Denver Broncos' John Fox Is Staying the Course on Offense! Why?

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

     Denver's offense took a lot of criticism in 2010 -- inability to sustain drives, poor red zone performance, no running game, the list goes on and on. There was a fair amount of speculation that when McDaniels was fired that things would change. Mike McCoy was given the responsibility for play calling and his choices were described with adjectives like "conservative" and "vanilla." There seemed to be a general feeling that Denver's offense was nothing to write home about.

     When John Fox was hired, there was some speculation that -- as is often common with new head coaches -- the Broncos would see their second large turnover in coaching staff in two years. Yet, lo and behold, Fox has declined to make major changes in the offensive coaching staff he inherited. Why is this?

After the jump we'll take a look at some possible reasons for Fox's choice to "stay the course" with the offense.

Let's start by comparing the 2010 offensive coaches to what we know of John Fox's staff thus far:
2010 2011
Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy Mike McCoy
Quarterbacks Ben McDaniels Adam Gase
Wide Receivers Adam Gase Tyke Tolbert
Tight Ends Bob Ligashesky Clancy Barone
Running Backs Eric Studesville Eric Studesville
Offensive Line Clancy Barone Dave Magazu
Other Brian Callahan Brian Callahan
(Coaching Assistant) (Offensive Quality Control)



     So what's up with Fox leaving the offensive staff intact with two exceptions. It should be noted that he did choose to move Adam Gase from the wide receivers to the quarterbacks and Clancy Barone from the offensive line to the tight ends. Other than that, he left the staff alone. Is Fox seeing something in them that is less obvious to us as fans?

     Let's first take a look at some offensive statistics. These statistics represent Denver's ranking in various categories in relation to the rest of the NFL. These rankings have been drawn from espn.com, nfl.com and nflgsis.com. I have chosen to include the rankings from 2008 (pre-McDaniels) as a point of comparison. Highest rankings in any given category are indicated in italics. Improvements over the previous year are indicated in bold.

Offensive Stats 2008-2010 (ESPN.com, NFL.com, NFLGSIS.com)

2008 2009 2010 2008 2009 2010
Total Yds 2nd 15th 13th Total 1st Downs 2nd 15th 14th
Yds/Game 2nd 15th 13th Rush 1st Downs 14th 17th 26th
Passing Yds 3rd 13th 7th Pass 1st Downs 3rd 16th 6th
Pass Yds/Game 3rd 13th 7th 1st Downs by Pen 2nd 12th 11th
Rushing Yds 12th 18th 26th 3rd Down %age 3rd 22nd 28th
Rushing Yds/Game 12th 18th 26th 4th Down %age 29th 26th 29th
Points 16th 20th 19th Fewest Penalties 6th 14th 18th
Points/Game 16th 20th 19th Fewest Penalty Yds 20th 18th 28th
Turnover Ratio 31st 7th 28th


     We can see that the 2008 offense ranked higher in virtually everyone of these categories than the 2009 & 2010 ones did. There were three areas that the 2009 offense held higher rankings: Turnover ratio -- the offense turned it over less than it's 2008/2010 counterparts, Fourth Down Percentage and Fewest Penalty Yards. Minor things, yest, but important to the flow of an offense. Fewer turnovers helps keep drives going and helps to take a little pressure off the defense, for example. A point of greater importance, IMHO, would be the fact that the Broncos improved in seven of the seventeen categories from 2009 (the first year of McDaniels staff and offensive scheme) to 2010 (a year beset by injuries), including Yards/Game, Passing Yards, Points andTotal First Downs.

2008 2009 2010 2008 2009 2010
Passing Yds 3rd 13th 7th Rushing Yds 12th 18th 26th
Completion %age 14th 14th 26th Rush Yds/Att 3rd 17th 24th
Pass Yds/Att 9th 16th 7th Rush TDs 14th 22nd 12th
Pass TDs 7th 16th 15th Fewest Fumbles 17th 6th 27th
Fewest Ints 24th 7th 7th Fewest Fum Lost 29th 16th 30th
Fewest Sacks Allowed 1st 15th 23rd
Fewest Sack Yds 1st 12th 23rd
QB Rating 11th 15th 14th


     There were a couple of surprises in this set of statistics. I would not have expected to see that the 2010 offense ranked higher in Rushing Touchdowns than either of the other years. While the 2008 offense ranked higher in the overwhelming majority of the categories, it can be seen that 2010 offense made improvements in the majority of the passing categories from 2009. It is open to speculation and debate as to whether or not the running game might not have shown a similar improvement had the offense not had to deal with injuries to the offensive line and running backs. There might be some justification for a slim optimism based on the results of the rushing game in the last eight games of the season as compared to the first eight. Again, though, this would be open to debate.

     The third set of statistics is drawn from nfl.com. It includes only data from 2009 and 2010 since the site does not have the same data posted for the 2008 season. The data ranks the performance of the offensive line in several categories: Experience (the number of combined career starts for the two tackles, the two guards and the center with the most starts in the given season), First Downs, Negative (rushing plays that resulted in a loss of yardage), 10+ Yard Plays (rushing plays that resulted in a gain of ten or more yards), Power (the percentage of rushing plays called on third or fourth down with two or less yards to go that resulted in a first down or a touchdown; this includes rushing plays called on first or second down with goal to go from the two yard line or closer). The highest ranked season is indicated in bold for each category.

2009 2010 2009 2010 2009 210
Exp 10th 31st Fewest Sacks 15th 23rd Fewest QB Hits 8th 8th
Rush Left FD 7th 28th Rush Mid FD 24th 5th Rush Right FD 19th 31st
Rush Left Neg 8th 17th Rush Mid Neg 22nd 11th Rush Right Neg 11th 26th
Rush Left 10+ 4th 22nd Rush Mid 10+ 14th 5th Rush Right 10+ 17th 31st
Rush Left Pwr 14th 26th Rush Mid Pwr 30th 15th Rush Right Pwr 11th 28th


     The interesting thing about this set of statistics is that it would appear to support the contention that the scheme was not effective, given the fact that the rankings regressed in the majority of the categories. Yet, it should also be noted that the rankings in runs into the middle improved in every category -- which flies in the face of the complaint that all Denver did was run up the middle and failed when they did so.

     I'd like to offer up one final set of statistics. These look at Red Zone Percentage, Goal to Go Percentage and Time of Possession. The best ranking is indicated in italics, improvement in bold.

2008 2009 2010
Red Zone %age 16th 23rd 13th
Goal to Go %age 10th 26th 1st
Time of Possession 26th 14th 18th


     This set of statistics, drawn from NFLGSIS.com came as a complete surprise to me. I would not have expected the 2010 offense to rank in the top half of the league in Red Zone Percentage and I would never expected the 2010 offense to rank first in Goal to Go Percentage.

     What we can see in the statistics is that while the 2009 and 2010 offenses did not reach the same levels of achievement attained by the 2008 offense, there was improvement in a great number of areas, despite repeated shifts in personnel along the offensive line and players attempting to return from injury. By the same token, however, the statistics -- in and of themselves -- do not provide a compelling case for the retention of the offensive coaching staff. So we must ask what other reasons might Fox have for keeping the staff intact? Let's take a look at the coaches to see what other factors Fox may have considered. 2011 position is listed first, 2010 position is listed in parentheses.

Offensive Coordinator: Mike McCoy (Offensive Coordinator)


     Mike McCoy has just completed his eleventh season as an NFL coach -- the last two of which were served on the Broncos' staff. Prior to coming to the Broncos, McCoy worked for seven years for -- you guessed it -- John Fox and the Carolina Panthers. McCoy was an offensive assistant (2002), quarterbacks coach (2002-08) and passing game coordinator. He played a role in three playoff appearances, two divisional titles and an NFC championship. He was part of a Panthers staff that led the team to a tie for the second best record (56-40) in the NFC (seventh best in the NFL) from 2003-08. He helped Jake Delhomme post four seasons with over three thousand passing yards, eighty-nine touchdowns and a Pro Bowl appearance. In 2007, when injuries forced the Panthers to start four different quarterbacks, with no quarterback starting more than three games in a row (Delhomme -- W, L; Carr -- W, L, W; Testaverde -- W, L; Carr -- L; Testaverde -- L, L; Carr -- L; Testaverde -- W, L; Moore -- W, L, W), McCoy helped the Panthers become the first team in ten years to have four different quarterbacks win at least one game. He also guided rookie Matt Moore (a college free agent) to wins in two of his first three starts.

     During McCoy's first two years with the Broncos, he assisted Kyle Orton in recording two 3000+ yard seasons. In 2009, while serving as the Broncos Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, he helped Orton set career highs in nearly every passing category and match a franchise record with ten games in which Orton had a passer rating of 90.0 or better. He guided Orton to a fourth place ranking in yards per game (281.0) in 2010. He helped guide Ryan Clady and Brandon Marshall to Pro Bowl appearances. He was a part of Knowshon Moreno's rookie season in which Moreno earned All-Rookie honors and led the league's rookies in rushing yards (947), yards from scrimmage (1160) and total touchdowns (9). McCoy was calling the plays for Tim Tebow in the Broncos final three games of 2010 -- a set of games in which Tebow recorded the highest passer rating (82.1) among the eight rookie quarterbacks who started during that same span.

Tight Ends Coach: Clancy Barone (Offensive Line Coach 2010)


     Clancy Barone has served on NFL staffs for seven seasons, two of those with the Broncos. He started as an assistant offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 2004. This was followed by a position as Atlanta's tight ends coach (2005-06) where he played a role in the development of Alge Crumpler, who -- during that span -- earned two Pro Bowl berths, totaled the third most receiving yards by a tight end in the NFL (1657), tied for third in touchdown catches (13), blocked for a rushing attack that led the NFL with an average of 171.4 yards per game. Crumpler also set Atlanta single-season records in 2005 for receptions by a tight end (65) and receiving yards by a tight end (877) while under Barone's tutelage.

     Barone next held a position as the tight ends coach for Denver's divisional rival -- the San Diego Chargers (2007-08). Barone helped further the achievements of the Chargers' Antonio Gates. Under Barone's guidance, Gates earned consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, was named to the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team, tied for first in the NFL for touchdown receptions by a tight end (17), ranked third in receiving yards by a tight end (1688), tied for fourth in receptions by a tight end (135). During Barone's first year with San Diego, Gates also set a career high of 13.1 yards per reception -- this ranked second among NFL tight ends that year.

     In his first year with Denver (2009), Barone helped Daniel Graham cement his reputation as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league and assisted Tony Scheffler in earning a fourth place ranking among tight ends in yards per reception (13.4).

Quarterbacks Coach: Adam Gase (Wide Receivers)

     Adam Gase is entering his seventh season as an NFL coach, and his third with the Broncos. Gase entered the league in 2003 when he took on the position of scouting assistant for the Detroit Lions. From 2005 to 2007, he served as the Lions assistant coach in charge of running backs and quarterbacks, with 2007 being in charge of just the quarterbacks. During the first two years of that period, Gase was mentored by both Steve Mariucci and Rod Marinelli. He also worked under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. In 2007, as the quarterbacks coach, Gase worked with NFL veteran Jon Kitna. Under Gase's guidance, Kitna set a record as the quarterback with the third highest passing yards total in Lions' history, became the ninth player in NFL history to post consecutive 4000+ yard seasons, and ranked sixth   in the NFL in passing yards in 2007. In 2008, Gase was recruited to work as an offensive assistant for Mike Martz in San Francisco. During that year, the 49ers' offensive unit had sixty-four plays that went for twenty or more yards -- as a point of reference, the Broncos averaged sixty-four plays per game in 2009.  San Francisco's passing attack ranked sixth in the league in fewest dropped passes.

     As Denver's wide receivers coach (2009-10), Gase had the opportunity to work with two receivers who both earned Pro Bowl appearances -- Brandon Marshall and Brandon Lloyd -- it may be remembered that Lloyd led the NFL in receiving yards (1448) in 2010.

Running Backs Coach: Eric Studesville (Running Backs/Interim Head Coach)


     Eric Studesville will be entering his fifteen NFL season, and his second with the Broncos. Studesville began his coaching career as the offensive quality control coach for the Chicago Bears (1997-2000). He became the running backs coach for the New York Giants in 2001, a position he held until 2003.  While in New York, Studesville worked with Tiki Barber, who -- during that span -- recorded consecutive 1000+ yard seasons (2002, 2003), set the second highest rushing total in Giants history (1387 in 2002), rank in the top ten in yards per rush and total rushing yards, led all NFC running backs with 210 receptions, twelve 100+ yard rushing games and placed fifth in the league with combined yards from scrimmage (5103).

     From New York, Studesville moved on to become the running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills (2004-09). In Buffalo, Studesvilles' running backs amassed five 1000+ yard rushing seasons (Marshawn Lynch - 2, Willis McGahee - 2, Fred Jackson - 1). Marshawn Lynch logged fourteen 100+ yard rushing games under Studesville's tutelage. Studesville helped McGahee during his rooking year to beocme just the fourth rookie in franchise history to reach 1000+ yards, tie a team rookie record of thirteen touchdowns and rush for 100 yards in each of his first three starts -- only the third running back since the 1970 league merger to do so. Studesville helped McGahee continue his success in his sophomore year by posting another 1000+ yard season on his way to becoming the fastest Buffalo running back to reach 2000 career rushing yards. In 2007, Studesville assisted a second Bills rookie -- Marshawn Lynch -- to reach 1000+ yards in his rookie campaign, leading all AFC rookie running backs and averaged an NFL seventh ranked 85.7 yards per game. In 2008, Studesville became the Bills' Running Game Coordinator. In that position he guided Lynch into becoming the BIlls first Pro Bowl player in five years after rushing for a second 1000+ yard season.

