Many fans felt down about Denver’s low sack rate and Von Miller’s low number, but you shouldn’t. Here’s why—scheme and health. In our Football 101 series, we’ve talked often about a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme and the many formations/concepts that teams use based upon them. Jacksonville uses a 4-3 (four linemen, three linebackers) and Denver uses a 3-4, as their base defenses.
There are equal pros and cons to both systems and each are dependent on talent and coaching preference. When a team has four defensive guys on the line, it’s much easier for players like DT Calais Campbell to get to the passer because it’s more a 4 vs 4 match-up and the T/E (tackle/defensive end) can team up or run alone and often ignore the center.
In addition by having four, not three, guys on the line it opens up more “games”. The T/E can look as though they’re attacking a specific T/G (guard), but they switch. Or, they act as if they’re alone, but they team up to remove the T/G. Or a DT looks as if he’s going through the B gap, but he drops behind the DE and hits the C. It’s all about gaming the other players.
If you have four DL who are smart and fast, they can get to the QB before he has a chance to release the ball and splat, you have 55 sacks. The OL can win the match-ups IF they can get their hands on the guy across him, but facing 4 DL who can change the gaps they attack and hide the techniques, you’ve got to have a QB who dumps the ball quickly.
If a team has a stout OL who’s savvy, they can win the match-up, provided the QB is helping. In a 4-3, there’s often one less linebacker to come screaming around the edge, so you’ll generally see 4-3 teams have their T or E be their sack leaders and not a LB. Plus, they’ll tend to have more players get them.
In a 3-4 defense, there are only 3 guys to take on 5 which is why they don’t get as many sacks, they’re focused on plugging the gaps and stopping the run. The sacks are left to the rest of the team, predominately the edge rushers. Which leads us to…
Von Miller and Shane Ray. When you have three up front, it allows two (or more depending on the play) to rush the passer from the C gap, or even the D. Almost every play, that’s what they’re doing, making a bead to the QB. This works like a charm if you have two guys who are both menaces.
If only one side is a true threat, then you can put two guys on him, and now your five OL can easily take away their front three. If you have a good blocking TE, all the better.
Jacksonville had four DL who kicked butt because they also had a good edge rusher and when you have 5 on 5, the defense has the advantage because those guys are quicker.
The downside to a 4-3 is if your DL isn’t stout, you’re left with one less linebacker to stop the run, pass, or rush the QB. QB’s who can get the ball out quickly, and can read the field well, can eat up a 4-3 defense.
However, if you can pressure the QB to dump the ball quickly, you can force him into bad decisions. He wants to avoid being sacked, so he tosses the ball too quickly to the wrong guy. Which is why Jax had 21 interceptions (Denver had 10).
When DeMarcus Ware played (and then Shane Ray), teams couldn’t double team Miller and Denver’s defense acted like it should. Three to stop the run, two to rush and two to do mop up work. Once Ware went down, and then Ray, followed by DE Derek Wolfe, the Broncos were left with a defense more focused on stopping what happened after the ball was released, than before.
Teams could take away Miller, giving QB’s more time to carve up the defense. Even so, until the red zone, Denver did really well in preventing yards. That’s when the lack of two pass rushers reared its ugly head. QB’s had time to be creative and target the open guy. Once they got into the RZ, the No Fly Zone dropped to 15th because there’s less room to roam and react to the QB. They stopped the yards, but not the points.
If fans want to see Denver’s (and Von’s) sack rate go up, the onus is now on Bradley Chubb (or Shaquil Barrett) to be that second threat. The added bonus of having two good rushing LB’s is offenses can’t bunch up because they need all hands on deck to block. When that happens, when the focus is on stopping the guys coming from around the tackles, the ends or sometimes the Nose Tackle has a free lane to the QB.
Drafting Chubb should help the entire defense and the result will be more sacks.