Re-Focused – Broncos @ Titans, Week 3

| September 28, 2011

As Titans’ QB Matt Hasselbeck continues to adjust to a new offensive system and build a rapport with his new teammates, it was his defensive counterparts that led the way to helping the now 36-year-old Hasselbeck get a win and celebrate his birthday in style.
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Despite eight Titans defenders grading out “in the green” overall, the Broncos had a chance to win on their final drive and also left points on the board when John Fox pulled kicker Matt Prater off the field and elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal late in the third quarter.
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The Titans offense—and struggling HB Chris Johnson, specifically—will have to pick up more of the slack if they want to consistently compete with teams better than the Broncos, and that reality has become even more paramount with the season-ending torn ACL for Kenny Britt.
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The Broncos come out of Week 3 feeling an all too familiar sense of defeat and are that much closer to being forced to give in to the whims of the fan base and end the Kyle Orton era. However, while another loss looks bad on paper and obviously wasn’t the desired outcome, it’s worth acknowledging that the Broncos were once again without Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams, and Knowshon Moreno and still managed to hang around with a team that’s played great football the past two weeks.
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Broncos: Three Performances of Note

1)   Sophomore Slumps

While many Broncos fans may want to pin the team’s woes on Orton, the truth is the Broncos offensive issues start up front. Orton is no Pro Bowl QB, but he can play decently when he’s not under pressure. When he is under pressure, though, he can force some bad throws such as the overthrown pass to Eric Decker that resulted in Orton’s first interception against Tennessee. The Broncos offensive line needs to play better, and while rookie RT Orlando Franklin’s struggles are to be expected, the time is now for the Broncos two second-year offensive linemen. LG Zane Beadles and C J.D. Walton earned -3.8 and -3.9 overall grades respectively for their efforts Sunday, leaving them the lowest-ranked players at their respective positions in our grading for the season. Having one lineman that is the lowest-ranked player at his position is a setback, but having two is a major problem. This team isn’t going to get better until its O-line does.

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2)   Change is in the Ayers

This may seem an odd time to give credit to Robert Ayers considering his -1.2 overall grade (hindered by drawing a perfect blank in the pass rush department) on Sunday, but after three weeks it’s time to acknowledge the change we’ve seen in Ayers. Miscast as a 3-4 OLB the past two years, Ayers struggled to find a role and never could generate much pressure standing up. He had some good games here and there, but for the most part was more liability than asset. This year, after making the transition back to his natural 4-3 DE position, Ayers has looked more like a player you want on the field as much as possible and the Broncos have responded by taking him out for only five snaps in three games so far. He still hasn’t become a pass rushing menace yet, but Ayers has been playing the kind of prototypical run defense you’d expect of a 4-3 DE and rarely loses containment on his side the past two games. We’re only three games deep and there’s a lot of time left for Ayers to continue to improve as he readjusts to his natural position, so we’ll be watching to see if he continues playing like he has, regresses, or begins to develop a consistent pass rush as well.

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3)   Von Miller again?!

Yeah, yeah; both of the previous Broncos Re-Focused articles mentioned Von Miller, but if he keeps turning in noteworthy performances, well, he’ll continue to be noted! Miller did get fooled by former Broncos TE Daniel Graham for a touchdown when Graham feigned staying in to block before jogging into the end zone for an easy TD reception, but that was one of the very few instances this season in which he has actually looked like a rookie, and truthfully any veteran could have been fooled by the play call. Besides that mistake, Miller made some plays in coverage, including snuffing out a screen for Britt. He also recorded a sack and again played excellent run defense. Miller’s athleticism is no wonder, but his instincts and technique bely his inexperience. Interestingly enough, it has been his block-shedding, coverage skills, and awareness on the field that have been Miller’s greatest strengths thus far in his young career, despite many critics proclaiming that the Broncos wasted their pick on a 4-3 SLB if they didn’t intend to move him to DE or convert back to a 3-4 defense and make him a rush linebacker. SAM ‘backer might not be the most important position on the field, but Miller has the potential to be the best at the position for years to come and already leads our 4-3 OLB rankings with a 12.6 overall grade in three games.

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Titans: Three Performances of Note

1)   No hassle covering Matt’s beck…err…back

If you’re wondering how Kenny Britt put up the numbers he did before getting hurt or how Hasselbeck is putting up the numbers he is, look no further than the Titans offensive line. While the unit collectively hasn’t done a great job blocking for “CJ2K,” they have done an excellent job protecting Hasselbeck. The Titans have the second-highest rating in our newly-available pass blocking efficiency rankings for the season, and against Denver allowed only a single sack and pressure each in 38 drop-backs. With protection like that, the loss of Kenny Britt might not sting quite so bad. Give any NFL-caliber WR enough time and he will get separation. The Titans offensive line is doing exactly that, and as long as they continue to do so the Titans passing game will continue to exceed expectations.

