Short-term fix for Broncos: simplify defense | AspenTimes.com
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Short-term fix for Broncos: simplify defense

Lee RasizerRocky Mountain NewsAspen, CO Colorado
AP file Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker dives into the end zone for a touchdown ahead of Broncos cornerback Dre Bly during the Broncos 41-7 loss in Foxborough, Mass.
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DENVER A character named Oscar Rogers recently unveiled on Saturday Night Live purports to be an alleged financial expert.He rails against the Wall Street crisis, listing the litany of problems and punctuating each batch of bad news with an impassioned “Fix it!”Bob Slowik likely can relate, though the issues he faces as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator are in the black-and-white of the NFL statistics, not the Financial Times.And while complaining bitterly, a la the fictional money man, might be cathartic, it doesn’t solve the mess.And that mess won’t be any easier to clean up before Sunday’s game with the Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Invesco Field at Mile High (2:05 p.m., CBS 4) with a long-term injury to cornerback Champ Bailey and a season-ending knee issue for linebacker Boss Bailey.Even while those two were at least partially in the lineup, the Broncos defense accumulated a No. 31 ranking in rushing yards per attempt (5.4), No. 30 rankings in total yards allowed (394.6), yards per play (6.2) and rushing yards allowed (154.6), No. 29 rankings in interceptions (two) and points per game (27.9), a No. 28 in net passing yards (240) and a tie for No. 28 in first downs per game (20.9), a No. 23 in net yards per pass play (7.3) and a No. 21 in third-down efficiency (41.6 percent).Fix it? It’s easier said than done.

“What happens when you had or have a versatile scheme, if things don’t go well, it’s always a case of not being in rhythm with the offense. So you get a little out of sorts,” Slowik said Monday as the Broncos resumed practice after a four-day break. “And it’s the same thing, if, for example, you’re in the same call and not having that success. Your first reaction is you need more ammunition and can’t just line up in the same thing. So it’s somewhere in between.”In the end, all of that lies on my shoulders. I’ve got to find something that the guys are comfortable with executing and still have enough mix to get the job done.”What that likely means for the short term is scaling back in order to get consistent play calls in which the defensive players feel confident.”Whether we make the play or not, at least we know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, we’ve practiced it for a long time and go from there,” Slowik said. “And then after that, we’ve got to get consistent in all areas – getting off blocks, hitting blocks, tackling, pass-rushing. Everything.”The 3-4 has been effective in generating pressure, so it won’t be ditched completely.”It’s not being thrown out,” Slowik insisted.But, overall, the breadth of calls might be pared to give the defense a chance to gain some equilibrium after the poor start.”We’ve got to cut down the amount of what we’re doing,” Slowik said. “That’s the easiest way of saying it.”The 3-4 front, which still includes eight-man principles, was installed as late as Week 2. The 4-3 had been the core philosophy starting in the offseason.

Slowik wouldn’t give away any game-planning secrets. But reading between the lines, the Broncos might back off the 3-4 some and, until there’s a sense the players can handle more, stress the defense they know best and have practiced the most.”There’s a little more confidence in knowing what to do – language, familiarity, maybe with some of our other schemes,” Slowik said.The last time the Broncos were in action, before the bye weekend, they were shredded by New England for 41 points. Matt Cassel, subbing for Tom Brady, had his best game as a pro, recording a 75 percent completion rate, three touchdown passes and no interceptions.The Patriots rushed for 257 yards, the highest total Denver has allowed since Green Bay rushed for 262 in the 2003 season finale.And the comments after that Patriots game underscored the ongoing issues.Champ Bailey was disgusted by the effort. Fellow captain D.J. Williams lamented the group’s lack of identity, in terms of fronts and philosophy. Ebenezer Ekuban, another team leader, mentioned the sloppy tackling and gap-control issues that continue to rear their head.Opponents’ four highest rushing totals have come in the past four games. Their completion rates have been 81 percent, 75, 72, 74 and 75 in the past five contests.And into town comes a Dolphins team seemingly rejuvenated under coach Tony Sparano and the Bill Parcells regime.Slowik and the rest of the Broncos staff spent the bye week breaking down the first seven games and came out of those sessions intent on re-emphasizing to the players the defense is built to be an eight-man front whose priority is stopping the run while trying to generate pass rush and coverage behind it the best way possible.”That part has never changed,” Slowik said. “We may have not executed it as well in certain aspects of the two fronts, and that’s where there’s a little of that discomfort.”

The situation in which the Broncos find themselves appears to have some parallels to the 2007 season.That team was gashed by the run early with Jim Bates as coordinator, then went to more eight-man principles at the bye. Players openly talked about being confused after Bates’ exit and supposedly were thrilled by how simplified things had become under Slowik this offseason.Then, after the addition of the 3-4, there again was talk about missed assignments and gap control.”Yeah, I would say I’m surprised at that,” Slowik said.Middle linebacker Nate Webster said against the Patriots, “guys were like, ‘Maybe we should get out of this (call), maybe we should run this,’ ” while the game spiraled out of hand.But after film study, he now believes the issue solely was execution.”As players we’re accountable for a lot of this,” Webster said. “Usually they blame the coordinator, but we watch the film, and there was nothing wrong with those calls.”Whatever the game plan, he said, it’s on the defensive players to be able to handle what’s being asked of them, scaled back or not. But he believes returning to fundamentals this week appears to be a solid idea.Said Webster: “Once we put in whatever we’re putting in, now’s the time to grow up – fast.”


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