CM – How the Broncos Defense takes out Kellen Moore and the Cowboys


The Broncos and their defenses invaded Dallas and held the ball twice as long as the Cowboys, racking up four sacks, seven pass breakups and humiliating one of the supposedly best offensives in the league. While Denver wasn’t doing anything revolutionary, they kept adjusting to the game and spinning while Dallas tried to put things on the offensive. Of course, a few drops and terrible throws from Dak Prescott also helped them, but the fact remains that Dallas only scored less than six minutes from time.

At the beginning of the game, the Broncos were on Cover 1. That requires a few stones to fight a very talented Cowboys skill group.

The Broncos stayed on the Nickel staff for much of the game and could still compete in the running game with the heavy staff of the cowboys. You normally see Denver in a lot of two-man safety bowls, but against Dallas they brought an extra defender into the box and still managed to keep up in pass defense.

Justin Simmons was everywhere in the field. He was deeply protective and also had seizures to stop Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.

While the Broncos defense began with a lot of man marking, the cowboys started quickly and began making their way to some dense formations and running scratch routes to open up their receivers. Here they work on running Amari Cooper across the field while Patrick Surtain has to chase him and navigate the traffic. This enables Cooper to use the natural friction of the routes across the field for a run after the catch.

When the Cowboys got into their stacking formations, Denver was content to play zone and clutch those receivers with square coverage to avoid friction. Even if Dallas rotates its players to get a better matchup, Denver is still in a good position. You have four defenders on the three receivers of the cowboys. The two defenders below take the first receiver to go in and the first receiver to go out. The two deeper defenders take the receiver deep in or deep out. This way they have all taken into account and are not prone to friction. Although this put pressure on the Cowboys, the pressure of the Broncos could come home and lure Dak out of his pocket.

If there are two burglary routes, the central defender chooses the shorter of the two routes. That leaves Justin Simmons safe to pick up the deeper burglar. That now isolates Patrick Surtain and Kyle Fuller. If the third recipient lets go deeply and thrusts outwards, it means that Surtain has to cling to him for cover. However, this receiver breaks back inward and the cowboys clutter this bracket cover with the two previous in-breakers that the defenders take away inside. It’s good game design and understanding of how the Broncos adapt, but Dak can’t stay in the pocket long enough to beat Dalton Shultz over the middle.

The next adjustment by the Cowboys was to attack the Broncos defense nickel package by bringing in more heavy personnel. They also ran more compressed formations to force these smaller defenders to fill up and contribute in the running game. When the cowboys ran strong they usually had some success, but they couldn’t consistently keep to schedule in the running game and got away early in the game. The Cowboys only ran the ball twice in the second half before their last two touchdown drives during garbage time at the end of the fourth quarter.

Whenever Dallas tried to run weak – despite numbers and a size advantage over strength – they didn’t have much success. The Broncos’ smaller staff were still able to contain the Dallas Run game.

The cowboys weren’t doing enough to get the Broncos out of their nickel packages. However, Denver got out of man coverage after Dallas began running more scratch routes across the field. One adjustment that came too little late was that the cowboys came in more splayed formations. These formations have brought the Broncos into their basic Cover 4 look. The cowboys were then able to clutter the apartments and give their boys play opportunities.

When Dallas began attacking with their splayed formations, Fangio and the Denver Defense began making some post-snapshot adjustments and a different look to introduce. These took away the congestion that the cowboys were trying to create.

The cowboys run two cross routes and a ditch behind them. This is supposed to clear the deep defenders across the field while the linebackers carry or jump the resistance below. However, the Broncos occupy down to the individual receiver at the bottom, which allows the linebackers to play less aggressively on the emerging resistance. Dak sees the weak side security coming down to protect the first cross and that the slot defender is also running deep with the # 2 receiver. That says Prescott that he’ll be done with the dig. However, the linebacker is able to carry the # 2 receiver and widen it to protect the dig window. Dak never sees him and it’s an interception for the Broncos, challenging any hopes of the Cowboys for a comeback.

The Cowboys had numerous drops, Dak missed some big throws and the Broncos had a number of pass break Oops at the catch point. Dallas might have beaten themselves in some ways, but the Broncos defense made them deserve every yard. Dallas couldn’t get the running game going, allowing Denver to mix up the coverage and force the cowboys into bad spots.

The Broncos may have had a slump in the last month or so, but they’re right in the middle of their department. If Denver can control the ball on offense and play a good defense, they will be tough endeavors for anyone who overlooks them.

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