Things certainly didn’t go the Denver Broncos’ way on Sunday at home against the New Orleans Saints.
While it was completely unfair of the NFL to ask the Broncos to play a real, live NFL game without a quarterback, it provides a stark reminder that 2020 — and life in general — isn’t fair.
Much of the focus from Sunday is on the Broncos being wronged by the NFL, and rightfully so, but lost in all of that was a mostly strong performance from the defense, especially in the first half.
Knowing that Taysom Hill was under center for Sunday’s matchup in the Mile High City, the Broncos came out well prepared to attack short throws, providing tight coverage in the passing game, essentially forcing the Saints to become one-dimensional quickly.
However, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was a bit stubborn in the first half when it came to the Saints trying to establish a passing game despite having success on the ground.
As Hill dropped back, Denver put a ton of pressure on Hill, forcing him into some ugly throws into tight windows. That also led to a trio of sacks in the first half that kept the Broncos in the game.
Today, I’m going to break down the three sacks, two of which were recorded by DeMarcus Walker, who was all over the place on Sunday against the Saints.
Lined up at nose tackle here at the snap, Walker does a great job shooting his hands into New Orleans guard Nick Easton’s chest as the line slides right to pick up the Broncos’ pressure off the right side.
By shooting his hands into Easton’s chest, Walker is able to gain leverage and control against the stocky guard. While Walker does this, Broncos defensive end Dre’Mont Jones crashes hard to his left, dragging left tackle James Hurst with him.
Jones’ crash allows Walker to time his twist perfectly, looping around the crashing Jones as he drags Hurst into Easton, leading to a late call to pass off the pass rushers, which leaves Walker running free at Hill for the sack.
Coverage on the sack was pretty solid, especially on the boundaries.
I’m sure Hill would have liked to see slot receiver Tre’Quan Smith breaking open over the middle a tick or two sooner, but overall the Broncos did a really good job in coverage, forcing Hill to hold the ball longer than normal, allowing Walker just enough time to loop around Jones and fly in free at the Bayou quarterback.
Bradley Chubb gets the credit for the sack here, but Jones and Walker wreaked havoc once again, this time on the right side of the Saints’ offensive line.
Walker — lined up at nose again — does a great job crossing Saints center Erik McCoy’s face with a quick first step and strong swipe to McCoy’s outside arm. With Walker crashing hard through the right A gap, he’s able to get a bit of a chip on right guard Cesar Ruiz — a rookie — which then allows Jones to do the loop.
There’s a clear miscommunication between McCoy and Ruiz as McCoy stays with Walker, while Ruiz hesitates slightly thinking they’re passing the stunters off, leaving Jones with a free rush at Hill.
Hill does a nice job avoiding Jones in the pocket, but then he runs right into Chubb, who works off of Hurst quickly to put a lick on Hill for sack number two on the afternoon for the young Denver defense.
Much like the first sack, Denver has solid coverage on the Saints’ route concepts here.
Coverage is airtight, forcing Hill to hold the football once again. When he starts to extend the play with his legs though, that’s where it gets dicey.
Thank goodness for Chubb’s play at the end because if Hill is able to sidestep Chubb, he’s off to the races. Look at all that green grass off to the left side there.
I really thought this was Walker’s best pass-rush rep of the day.
He gets a great jump out of his stance, chewing up grass vertically. Notice the long arm in Easton’s chest again, walking the guard backwards. With the long-arm locked out, Walker then swipes across Easton’s face to get back inside.
In the process, he’s able to free his left hand and knock the football out of Hill’s hand, which goes down as a sack for the Florida State product.
It’s great to see a young guy continuing to develop his game as a pass rusher, and adding the strip-sack to his arsenal, knowing that when you can’t get home as a pass rusher, try and take a swipe at the football in today’s game.
Walker’s punchout of the football happens because of his awareness, and because of the poor ball security Hill shows here, holding the football near his hip in the pocket.
While the scoreboard doesn’t quite show it, I thought the Broncos — in the first half — did a tremendous job defensively, especially rushing the passer. In a game in which there’s very little to take away, hopefully, the Broncos took away from the game that Walker is a weapon rushing the passer right now.