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2017 Opponent Scouting Report: Week 15, Broncos Offense, Should Broncos Start HOF QB John Elway On TNF?

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NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

On December 14, 2017 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Denver Broncos. In this Week 15 matchup, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea for what we are up against.

Thursday Night games aren’t fun for the players, coaches or anyone involved with actually making a football game happen on a 4 day turnaround. With that said, I do enjoy getting to watch the Colts in prime time and even though this game won’t remotely resemble the last time these two horse-themed teams played, I will enjoy the bright lights and Al Michaels silky smooth calls. Ultimately, this is a Week 15 prime time game featuring two teams so far out of playoff contention that most players wives won’t even be watching. With that said, there are some questions to be answered and interesting things to watch for.

Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 15!


Offensive Scheme

A few weeks ago, the Denver Broncos fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and elevated Bill Musgrave to take over play-calling duties. In the three weeks since his firing, the Broncos have started two different quarterbacks. Honestly, any of three different quarterbacks could start for them this weekend. Looking at this scheme through that lens it becomes clear; even though Mike McCoy has been fired, there is no conceivable way the Denver Broncos aren’t using his offensive system for the rest of the year.

Even on a team with a solid, consistent starter at QB, it’s all but impossible to truly change the system. The plays being called are one thing, but the entirety of how a team communicates its plays and a complete change from established, often used concepts to rarely used and not-as-well-known concepts is impossible in season. This is the reason you will often see argued against firing a coordinator in season.

This is still Mike McCoy’s system, he’s just the guy that took the fall for the Denver Broncos having zero (0. Less than 1. More than -1.) starting quarterbacks and a lack of game changing talent on offense.

So without further adieu, Mike McCoy uses the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system. For what it’s worth, it is my favorite pro style system and I’ve already covered it when we looked at the Houston Texans, earlier in the year. What follows is taken from that write up, if you would like to reread it, in its entirety you can do so by clicking here.

Grantland wrote an awesome piece on the Erhardt-Perkins and the Patriots usage of it, this is absolutely worth your time. Had Grantland continued to write pieces like this, well they would still be in business. Much has been written about the Erhardt-Perkins but if you’re looking to really understand it this is the article you need to read. It comes from John B over at Gang Green Nation, SB Nation’s New York Jets site. I’ll give you some of what it says below:

One of the great dilemmas for building an offense is how complicated a scheme should be. If you run the same thing over and over, the defense is going to have a good idea of what is coming. On the other hand, you also want your players to understand the offense. If you load them up with too much information, you are liable to confuse them just as much as the defense.

You also only have so much time to practice and prepare during the week. You can choose between learning a handful of things really well or being a jack of all trades, master of none. In many cases, it is better to do a handful of things really well than do a lot of things just ok.

Some coaches lean on the side of keeping it simple. Others like complexity like former NFL coach Al Saunders, whose 700 page playbook is the stuff of legend.

Erhardt-Perkins philosophy attempts to mend the best of both worlds. At the risk of being overly simplistic, it is a handful of plays run out of a wide variety of formations and personnel groupings. It is simple for the offensive players but it looks complex to the defense.

John B goes on to draw some parallels between the Erhardt-Perkins and insane innovative college coach Mike Leach, given the simplicity of both systems.

...You heard about the Erhardt-Perkins philosophy that the Patriots base their offense upon. Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins developed it in the 1970's working for the Patriots. Sometimes in football being revolutionary can be using something really old.

Perkins later became head coach of the Giants where he hired a young special teams coach by the name of....Bill Belichick.

Anyway, here is a three man concept the Pats run. It is from their playbook from over a decade ago, and it is still there.

On this one, you have a one back shotgun set. You have the James White going into the flat, Julian Edelman running the curl, and Rob Gronkowski running deep.

Here you have a one back set under center, but the back isn't involved. Gronkowski is going down the field. Edelman is running the curl, and Danny Amendola goes into the flat.

Finally on this one, Gronkowski is going into the flat. Aaron Dobson runs the curl, and Amendola is going down the field.

