The Shift - Evaluating the Offense Weeks 1 - 4

During the course of the season, like many of you, I noticed our team had shifted numerous times both offensively and defensively. Not only did our formations change, but our scheme, our game-plans, our plays, who started, who was injured, etc. Symbolic of the Presidential race, our team seemed to be in flux and a major change was occurring and even more change was destined (allegedly). When I decided to put these statistics together and analyze how there was a shift from week to week on all sides of the ball - the team had direction. We all knew months before the regular season began that this was going to be a rough year defensively but a good year offensively; maybe we didn't know just how bad our defense would be or how good our offense would be - but we had an inkling.

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via web1.denverbroncos.com

My point is that there was direction. We knew what Shanahan was doing and what would happen this year in the rebuilding season - defense, defense, defense. However, we didn't know that our team was going through as much change as it did as Shanahan was shortly fired and a new leader was installed. Is our offense set? Will McDaniels call the same type of plays that Bates did? What about the offensive scheme - before we didn't need a stellar running back; just someone to pick up 3 or 4 yards and come up with 100 yard games and keep the defense's honest. With McDaniels, will we suddenly need a stud running back that we have to invest a high draft pick into?

What about defensively; we now have more questions about the defense then we did before. We do know that it can't get much worse than it was in 2008 and while there seems to be a buzz about switching to a 3-4, will that really be what we do? What kind of a 3-4 will we run if we do switch? What about personnel? Studs like D.J. Williams were considered a shoe-in to make the team in 2009, if nothing more than the drama we've put him through; but what about now? Does D.J. really fit into a 3-4? Everyone is clamoring for Elvis Dumervil and Jarvis Moss to be moved to OLB in our 3-4 which would indicate that everyone wants a blitz heavy 3-4 defense; will this happen?

By analyzing this shift that our team went through this year; we have as much information as our new coaches do. What decisions they decide to make are up to them; however we will be just as informed as them. It's easy to be an armchair quarterback and talk about what the Bronco's should have done during the year; now we are no longer armchair quarterbacks. We are the individuals who are just as informed as our new coaches and our opinions and decisions are as informed as theirs.

Weeks 1 through 4 were arguably our best of the season. Our offense was stunning everyone, bloggers and commentators were struggling to update their outdated notes, we were climbing in power polls; life was good.

Week 1 saw us dismantle the Oakland Raiders. We all knew that we would win this game but the spanking we distributed to the faders was great. I spent most of the game standing on my feet in front of the TV, jumping up and down, beer in hand, my free hand raised above my head in a fist of jubilation most of the time, and thinking that Eddie Royal should be running for President. Jay Cutler was on fire, proving the talking heads wrong about his diabetes, our offense was shining, and the faders couldn't find their heads from their butts. Some of the game stats and notes from Week 1:

  • Denver trounced Oakland 41 to 14.
  • Jay Cutler had an almost perfect night throwing for an even 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, a solid 66% completion percentage, and an outstanding 137.5 Quarterback Rating.
  • 6 different players touched the ball rushing for 141 yards, 3 touchdowns, and an OK 4.1 rushing average.
  • The world met Eddie Royal as he torched the Raiders' precious off-season acquisition DeAngelo Hall for 9 catches, 146 yards, and 1 touchdown.
  • While we only boasted a 50% third down conversion rating, we averaged almost 7.5 yards per offensive play - mostly inflated for some of the big plays we had.
  • Denver's offensive lined, christened the Secret Service, allows no sacks.    

 

Week 2 saw arguably one of the most exciting games of the year as the Broncos scraped by the Chargers 39 to 38. While this game will always be overshadowed by the Ed Hochuli call, the Denver offense again showed up for the comeback of Brandon Marshall. After being suspended for 1 game, Marshall showed everyone that he was here to stay as he caught 18 passes and ran rampant in the San Diego secondary. The game went down to the final wire, the excitement amplified by the blown call by Hochuli that kept a Denver fumble recovered by San Diego on our game winning drive in Denver hands. While Ed did make an initially bad call, mistakes happen, and everyone could see how he made the call standing behind Cutler and the rules did not permit him to correct his mistake:

  • Jay Cutler showed everyone that he was an undeniable leader of the team. With his shoulders burdened with responsibility and hope, he throws the ball 50 times, throwing only 1 interception, 350 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a studly 109.6 Quarterback Rating.
  • Our running game again finds a way as 3 running backs and Jay rush for 145 yards, 1 touchdown, a very respectable 6 yards per carry average, and even Selvin Young showed up breaking a 49 yard run loose.
  • Brandon Marshall runs freely through the secondary challenging anyone to cover him as he catches 18 passes for 166 yards and a very exciting touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone.
  • Eddie Royal shows that he wasn't a fluke as he catches the game winning touchdown and then the 2 point conversion on the next play running the exact same play and route as he did on the touchdown pass.
  • The Denver offense seems in control the entire day as they possess the ball a solid 8 minutes more than San Diego.
  • Denver struggles on third down efficiency boasting only a 40% conversion rate.
  • One of the chronic problems of the Broncos last year, their red zone efficiency, seems to be a distant memory with an impressive 83% efficiency rate and a solid 100% Goal-to-Go rating.
  • The Secret Service again allows no sacks although an official sack is recorded as Jay scrambles out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.

 

Week 3 was another nail-biter on home field. Perhaps a little distracted from the coverage of the Hochuli call during the San Diego game, the Denver offense is not the crisp, mistake free, scoring machine they were in the previous 2 games; while Denver wins the game 34 to New Orleans' 32, Denver only boasts 3 offensive touchdowns and 369 yards:

  • The Denver offense starts off in a hurry throwing up 24 points in the first half but only 10 in the second half and none in the 4th quarter.
  • Jay Cutler struggles a little bit compared to his statistical dominance in the previous weeks; 61% completion percentage, 264 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a 93.3 Quarterback rating.
  • The running game struggles a bit rushing for only 105 yards, 31% of which came on 2 plays, rushes for 1 touchdown, and boasts a very average 4.4 yards per carry.
  • The Red Zone efficiency struggles a bit at only 40%.

The Secret Service continues to shine allowing no sacks.    

 

Week 4 was a total collapse offensively and the talking heads and bloggers quickly jumped and declared Denver's offensive dominance a mistake as it fails to show up against Kansas City losing decidedly 19 to 33. Everyone expected Denver to win the game and Week 4's loss would start the trend that Denver cursed themselves' with; losing easy games and listening to the media too much. Perhaps it was the effect of a young team, lack of strong vocal and veteran leadership, a lack of preparation by the coaches, or a combination of all; but this was easily Denver's worse game offensively in the first quarter of the season:

  • Denver rushes for only 94 total yards, 0 touchdowns, a 4.4 yard per carry rushing average, and inconsistency as we receive 38% of our rushing total on 2 plays.
  • Jay Cutler struggles and while he throws for 361 yards, his highest total yet, all other categories are his worse yet: 59% completion percentage, 1 touchdown to Brandon Marshall, 2 interceptions, and a 71.9 Quarterback Rating.
  • Denver seems to think they can win without having the ball as they gladly give it to Kansas City 4 times during the game.
  • Denver allows Derrick Johnson to record 6 tackles, a ½ sack, an interception, and a forced fumble.
  • The Secret Service falters allowing their first legitimate mistake and allowing a single sack.

The following are Jay Cutler's statistics over the first quarter of the season:

Jay Cutler Statistics Weeks 1 - 4

 

Attempts

Completions

Comp %

Yards

Touchdowns

Interceptions

Long

QB Rating

Week 1

24

16

66%

300

2

0

72

137.5

Week 2

50

36

72%

350

4

1

34

109.6

Week 3

34

21

62%

264

2

1

35

93.3

Week 4

49

29

59%

361

1

2

40

71.9

Average

39

26

67%

319

2

1

72

103.1

The following are arguably one of the best receiving corps in the NFL through the first 4 weeks:

Reception Statistics Weeks 1 - 4

Receptions

Yards

Average

Long

Touchdowns

Brandon Marshall

31

398

15.3

35

3

Eddie Royal

27

298

9.5

29

2

Tony Scheffler

12

194

16.2

72

2

Brandon Stokley

15

181

12.3

32

0

Daniel Graham

6

72

12

21

0

Michael Pittman

3

53

17.6

40

0

Darryl Jackson

1

48

48

48

1

Selvin Young

2

15

7.5

8

0

Nate Jackson

4

12

3.2

6

1

Peyton Hillis

1

4

4

4

0

Total

102

1,275

12.5

72

9

The following are the rushing statistics of the Broncos through weeks 1 through 4:

Rushing Statistics Weeks 1 - 4

Attempts

Yards

Average

Long

TD

Selvin Young

37

228

6.2

49

1

Andre Hall

27

131

4.9

16

0

Michael Pittman

23

80

3.5

18

4

Jay Cutler

10

28

2.8

11

0

Eddie Royal

3

15

5

7

0

Peyton Hillis

3

14

5.7

5

0

Brandon Marshall

1

-11

-11

-11

0

Total

104

485

4.7

49

5

Finally, some team offensive statistics for the first 4 weeks of the 2008 season:

Team Offensive Statistics Weeks 1 - 4

Total Yards

Passing Yards

Rushing Yards

Yards per Play

3rd down conversion %

Rushing 1st downs

Passing 1st downs

Red Zone Efficiency

Goal to Go %

Field Goal

Turnovers

Time of Possession

Week 1

441

300

141

7.5

50%

10

10

3-4-75%

3-4-75%

2-2

0

29:50

Week 2

486

341

145

6.5

40%

9

20

5-6-83%

4-4-100%

1-1

1

34:00

Week 3

369

264

105

6.4

60%

7

11

2-5-40%

2-3-67%

2-2

2

27:12

Week 4

446

352

94

6.2

43%

5

17

1-4-25%

0-1-0%

4-5

4

26:37

Average

436

314

121

6.7

48%

8

15

11-19-58%

9-12-75%

9-10

2

29:24

I think that it is hard to establish any kind of trend after only 4 games; while this series is called ‘The Shift' it's hard to establish any kind of shift after 4 games. It is possible to notice a trend from week to week and if there is any one word that describes our offense, both on an individual and team effort, it is decline. Did opposing teams start to figure out how to slow down our juggernaut offense after watching us dismantle Oakland on national television? Or did the Broncos start to do what they seemed to do all year and beat themselves? The Quarterback is the field general and commands his troops on the field, as so eloquently described by the late, great, George Carlin.    

 

While Jay Cutler's statistics declined, are his statistics the rewards of how his team performed around him or are the team's statistics the rewards of how Jay Cutler performed for them? Weeks 1 - 4 were the high of the high for our season with a sharp pain in the final week of the first quarter of the city. Kansas City was supposed to be one of our easiest games of the year but we shot ourselves in the foot; over and over and over. Sound indicative of any other time during the season?

Next week we will analyze how our defense played over the same span of the season and set the groundwork demonstrating ‘The Shift' that they displayed during the 2008 season.  

 

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