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2)   Dominant D-line

The Broncos offensive line simply could not keep up with the Titans deep D-line rotation. With eight capable defensive linemen active, the Titans were able to get production out of each and keep them fresh through constant rotation, just as they’ve done in the past under Jeff Fisher. The numbers can do all the talking on this one: five of the seven linemen earned an overall grade of +1.0 or better and two others would have if not for penalties, leaving only starting defensive end Dave Ball with a comparatively poor performance. To indicate just how many plays the Titans D-line made, consider that the unit contributed 13 defensive stops and tipped two passes at the line, one of which became the game-winning interception. The rookie DT tandem of Jurell Casey and Karl Klug turned in a combined +6.2 overall grade and did a good job getting pressure up the middle.

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3)   Stepping up in Britt’s place

After Britt’s injury, things might seem a little sour for Titans fans who were hoping to see one of their offensive players lead the league in yardage once again, but perhaps not all is lost. While he’s not  Britt, Nate Washington has quietly enjoyed a solid start to his 2012 season and is currently seventh in our receiver rankings in terms of pure pass catching. That’s the good news. The concerning part is that while Washington’s overall performance was solid against Denver with eight catches on nine targets and a touchdown, most of that production came before Britt’s injury. Britt left the game a little over halfway through the second quarter, but after that point Washington caught four balls for only 34 yards and dropped a pass deep downfield. This weekend in Cleveland will be an important test for Washington as he’ll have to show he can still perform when the opposing team isn’t focusing its coverage on Britt.

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Game Notes:

● After Will Witherspoon’s game-winning interception, the Titans have had a crucial game-changing interception off of a tipped pass for the second consecutive week.

● Orton was a little better than usual under pressure, completing five of eight pass attempts and scoring a touchdown with no picks, but even when he corrects his biggest mistake, things are never easy for Orton: the heavily-criticized quarterback completed 19 of 31 passes for only 4.8 yards-per-atttempt when he wasn’t facing any pressure and tossed both of his interceptions in that scenario.

● Shout-out to the punter: Britton Colquitt booted five punts for an average of 49.2 yards and landed four of them inside the Titans 20-yard line.

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PFF Game Ball

Will Witherspoon, WLB, Tennessee Titans

If Witherspoon read this article, he’d probably be wondering what a guy has to do to get mentioned. Unfortunately it says “Three Performances of Note,” not four, and the other three were better discussion topics if not better performances. The consolation prize: one game-winning interception courtesy of Jason Jones’ outstretched arms and a PFF Game Ball. He also made a tackle for no gain near the goal line and recorded a sack by forcing a scrambling Orton out of bounds.

 

 

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  • acebandito

    Kind of confused by this:

    “When he is under pressure, though, he can force some bad throws such as the overthrown pass to Eric Decker that resulted in Orton’s first interception against Tennessee.”

    Then later this:
    “Orton was a little better than usual under pressure, completing five of eight pass attempts and scoring a touchdown with no picks, but even when he corrects his biggest mistake, things are never easy for Orton: the heavily-criticized quarterback completed 19 of 31 passes for only 4.8 yards-per-atttempt when he wasn’t facing any pressure and tossed both of his interceptions in that scenario.”

    These don’t seem to go together. Plus, the overthrow pick on the Decker pass wasn’t from pressure. It was because Orton didn’t wait until Decker cleared the LB window. He tried to throw it over the LB, the ball sailed badly and resulted in a pick. He had time to wait a 1/2 second to let Decker’s post route clear the LB and it’s an easy completion.

    I agree Walton and Beadles are terrible and have done little over their 19 starts in the NFL, but Orton’s awful pocket presence doesn’t help either. Go back and look at the failed goal to go series in the 4th Quarter. 1st down he throws it away when there isn’t a Titan within 6 yards of him. He holds that ball for another second, you can see Virgil Green’s square in route coming wide open. Orton simply is too nervous in the pocket.

    • Chris Benson

      Sorry about that, the first quote is just some bad wording. I didn’t mean to say that he was under pressure on that pass, just that that was a bad throw and when he is under pressure he often forces the ball much like he did there. Definitely could have been phrased better though, as the original wording does imply that Orton was under pressure on that play.