The Donatell Diary: Giants Game Shows Upside, Downside of Cover-1

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

As promised, I’ve begun the process of watching Denver’s 2021 defense. The idea is to get a sense of what we can anticipate for the Vikings heading in the 2022 season. The opening week road win against the Giants demonstrated some of the benefits and drawbacks of the Ed Donatell scheme. Overall, the Broncos played well, but some coverage lapses led to explosive plays for New York.

The Positives

The first thing one notices when putting on the Giants game is that Denver’s defense plays fast.

Kareem Jackson regularly exploded toward the line of scrimmage even though he began 10+ yards away. The linebackers (especially Josey Jewell) aggressively filled gaps in run defense. It was unsurprising to see that Saquon Barkley only ran for 26 yards on 10 carries, which works out to a 2.6 average.

Playing so much man presents some potential problems along the edge. Given that the secondary is often turning their back as they follow their man downfield, there can be large patches of unoccupied grass along the outside. For this reason, the edge defenders need to, well, set the edge. Von Miller made several great plays in this game. One wonders if Danielle Hunter could similarly thrive.

A positive of man coverage is that it can take away a lot of the easier completions. Man coverage (especially press) is inherently competitive. It puts the corner in a position to directly contend with the receiver from the outset of the play, which can lead to spectacular success or failure. There were several instances when Denver’s secondary jumped routes and got their hands on the ball.

The Negatives

The Giants generated several explosive plays through the air. Putting together 13 points at home is no one’s idea of success, and yet it was notable that several of their receivers made nice plays. Keep in mind that this isn’t the 2007 Patriots; rather, it’s the 2021 Giants offense that eventually ended in a new coaching staff.

Sterling Shepard put together 7 catches for 113 yards and a TD. Kenny Golladay had a couple “wow” plays as he piled up 64 yards on 4 catches.

The above clip shows Shepard’s touchdown. It’s a crossing route that involves rookie Patrick Surtain II trailing his man by several yards. That’s a tough assignment for anyone, let alone a rookie making his first start in the NFL. One wonders if Cameron Dantzler will have the wheels to hang with these routes.

It was also notable that Daniels Jones found some room to run. Again, this can happen with a lot of man. The DBs have their backs turned; once the pass rush works its way upfield, the QB can often sneak through an opening to find tons of real estate.

In the third quarter, Daniel Jones did Daniel Jones things by fumbling the ball after picking up some good yardage on a run (as you’ll see in the clip in the second section). That being said, he later converted on a 4th down in the 4th quarter through a QB draw. He also picked up a meaningless TD with zero time left on the clock due to a QB run.

Smart teams with athletic QBs will find a way to stress the defense when it plays a lot of man. Perhaps keeping Eric Kendricks behind as a spy would be the solution.

At times, the flats were open. A simple clear-out route involving the WR blazing down the field can open things underneath. There’s no such thing as a defense that perfectly covers everything, so coordinators need to pick their poison. Most would be more than happy to try to see an offense dink-and-dunk its way down the field with 5-yard completions to the flats.

Closing Thoughts

For most of the game, Denver only had two interior defensive lineman on the field. They put their hand in the dirt as the OLBs were in two-point stances. That meant the Broncos were in their nickel package quite a bit. The two middle linebackers were accompanied by five defensive backs. Even still, they did a great job of shutting down New York’s run game.

As the season progresses, I’m looking to see how Denver adjusts to more competent offenses. The Giants film suggested that the Ed Donatell scheme can be exploited in reasonably simple ways, so I’m looking to see the adjustments that are made when the opposing offenses get the upper hand.

[brid autoplay=”true” video=”970937″ player=”26281″ title=”WATCH%20San%20Francisco%2049ers%20QB%20Trey%20Lance%20is%20a%20popular%20bet%20to%20win%202022%20NFL%20MVP” duration=”90″ description=”Despite starting in only two games during his debut season in the NFL, San Francisco 49ers quarterback prospect Trey Lance is a popular choice among bettors to win the MVP award in 2022.” uploaddate=”2022-03-11″ thumbnailurl=”” contentUrl=”″]