From Brady's perspective, this is the same play. He just has to identify which targets are running which routes. From the defense's perspective, these are three very different plays. These are just three plays from the first half in the first meeting between the Jets and the Pats alone.

By any definition, the Patriots run an up tempo offense. Football Outsiders keeps track of offensive pace. New England is the fifth quickest team between snaps in the NFL. They are second quickest when leading by a touchdown or more. They are second quickest down by a touchdown or more. They are fourth quickest when the game is within a touchdown.

The Texans may not play as uptempo as the Pats at this point but these next few paragraphs are important for understanding how Deshaun Watson might look to call plays using an even more simplified system.

...the Erhardt-Perkins system has a less complicated verbiage for communicating plays than other systems.

Jon Gruden, a West Coast Offense enthusiast is famous for his love of a call, "Green Right Slot Spider 2 Y Banana."

Brown makes the point that the Erhardt-Perkins system has simpler verbiage than the other two. With a less wordy call, the Patriots can communicate their play quicker and have everybody understand what they are supposed to do.

It might be even quicker than Brown suggested in his article. New England's up tempo style owes a lot to time Belichick spent with Chip Kelly, then the coach at the University of Oregon, whose offense was dazzling operating at warp speed on the college level. This article from 2011 in the Boston Globe explains.

“If you want to see what’s next on the pro level, look to the colleges. That’s what Belichick does, with his alliances with coaches such as Nick Saban (LSU and Alabama), Urban Meyer (Florida and Ohio State) and, now, Kelly.

That’s why when Kelly walked into Gillette Stadium two years ago — and he’s been there three times total — ears perked up among the Patriots’ coaches, including Belichick.”

....................

“Kelly told the Patriots he was moving to a no-huddle that only used one word to signify everything involved in a play.

Sideline calls take too long. Wristbands too.

One word is all that is needed.

The Patriots operate their no-huddle attack most often using one word as the play call.

More accurately, they use six one-word play calls a game.

That word tells all 11 players on offense everything they need to know.

Formation.

Blocking scheme.

Direction on run plays.

Routes for receiver on passing plays.

Shifts in formations.

Snap count.

Possible alerts and play alterations.

One word.”

This article goes into a ton of detail about personnel, versatility and in game strategy, really, take time to go read this article and the one from Grantland, you won’t be sorry.

I wanted to understand Mike McCoy and his brand of the Erhardt-Perkins and I found a solid article that breaks down some specifics of Mike McCoy’s ideas and concepts that he likes to use. The article, by Dan Durkin of CBS Chicago covers the last Chicago Bears coaching search by giving an overview of McCoy as a playcaller and how he may fit with the Bears. Durkin mostly pulls from McCoy’s last stint in Denver when Indianapolis Colts Legend, and franchise savior Peyton Manning was at the helm. The Broncos no longer have an all-time great playing quarterback but it is a valuable look at McCoy, and the current Broncos offense.

What’s McCoy’s offensive philosophy?

McCoy has spent the majority of his coaching career with John Fox. Fox is a defensive-minded head coach, whose offenses have been primarily run-based schemes, with passing games predicated on play-action.

McCoy’s offense this year has been a hybrid of power running, play-action, and a precisely-timed passing attack out of a small set of personnel groupings and formations.

What intrigues me most about the fit between McCoy and Chicago is the existing personnel in the passing game isn’t that dissimilar to what he’s had to work with over the past four years. None of the teams have had tight ends that require extra attention, nor have they had vertical threats that can blow the top off of a defense.

To adjust to these limitations in personnel, Manning, McDaniels and McCoy are adept at attacking the field horizontally, with crossers at different depths. Let’s take a look at some of the route combinations and concepts McCoy uses.

Let’s take a look at some of the route combinations and concepts McCoy uses.

In this play, the Broncos line up in 3WR-1RB-1TE personnel, and the Bengals counter with nickel personnel (5DB-2LB) in a Cover-2 shell.

