The Denver Broncos that won the Super Bowl two years ago and looked like they were poised for a long run of elite play are not the same team that we see today. Too much organizational and player change has forced them into a “rebuild” situation, but they would probably dispute that and call it more of a “retool” challenge.
They still have a Super Bowl-caliber defense that can carry them a long way, but there is major work to do on offense, especially at quarterback, and they will do it with a new coaching staff led by head coach Vance Joseph, who is a defensive specialist. This organization has been very stable, with minimum change over the years, so 2017 will be a challenge for everybody to adjust accordingly.
Mike McCoy will bring his own philosophy to this offense. It may look a lot like the scheme he ran in San Diego. He loves his QB to work out of the shotgun. He will spread the defense out with a lot of three-receiver sets, but also more ways to get his tight end involved in the passing game. He will also call plays, something he is good at but didn’t do at San Diego when he was head coach. He will also concentrate on making better adjustments to what the defense shows, but until they get stability at QB and improve the OL, the Broncos will struggle on offense.
Creative passing game
McCoy will bring a wide-open attack to this offense to cover up deficiencies. The Broncos will use a lot of different personnel packages and rely on unique plays to increase production. On this play we have two WRs and one TE on the right, and one TE on the left with one running back in the backfield. The TE on the left runs a vertical route and the QB looks his way to influence the coverage, while the RB runs a little circle route to hold both linebackers.
On the right side the TE runs a little vertical route but he collides with the safety for a “pick.” The inside WR does exactly the same thing versus the corner who is covering him. That sets up the outside WR to run a slant route underneath those “picks” for a seven-yard touchdown.
New coordinator Joe Woods must improve the Broncos’ leaky run defense — it really underachieved in 2016 — but this is still a solid group of players. The key for success is an excellent edge pass rush and a deep secondary that can play a variety of fronts and pressures. Most of Wade Phillips’ schemes will remain, but Woods may play more zones than this former mentor did.
Their aggressiveness gets them into trouble at times. The Broncos will concentrate on better discipline, and they will try to be more creative in their play calling early in games. For some reason opposing offenses had success against them on early drives a year ago.
On this play we see two WR left, one TE and one WR right, and one RB with the QB in the shotgun. The defense counters with a four-man front, only two defensive linemen and two outside LBs, as they drop seven defenders in coverage in zones. We see five underneath zones and the two safeties in a cover 2.
The offense tries to work the middle of the defense with the inside left WR attacking between the hashes, but the middle linebacker gets good depth and takes the middle away. The QB now looks right and thinks he has his best receiver versus a safety on a zone drop — that is a matchup he likes.
However, on the snap the safety drops to the outside zone and the corner (Aqib Talib) moves inside to his spot. Now the QB has a much tougher matchup versus an elite cover corner. Talib jumps the route and stops in front of the WR for a huge INT return for TD. The QB never saw the corner-safety switch. This defense can play any scheme with any personnel grouping.
5 additional summer film evaluations
- Wade Phillips is gone. Any defensive changes? — With Joe Woods taking over the changes will be minimal. Woods is a Phillips disciple. Joseph will also be heavily involved in weekly game plans. We see a base 34 that can go to 43 in passing situations, and the Broncos love to use sub packages on the back end with multiple DBs. Because of their DB depth and cover skills they are able to blitz often and anywhere and play man behind it, but Woods comes from the Tampa 2 scheme, so we may see a few zone looks.
- They have a lot of work to do at QB — Trevor Siemian probably has an edge over Paxton Lynch because he has a better handle on the offense and command in the huddle. Coordinator McCoy wants his QBs to be smart at the line of scrimmage and read the defense: deep to intermediate to short. He also wants sight adjustments when the play starts to break down, but neither QB has shown a lot of strength in this area.
- A “ball out quick” passing game will help — With offensive line pass protection questions and QBs who are works in progress, we will see a lot of three- and five-step drops with slants and screens that are safe and should cut down on QB hits, even though they “say” they want more deep shots and explosive plays. They will use a lot of formations and personnel groupings, they will get all of their receiving weapons involved, and the short passing game will often substitute for their run game.
- This O-line better jell in a hurry — The Broncos keep trying to fix this unit and continue to get it wrong. They will roll out three new pieces in 2017. The additions of free agents Ronald Leary and Manelik Watson and rookie first-round pick Garett Bolles must produce immediately to cut down on the 40 sacks we saw a year ago. They will use combo blocking schemes (gap power and zone). We will see a lot of quick passes to ease their pass-pro woes. Asking so many players in an O-line to fit in quickly is a real challenge.
- Have they solidified the interior of this run defense? — This was their weakest area in 2016 — they gave up huge chunks of yards right up the middle. They have a new massive nose tackle in free agent Domata Peko and rookie defensive end DeMarcus Walker. They should help up front, but they need much better production from their two inside linebackers, Marshall and Davis. Both are coming off poor seasons and must improve.
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