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Film Room: Manning against Seattle in the preseason

Who treats the preseason like BS? BS!

Who treats the preseason like BS? BS!

On August 17th, Denver traveled to Seattle for each team’s second game of the preseason. Some people think the preseason is meaningless, but I thought it would be worthwhile to rewatch the first half of that game. If you’re interested, there were a pair of good recaps written in August from Field Gulls, the Seattle SB Nation site, and Its All Over, Fat Man!, a Broncos site and friend of the program.

Let’s start with what is meaningless: the final score. The Seahawks won 40-10, and not all of it came against the Denver backups. But Seattle had two return touchdowns of over 100 yards and an early Broncos drive was killed by a fumble. Instead, I want to focus on the matchup everyone wants to see: the Denver passing attack against the Seattle pass defense.

On five drives, Peyton Manning’s offense gained 217 yards on 33 plays. That’s pretty impressive, and Denver would surely take a 43 yards/drive average in the Super Bowl, considering the Broncos averaged 38 yards/drive in the regular season while Seattle allowed just 26 yards/drive. Let’s go to the videotape and analyze each of Denver’s first five drives.

Drive #1: Denver goes 3-and-out on three Manning passes

1-10-DEN20 (15:00) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass incomplete short left to E.Decker.
2-10-DEN20 (14:56) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass incomplete short left to E.Decker (B.Browner).

If you think the Broncos passing attack is going to struggle with the physical play of the Seahawks defensive backs in the Super Bowl, this play would reinforce that belief. Eric Decker wants to run a short slant, but Brandon Browner is riding him the whole play. Decker gets his hands on the ball, but Kam Chancellor delivers a big blow to knock the ball loose and prevent the catch. Browner won’t play in the Super Bowl, of course — and he was one of the stars of this game — but Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond are just as capable of playing this style of football.

3-10-DEN20 (14:49) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass short right to W.Welker to DEN 28 for 8 yards (K.Chancellor).

The Broncos get very good protection — a theme of the night — although Seattle only rushes four while playing two safeties deep (for what it’s worth, the two-deep look doesn’t stop Seattle’s cornerbacks from lining up in press coverage). Welker runs across the middle of the field and is Manning’s second or third read: he make the catch, but winds up getting tackled short of the sticks.

I’m not going to focus on the Seattle offense, but the Seahawks drove for a touchdown on the ensuing drive. The scoring play was an interesting oneRussell Wilson fumbled the snap, but then hit Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown. On the play, Kearse badly beat Chris Harris, the Broncos best corner, although he’ll miss the Super Bowl with a torn ACL.

Drive #2: Four Plays, Manning Goes 3/3, Fumble ends the drive

1-10-DEN20 (8:37) (Shotgun): R.Hillman left guard to DEN 25 for 5 yards (K.Wright; E.Thomas).

Seattle lines up with two deep safeties on first and ten and puts only six in the box — this is a run-friendly look for Denver, and the Broncos block the play well for Ronnie Hillman (Knowshon Moreno did not play).

2-5-DEN25 (8:08) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short right to J.Thomas to DEN 26 for 1 yard (K.Chancellor; B.Wagner).
3-4-DEN26 (7:35) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass short left to D.Thomas to DEN 42 for 16 yards (K.Chancellor, B.Browner).

The Broncos run a crossing pattern with Demaryius Thomas and Decker; Thurmond can’t fight through it, and it’s an easy catch for Thomas.

1-10-DEN42 (7:06) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass deep left to J.Thomas to SEA 38 for 20 yards (B.Browner). FUMBLES (B.Browner), RECOVERED by SEA-K.Chancellor at SEA 25. K.Chancellor to SEA 46 for 21 yards (W.Welker).

A beautiful pass from Manning to Julius Thomas ends in disaster for Denver, as Browner swipes the ball away from Thomas as he makes the grab. Browner recovers the ball, which is ruled a fumble, ending the drive. It’s encouraging to see Manning make this throw against Seattle, one that few quarterback can accurately deliver with any sort of consistency. That’s why he’s the soon-to-be first five time MVP.

Drive #3: Nine plays for 80 yards, Manning Goes 4/5, throws a touchdown to Welker

1-10-DEN20 (5:03) (Shotgun): R.Hillman left guard to DEN 18 for -2 yards (B.Wagner).

On this play, the center blocks to the left and the right guard blocks to the right, which leaves nobody blocking Bobby Wagner who is run blitzing up the middle. Hillman has no chance.