The Broncos put pressure on the free safety (circled in black) by running two vertical routes to his side, and send the running back on a short out route, taking the Mike linebacker with him, which clears space in the underneath zone.

Manning’s scans the field deep-to-short. The 9-route by Demaryius Thomas and seam route by Brandon Stokley keeps one safety deep, and the vertical stem of Eric Decker’s route keeps the other safety in a backpedal. This creates a huge void in the middle of the defense and an easy completion to Decker on the backside dig.

In this red zone example, the Broncos come out in 3WR-1RB-1TE personnel, and the Browns are in dime personnel (6DB-1LB) in Cover-1 man free.

The Broncos motion Decker from a 3 x 1 alignment to a 2 x 2 alignment. By doing this, they’re determining if the Browns are in man or zone coverage.

The defender follows Decker to the other side of the formation, so Manning knows he’s working against man coverage.

(What the author of this article doesn’t realize is that Peyton Manning knew it was man coverage before Decker went in motion. This was 2013 and Manning was on a different level from anyone who had ever played the position. You can argue who the greatest of all time is, you can argue post season vs. regular season, you cannot argue that Peyton Manning’s 2013 season is the single most prolific season any quarterback has ever had in NFL history. )

The Broncos route combination attacks the Browns at multiple depths. With the short and medium-level receivers covered, Manning waits for Decker to come open on a deep crossing route for the touchdown.

Again, this is still a Mike McCoy offense, it’s just Bill Musgraves’ interpretation of it. It isn’t going to look much different or function in entirely new ways. We may see a different concept or formation from time to time under Musgraves but the bottom line is, none of it will matter as long as Brock Osweiler Paxton Lynch Trevor Siemian is running the show.


Quarterback

Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian have all started for the Denver Broncos this year. From a statistical standpoint, it appears that they all suck. When you watch them play and ignore the stats, it actually proves that they all suck.

I’ll give Lynch a break because he hasn’t exactly been put in the best situation to start his career. I’m not making excuses for the guy, but the likelihood that anyone with his raw skill set coming out of college would actually develop in any positive way is so astronomically small that I don’t believe it’s completely his fault that he sucks.

Trevor Siemian looks, just physically speaking, like Peyton and Eli Manning’s less talented first cousin. Seriously, he would fit in perfectly at a Manning family reunion. That’s where the similarities end. Siemian is 3-5 as a starter this year and has completed fewer than 60% of his passes. 13 times he has completed passes to the other team and 12 times he has completed passes that scored 6 points. Coming out of college, Siemian didn’t think he would be drafted, turns out he was correct.

Brock Osweiler is the greatest conman in the history of football and I will forever be grateful for the cap room he has stolen from the Houston Texans. The fact that we lost to Osweiler twice in 2016 should have been enough to get our GM fired and all 11 defensive starters replaced... wait...

Anyway, Osweiler is 0-3 on the season as a starter has completed less than 55% with 3 TD’s and 4 INT’s. If the Broncos are smart they will start him as Chuck Pagano has no answer for the man. His greatest moment as a Houston Texan.

Let’s go to the film:

  • This wasn’t all on the QB:

He did throw a short pass 500 miles per hour, but you would like people who are paid millions of dollars per year to catch footballs that hit their hands to, you know, catch footballs.

  • No, we didn’t secretly trade Scott Tolzien:
  • Tipped:

It might have been picked either way because that corner read his eyes.

  • When all else fails, throw it to the RB with a defender on his back:

I have to give Lynch credit here because he threw to his first option on the play. He should have thrown it at the backs feet to avoid losing yards, but hey, that completion percentage stays nice.

  • Brock gonna Brock:

There is nothing redeemable about this play. That receiver was covered with no possible openings. I’m glad Brock tricked the Texans into paying him because he’s not getting another NFL contract.

Side note about this play: the cornerback that intercepted the pass returned this ball 99 yards only to somehow lose his grip on the football. He fumbled, without being touched and then recovered his own fumble on the one yard line. I’m not sure it was the dumbest thing to happen on a play with a pass this bad, but considering it was Osweiler who threw the pass, the fumble was the most surprising thing to happen.

