It’s been said that schemes in football are cyclic. It’s also a fact that the NFL is a copycat professional sports league of sorts. As soon as one team finds a way to put a leg up on the competition, other teams immediately try to imitate the type of success the winning team has.
In order to pull off wholesale changes in philosophy, a team has to be loaded with a versatile talent pool.
In the NFL it can be hard to teach old dogs new tricks, so any team that implements changes in philosophy usually winds up being a younger team. Such is the case with the 2009 Denver Broncos as they strive to overcome the shortfalls of the last decade.
Under Josh McDaniels the Denver Broncos have already seen wholesale changes across the board. The Broncos are expected to have a new philosophy on offense and defense, in part due to Josh McDaniels and his version of The New England Way.
The strength of the Broncos passing game was Jay Cutler’s rocket arm the last two seasons. Jay has poor technique in where he positions the ball and how he would go about making his reads from time to time.
This costs the Broncos dearly and more than likely cost Mike Shanahan his stay in Dove Valley and caused a rift between McDaniels and Cutler. This of course lead to the eventual trade of Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears in exchange for Kyle Orton and a few high draft picks.
Jay Cutler wanted more say in what happens on the offensive side of the ball and Josh McDaniels played the power card as he wasn’t having any of it. However, it’s important to understand what the Broncos had, what they lost, and where they are going in 2009.
Jay Cutler could hit any spot on the field on a dime. Translated that means the deep passing game, which was slightly under utilized, has now taken a severe hit. Unless the Broncos new scheme has a counter, defenses will make the adjustments.
Jay Cutler connected on 28 passes over 20 yards at home and 27 over 20 yards on the road for a total of 55 passes completed over 20 yards. That works out to nearly 3½ deep completions per game.
Kyle Orton is not quite that strong as a quarterback and neither is Chris Simms. While in Chicago last season as the starter Orton completed 18 passes over 20 yards at home (in cold and humid Chicago), and 16 passes over 20 yards on the road.
That totals to 34 passes completed over 20 yards per game. That works out to just over two a game. Chris Simms had 21 in 11 games in 2005 in Tampa. That is just under two completions over 20 yards per game.
So with the New England influence in Denver what should the Broncos fans expect?
Consider Matt Cassel, a first time starter last year in the New England offense threw for a total of 19 completions over 20 yards at home and 18 on the road for a total of 37 catches over 20 yards.
Those numbers are just a touch above what Kyle Orton put up in Chicago. Taking a deeper look at the line on Cassel he certainly posted some respectable numbers in New England, and that was part of why McDaniels considered trading Cutler.
Matt Cassel’s stats in New England 2008
G Comp Att Comp Pct Att/G Yds Avg Yds/G TD Int Sck Rate 2008
6 327 516 63.4 32.2 3,693 7.2 230.8 21 11 47 89.4
The one figure that has a positive is that Cassel connected on 63.4 percent of his passes under Josh McDaniels last season. On the down side, Cassel was sacked 47 times for an average nearing three sacks per game.
Look for a more balanced passing attack coming from the Broncos as each and every receiver will fill a vital role. This could test Brandon Marshall’s character as he’s presumably going to miss at least one or two games early or possibly more related to the off season incident and the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Once he returns he will be a piece of the puzzle, but won’t have to be the focal point. Eddie Royal could become the best slot receiver in football this season. The Broncos will move him around to create mismatches.
Eddie was known last year for how hard he worked during training camp to become the other starting wide out, and made a phenomenal debut in Oakland. Look for the depth of this position to become the best asset and perfect complement to whomever the Broncos put behind center.
In 2008 the Patriots ran for 2,278 yards as a team last season, with their top rusher Sammy Morris gaining 727 yards. The Broncos totaled 1,862 with a backfield that saw seven starting tailbacks go down.
No doubt the Broncos rushing attack had to get better since they really lacked power in hitting the hole. Six of the top seven rushers from 2008 have already been released or traded. Gone are Michael Pittman, Selvin Young, Jay Cutler, Tatum Bell, Andre Hall, and P.J. Pope.
The Broncos new regime saw the lack of a starting tailback, the lack of power runners, and tried to address the anemic red-zone problems the Broncos have had.
This years’ top draft pick Knowshown Moreno is projected to be the starting tailback and is complemented by three bangers who can carry the rock inside in Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, and Peyton Hillis who will primarily be a fullback.
Versatility comes in the way of J.J. Arrington who will fit the bill on third down situations.
With the talent of this group at the running back position, it does two things for the Broncos attack. One it makes the Broncos a more physical team to the punch enabling them to hit the holes on the line of scrimmage with force.
Secondly, it does balance the Broncos out to where they can open up the passing game through their run game.
There is certainly a gamble in starting a rookie tailback, Moreno however appears to be a strong vertical runner who can dish out punishment and fake would be tacklers. He should be up to the task.
The Broncos offense will only be as strong as the numbers this group puts up however. Kyle Orton and the receivers can balance out the short pass game and make the run game better by being efficient, something McDaniels has coached up in New England.
The key to winning for the 2009 Denver Broncos is ball control. Long drives seasoned by opportunistic scores off the back of defensive turnovers.
The fatal flaw of this offense will revolve around not stretching the defense enough in order to open up the running game and the underneath routes.
Say what you will about the defense under Coach Shanahan, the need to either get bigger or faster or both is really the reason they needed to switch schemes.
The benefit running the 3-4 over the 4-3 is that if your defense is undersized (which the Broncos are upfront) it gives your team an opportunity to be more competitive than they could be otherwise.
Additionally the 3-4 opens avenues for an attacking defense to be affective because of the presumed team speed it takes to run the scheme. Further benefits include the lack of man on man accountability which can cross up offensive lines during pass protection and quarterbacks in making the proper reads.
All of this can lead to turnovers, which the Broncos blend of speed and experience seem set up to take advantage of.
The things we know about the Denver Broncos defense right now is that they are undersized.
They have good athletes up front that give them decent team speed.
The addition of Brian Dawkins to the defensive backfield has brought an instant attitude to the defense and a welcomed addition in helping Champ Bailey lead the DB’s.
The Broncos are also somewhat deeper now than they were at the end of the 2008 season at nearly every position. It is a clear benefit to the Broncos chances in making them more competitive.
The team speed and overall health of the defense will have to payoff for the Broncos defense to keep them competitive.
Realistically the Broncos are still small up front. The defensive line was porous all of last season and it eventually cost them a trip to the playoffs. This year not much has changed at the position itself. The new defensive scheme however could make them more competitive.
Additionally, this is the year the Broncos need previous picks like Tim Crowder and Jarvis Moss to rise up and start playing up to their full potential.
The keys to winning on defense are bending and not breaking. Finding ways to stop the run, apply pressure, and create timely turnovers.
The fatal flaw of this defense rest in the D-line and linebackers, if they are unable to stop the run or put pressure on opposing quarterbacks it will be a long season in Denver.