The Donatell Diary: Three Straight Weeks of Defensive Dominance

Sep 12, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on during the second half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The opening game featured a strong performance against the Giants; the next week saw an even better effort against the Jaguars. Week 3, though, proved to be the best yet. Again, we need to preface this breakdown with the acknowledgement that the Jets were awful last year. Zach Wilson really struggled in this one, both because of his own mistakes and Denver’s consistent ability to stifle what New York was trying to accomplish. As a result, it has been so far, so good for Ed Donatell.

The Positives

Heading into the half, Zach Wilson led his team to zero points. The offense had a mere 55 yards, 27 of which came through the air. Wilson had been sacked four times.

He often was forced to throw into tight windows. At times, Wilson would make the completion, but he was most often lackluster in these moments. There were several instances when the man was open but struggled to corral a pass that was a bit off target. Overall, Wilson’s teammates could have done more to support the youngster.

Over three weeks, it’s evident that Denver isn’t afraid to bring 5. They like creating one-on-one matchups at the line of scrimmage as their secondary mans up with the pass catchers. In one such instance at the end of the opening quarter, linebacker Alexander Johnson got home for a sack. Eric Kendricks is going to be asked to do a lot, and he’s going to make a lot of plays.

I’m again impressed by the safeties. They start in a 2-high look with consistency and yet they’re asked to do so much throughout the game. The basic, bland alignment shifts and morphs from play-to-play. Part of how Denver creates a numbers advantage in run defense was by having a safety rush toward the line of scrimmage at the last moment. In effect, Ed Donatell and his Broncos could count on an unblocked man to help make a play on the ball carrier. This was a strategy that worked really well against the Jets.

It’s also notable that they were again without Josey Jowell and Bradley Chubb. I know it’s the Jets, but it’s always tough losing two impact starters.

The Jets didn’t score a single point. They nailed a long field goal in the opening half, but a delay of game nullified it. With 5 extra yards thrown onto the pile, New York decided it was better to punt. They couldn’t find a good rhythm all day.

The Negatives

Truth be told, there isn’t too much negative to report.

One thing that is notable, though, is that Denver has now benefited in three straight weeks from inaccurate, young QBs. All three games have featured the chance for the offense to do far more than it did. A combination of poor coaching and poor play hindered the offenses.

It’s also notable that receives with a ferocious release off the LOS are going to have success. One thinks of Davante Adams – who, thankfully, is no longer in the division – as someone who’d give Ed Donatell some reason for concern. Playing press-man on someone like Adams is a risky proposition, so we should anticipate some off coverage in these moments.

One other note on the corners. Having corners who aren’t willing to be physical would be a challenge. They are so commonly asked to be in isolated situations, so there can be lots of opportunity to tackle. Of course, a true shutdown player can avoid needing to do so since he doesn’t allow many completions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the Vikings have that talent, so they’ll need their corners to be physical.

For whatever it’s worth, Cameron Dantzler is an excellent tackler.

Closing Statement

After three weeks, the Broncos have allowed 13, 13, and 0 points. 26 total points against through three weeks ain’t too bad, folks, especially since one of the TDs came off a kickoff return.

In Week 4, the Broncos take on the Ravens, so Ed Donatell gets his first true test. As I’ve mentioned before, the coverage Denver relied upon opened room for QBs to convert first downs with their legs. Lamar Jackson’s Ravens thus present a real threat.

The main thing I’ll be watching for is how the Broncos adjust throughout the game with a particular focus on how the linebackers and/or safeties are used to contain Jackson.

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