2-12-DEN18 (4:34) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short left to W.Welker to DEN 30 for 12 yards (K.Chancellor; B.Wagner).
1-10-DEN30 (4:07) (No Huddle, Shotgun): R.Hillman left end pushed ob at DEN 31 for 1 yard (K.Wright).
2-9-DEN31 (3:50) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short middle to J.Thomas to DEN 49 for 18 yards (K.Wright).

A concern for Seattle and every other team in the league — can they match up athletically with Denver’s tight end? The coverage is not bad but a linebacker can only stay with Thomas for so long. Seattle only rushes four, and the Broncos line gives Manning more than enough time to make the throw.

1-10-DEN49 (3:23) (No Huddle): M.Ball left guard to SEA 46 for 5 yards (C.McDonald).

An interesting play given the pre-snap look: the Broncos line up with three wide receivers, their base personnel, but Seattle stacks 10 men in the box:

3rd drive 1st down

Ball makes a cut inside and its well-blocked, turning this into a successful play for Denver. In the preseason, giving Montee Ball a carry against a front like this is fine, but presumably Manning would audible to take a shot on first down in the Super Bowl against this front.

2-5-SEA46 (2:50) (No Huddle): P.Manning pass incomplete short right to D.Thomas.
3-5-SEA46 (2:45) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass short right to J.Thomas pushed ob at SEA 15 for 31 yards (K.Chancellor) [B.Wagner].

Seattle sends six after Manning, and the line holds up well enough. Denver has three wide receivers to Manning’s right, which is where the blitz is coming from, and Seattle has three defensive backs in the area. Unfortunately for Seattle, the bunch formation causes a miscommunication, as two defensive backs follow Decker running inside. Julius Thomas, lined up as the inside receiver, takes one step inside before breaking outside and is uncovered when Manning delivers the pass, allowing him to pick up about 27 yards after the catch.

1-10-SEA15 (2:29) (Shotgun): M.Ball up the middle to SEA 11 for 4 yards (K.Chancellor; M.Bennett).
2-6-SEA11 (1:58) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short left to W.Welker for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

If you’ve seen a Wes Welker touchdown before, you could probably guess what this one looked like. Antoine Winfield (who never made it to the regular season) is the victim on this play, as the outside receiver (Decker) takes the safety deep, allowing Welker to work the underneath for the easy score.

After the score, Jermaine Kearse returned the kickoff for a touchdown.

Drive #4: 14 plays, 79 yards; Manning 3/3 for 46 yards; Fumble ends the drive

This was Ronnie Hillman‘s drive. It started and ended with a fumble, and in between, he carried eight times for 26 yards. Despite the heavy workload, the drive was really kept alive by Manning.

1-10-DEN20 (1:40): R.Hillman left guard to DEN 23 for 3 yards (B.Mebane; J.Johnson). FUMBLES (B.Mebane), and recovers at DEN 24. R.Hillman to DEN 24 for no gain (B.Mebane).
2-6-DEN24 (:58): R.Hillman right tackle to DEN 29 for 5 yards (K.Chancellor).
3-1-DEN29 (:16) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short right to E.Decker to DEN 39 for 10 yards (R.Sherman).

On third-and-1, you don’t expect to see Richard Sherman beat by a simple dig route. It’s hard to see what happens here based on that camera angle; Sherman is retreating at the snap, and Decker makes the easy grab in front of him. Seems easy enough to chalk up to a preseason coverage, and is not the type of coverage you’d expect to see from Sherman in this situation in the Super Bowl.

1-10-DEN39 (15:00): R.Hillman left tackle to DEN 46 for 7 yards (B.Wagner; T.Powell).
2-3-DEN46 (14:22): P.Manning pass deep right to D.Thomas to SEA 31 for 23 yards (R.Sherman).

For my money, the most interesting play of the game. Sherman and Demaryius Thomas are on an island, and this is a matchup we might see again in the Super Bowl. Sherman, as is customary, is lined up on the defense’s left, and Denver lines up in a two-wide receiver (on on each side), two tight end (both on the line) set with Hillman in the backfield.

The ball is on the left hash, which means the Thomas/Sherman battle is on a large chunk of territory. It looks like Seattle is playing Cover-1 Man with Earl Thomas as the deep safety (or perhaps Seattle’s version of Cover-3, although the distinction is not relevant for this play). The camera angle is not great, but Demaryius Thomas appears to run a stop-and-go with a comeback built in, and Manning hits him for what is an easy 23-yard completion. Sherman has solid coverage, but he just can’t match up physically with Thomas. The two players are the same height, but Thomas has 35 pounds on him. Can the Seahawks put Sherman on an island against Thomas? I’m not so sure, and I don’t even know if they’ll try. But the Broncos will absolutely need to stretch the defense in the Super Bowl, as you know the Seahawks defensive backs will be aggressively try to contain the short passing game. Can Manning and Thomas cause Seattle’s secondary to respect the long passing game?