If you took the best aspects of all three quarterbacks Denver has started this year, you would have a physically perfect QB prospect, mentally I don’t think you could combine their football intelligence and beat JaMarcus Russell.


Running Back

C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker are the two guys to know here and really I only expect Anderson to have an impact. While Jamaal Charles is on this team he hasn’t returned to the back that shredded defenses for so long in Kansas City. To give him his due, Charles is the best back of the last generation of running backs that no one talks about. The first 8 years of his career, Charles never averaged fewer than 5.0 yards per carry and those Kansas City Chiefs teams didn’t exactly have great offensive lines during that stretch.

The Broncos have featured Anderson and his 3.9 yard season average heavily in the past two weeks. He’s responded to his 43 touches, producing 183 yards from scrimmage. If the Broncos want to win (head coach Vance Joseph’s job may depend on it), their best bet may be to ride C.J. Anderson and hope he can give them enough to score points.

  • Presses the line, makes nice cut:

C.J. Anderson is the Broncos RB 1 because of plays like this. He does a great job being patient for his hole to open to the outside, when it’s clear that’t not an option he sees his hole straight ahead and picks up what he can. This is a nice run despite the play side blocking not being stellar, this is the beauty of the outside zone.

  • Staying involved:

These backs are stout. They aren’t the most talented running backs in the league but they (with the exception of Charles) both have a short, squatty build which lends itself well to a high number of touches per game if the offense chooses. If they want to win they need to get all of their backs involved and get them touches however they come.

  • Taking what’s there:

Anderson doesn’t create a lot of yards on his own but he is really good at getting the most out of what is available. Shout out to that corner doing work to keep the back inside.

  • Nearly identical:

The play is different but Anderson’s read and the result is nearly the same. It’s not flashy, it’s not going to make a highlight reel it’s just solid running back play.

These backs aren’t great but they are solid, though they aren’t the best position group on this offense. That distinction goes to their wide receivers.


Wide Receivers:

Right now we’re going to cover the most talented group of receivers in the NFL that have Division 1, NCAA backups throwing them passes. As a result of this glorious failure by John Elway to replace Peyton Manning, both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will fail to go over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since becoming teammates in 2014. Thomas’ 1,000 receiving yard streak goes back to 2012. In that time, Thomas only had fewer than 1,300 yards once which happened in 2016. This year neither are on pace to break 4 figures.

I’ll also talk about Cody Latimer. Really I shouldn’t, Bennie Fowler ranks as the third most “prolific” receiver this season, but all 26 Indiana Hoosier football fans seem to read this blog, so I’ll go over the former Hoosier. Long story short, Peyton Manning hated him and if he wasn’t so good on special teams he wouldn’t be on the Broncos roster. So far this year, he has 16 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown. This has easily been his best season. By all Broncos fan accounts I can find, he’s been given a lot of opportunities and has failed at nearly every turn.

As it turns out, I really should have talked about Bennie Fowler.

  • Bennie Fowler was open:

Passes miss like this all the time, but that’s 6 points if it’s an accurate ball.

  • Thomas:

I would expect to see a lot of bubble screens and short routes, in part due to the remnants of Mike McCoy and in part because of their QB situation. This play doesn’t go for a big gain, but Thomas is able to make a guy miss and pick up a decent gain on first down.

  • Sanders sits down:

Sanders saw the soft zone coverage and ran his route to the sticks and his QB threw a rare, accurate pass that allowed the receiver to move the sticks.

  • Nice play all around:

This was extremely rare based on the games I watched. A really nice pass, a nice route and a good adjustment to the ball in the air. All in all an awesome play.

This wide receiver unit is good but limited due to their quarterback(s). Their QB’s have been limited by their own lack of talent as well as the guys they rely on to protect them.


