During the AFC Championship Game, the Denver Broncos' defense hit New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 23 times while only blitzing 16 percent of the total snaps. Not only did it show that Wade Phillips -- a blitzer by trade -- knows different ways to mess with an opposing quarterback in terms of pressure, but it also allowed Denver to play a variety of coverages, unsettle Brady by bluffing pressure, and still manage to get home with the defensive line.
Different game, different QB. With a matchup against the freakish talent of Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in Super Bowl 50, what can Phillips and the Broncos do to reduce big plays, limit the production of tight end Greg Olsen and ultimately create some confusion for the leading MVP candidate?
It won't be easy, but there are a number of options.
Using the tapes from the AFC Championship Game, Carolina's Week 16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons and the NFC divisional matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, let's take a look at five ways the Broncos can find that ideal blend of rush and coverage. Here's how the Broncos can slow down Newton on the game's biggest stage.
1. Play combination-man
In combination-man (also called Cover 7), the defense has multiple calls in its toolbox based on the offensive personnel, formation and alignment. For example, if the defense wants to bracket (or double) the slot receiver, the safety and nickel back make a "slice" call. Protect over the top? Make a "fist" call (2 Man to one side of the field). Take away the deep curl/comeback? Then make a "thumbs" call, dropping the cornerback into the deep half and running a safety or a linebacker underneath in a trail-man technique. The idea is to play the matchups and limit specific receivers or concepts.
Back in the AFC Championship Game, the Broncos used a combination-man call to produce an interception against Brady with the Patriots aligned in an empty formation.
The Broncos double wide receiver Danny Amendola in the slot (slice) and roll safety Darian Stewart to the deep half (fist) with the underneath defenders playing trail-man. This allows Denver to essentially eliminate the slot receiver and protect over the top of tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back James White (removed from the core of the formation). But more importantly, they roll to the coverage and disguise the calls within the coverage versus Brady.