Wrecking Ball: Breaking down Eric Decker’s Four TD Performance against the Chiefs

This just in: The Denver Broncos are pretty good.

On the first chilly December afternoon of 2013, millions of television viewers saw Eric Decker score 4 touchdowns against a Kansas City defense that early in the year had been one of the league’s best. With the future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning under center, this has become normal to see on the Denver stat sheet.

(Getty Images)

Once again, just as in Indianapolis, Manning has three excellent receivers to choose from. With Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker playing outside, and Wes Welker lining up in the slot, it’s not hard to see why this Bronco offense has already broken several long-standing franchise records. Any of the skill position players on this offense are good enough to have the kind of day that Decker had against the Chiefs, today just happened to be his day.

Let’s find out why, by breaking down all four of his touchdowns, and look at why Manning decided to call his number so many times.

Touchdown #1

The score:

KC 7 DEN 0

Time left

15:00 to go 2nd quarter

Down and Distance

1st & 10 on the KC 41 yard line

DECKER1

The Breakdown: Manning and the Bronco offense came out of the commercial break firing, and it worked out nicely. The offense lined up with two tight ends and two receivers on the field, with a single back behind Manning. This could easily have been a run formation, with all the blocking strength to the right side, and since at most levels of football, 1st down is a down that many playcallers like to pick up yards on the ground. This of course, makes it a perfect time to try a playaction fake and go deep.

Most NFL teams run a pass concept similar to this, if not the same one. The tight end and the receiver on the right will “high-low” the safety to that side of the field, meaning that they will run a route in front of him and a route behind him. Decker runs a corner-post at 14-15 yards deep, and the tight end will run a dig route at ten yards in front of the safety and behind the linebackers. The safety can’t cover both, so if the route is run correctly, eventually someone will have one on one coverage, and that’s just what happens here.

The defense looks to be in some kind of Cover 4 alignment, a typical 1st down defense, since the safeties will have their eyes on the backfield to help with the run, so that the defense can get nine men to the ball in a hurry. Meanwhile the corners will play soft and (usually) with outside leverage.

Manning and Decker exploit this perfectly. Manning delivers a great fake, which freezes the safeties, and Decker gets inside of his man, runs what looks like a corner route until about 14-15 yards he switches directions and heads toward the post, catching a wide open touchdown.

Touchdown #2

The score:

KC 21 DEN 14

Time left

12:00 to go 3rd Quarter

Down and Distance

3rd & Goal at the 1 yard line

DECKER2

The Breakdown: One of the most interesting changes that Peyton Manning has made to the gameplan since he arrived in Denver is the more frequent usage of “bunch” formations, something that he rarely used during his time in Indianapolis. The Broncos have called a lot of inside and outside zone run schemes this season when motioning receivers into a position to cutoff backside defenders, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Denver is calling a run play here, and the Chiefs know it.

This time the Broncos line up in a bunch set, then motion Wes Welker to the other side of the formation, bringing a corner with him. This tells Manning to expect man coverage, and the motion also likely messes with the Chiefs defensive adjustments against the bunch set that the offense originally aligned in. Brandon Flowers ends up just inside of Damryius Thomas, and with the two receivers bunched up, he will take the one who ends up running an inside route, while the other corner to that side, slightly cushioned, will take the out-breaking receiver.

Flowers is initially in good position at the snap, but Thomas releases off the line and runs off Flowers, which allows Decker to get inside leverage and run to the deep middle, getting over the top of the safety on the other side of the field. Thomas runs a corner route, taking the safety and corner to that side with him. Welker slows off the line with a blocking type action before running a shallow cross route across the field. Peyton gives a stretch fake to the right, and the backside safety over-commits, allowing Decker to get over the top and catch his second TD of the day.

(Getty Images)

Touchdown #3

The score:

DEN 28 KC 21

Time left

6:53 to go 3rd Quarter

Down and Distance

3rd & 15 at the KC 10

DECKER3

The Breakdown: This scheme is similar to the pass concept called when Decker caught his first touchdown in the game. It’s third down and long, and with this Chiefs defense, there’s always the possibility of pressure.

The backside receiver will run a rounded corner route, carrying the corner and safety to that side with him, and Moreno, the back in the backfield, will free release out to the flat to be the hot receiver in case of the blitz. To the bunch side, there’s a double-post concept, and once again the offense will put the near safety into conflict. The inside man will run a little bit of a fatter post, and the outside post will get skinny and run it a little deeper, stretching the safety and creating the spacing that makes this play work in the end zone. Meanwhile, Welker runs a pivot route, acting as if he’s headed to the flat, and re-directs to the middle of the field, where he’s wide open. Not only does he beat the man covering him, but there also is a huge hole in the middle of the defense.

Different teams call this play with different intentions in mind, and sometimes the same team calls this play in different situations wanting different things out of it. Sometimes the coach wants the QB to hit the guy running Welker’s route underneath, since the two deep routes should clear out a lot of the mess in the middle. Other times, they want one of the post routes to be thrown, as Manning does here on this play with great precision, resulting in TD #3 for Decker.

But he wasn’t done yet…

Touchdown #4

The score:

DEN 28 KC 21

Time left

14:20 to go in the 4th quarter

Down and Distance

3rd & Goal at the 1 yard line

DECKER4

The Breakdown: This is the play where Manning drives the dagger into the heart of the KC defense to put Denver up by two scores in the fourth quarter. It’s third and goal from the one, and Manning sees something in the defense he doesn’t like. Seeing the blitz coming from the weak side, Manning checks to a fade to Decker’s side and a slant-flat combination to the two-receiver side.

The Bronco offensive line does a great job of picking up the blitz, and the Chiefs don’t get a hand on Manning. Of course, Peyton gets the ball out so quickly that it probably wouldn’t have mattered whether or not the blitz had been picked up.

On this play, Manning demonstrates excellent QB fundamentals by taking the snap and quickly looking to the right. He knows that Decker is not a guy whose strength is going up for the jump ball, so the only way he can get the pass to him is if he gets a clean release. If Decker is bumped at all at the line of scrimmage, Manning can quickly flip his hips and look for Thomas on the slant to the other side. For some reason, Decker is not contested off the line of scrimmage, and he is in perfect position for a great pass from Manning.

The key to all of these plays is that because of the way the defense reacted, Decker happened to be the guy who had a career day. The Bronco offense is designed, however, so that if the defense covers one man, another guy will get open. Equally important is that the offense has a guy at quarterback who can recognize where to go with the ball, and get it there, and the Broncos have that in Peyton Manning.

(You can watch highlights of the game here)
___________

Want more from Life After Football including free playbooks, exclusive content, and more?

Sign up below and get access to all kinds of great coaching materials. It’s completely free and always will be.






Leave a Reply