Specifically, it was imperative that they run the ball, get back to playing suffocating defense, and getting more efficiency out of the passing game. Check, check, and also check. The Broncos have indeed righted the ship and in impressive fashion, pulling away from the Houston Texans in an impressive 27-9 victory on Monday Night Football.
Just about all of the criticisms Denver received on their 11-day layoff in between games was answered pretty decisively. The much-maligned offensive line looked as cohesive and dominating as ever, Devontae Booker made the most out of his increased workload (which in turn sparked a fire in C.J. Anderson) and the defense did, well, just about everything right.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1721129-denver-broncos-in-focus-w... It all resulted in an ideal showing from the Broncos. If you could dream up a perfect score from this team, 27-9 would be pretty close to the mark. It shows that they ran controlled the pace of the game on the ground, kept their opponent out of the end zone, and wore them down by the end of the game. It's the perfect convergence of Kubiak and Phillips philosophy.
Let's look to the film and see just exactly how it all went down.
Room to Run
It's not a coincidence that both Booker and Anderson had maybe their two most efficient and productive games of the season. This was essentially a direct result of a huge turnaround in performance from the offensive line, particularly on the interior.
Michael Schofield, Matt Paradis and Max Garcia, the left and right guards, were the bright spots on the offensive line last night. Pro Football Focus gave Schofield a grade of 79.4, Paradis a grade of 82.5, and Garcia a grade of 80.4.
Russell Okung did not grade out particularly well at 48.3, but he had an uphill battle after two holding penalties and having to slow down the monstrous Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus on the edge.
One of the big plays where the interior dominance was on display was the first touchdown of the night, a seven-yard scoring dash from C.J. Anderson.
Keep your eye on Matt Paradis at center. The run was originally intended to go between the center and right guard, but Paradis swallows up Texans defensive tackle Brandon Dunn so badly that Anderson is able to simply glide right through the monster gap that the center cleared out for him.
Also the edges get sealed off pretty well. Okung almost whiffs on Mercilus, but recovers pretty well and is able to keep him out on an island. On the opposite side, Andy Janovich starts split out at wide receiver, motions back to the fullback spot, and gets a hat on linebacker John Simon, making him a complete non-factor.
The coaches' film even shows Demaryius Thomas pancake Kareem Jackson in the end zone. Jackson probably wouldn't have been able to make the play if he were on his feet, but DT wasn't going to let anyone question his effort.
Playbook Opens Up
I said it last night and I'll say it again: if Jon Gruden got his hands on a copy of Madden and found the create-a-player feature, the result would be fullback Andy Janovich. He's a grinder man, and sometimes you have to throw your grinders a bone.
Fortunately, the Broncos were running the ball so well on their first touchdown drive that they were able to run a staple play of the Kubiak offense, the bootleg pass.
It's important to provide context to this play; the Broncos were running the ball with a lot of success on this drive, especially to the drive. If you show that you're going to go right, defenders will start to cheat and pursue hard to overcompensate. That's where you sell the fake.
When the ball is snapped and the line (including tight end Jeff Heuerman) fires out to their right, Houston takes the bait.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1720856-broncos-welcome-brock-bac... The only one that doesn't go right is Janovich, who is lined up offset to the right to begin the play. Trevor Siemian makes a hard left turn and the only guy that has a chance to keep up with the fullback, Whitney Mercilus, is caught and unable to catch up to Janovich.
Siemian does a good job of turning his shoulders and squaring up to Janovich, leading to an accurate pass that allows for yards after the catch. And of course, Janovich lowers his shoulder to finish off the play.
The end result of this play is that it keeps the defenders guessing. They won't cheat or over-pursue a run play, knowing that they could be fooled easily, and that means the Broncos could run the ball well for the remaining three quarters, which they certainly did.
Timing is Everything
No one dials up a timely blitz quite like Wade Phillips. That being said, the Broncos pass rush just hadn't really gotten to the quarterback in the two losses.
Time to switch things up and get creative. The rush from Von Miller and Shane Ray has largely been neutralized lately by passers taking shorter drops and stepping up into the pocket. That over-pursuit also led to gaping holes on draw plays.
So what's the answer? Send the rush up the middle. That's what the Broncos did in the first quarter last night.
Denver has just two defensive linemen with their hands on the ground and no nose tackle as Houston lines up in the shotgun on a third-and-short. The Broncos pull Todd Davis on third down and replace him with Darian Stewart, who lines up to the right of Brandon Marshall.
The ball is snapped and we can see the most impressive part of this play; Derek Wolfe eats up both the center and the right guard. Stewart stunts to his left and blitzes through the hole created by Wolfe.
The Texans looked like they would have been prepared for this as they kept Lamar Miller in to pass block, but instead of staying by the side of Brock Osweiler, Miller leaves his post to help out the right tackle with Von Miller.
Both of those things leave an open path for Stewart. He hits the hole hard and puts a shot on Osweiler right as he's letting go of the ball. The pass is short right intended for DeAndre Hopkins, and Aqib Talib does what he did all night.
When the rush isn't effective, creativity was called for by the Broncos. They only rushed five, but they trusted their corners on the outside and put themselves in a favorable situation. Also, it doesn't hurt to get a hit on the quarterback.
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Will Keys is an Editor for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @WillKeys6.