Offensive Line:

The Denver Broncos haven’t been a team with a dominate offensive line since John Elway was in uniform. They’ve tried and failed over and over again to fix the issues they have upfront and they seem to be moving in the right direction.

With the 20th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Broncos selected the 24 year old father and husband, Garrett Boles to come in and start at left tackle from day one. At the time, I believed that the pick was a mistake, not because of his ability as a player or his off the field issues. Honestly it was because every interview I saw with the guy made him seem like the kid you went to school with that was just way too intense with absolutely everything. You know, the kid with no real direction, just pure, unadulterated, aimless aggression toward whatever was in front of him at that moment.

As it turns out, so far my assessment of the kid was completely wrong and I’m glad I was wrong about the kid. So far he has played very well for a rookie starting against NFL veterans for the first time. He may not completely shut down Jabaal Sheard but he’ll do his best and his best, so far, has been pretty good.

Starting next to him is Max Garcia. Max, I’m sure is a nice guy and a good friend to have but as far as playing professional football he isn’t going to get the kind of glowing review that I gave to Boles in the paragraph above. Frankly Garcia is average on his best day and below average most others. I’ve yet to hear anything about Johnathan Hankins but if ole Hank is good to go I expect him and Margus Hunt to give this line a lot of trouble.

Matt Paradis is the starting center in Denver and if you were to ask Broncos fans if he’s their long term answer at center 98% would tell you he is. By all accounts, Paradis is a good center. He may not be named to any All Pro teams, but he isn’t someone you have to worry about, either. Watching him and Al Woods should be a lot of fun, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ronald Leary usually starts at right guard, but he has missed the past two games with a back injury. Arguably, Leary has been the Broncos strongest offensive linemen. If he is unable to go, second year guard Connor McGovern is slated to go. McGovern is in his second year after being drafted in the 5th round out of Missouri. Early results have been mixed at best and I believe will have trouble with our DT’s and DE’s one-on-one. If I were calling defensive plays for the Colts, I would do everything I could to bring pressure right at McGovern all day long.

Menelik Watson used to start at right tackle for these Broncos but he was placed on IR in November as one of the feet he used to hold up his 6’5” 310 pound frame decided to quit working and began to hurt. I was unable to find exact details on the injury, therefore I relayed to you what I assumed happened to his foot; big man, small bones, ouchie, no walk good, no more. You’re welcome. Filling his spot is journeyman tackle Donald Stephenson, which by any reasonable measure is good news for us. If you want an idea of how the Broncos faithful view Stephenson as a player click here and look at the comments on that article stating that he may have to play left tackle. The first is basically what all of the other 129 also say:

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Posted by BaconFTW on Jul 9, 2017 | 8:09 AM

His center did not disappoint.

  • Not a bad play:

You would like to see everyone work to the second level more effectively, but it resulted in a nice gain. Not great but effective enough all the same.

  • To be fair:

This is Bruce Irvin working against a rookie. Indy doesn’t have that kind of speed off the edge but I would still test the rook with what we do have.

  • Watch the LG and C combo:

You’ve got to do a better job on this. The center loses his footing and the guard tries to hand off the DT to the center who is busy falling down. The DT reroutes the running back despite being tackled from behind. The guard that failed to assist with that DT did go on to lay a hit on a very well blocked DE. Garrett Boles needed absolutely no help to take his man out of the play, but that didn’t stop the guard from abandoning the guy who needed it while also failing to work to the second level. 10/10 would not trade for Jeremy Vujnovich.

This offensive line is trending in the right direction, Boles is a nice pickup, Ronald Leary is a stud when healthy and Matt Paradis is an above average starter. With that said they’re still an off season away from possibly having what anyone would consider a good offensive line.


Final Thoughts

I firmly believe our offenses are comparable. The Broncos have better receivers and our Colts have a better situation at quarterback. Either way, this one is probably going to come down to field goal kickers and who plays better defense and I’m afraid I’m not going to be bringing you good news about who has the better defense when we look at that tomorrow.

HINT: It’s the Broncos.