Derek Wolfe has been on fire since returning from his four-game suspension. Last Sunday against the undefeated Green Bay Packers, he made sure that they, and the nation, remembered his name and number. His performance was a statement—don’t try to run on us. It might be the last puzzle piece in place for an historic defense.
At the start of the third quarter, Green Bay has a 1st-and-10 at their own 20-yard line. They’re trailing, 17-7. Derek Wolfe is at the top of the screen, the last player with his hand in the dirt.
At the snap, RT Bryan Bulaga fires into Wolfe, but catches him on the outside of his numerals, away from the play. Rule 1 of offensive linemen—you always put your helmet between the defender and the ball carrier.
Wolfe drove inward on the snap, gaining leverage on Bulaga and careens down the line. He makes contact behind the line of scrimmage, with Bulaga still trying to slow him from behind. Wolfe smashes into Eddie Lacy (#27) for a 1-yard loss.
The play looked familiar. I suddenly realized that I’d written up a piece on him using the same technique in 2012. I’d seen it since then, too. When Wolfe gets leverage on his offensive lineman, he’s unstoppable. All that had changed was that he was even better at it.
At 13:00 of the third quarter, Wolfe made the same play. Green Bay was at their own 46-yard line, 1st-and-10. Again, Wolfe is at the top with his hand in the dirt. The ball is snapped and again, Bulaga hits Wolfe’s outside numeral. Wolfe slides down the line just as he did before, but this time his target is James Starks (#44). No gain.
Bulaga was finally called for offensive holding a few plays later, this time on Von Miller's attack.
You can put that down to sheer frustration. The more film I watched, the more I noticed Green Bay’s O-line holding, putting hands to the facemask, etc. It’s true that some penalty is there on every play, but this had gone beyond that. It was an unbeaten O-line's last ditch effort to get anything going. It didn’t work.
Wolfe was unstoppable, racking up seven tackles, three of them solo, to lead the Broncos. His performance won him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award. It’s a rare thing for a 3-4 DE to lead an NFL team in tackles, but it’s indicative of the kind of inexorable play that’s normal for this man.
Wolfe is utterly relentless. As an example, at 9:53 of the third quarter, following Bulaga’s holding call, Green Bay is at 3rd-and-14. Wolfe slips to the ground after contacting #70, RG T.J. Lang coming off the line. Lang fires off into the second level. As Wolfe gets up, he’s already analyzing the play. He takes off across the open field, changes his angle to hit the RB earlier, and tackles Starks, who’d received a swing pass, with abandon. It put Green Bay at 4th-and-long.
Sam Monson has suggested that we may be watching the best defense in the history of the NFL. I’m not ready to go there, simply because it’s only Game 8 for this group. Even so—they could well be. They are deep, hostile, aggressive and destructive. Elway has built the defense he wished he had, and he’s done it with incredible skill. Derek Wolfe is a major piece of that attacking edifice.
All animated images via NFL Game Pass.
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