ENGLEWOOD—Welcome to the NFL moments that aren’t necessarily reserved for rookies.
Denver Broncos’ veteran inside linebacker Brandon Marshall may get one Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans when none other than Drew Brees looks right at him and shouts, “54’s the Mike!’’
“Absolutely, he’s one of the best to ever play,’’ Marshall said this week in a sitdown interview with 9NEWS that can be seen on Broncos Game Day at 9 a.m. Sunday on 9NEWS . “Tom Brady did it to me last year in the AFC Championship. I think it was the fourth quarter. And Tom Brady – I don’t think I ever told you this – but Tom Brady, it was second down I think, he looked at the running back and said, “You got 54. Get open!’’
To think about all the time and energy NFL teams spend on guarding their secret strategies. Practices are closed. Content of meetings and film sessions are never to be publicly disclosed. All that talk about Bill Belichick as a genius.
And here Brady barks out an order that has all the sophistication of a 5th-grade neighborhood football game in the dirt.
“That’s how it is sometimes,’’ Marshall said.
Hey, James White. You only have to beat that guy over there. No. 54. You can beat him. Get open, for cripes sake!
“I took it as an insult,’’ Marshall said. “I thought, ‘OK. All right.’’’
As Marshall recalls, Brady did indeed throw his pass towards White. But, Marshall, who was not exactly fooled on the play, had good enough coverage to force an incompletion.
Then there was another time when through not physical skill but sleight of formation, Marshall was beat by a running back. It was the Broncos’ fifth game this season against the Atlanta Falcons, when Marshall got caught assuming running back Tevin Coleman would run a shallow route. Instead, Coleman turned his route up field. Touchdown, Falcons on a 31-yard pass down the middle from Matt Ryan to Coleman with Marshall trailing the running back by a step-and-a-half.
“Here’s the thing: I think about that almost every day,’’ Marshall said. “That touchdown. I’m still ticked. If you look a couple plays before that, he ran deep, I ran with him. Then the next time he came out, he ran underneath, I ran with him.
“And then he came out in the same formation, I’m expecting him to run under – it doesn’t matter what I expected – but he ran right past me. The formation didn’t dictate him going deep. But he did. People are, “You can’t even run.’ We all know I can run. I’ve ran deep with running backs before. That … it kills me to this day.’’
There was another play earlier in the game when Atlanta’s other running back, Devonta Freeman, ran an in-route, stopped and cut outside. Marshall got his feet crossed as Freeman pivoted. The Falcons picked up 14 yards to set up first-and-goal from the 1.
“Just off that one game, I get people all over my account saying, “You can’t cover running backs in this league,’’’ Marshall said. “I’m like … ‘’
Wait a minute, Brandon. Here’s some advice: Stop reading comments on social media.
“I gotta stop reading,’’ Marshall said with a laugh. “But that one game people are panicking. We can cover. It’s a technique thing.’’
A far bigger problem for the Broncos’ defense this year has been stopping the run. From the first game, when they surrendered 147 yards rushing to Carolina, to their third game, when they gave up 143 rushing yards to Cincinnati, to their previous game at Oakland, where they were trampled on for an embarrassing 218 yards, Denver’s D has been porous against the run.
The Broncos’ defense ranked No. 3 against the run last season, when they won the Super Bowl by allowing a mere 83.6 yards per game. They will have a difficult time repeating their championship this year if their defense continues to allow 128.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks 29th.
What gives? One problem is the Broncos lost two of their top four defensive linemen from last season when Malik Jackson left for the riches of free agency and Vance Walker suffered a season-ending torn ACL in training camp.
“We had some forces up front last year,’’ Marshall said. “Malik Jackson. Vance Walker. I think our D-line is running a little thin on experience and maybe some bulk, you know what I’m saying? Vance was a big hit. I think a lot of people underestimated that. They didn’t know that. But I think we’ve just got to get off blocks, man. Stay strong and get off blocks and make the play.’’
Marshall says even though Brees, the Saints’ quarterback who ranks third all-time among passers with 63,592 yards and 449 touchdowns, is a future Hall of Famer, he expects New Orleans to come out running the ball Sunday. Because the Broncos’ top defensive lineman, Derek Wolfe, is out with a fractured elbow. And because all teams do.
“It’s funny because we go in every week, we see it on film,’’ Marshall said. “These teams, they throw the ball against a particular defense. They throw it 40 times, 30 times. But they come against us and they try to run the ball. I think they know we have an elite secondary and they say, OK we’re going to run the ball and we’re going to find their weakness. We’re going to get it going to open up the pass. So we have to stop the run, man.’’