his left, putting three defenders in the area of Gronkowski. Vereen is wide open for the score.
Here, Talib is matched up on Gronkowski, who stays in to block Von Miller. Once he notices this, Talib has to drop farther in his zone. Danny Amendola comes around behind Talib. If Talib had dropped farther, he would have cut off that throwing lane.
It’s the simple things that will destroy a defensive effort. Talib, Marshall and Nelson all played by far their worst games as Broncos. The failure to keep the details straight, combined with a poorly-coached game, meant the Broncos’ defense flopped on a big stage. An injury to Nate Irving will force Corey Nelson to see more snaps, which is a worry at this point considering how much of a liability he was against the Patriots.
Against the Raiders, they should be able to put things back together, but for the future, the spotlight is on them. It’s up to them to stand up.