Running a couple of yards behind the play. Standing around and watching the action. Lying on the ground after being buried by a blocker as running backs sprint past him. Getting manhandled at the line of scrimmage.
In a marquee game against one of the league’s elite teams, that’s not the type of performance expected out of a team’s second highest-paid player. With the football world watching and a chance to make a statement hanging in the balance, that’s not the rundown of action needed from one of the team’s supposed stars.
But that’s what the Broncos got yesterday out of Elvis Dumervil. In Denver’s 31-21 loss at New England, the highest-paid defensive player on the roster was a total no show, turning in a listless performance that was downright awful.
On the day, No. 92 had virtually zero impact. He was a total non-factor.
That’s not exactly what the Broncos need from a guy earning $14 million this season. But then again, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
Dumervil has never been a great player. Ever. He’s more hype than substance.
Yes, he put up huge numbers one year, racking up a career-high 17 sacks in 2009, a season that earned the defensive end a hefty $61.5 million contract. But he’s never dominated games. In fact, he disappears for large chunks of them.
When was the last time Dumervil had a performance like his teammate turned in yesterday? Time after time, Von Miller was in the backfield pressuring Tom Brady, making plays in the running game or knocking down a pass (though to be honest, he should have intercepted it) in coverage. By the end of the game, everyone watching was thinking, “Von Miller is all over the field.” That doesn’t get said about Dumervil.
That’s why he’s not a great player. Heck, he’s not even a great pass rusher.
Players in that category cause havoc throughout a game. Sacks are only one part of the equation. They’re a measurable, a number that can be seen on the stat sheet. But they only tell part of the story.
The good ones are constantly in the backfield, applying pressure and making the opposing quarterback uncomfortable. The great ones require teams to alter the game plan in order to contain them, keeping in an extra blocker or two to make sure their quarterback stays upright.
Dumervil does none of those things. And it’s the main reason why the Broncos defense is struggling.
Through the first five games of the season, Denver has struggled to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. Time after time after time, the Broncos allow drives to continue. And more often than not, it’s in passing situations – third-and-9, third-and-12, third-and-17, etc.
In those instances, Jack Del Rio is trying to apply pressure with only four down linemen, dropping seven players into pass coverage. But more often than not, the front four isn’t getting anywhere near the quarterback, allowing plenty of time for receivers to get open while the passer surveys the field in a comfy pocket. It’s a recipe for disaster, one that has been exploited by the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub and Tom Brady this season.
The Broncos are counting on Dumervil to make plays in those situations, but he’s not. And he’s not even making it difficult on the opposition in the process.
Throughout the game yesterday, the Patriots simply let Nate Solder take on Dumervil in a one-on-one match-up. They didn’t keep a tight end to help. They didn’t cheat the running back over to provide a safety net. They just let the second-year offensive tackle go head to head with the Broncos’ two-time Pro Bowl defensive end. And Solder dominated.
Dumervil finished with a half sack, recorded when he showed up at the end of a play to get on the stat sheet after Wesley Woodyard did all of the work, and was virtually invisible otherwise. Tom Brady never had to worry about No. 92. Even when he crouched down and was ready to be sacked, expecting that someone would hit him at some point, Dumervil wasn’t anywhere in sight.
And this was nothing new, either. In the season opener, Max Starks stoned Dumervil for most of the night. A week later in Atlanta, Tyson Clabo had no trouble keeping No. 92 in check. Against Houston, Duane Brown didn’t have a long day at the office. And last week versus Oakland, Jared Veldheer certainly didn’t have his hands full.
Solder was just the latest offensive tackle to be asked to go mano y mano with Dumervil. And he’s the fifth this season to come out of a game feeling as though he certainly held his own.
To make matters worse, Dumervil also became a liability against the run yesterday. Time after time after time, the Patriots ran the ball right at No. 92. Wherever he was on the field, New England went in his direction, typically to their left. And they piled up more than 250 yards on the ground in the process.
Obviously, Josh McDaniels found a weakness that he wanted to exploit. The former Broncos head coach knows Dumervil well, and he knew just how to take advantage of him. Expect other offensive coordinators to follow suit the rest of the season.
Teams don’t game plan to stop Dumervil; they game plan to exploit him.
That spells trouble for Denver.
Having a pass rusher who is supposed to dominate games, or is at least paid like someone who should, not being a factor is problematic. Having that same high-priced defender be a liability when he’s on the field is a disaster.
If the Broncos are going to turn this season into anything memorable, they need their best players to step up. And at the top of that list is Elvis Dumervil.