The Denver Broncos might be 2-0, but the style of play Jack Del Rio chooses to use with his defense continues to make little sense. Their passive approach against the Chiefs on Sunday effectively helped to take the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands, something the Broncos won’t always get away with.
Denver spent a lot of money this offseason signing key additions to their defense. Aqib Talib was brought in for his ability to match up against the opposing team’s best receiver, whether a tight end or a wide out. This is not how he’s been used thus far in Denver.
Instead of following around the opposing team’s best receiver, Talib has primarily stayed on the left side of the defense. He has barely even played press-man. Talib’s ability to jam receivers and physically control them at the line is what makes him the corner he is. This was how he disrupted opposing offenses regularly in Bill Belichick’s defense. This is also why it makes no sense that Jack Del Rio chooses to use him as a stationary soft-zone cover-corner.
The Chiefs took advantage of this approach in the second half on Sunday. They often aligned in formations where three receivers were to one side of the formation, and a tight end aligned to the other (Talib’s side). Instead of the Broncos dictating who they wanted Talib to cover, the Chiefs dictated that he’d be matched on their less dynamic tight ends, while on the other side of the field, the design of the play with more explosive receivers attacked a weaker part of the defense.
The overall passive approach in coverage, where the Broncos were trying to take away the big play but willing to give up easy underneath yards, ultimately hurt the pass rush. Alex Smith was able to get rid of the ball quickly on Sunday, which negated the effectiveness of DeMarcus Ware (another big offseason signing) and Von Miller.
Del Rio’s approach makes even less sense when you consider the other side of the ball. The Broncos still have arguably the most dynamic offense in the league. They have Peyton Manning at the helm. A defense with this type of offense should force opposing teams to have to beat them in a shootout. The odds are good that they won’t be able to keep up with the Broncos. A defense with a Peyton-led offense should take chances, try to force turnovers, and make the opposing team earn everything. If they take a risk and give up a big play or two, so what? That likely won’t be enough to overcome the Broncos offense. The passive defensive approach, however, just plays right into the game plan of the other team. It allows them to control the clock and keep Manning off the field, as the Chiefs did throughout the second half on Sunday.
Effectively, Jack Del Rio’s approach against Kansas City served to neutralize his own cover corner, his own premiere pass rushers, and a record-setting offense. That is the definition of not understanding your personnel. The Broncos will not get away with this style of play against better teams this season.