1-10-SEA31 (13:47): R.Hillman left tackle to SEA 30 for 1 yard (K.Chancellor).
2-9-SEA30 (13:02): M.Ball right tackle to SEA 27 for 3 yards (J.Hill; B.Mayowa).
3-6-SEA27 (12:19) (No Huddle, Shotgun): P.Manning pass short left to D.Thomas pushed ob at SEA 14 for 13 yards (B.Browner).

The Broncos line up with Decker (outside) and Thomas (inside) on the left side of the field, and motion Decker towards the middle of the field before the snap. Seattle is in man coverage, and Browner seems concerned by Thomas’ speed. Manning throws a pretty out pass right as Thomas makes his cut to the sidelines, and it’s an easy catch.

1-10-SEA14 (12:00) (No Huddle, Shotgun): R.Hillman up the middle to SEA 11 for 3 yards (K.Chancellor).
2-7-SEA11 (11:30) (No Huddle): R.Hillman left tackle to SEA 9 for 2 yards (K.Chancellor, B.Wagner).
3-5-SEA9 (10:47) (No Huddle, Shotgun): R.Hillman right guard to SEA 5 for 4 yards (J.Hill).
4-1-SEA5 (10:23) (No Huddle, Shotgun): R.Hillman left tackle to SEA 2 for 3 yards (B.Wagner; B.Mayowa).
1-2-SEA2 (9:56) (Shotgun): R.Hillman up the middle to SEA 1 for 1 yard (R.Bryant; B.Wagner).
2-1-SEA1 (9:12): R.Hillman right guard to SEA 1 for no gain (H.Farwell). FUMBLES (H.Farwell), RECOVERED by SEA-B.Browner at SEA -6. B.Browner for 106 yards, TOUCHDOWN. PENALTY on SEA-D.Shead, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, 15 yards, enforced between downs.

Want to know how Seattle won 40-10 and why it doesn’t mean much? How much weight to do you want to put on Heath Farwell forcing a Ronnie Hillman fumble at the goal line that is returned 106 yards by Browner for a touchdown?

Drive #4: Three-and-out; Manning 0/2

1-10-DEN28 (8:48): P.Manning pass incomplete short right.

Manning wound up rolling out to the right on first down, and found nothing, leading to a throw out of bounds.

2-10-DEN28 (8:41) (Shotgun): M.Ball left tackle to DEN 36 for 8 yards (K.Chancellor, M.Smith).
3-2-DEN36 (7:56) (Shotgun): P.Manning pass incomplete short middle to D.Thomas (W.Thurmond).

This is the sort of play that inspires optimism for Seahawks fans. On third and short, how often do you see Manning throw an easy, short pass for a first down? And how many times do you see Denver run a pick play? Those plays don’t come so easily against the Legion of Boom. On this play, Demaryius Thomas is going to run across the formation from the left side, and Andre Caldwell (lined up on the right) is going to run across the field. It looks like Caldwell is supposed to pick Thurmond, the defender covering Thomas, but he does not do a very good job, and Thurmond easily breaks up the pass.

And that was Manning’s day. The final score is pretty meaningless, as is the fact that Seattle was up 24-7 when Manning left the game. 1 Manning had a lot of success throwing against the Seattle secondary, so that’s inspiring for Denver fans. On the other hand, I didn’t see a lot of creative scheming by the Seahawks, no surprise given that it was a preseason game.

What do you think?

  1. I will note that the kickoff return is a potential sore spot for Denver. The Broncos punt coverage unit had trouble in this game, too, as Golden Tate had a 33-yard punt return that nearly went all the way. And the Broncos had problems covering kickoffs all year — Denver was last in kickoff return average during the regular season. At home, the presence of Matt Prater and the thin air creates touchbacks, which mitigates the poor kickoff coverage. We’ll see if Seattle can bust another long run in the Super Bowl. []
  • Justin

    Great article as always. I don’t put too much stock into preseason for the reasons you stated above, but, as a broncos fan I’m encouraged that they had more success than the final score preliminarily indicates. I will be very curious how much Denver can reduce the impact of the Seattle pass rush by going no huddle to limit substitutions. Did Denver do much no huddle in the preseason game?

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, Justin. And yes, there was a ton of no huddle as indicated in the play by play. Denver has done a great job of keeping the pass rush off Manning all year, although Seattle presents a unique challenge.

  • Orange_and_Blue

    As long as there is no polar vortex Denver should be able to have success on offense. Broncos seem to have corrected their turnover issues in the past 6 games(thank you Moreno), but they haven’t faced a defense like Seadderol’s this year (reg season).

