When your team asks you to replace its starting quarterback, you better do a good job because no one knows how many more chances you will get. Brock Osweiler did a fairly good job replacing Peyton Manning during last week's game on the road against the Chicago Bears.
While the bar has not been set very high by Manning this season, it is still worth noting that Osweiler – in his first career start – produced the statistically best game a Broncos quarterback has played this season. He completed 20 of 27 pass attempts for 250 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
Looking at the stat sheet is one thing, looking at the film another. Let's take a look at the tape to find out more about the quarterback of the Patriots' week 12 opponent, Mr. Brock Osweiler.
1) 2-7-DEN 29 (13:21) 17-B.Osweiler pass short left to 88-D.Thomas to DEN 37 for 8 yards (93-W.Sutton).
Denver's first offensive series gives us a good insight into the team's gameplan. The coaching staff wanted to make things as easy as they possibly could on Osweiler via a) a balanced offensive attack and b) route combinations that allowed him to get quick, low-risk completions. His first pass attempt of the day is a good example for this.
After a three-yard run by Ronnie Hillman (23), the Broncos faced a 2nd and 7. The offense had 11 personnel on the field with Osweiler under center, a slot formation to the left and the tight end in a three point stance on the outside shoulder of the right tackle:
The offense faked a zone run to the strong side of the formation only to set up a screen to the opposite site:
Left tackle Ryan Harris (68) and left guard Evan Mathis (69) did a nice job to fake the run before heading to the other side to block for the receiver (it should be noted, though, that Mathis should have been flagged for illegally moving too far down the field prior to the ball leaving the quarterback's hands):
Osweiler threw a play-action pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88), who previously aligned in the slot position and took the ball for an 8-yard gain. The quarterback's quick delivery as well as the downfield blocking by Harris, Matthis and Cody Latimer (14) helped the screen become a successful one.
Misdirection plays like this one are an essential part of Gary Kubiak's offense. Denver uses the stretch zone run in a multitude of ways and, since Osweiler is more mobile than Peyton Manning, now has the quarterback to effectively run those variations. The Patriots' defense – especially the linebacker corps – has to be aware of this fact and has to stay disciplined not to get burned by a play-fake.
2) 1-10 CHI 48 (12:26) 17-B.Osweiler pass short middle to 88-D.Thomas for 48 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Two plays after his first pass attempt, Osweiler threw a 48-yard touchdown to Thomas. The offense operated out of 12 personnel, with a three-man bunch to the left of the formation and one tight end as an extra blocker on the right end of the offensive line:
The 25-year old quarterback displayed good vision and patience on the play, as the Broncos' offense took advantage of a Bears' breakdown across the board: linebacker Shea McClellin (50) did not drop into his zone deep enough, while the three outside corners had an obvious communication breakdown, which led to Thomas having a lot of space to operate in the middle of the field:
The All-Pro receiver made the best out of this and took the reception to the house; a 48-yard completion, with 37 yards coming after the catch. On the play, Denver opted to keep six blockers in – the offensive line plus tight end Vernon Davis (80) – to give Osweiler enough time to find a target. The blockers were able to win their match-ups across the board and allowed the quarterback to find his open receiver:
Denver's offense loves to bunch its receivers together pre-snap. Each one of New England's defensive backs has to make sure he knows his assignment and which coverage the defense plays, in order to avoid a similar breakdown. Communication is therefore a key to defend Denver's bunch formations.
While Denver found some early offensive success, the team was unable to repeat it later in the first half: only one of the team's next three possessions gained a first down. While the success rate changed, the approach didn't, as the unit continued to mix the run and the pass to maximize Osweiler's room for error. When the four-year veteran was asked to throw the ball, he made smart and calculated decisions – the Broncos' last offensive series of the first half is a perfect example for this.
3) 1-10-DEN 35 (2:00) 17-B.Osweiler pass short right to 80-V.Davis to 50 for 15 yards (38-A.Amos). Penalty on CHI-59-C.Jones, Defensive Holding, declined.
Up 7-3 and with only 3:40 left in the second quarter, Denver turned to its quarterback to lead them into scoring range. Of the next 13 plays, 12 were pass plays (one of those a 5-yard scramble by Osweiler). Again, Osweiler was asked to make the quick and calculated throws, which didn't gain a lot of yardage but helped the offense get into a rhythm.
The quarterback's best play of the drive, which led to a field goal, came on 1st and 10, fresh out of the two-minute warning. Denver's offense had 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends, one wide receiver) on the field, typically a run-first alignment. Owen Daniels (81) was lined up on the right side of the formation, while Davis (80) and Virgil Green (85) lined up on its left. All three tight ends were in a three-point stance prior to the snap:
Osweiler faked the handoff to running back C.J. Anderson (22), who released into the right flat. Of the three tight ends, only Green actually stayed home to block, which resulted in the Broncos having six players to cover four Bears' rushers. Thus, Osweiler had a lot of space to operate from inside the pocked – even when right tackle Michael Schofield (79) was pushed back by linebacker Pernell McPhee (92):
Due to the offensive line's left side winning its battles, Osweiler was able to step up in the pocket and find Davis, who was able to create underneath space in the middle of the field, for a 15-yard completion. The quarterback did a good job of keeping his eyes down the field despite the right-side pressure and patiently climbed the pocket, showing good awareness and footwork in the process.
