Saturday, June 16, 2018

The 1970-72 Broncos Defensive Line

John Turney

Film study shows that from 1969 Rich Jackson is at left defensive end almost all the time. Here you see Paul Smith (#70) at both left defensive tackle and right defensive end. Generally, Dave Costa (#63) is the right defensive tackle and Pete Duranko (#55) is the right defensive end.

Here are some stills to illustrate that:

However, beginning in 1970, though, there was more movement. Players were not 100% committed to one spot. They would move around, playing different techniques. Rich Jackson, the best player on that line and he was probably around 70-80% at left defensive end but he could also be found at right defensive end and at left- or right defensive tackle. Same goes for the rest of the line, especially Paul Smith who also was found at all four defensive line spots on occasion.

The defensive line coach in this era was Stan Jones who is no longer around to ask why these moves were made. It does not appear to be scheme related, in that we mean, that players move to fit into a changeup scheme or defense like say, the 1980s Raiders and Bears. The mid-1980s Bears had a base defense which was a 4-3 and the 46 defense and their nickel. Dan Hampton was, in 1985 and 1986, the left defensive end in the base 4-3. In the 46 he moved to defensive tackle lined up over the center, and in the nickel defense, he was a defensive tackle lined up over the left offensive guard.

The Raiders in that era were a base 3-4 and used a nickel and dime on likely passing downs. Howie Long was a left defensive end in the base 3-4 and was the right defensive tackle in the 40 nickel/dime. Also, when they used their version of the Bear/Eagle/46 defense, Long was also over the center, like Hampton.

With the early 1970s Broncos, it does not look like that is what is happening. It might be one of the rare occasions where there was an attempt to get favorable matchups. Whatever the reason, it worked well. From 1970-72 the Broncos sacked the quarterback more than anyone else with 135 sacks leading the Los Angeles Rams who had 132 sacks. The Cowboys were a distant third with 116 sacks.

Also, the Broncos allowed only 115.5 yards rushing per game with only the Cowboys, Colts, Dolphins, Chiefs and Rams allowing fewer. Had Rich Jackson not blown out a knee at mid-season in 1971 it is likely the Broncos would have even topped these numbers.

Here are some shots to illustrate the places the Broncos lined up:
This is the standard starting lineup with Pete Duranko (55) at RDE, Dave Costa (63) at RDT,
Paul Smith (70) at LDT and Rich Jackson (87) at LDE
Here Duranko and Costa are in usual spots, but Rich Jackson (87) has moved to LDT
and Paul Smith (70) had moved to LDE
This is same as above with Jackson at LDT and Smith at LDE
Jackson LDE, Smith RDE, Costa LDT (on nose) and Duranko at RDT

Paul Smith is at LDE, Costa at LDT, Rich Jackson is at RDT in a 3-technique
and Duranko is at usual RDE position

Hard to see right side of line, but Duranko is at usual RDE but
Paul Smith is at RDT, Costa at LDT and Jackson at usual LDE

Jackson is at LDE, Paul Smith at RDE and Costa at LDT
with Duranko at RDT.
 In 1971, the same kinds of things were happening.
This is normal listed starting lineup with Jackson at LDE, Paul Smith at LDT
and Costa at RDT and rookie Lyle Alzado at RDE.

Here Paul Smith and Rich Jackson have swapped spots on left side

Here is a 5-man line with Jackson at LDE, Paul Smith at LDT,
Alzado on the nose, Costa at RDT and Carter Campbell at RDE

This is an overshift with all the usual players in their usual positions.

Here Paul Smith is at RDE and Alzado has slid down to RDT
and Costa side to LDT with Jackson at LDE.

Same as above still

Paul Smith at LDE, Rich Jackson at LDT with Costa at
RDT (nose in overshift line) and Alzado at usual RDE

Here Campbell (79) is at LDT with Paul Smith at LDE.
Alzado and Costa at normal spots.

Here, 1972, Jackson is at LDT and Smith at LDE with
Costa and Alzado at usual RDT and RDE spots.

The normal lineup with Jackson at LDE, Smith at LDT
and Costa at RDT and Alzado at RDE

Here Jackson as at LDE and Costa slid to LDT with
Paul Smith at RDT and Alzado at RDE.

Smith at RDE, jackson at LDE, Alzado is at LDT
and Paul Costa at LDT (nose in overshift)

Standard lineup.

Usual positions except here Dave Washington, the OLBer,
has hand in dirt and Paul Smith is at 1-technique is what is
reasonably similar to a 46 defense, though not exactly.

Paul Smith at LDE, Costa at LDT (nose in overshift),
Alzado at RDT and Carter Campbell at RDE

In 1972 there were changes to the Broncos defensive line. Dave Costa went to the Chargers and Pete Duranko, who missed the 1971 season with injury took his spot at right defensive tackle and at midseason, Rich Jackson was traded to the Browns.
Usual lineup for 1972

Again, the usual linup until Jackson (87 was traded)

Here Alzado has moved to RDT from RDE.

This is an overshift with Alzado at RDE, Paul Smith at RDT, playing on the nose
Rich Jackson is at LDT and Duranko at LDE

This is a 6-1 blitz look, Jackson is the LDE, Smith the LDE, Fred Forsberg
the MLB is head up on the right guard, LBer Bill McKoyis head-up on the LG
Duranko is the RDT over the tackle and Alzado is the RDE over the TE

Duranko is now at LDE, Paul Smith the LDT,
Rich Jackson is the RDT next to RDE Alzado.

Duranko the LDE, Campbell LDT, right side is Duranko and Alzado

LDE is Duranko, Smith is the LDE. RDT is Tom Domres
and Alzado is the RDE.

Alzado is LDE, Smith is the RDT over the center, Lloyd Voss
is the LDT and Duranko is the LDE

Duranko is the RDE, Alzado the RDT, Smith the LDT
and Lloyd Voss is the LDE

Voss at LDE, Smith at LDE, Duranko at RDT and
Alzado at RDE. After Jackson was traded this was often starting/usual lineup

Carter Campbell at LDE and the rest are the usual starters.
Starting in 1973 the Broncos began to mix in 3-4 looks with their base 4-3 defense. That increased each year until 1976 when they committed to a 3-4 defense full time.

We will do a separate post outlining that transition.


  1. How high are you guys at PFJ on Rich Jackson? Is he a top 10 DE all time and how does he stack up to Dan Hampton and Howie Long?

  2. He was great, but when you watch he seems to hustle all the time, but there are some mistakes. From 1968 when he moved to LDE through 1971 he does all the things you would want. He plays run well, keeps low, puts his shoulder into trap blocks. Not super-fast, but quick in short spaces. He moved around maybe 15-25% (guess) and was fun to watch, but are 5 years enough for HOF?

  3. If I can ask John, what mistakes did you see Jackson making on film?

  4. Jumping in at the risk, I'm not sure he ever "learned" the position, a Marchetti, late Cedrick Hardman, certainly Long and modern day Watt seemed to digest what happened and develop counter moves .I always though of Rich as just a beast who if he could have thought through his approach to the game could have been even better. One man's opinion.

  5. Who were the best DEnds you have seen Nicholas from a technical standpoint?