    The neutral site benefits Denver’s offense too (obviously).

  • Tall Paul

    I would like to know which of our front 7 played in this game. I know Clemons was out and pretty sure Avril and McDaniels didn’t play. What about Irvin and Bennet as I remember some start of the year injuries?

    • That’s correct. Clemons, Avril, McDaniel and Irvin were all out. Michael Bennett did play and made one tackle. I believe the starting front seven were:
      DE Michael Bennett
      DT Clinton McDonald
      DT Brandon Mebane
      DE Benson Mayowa
      OLB K.J. Wright
      MLB Bobby Wagner
      LB Ty Powell

      Some other guys got playing time including Red Bryant and Malcolm Smith.

  • James

    First of all, this is awesome. I’m glad someone did this, and the linked gifs are a huge help to watch the play without bogging the page down.

    – “The Broncos run a crossing pattern with Demaryius Thomas and Decker; Thurmond can’t fight through it, and it’s an easy catch for Thomas”

    This is a strange play because originally Thurmond is on Decker and Browner on Thomas. It looks like Thomas just wants to set a pick on Thurmond for Decker (look at Thomas throw his hip into it), but Browner nullifies it by switching onto Decker. That should have ruined the play there, but because Thurmond was so blindsided by the pick and late to swtich he leaves Thomas wide open.

    – “On third-and-1, you don’t expect to see Richard Sherman beat by a simple dig route. It’s hard to see what happens here based on that camera angle; Sherman is retreating at the snap, and Decker makes the easy grab in front of him.”

    From the way both Sherman and Browner drop right before the snap it looks to me like the Seahawks are playing a soft Cover 3 (with the middle covered by a safety not in the picture until after the tackle). I’m no coach but that seems like an odd call on 3rd and 1, but then again the Broncos went no-huddle with Peyton in shotgun and two receivers stacked on each side, so maybe it’s not that surprising.

    – “The ball is on the left hash, which means the Thomas/Sherman battle is on a large chunk of territory. It looks like Seattle is playing Cover-1 Man with Earl Thomas as the deep safety.”

    I think the Seahawks are playing their version of Cover 3 that Chris Brown described in his Grantland article: “While this is zone coverage, Seattle’s cornerbacks play tight press coverage on the outside wide receivers as long as a receiver’s initial steps are straight downfield. Notice the coverage drops from the underneath defenders in the GIF below: This is a zone defense all the way, except for those press corners.” The Broncos play looks to same to me as his embedded gif against the Giants with the linebackers dropping back into space. http://grantland.com/features/whos-laughing-now/

    • Chase Stuart

      Thanks, James. I agree that gifs bog down the page, and I think this is a good compromise.

      I agree with your analysis on the Thomas pick play. Smart for Browner to cover the deep option and switch his man.

      On the 2nd play, it’s hard to tell what the coverage is there. I’m inclined not to read too much into it b/c it was the preseason. I certainly don’t expect a DC to get very creative on 3rd down in the preseason, and I doubt Seattle plays like that on 3rd and 1 in the Super Bowl.

      I think you might be right on the cover 3 call. It’s hard to tell much about Seattle’s D call here because the Broncos only run 2 WRs in the initial pattern. So I don’t think there’s a practical difference between cover 3 and cover 1 on this call, but the drop of the linebacker does indicate cover 3.

  • Michael Terry

    A few things:

    1. On the 80 yard drive, on 3rd down early in the drive, a Seattle DE was tackled from behind in space when he was about to sack Manning. That drive should have been over before it started, and 9/10 that hold is called.

    2. As soon as Thurmond came in for Winfield, Denver went 3 and out and Thurmond knocked down that pass. Thurmond is an elite slot corner with speed. He’s 13th in the NFL in defensive passer rating according to PFF.

    3. Folks can say that preseason doesn’t matter all they want, but Denver looked like they were trying and Manning was pissed on the sidelines. Seattle makes plays in every phase. Seattle didn’t lead the NFL in takeaways for nothing. The game demonstrates that Seattle can win easily, even if Manning moves the ball.

  • Michael Terry

    Also, Byron Maxwell, on significant snaps, was #2 in the NFL in defensive passer rating, just behind Sherman. He’s a much better cover corner than Brandon Browner was.

  • Once the matchup was set, I started wondering whether this game could be the first time that Browner being out really costs the Seahawks. They obviously haven’t really missed him, but he would be the rare cover player who could match up with the Denver receivers (Thomas, Thomas, and Decker) size-wise, and his replacements, while they have been excellent, are much smaller.