4) 1-10-DEN 49 (14:14) 17-B.Osweiler sacked at DEN 42 for -7 yards (38-A.Amos).
While Osweiler did a good job of limiting mistakes, not all was perfect against the Bears. A sack on the first drive of the second half shows where Osweiler still has some limitations – limitations the Patriots need to exploit in order to leave Denver victoriously.
The offense again used a multiple tight end formation on the play. This time, the unit had 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two wide receivers) on the field, and Daniels and Green aligned on the left and right end of the line, respectively. Again, both were in a three-point stance:
Daniels released on a post route, while Green was used as a blocker. Unfortunately for the Broncos, neither Daniels nor wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Andre Caldwell (12) were able to gain separation. In the meantime, safety Adrian Amos (38) was blitzing from his safety spot:
Osweiler was late to react to the zone blitz and was sacked for a 7-yard loss. Had he been able to recognize the situation quicker and been more aware of the play development, the quarterback might have reacted differently and either thrown the ball away or moved up in the pocket to buy his receivers a little more time.
Another problem was that Ronnie Hillman was not open as a quick check-down option. The running back was first used as an additional blocker (without actually blocking anyone, though) and therefore released into the right side flat late, taking away Osweiler's security blanket.
The Patriots need to make sure to take away the quick throw. Both the check-down – an essential part of Denver's offense against Chicago – and possible underneath routes need to be covered long enough to give the pass rush time to affect the pocket. This would force Osweiler not only to go through his progressions one-by-one but also to simultaneously make quick decisions, which could possibly lead to mistakes.
5) (13:40) 17-B.Osweiler pass short left to 81-O.Daniels pushed ob at CHI 23 for 16 yards (38-A.Amos).
When Denver's offense was able to successfully move down the field, it used a balanced run-pass-ratio as well as short, underneath patterns. The plan was obviously to create an environment that made Osweiler feel confident without asking too much of the first-time starter. Some of this was done via the play-calling.
As noted above, the stretch play is an essential part of the Gary Kubiak offense and the Broncos used it quite a bit to help Osweiler. One such example came early in the fourth quarter, with Denver leading 10-9. The offense once again operated out of 12 personnel and with Osweiler under center (something the Broncos hardly ever did when Manning was their starter):
Similar to the first play we looked at, Osweiler faked the hand-off to the running back. This time, however, the team didn't call a designed screen but instead ran a bootleg pass: the quarterback moved to his left while the pocket was moving to the right, setting up a pass to tight end Owen Daniels:
Linebacker Sam Acho (49) bit badly on the play-fake and instead of dropping into his zone, decided to follow running back C.J. Anderson. This – as part of the route concept – created a lot of space and left Daniels wide open and led to an easy completion for Osweiler:
As stated above, New England's defense has to play a disciplined game against the stretch zone plays the Broncos like to use. The unit has to minimize mental breakdowns like the one that happened to Acho in order to successfully defend them.
6) 3-8-CHI 10 (11:47) (Shotgun) 17-B.Osweiler pass short middle to 14-C.Latimer for 10 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
Osweiler threw two touchdown passes against the Bears, leading to him winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. While his first scoring pass was mostly the result of a blown coverage, his second one was a pin-point delivery to receiver Cody Latimer.
The Broncos had 11 personnel on the field, and used an empty formation with Osweiler in the shotgun, tight end Vernon Davis in a three-point stance on the outside shoulder of the right guard and a slot formation on each side. Given that the ball was located in the red zone, Chicago countered with a cover 1 look:
Latimer was lined up as the outside receiver of the left-side slot and ran an in route, breaking inside at the goal line. Osweiler did a good job of delivering the ball quickly and accurately to a spot where only his receiver could catch it:
On film, it looked as if Latimer was Osweiler's number one option the entire time and his eyes followed him from the moment the ball was snapped. Given Osweiler's tendencies, the quarterback would probably have checked the ball down to Ronnie Hillman had Latimer not been able to gain separation on his route. He did, though, and his quarterback threw him a very good ball.
Overall, Osweiler had a good game against the Chicago Bears, especially considering that it was his first career start. The 25-year old displayed good decision making, mobility and accuracy and while he got help from the play calling and the fact that the Bears are not exactly a very good defense, he did his job and what was asked of him. Most importantly, the 25-year old signal caller was able to keep mistakes at a minimum – something his predecessor was unable to do.
Looking forward to Sunday, the Patriots have to limit Osweiler's options in the quick passing game in order to be successful against him. Taking away the running back as a check-down option, not allowing the zone stretch plays to develop and making the Broncos one-dimensional via limiting the impact of running plays are therefore essential. The Patriots have the pieces in place to do all that, they just have to perform.