For the third week in a row, the Denver Broncos will take on a high-level wide receiver in a strong passing game. This week, as the Broncos prepare to host the red-hot Buffalo Bills, they’ll have to prepare for the best of the trio in Stefon Diggs.
Diggs comes into the matchup with a league-high 100 catches for 1,167 yards and five touchdowns after coming over from the Minnesota Vikings in an offseason trade. Since joining the Bills, Diggs has elevated his game, putting up a career-high in yards, and needs just three catches Sunday to set a new career-high for receptions in a season.
He’s always been a strong route runner, but he’s started to become more physical within his routes and has really found a groove against zone coverage, knowing when to stretch routes across the zone, or when to sit and show his numbers.
Physical in His Routes
Earlier in his career, Diggs could be bumped off of his routes through minimal contact, which was a real problem against more physical corners.
In recent years though — this year especially — Diggs has become a physical threat at the top of his routes, often overpowering corners at the top of his stem when engaged, allowing him to work open.
Many thought this was a push-off against Steelers’ cornerback Cam Sutton live — myself included — but looking again, Diggs really sells the vertical portion of the route well and stops on a dime. He might have a subtle push-off in there, but he’s so strong at the stem to win and work himself open.
Diggs does a great job refusing to allow the tight coverage from Cardinals’ cornerback Patrick Peterson to knock him off his route.
Watch the hand usage in tight from Diggs at the top of his stem. He punches downward, shucking Peterson off of him, allowing him to work open across the middle as Josh Allen steps up in the pocket to extend the play, leading to the 18-yard gain.
Soft Spots in the Zone
When Diggs was younger, he hadn’t quite figured out how to settle into the soft spot in zone coverage, often running right through the zone, taking himself out of the play.
As he’s gotten older and matured, he’s figured out just how to show his quarterback his numbers, which has led to some big gains in Buffalo.
Watch the subtle change in speed across the formation. He sees it’s opening up to his left and knows he doesn’t want to push the pace too quickly, which would run him right through the window and jeopardize Allen seeing him.
Instead, he slows his pace slightly, allowing him to cost across the formation, letting Allen work through his progressions and fire a strike into the zone for the big gain to Diggs.
Typically, receivers would bounce off this contact with the corner and turn their head upfield to work into the open field. Not Diggs. He does a great job recognizing the safety on his side of the field is dropping quickly in Cover 2.
Seeing the safety drop and the linebackers freeze on the play-action fake, Diggs whips his head around quickly, providing a quick outlet for Allen.
Broncos' Best Hope
With Diggs, it’s going to be tough for the Broncos to take him away. So far this season, Diggs has had at least six catches in 13 of his 14 games this year and has had at least 85 receiving yards in nine of 14 games in 2020.
What you can do is slow him down, which is roll coverage over the top, get hands on him early in the route and really bracket him. You can live with Cole Beasley tearing up the middle of the field.
What the Broncos simply can’t do is let Diggs cook on the outside, which will then open things up in a big way for Beasley inside.
Vic Fangio will have to scheme a bracket coverage for Diggs and throw as much at him as possible. Take him away right from the first snap and live with Allen targeting Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie.