Many teams say that the real season starts in November. Every team wants their players to peak at the end of the season. While head coach Gary Kubiak decides on his offensive quarterback, the QB of the offensive line has been peaking for the last three games. That would be Matt Paradis
Matt Paradis spent the 2014 season on the practice squad, learning the NFL craft and preparing to become the leader of the Denver Broncos offensive line. From every analysis, he’s been an excellent center for the Broncos. Many fans took his being placed on the PS-scout team as an indication that John Elway had missed on the pick. The reality was completely different.
Matt came to Denver with the 207th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Boise State. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. Denver chose him because he’d been a skilled quarterback of the offensive line for the orange and blue college Broncos.
"He was just a guy that had tremendous success at Boise State and what they do up there," Vice President John Elway said. "He was the quarterback of their offensive line, was very intelligent. We had him on a visit and we were all very impressed with him."
For a center, football intellect is exactly what you want to see. Some tall centers tend to have more problems snapping upright after releasing the ball. Matt’s a compact, powerful lineman. He only gave up a single sack all year.
Over the regular season Matt played 1,125 snaps, the most of anyone on the OL. Over the last three games, Paradis had the best run of his young career. He graded at +3.4 against Pittsburgh, +2.8 against Cincinnati and +5.1 against San Diego. According to Pro Football Focus, he's the highest rated centers over the last three weeks were:
1. Matt Paradis (+11.3)
2. Jason Kelce, PHI (+5.2)
3. Travis Frederick, DAL (+5.1).
I’ll use a couple of screeb grabs to show how both Matt and the Broncos running game changed the course of the San Diego contest. USAToday said,
It’s 2nd-and-4, with 6.45 to go in the third quarter. San Diego has their nose guard (#93, Darius Philon) at an angle to C Paradis (#61). That’s called the 1-tech, or 1-technique. The left defensive end is in the 3-technique, angling in on RG Louis Vasquez. OLB Kyle Emanuel (#51) is well outside LT Ryan Harris, in the 7-tech. ILB Manti Te'o (#50) is back at the first down line and lined up on Ryan Harris. ILB Denzel Perryman is in line with both Te’o and RT Tyler Polumbus. (Fig. 1)
Below in Fig. 2, you can see four of the five O-line driving left. This is a classic zone scheme. The exception is Vasquez. He’s moving straight to the second level so that he can take out dangerous ILB Perryman. Polumbus is also driving left.
TE Virgil Green stays at home in case C.J. Anderson needs a cutback block. Lou Tepper said that most of the longest runs in the NFL come from cutbacks. Green has OLB Melvin Ingram and S Adrian Phillips to choose from. (Fig. 2)
You can see above that Paradis has the nose guard fully engaged. If the NG gets past him, the play is over. Harris is taking on the OLB, Emanuel. Max "The Future" Garcia will fire out and block Te’o.
Below, Matt has locked up and turned Philon to face the sideline. That puts Paradis squarely between the NG and the now-developing running lane. LG Garcia has locked up Te’o, while Vasquez is trying to get a bead on Perryman. Harris has sealed off the LOLB Emanuel and protected the left edge. There are five defenders engaged or about to be, including all defenders who could potentially stop Anderson. A Charger had to beat his man to achieve that. It didn’t happen.
Virgil Green made his decision and is going for the deeper man, Adrian Phillips (#31). That shows up six defenders either blocked or being targeted. It’s hard to stop a run without viable defenders.
In the fraction of a second from Fig. 3 above to Fig.4 below, you can see that the running lane for Anderson has opened wide. Garcia went after and locked up Te’o. Harris has done the same with Emanuel. Paradis has his man stonewalled. Polumbus’ move of flinging himself across his assignment’s path (#71, Damion Square) had limited value, but enough. Anderson was already gone.
One of the nice things about the zone run is that it sets up and runs very quickly. If you’re trying to play no-huddle at altitude, that has a pronounced effect on the opponents. S Jahleel Addae (#37) managed to shake off the effects and to bring Anderson down after a gain of 22 yards. It still lead to a Broncos rushing touchdown. The comeback was on.
There are several takeaways from just one play. The first is that Matt Paradis took on and stonewalled #93 Darius Philon, the San Diego nose tackle. The rest were also handled well. A play that usually provides 4-8 yards went for 22.
Denver had 1,718 yards rushing in the 2015 regular season. Coach Kubiak often said that they didn’t have a #1 RB - they had 1A and 1B. Ronnie Hillman caused 23 missed tackles, Anderson had 24. Anderson rang up 720 yards rushing. Hillman had 863 — but had fewer injuries. Even closer were the yards after contact — a total of 1,002. Hillman, the smaller of the two, had 475, plus seven touchdowns. C.J. had 438 yards, and five TDs.
Asked after the game what the difference between the two halfs of the San Diego game were, Hillman gave a terse, one word answer, “Execution”. Not quarterbacking, not play calling, not personnel. The execution of the men on the field was what changed things. Did having the GOAT come back onto the field impress and excite the Broncos? Certainly. Tyler Polumbus was a huge help.
Peyton Manning threw only five completions but the team racked up 20 points while he was playing. The blocking improved. Manning’s had a lot more experience at making calls at the line, which may have bolstered the run game even more.
Hillman was right. But execution can come from achieving a greater level of fire from within. It was clear that it did.
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