The Denver Broncos will have a familiar foe in Week 10, as they travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers. They come off their bye week and get to face former offensive coordinator and current Chargers head coach Mike McCoy.
Whenever a team faces a former coach, they usually have a competitive advantage. The Broncos have been playing better defensively, and they should be able to maintain that momentum this week.
On Monday, I asked cornerback Chris Harris about going up against a coach they used to practice against:
I’ve noticed that coaches adapt to their players, and that’s what McCoy’s done in San Diego. [Philip] Rivers is one of the top in the league, and he’s making smart decisions. It’s our job to try and confuse him and get a lot of pressure on him. I can tell his offensive line is blocking better for him than in the past.
The Chargers offense has looked good this year under McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. As Harris pointed out, they have built the offense around the strengths of Rivers. The team is using shorter routes and quicker passes to get the ball out of his hands and into the hands of their playmaking skill position players.
The Chargers are using concepts that should be easily identifiable to Broncos fans. In preparation for this all-important division game, let’s take a look at what plays and formations are similar to what McCoy did in Denver.
Inside Zone Rushing
In 2012, McCoy’s rushing offense was often predictable, but he did not stray from those concepts. When Willis McGahee was the starting running back, the team kept hammering away at opponents with inside zone rushing.
In the play below, we see the Broncos using 12 personnel (two tight end set) to give them power on the left side of the line. Each man has a clear opponent to block, leaving McGahee with an easy hole to anticipate. There is no looking for a cutback lane in this concept, and the blockers are not asked to move laterally.
McCoy is using the same concepts with the Chargers, only this time, Ryan Mathews is getting those carries instead of McGahee.
Mathews has been playing some of the best football of his career in 2013. So far after eight games, Mathews has 480 rushing yards, and he’s averaging a decent 4.1 yards per carry. He’s already had two 100-yard rushing games as the team’s jackhammer lead back.
In this game against the Eagles, we see Mathews run a similar play to the one McGahee ran above. This time, McCoy is using a fullback (Le’Ron McClain) instead of a second tight end. This is hat-on-hat football in its simplest form.
Wide Receiver Screens
Under McCoy, the Broncos used a lot of wide receiver screens. This keeps a pass rush off the quarterback, is a fairly easy throw and can rack up good yards in key situations.
In 2012, we saw Brandon Stokley and Eric Decker make a lot of plays off screen passes. The play below highlights a screen pass to Decker. The Broncos line up in a bunch formation to the right. Decker moves outside and to his right at the snap, hauling in an easy pass from Manning.
This season, Eddie Royal is getting those looks for the Chargers. He’s responded by scoring seven touchdowns after eight games. Coming into this season, Royal had scored five touchdowns over the last four seasons.
Below is another touchdown for Royal. As the ball is snapped, Royal runs a bubble inside towards Rivers as the ball comes in. Both Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen get great blocks on the outside.
However, the player to highlight here (other than Royal) is right tackle D.J. Fluker. The Chargers 2013 first-round pick hustles downfield and gets a key block to spring Royal for the touchdown.
Vert Shade Under Out/In routes
This is a concept McCoy uses most of all. He will run a player (sometimes two) to clear out the defense for a quick out or in route.
Here, we see Eric Decker score an easy touchdown on such a play. The Broncos line up Demaryius Thomas and Stokley in a bunch formation to the left with Decker. As the ball is snapped, Thomas runs a go route, clearing out the cornerback covering him and taking the attention of the single high safety.
Stokley runs a rub route where he essentially gets in the way of two defenders. This leaves Decker open for an easy pitch-and-catch from Manning.
It’s not only quick out routes, but McCoy also likes to use quick in routes as well. It’s a simple route combination and an easier read for a quarterback to make.
Here with the Chargers, we see a go route ran by Allen on the outside. This leaves Royal open easily as he runs towards the sidelines.
This route combination is a staple of the McCoy offense, and the Broncos should see plenty of these plays on Sunday.
The Broncos have been playing better defense in recent weeks. Against Washington in Week 8, they had arguably their best game of the year. This week against the Chargers, they want to continue that trend.
These concepts employed by McCoy are simple in their design but still difficult to stop. The Broncos should be able to identify certain plays based off the pre-snap formation, although the route combinations could vary on quick out or quick in routes.
When Harris talked about knowing McCoy’s system, he also commented on McCoy knowing the design of the Broncos defense. “We gotta disguise a lot. I mean, just playing each other for years, they’re going to be familiar with us. At the end of the day, we play ‘man,’ it’s not too confusing. I feel like we’re ready.”
Against the inside power runs, the Broncos must be sound with their assignments and sure with their tackling. A large responsibility will fall on the shoulders of defensive captain Wesley Woodyard.
The strong rush defense will also rely on defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. On Monday, he talked about dealing with adversity this season. “Things like that happen to teams that want to be champions. If you ask any team in the past that’s won a championship, they always have something they had to go through—whether it was an injury, whether it was something off the field. We’ll handle it like we’re supposed to. We’ve got to just keep moving forward.”
When the Broncos face the Chargers, it will be without John Fox, as he recovers from heart surgery. Jack Del Rio is going to serve as both the interim head coach and the defensive coordinator. He certainly has the confidence of the front office and the players inside the locker room.
He gets his first chance to prove himself as the interim head coach against a familiar foe. The Broncos should disguise a few things against McCoy and the Chargers defensively.
However, this is a totally different (and better) offense than it was under McCoy in 2012. This team has new weapons like Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. McCoy may think he is ready for the high-powered Broncos offense, but he’ll have to prove it on the football field.
The Chargers don’t have the defense to slow down the Broncos offense. If they want to win, then they’ll have to put up a ton of points.
The Broncos know McCoy and his concepts well. This gives them a distinct advantage which should serve them well against their division foe on Sunday.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.