Pressure Will be the Key for the Denver Broncos


As the Denver Broncos go to Detroit and face the Lions, the key to the whole thing is going to be how much pressure they can get on Matt Stafford.

Sure, there are other interesting matchups. Will the Broncos actually be able to run the ball? Can Aqib Talib cover Calvin Johnson and limit his impact on the game? Are the Lions able to hit Peyton Manning as much as everyone else has been?

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But the biggest thing to decide this game will be getting after Stafford. If the Broncos can’t get there, Stafford is a big-time QB who can put up over 300 yards with ease. He loves to throw. He wants to throw. He’s never afraid to air it out.

With pressure, he has fewer chances to make those throws. Plus, he gets rattled. If they’re hitting him a lot—even if they don’t end up sacking him—that ball is going to come out early. He’ll try to force some ill-advised throws. And that’s when the corners can come up big, get some turnovers, and give additional chances to a Broncos offense that has struggled this year.

Fortunately, creating pressure is exactly what the Broncos have done well. They hammered Alex Smith and Joe Flacco. They got multiple sacks. They blew plays up in the backfield. The biggest change in the defense, from this year to last, is how aggressive they’ve looked, and a lot of that comes back to pressure.

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The thing about stats is that they never tell the whole story in this game. Getting sacks is awesome, but it could be argued that hits are even more important. That includes sacks, of course, but it also means a hit where the QB got the ball away. That’s still a hit, it still makes the QB think every time he drops back, and it still means a ton for the defense.

Quarterbacks get flustered when they’re getting hit. Alex Smith, for instance, took a lot of hits a split second after he threw the ball, or right as he let it go. Some were very impressive passes just because he got them away.

Defenders can be annoyed by this, feeling they missed out on the sack, but they shouldn’t be. That still got in Smith’s head, and Denver’s defense was able to set the tone for the game. In the first half of the Lions game, the goal should just be hits, and the stats will take care of themselves as the game goes on.