McDaniels Hopes to Spread Defenses with New Offense

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McDaniels Hopes to Spread Defenses with New Offense
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

For the first time since 1995, the Denver Broncos will be undergoing a major philosophical change to their offense. With the firing of Mike Shanahan, gone is his modified west coast offense brought over from San Francisco. Known for its shallow crossing routes, bootleg playaction passes and a one-cut zone blocking scheme – Shanahan’s offenses consistently ranked near the top of the league during his 14 year tenure as head coach.

Enter Josh McDaniels who brings the spread offense from New England. Developed by former coaches Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins and modified by Charlie Weis and McDaniels, the offense attempts to spread the field and isolate defenders using several formations and personnel groupings.

In New England, McDaniels base personnel included three wide receivers, a tight end and a running back. Among those positions, each required a unique skill set to optimize an offense that set scoring records in 2007. Of the wide receivers, Randy Moss’ speed stretched defenses while Wes Welker worked the slot through screen passes and hot routes. Jabar Gaffney, signed by the Broncos in the offseason, worked the other outside receiver position through several intermediate routes that gave the quarterback a safety valve. At tight end, Benjamin Watson was a stellar blocker with dependable hands and red zone awareness while the team used a committee of running backs to serve various purposes with the most notable being 3rd down back Kevin Faulk’s ability to pass protect and catch passes from the backfield.

In Denver, McDaniels inherits a group with many similar skill sets to execute his offense. Begin with a stellar pass protecting offensive line that returns pillars Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris and will again be coached by Rick Dennison who McDaniels retained from Shanahan’s staff. Also retained was Bobby Turner whose long history of coaching Broncos running backs is well known across the league. With Dennison and Turner in place, the Broncos can continue executing the zone blocking scheme made famous under Shanahan although McDaniels has expressed a desire to also incorporate more direct running plays such as off tackle runs and counter traps that may take advantage of Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper’s athleticism.

In rookie running back Knowshon Moreno, the Broncos have a dynamic player capable of serving as an every down back in the spread offense. Not only can Moreno run the ball effectively between the tackles, but he can fill the pass protecting and receiving needs required by the offense. With Gaffney, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal – McDaniels and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have the necessary weapons to spread the field and attack defenses through several formations and unique route combinations. Tight end Daniel Graham has played in this offense during his New England days and should fit in well as a productive blocker and red zone target while Tony Scheffler brings a pass receiving dimension McDaniels has never coached in a tight end before.

The success or failure of the offense is likely to fall on quarterback Kyle Orton who played in a similar scheme back at Purdue. Orton has enough arm strength and accuracy to make the necessary throws and playing behind a stellar offensive line, should have more time to get rid of the ball than he’s had in his professional career.

Expect McDaniels to protect Orton by running the ball often with Moreno, fullback Peyton Hillis and reserves Correll Buckhalter and LaMont Jordan. Royal also stands to produce heavily by receiving many of the screen passes that allowed Wes Welker to accrue reception after reception. While Marshall lacks Moss’ deep speed, his ability to make defenders miss and gain yards after the catch should give McDaniels some flexibility in play calling.

Moss and Welker have recently commented on the difficulty of the complex offense and how they are just now, after two seasons in New England, feeling fluent in the system. With that, it’s very likely the team will not have the entire offense installed this first season and with an unproven quarterback and highly routed rookie running back – the Broncos may be relying quite a bit on the run game. As the season progresses and the new players become more comfortable with the system, and each other, we may see McDaniels open things up a bit and show with this spread attack is truly capable of.

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