     Studesville served as Denver's Running Backs Coach in 2010. Studesville guided Knowshon Moreno to a 779 yard, 4.3 yard per attempt, 5 touchdown season -- despite Moreno's missing much of training camp and three games due to injury.

Offensive Quality Control Coach: Brian Callahan (Coaching Assistant)


     Brian Callahan will be entering his second season as an NFL coach, both of them with the Broncos. Callahan served as an offensive assistant coach for the Broncos in 2010 and took over the duties as the running backs coach for the final four games when Eric Studesville was tapped to serve as the interim head coach. He came to the NFL after working from 2006 to 2009 as an assistant coach at the high school and collegiate levels. His duties included breaking down game video, aiding the coaches in the weekly game preparation, directing the defensive scout team and providing the coaching staff with a break down of the upcoming opponent's special teams unit.

So Why Is Fox Staying the Course with the Offensive Coaching Staff?


     Why is John Fox choosing to retain five of the seven offensive coaches from the 2010 season? Several possible reasons spring to mind:

1)The Broncos offense showed improvement in several areas from 2009 to 2010 -- most notably in the passing game. It is a matter of pure speculation as to whether or not we might have seen a similar improvement in the running game had the Broncos not had to deal with injurie,  and the recovery from those injuries, to Moreno, Buckhalter, White, Clady, Kuper and Harris. Fox might be of the belief that retaining some of the coaching staff will continue that process of improvement.

2)Fox inherited an Offensive Coordinator with whom he had coached for the first seven of his nine years in Carolina. It would not require too much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that McCoy will have a good sense of what kind of offense Fox will want to run. It would not be a large reach to think that it will not take McCoy all that long to reconnect with the thinking processes of the coach who brought him up through the ranks of assistant coaches. When McCoy was on staff, Fox led the Panthers to three winning seasons, one .500 season, and three losing seasons, three divisional titles and one NFC Championship.

3)Fox inherited three position coaches (Barone, Gase and Studesville) with reasonably solid coaching resumes. It should be noted that Fox moved two of the three (Barone and Gase) back to coaching the positions which make up the strongest part of their resumes. He also returned Studesville to his area of expertise -- running backs. Perhaps the perceived lack of quality coaching in 2010 had less to do with the Broncos having bad coaches than it did with having excellent position coaches coaching the wrong positions.

4)Fox may have wanted to sustain some continuity on the offensive side of the ball in order to more fully concentrate on improving the defensive side of the ball. Limiting the number of changes to the coaching staff on the offensive side, going with an offensive coordinator with whom he had previously worked might have been a move to free up time for Fox to work on the defense.

5)Fox may have seen more potential in the offense than is commonly perceived by the fans. I would assume that he was aware of the success experienced by the passing game and may have adopted a stance that if he can keep that aspect of the offense more or less intact and give some attention to improving the offensive line and the running game, then the offense will be adequate to his plans. He may also be wanting to provide some coaching stability in order to continue the development of Tim Tebow as Denver's quarterback of the future.

6)Finally, Fox may be planning for the possible fallout from the lack of a CBA. Depending on how long it takes the league and the players' union to get a new CBA signed there could be some significant issues facing not only Denver but the other thirty-one teams as well. If I've understood the things that I've been reading about the lack of a CBA, the following things would not occur as they would in a normal year: Free agency -- this would not occur, Player trades -- teams would not be allowed to make player trades, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) -- would not be allowed without a CBA, Training Camp -- would not occur since players cannot participate in training camp without signed contracts. It could well be that the Broncos would enter the 2011 season with essentially the same roster they had in 2010, with little or no time to practice in the offseason. Fox may well believe that it would be beneficial -- in case the CBA should not be signed until very near the beginning of the season -- to have coaches and players who are familiar with one another.

     These are just a few thoughts as to why John Fox may have chosen to stay the course with the offensive coaching staff. I do not know about you, but they make a certain amount of sense to me and only time will tell whether or not this was the most beneficial path to follow.

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