DENVER, CO--The Denver Broncos have been one of the top rushing teams in the NFL for several years running. With a wide array of backs, they have compiled more rushing yards than any other team during the past decade. They’ve attributed their success to an innovative and highly effective blocking technique that neutralizes defenders at the line of scrimmage. The technique, known as “diving at the defenders kneecaps,” has revolutionized the way offensive lines play.
“The Denver Broncos are a great rushing team for one reason and one reason alone: their offensive line,” said Tom Jackson on Sunday NFL Countdown. “Alex Gibbs taught this team to hurl themselves at the defenders’ ankles, forcing the defender to either fall down or have their legs snapped in half. This creates huge holes for the backs to run through and that’s why the Broncos have so much success with the run. They also carry knives.”
To illustrate the blocking technique, Jackson solicited the help of co-anchors Steve Young and Michael Irvin.
“Steve, you’re going to be the running back, Michael’s going to be the defensive tackle, and I’m going to be the center,” Jackson said, as they assumed their positions on the makeshift gridiron. “Now when the ball is snapped and the running back hits the hole, watch how I crouch down and lunge at the defensive tackle’s legs. He falls down immediately, clutching his knees in pain, and the back bursts through the hole on his way to a big gain. And you can see the effectiveness of the block when the defender falls to the turf, writhing in agony. Next time, he won’t even try to make a tackle. OK, you can get up now, Michael. Michael? Stop screaming. Oh, God call an ambulance. I see a bone sticking out of his leg.”
The official name for the Broncos style is “cut blocking.” Cut blocking is legal in the NFL and is designed to knock the defender off his feet. Still, many players feel that cut blocking should be eliminated.
Jamal Williams, defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, says that cut blocking has a psychological effect, too.
“It’s such a dangerous practice that you end up thinking about it the night before the game,” said Williams, whose team lost to the Broncos earlier this season. “You know they’re coming at your knees so you start to get timid. And when the ball is snapped, the first thing on your mind is protecting yourself. Plus, they do other things, too. For instance, last time we played them [guard] Dan Neil dove at my feet, punched me in the nuts three times, bit my hand and then spit in my face. The referee told me it was all technically legal, as long as you don’t do it to a quarterback.”
The biggest beneficiaries of the Broncos cut blocking are the team’s running backs. Over the past few years, the Broncos have turned several unknown rushers into all-pros. Some people say that it’s simply the result of a good scouting system that can recognize overlooked talent, while others say it is a result of the team’s sadistic blocking style.
Reuben Droughns isn’t concerned with the reason. The new starting tailback is just happy to see the holes open up.
“When I get the ball handed to me, I just look up, find the hole, and take off,” said Droughns, who rushed for 193 yards against the Carolina Panthers this year. “I think this team does a great job of finding skilled offensive lineman. I can’t say whether what they’re doing is legal or not. All I can say is that before this year I rushed for a grand total of 97 yards. Draw your own conclusion.”
Droughns did note that the Broncos practice techniques are slightly unorthodox, and admitted he was disturbed by them when he first joined the team.
“Well, what they do is they have these big mannequins dressed like football players, and they’re supposed to be the defense,” he said. “Their knees are bright red and have bulls eyes painted on them. Then coach Shanahan comes over and fires up the offensive lineman, saying things like ‘See that knee? That knee just fucked your wife. That knee just slapped your kid. Are you gonna take that from that knee? No? Well then do something about it!’ And then the lineman just go crazy and rip the legs off the mannequins, put them over their knees, and snap them in half. Say what you want about it, but it does work. Hell, I’m not even putting on pads for next week’s game. Who needs em?”
Even though most coaches in the league don’t approve of the diving-at-the-knees approach to blocking, it’s hard to criticize the success the Broncos have had. One team, the Atlanta Falcons, was so impressed by the technique that they hired Denver line coach and cut-blocking pioneer Alex Gibbs to be an assistant.
“We are going to implement the Denver Broncos blocking system,” said head coach Jim Mora Jr. “Coach Gibbs has been trying to teach it to our boys all year. It’s not as easy as it sounds. We allowed 8 rushing touchdowns to the Chiefs last week, so we’re still a work in progress. We did iron out one major kink after Sunday’s game, though, that should help us improve in the weeks ahead. See, our lineman weren’t aware that they were supposed to dive at the opponent’s knees. They were diving at each other’s. One guy even tried to dive at his own, which was very difficult and resulted in a strained back. It’s funny as hell to watch on tape, though.”
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