'D' no longer stands for deception


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Jan 22, 2006
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'D' no longer stands for deception
Broncos defensive plans are to trade blitz for a base front

By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
August 2, 2006

ENGLEWOOD - The Broncos defense is planning to go back to basics.

The blitz-heavy scheme employed last season helped carry the team to the AFC Championship Game.

But after getting gutted on third down that afternoon, coordinator Larry Coyer was convinced the unit going forward needed the ability to line up in a base 4-3 front and beat people without a heavy dose of deception and extra players flying toward the line of scrimmage, particularly against the league's top teams.

The Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl using a simple three-deep zone that offered few cracks. In recent years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have succeeded without many bells and whistles on defense.

Coyer sees the same possibilities with precise execution from his group, too, using base personnel.

"I'm confident," he said. "I know what guys can do in this league, and I just look at our players. We have great speed, we play together well, we've got physical front-four guys. Can we do it every down? No. We have to mix our stuff up.

"But when it comes right down to push and shove, we have to be able to do that. And I do think we're good enough."

But there have been other, more subtle, changes that have been implemented to help simplify matters.

Ian Gold and D.J. Williams, who alternated positions at times last season, will stay put. Williams will play strong side, where his big frame can take on the tight end, while Gold's quickness will be used on the open side.

Terminology and responsibilities also were addressed to take some thinking away and let reaction take over.

There was a feeling the defensive coaching staff, at times, overloaded the players unnecessarily, that there was too much figuring out what to do instead of simply doing it.

"Last year, our defense was almost like an offense," defensive tackle Gerard Warren said. "We'd probably have three or four checks, depending on motion. But Larry was like, 'I have enough confidence in you guys that if I give you this one defense and a check, that we can execute,' so you don't have to go through all those checks. And if you're mentally sharp on the field, you can play with 100 percent effort."

Previously, zone drops in pass coverages also changed, depending on the depth of the quarterback's drop or situation. Those also have been standardized to make things easier.

"We've still got the whole package in, but within different things," safety John Lynch said. "Rather than always trying to match what the offense is doing, what we've tried to do is just get to your spots, trust your instincts and play football. We've tried to tighten."

Middle linebacker Al Wilson sees the current philosophy as weeding out parts of the game plan that couldn't be refined properly, not as an overhaul.

He's especially pleased about going to base defense more often.

"We have outside linebackers that can run with wide receivers, and that's an advantage for us defensively," Wilson said. "I believe if you have an opportunity to have these big bodies on the field who can run and tackle, it makes the defense better.

"And with repetition of the same thing over and over, you almost perfect it. And no matter what the offense does, you have an answer for it."

The key to whether the Broncos can stick with their plan to run more base defense, though, depends on the front four.

The frequent blitzing caused pressure last season and created mistakes. But the Broncos finished 28th in the league in sacks and will need to show they can disrupt opponents without help so the linebackers in the situation Wilson described don't have to stay with receivers too long.

While it's true Broncos defensive linemen frequently were called on to occupy blockers to help free onrushing linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks, one of the reasons the team went away from straight four-man pressure was because it wasn't generating much heat.

During this camp, the front four has been given more freedom to shoot gaps to try to disrupt the pocket. But the jury's still out.

"It all comes down to this," Coyer said of the decision. "We will not give up our ability to stop the run because it's a fact, in this league, if you can't stop the run, you're not going to be in the Super Bowl. But we had 600 passes against us, and I think we have to adjust our thinking. Everybody cuts loose, that's great. But you've got to be talented enough to react to the run."

The Broncos finished as the No. 2-ranked rush defense at 85.2 yards a game, the third-lowest total in team history. And there were other building blocks the Broncos don't want to eliminate, either. Only Chicago (202), Indianapolis (247) and Pittsburgh (258) matched or improved upon the club's 258 points allowed.

The Broncos' 36 takeaways were part of a plus-20 advantage over giveaways, the second-best ratio in the NFL.

The goal now is to boost such areas as the red zone, where the team yielded 22 touchdowns on 39 trips, and third down, where a 36.7 percent conversion rate in the regular season swelled to 48.1 percent in two postseason games.

"We figure if we continue to move forward, we can be the best defense in the league, no question," Wilson said.

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