Given the dearth of content and commentary on MHR recently, I decided to complete this fanpost which has been in the idea stage for some time. The assumption that many here are promulgating is that the Broncos will run the football more in 2011 because "John Fox likes to run the ball." So I wanted to look at his time in Charlotte to evaluate the veracity of this statement and ponder its application to the 2011 Broncos. Will the Broncos run more in 2011 than they have int he past 4 years? After the jump I will present some history, some explanation and some prognostication. A big assumption here is that the head coach will have some control over the offensive play calling, which Fox may not, but you can decide for yourself if he had that in Charlotte.
John fox was the Panther's head coach from 2002-2010. During that time the Panthers were in the top ten in the league three times in terms of rushing yards.
PANTHERS under Fox
|Year||Lg Rushing Rank||Rushing %|
The lowest percentage of running plays that the Panthers ran was 44% in 2006. They were also in the bottom of the league that year in total rushing yards. 2006 also saw the Panthers play a lot of young and/or new guys on the OL with only two returning starters from the previous year (Gross and Wahle, who have both made the Pro-bowl in their careers). This is very similar to the Broncos in 2010 who only had two OL starting at the beginning of the year who had played together the year before. During the three years where the Panthers were in the top quartile for rushing yards, they ran the ball 53% of the time or more. They also had good OL play (and continuity) and some high quality RBs (Stephen Davis, Deshaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) during the years when they were in the top quartile in rushing. Even in years where the Panthers were unable to run the the ball effectively - bottom half of the league in yds rushing - they still ran the ball more than the Broncos have in the past four years (see below).
|Year||Lg Rushing Rank||Rushing %|
Based upon Fox's past we can assume that he will try to keep a balanced attack. But how will this be affected by the personal that he inherits on the offensive side of the ball and the offensive coaches? When Fox took over as coach of the Panthers in 2002, he inherited an inept offense - 29th in scoring, 26th in passing yards and 29th in rushing yards. His starting QB was a bust (Wienke), his RBs were either old, untested or ineffective (Huntley, Biakabutuka, Goings) and his WR corps was average to below average (Hayes, Muhammed and Byrd). His two best returning offensive weapons were a young pro-bowl kick returner who had played sparingly at WR, Steve Smith, and an aging pro-bowl TE, Wesley Walls. (The defense he inherited was equally as bad, statistically.)
So what did Fox do to address the offense?
He benched Wienke and brought in a steady but unspectacular verteran QB, Rodney Peete. He then spent almost of all of his early draft picks on the defensive side of the ball except getting a flashy new RB in Deshaun Foster (2nd rnd pick #34). The resulting offense was still horrible - 30th in points, 30th in passing yds, 25th in rushing yds. Foster got hurt and had zero carries in 2002. An aging Lamar Smith was brought in to get the majority of the carries, but he was at the end of his career and was never a great RB in the first place (career average of 3.7 ypc). Despite the inept offense, the Panthers D allowed them to go 7-9 in 2002. Steve Smith had his breakout year and Rodney Peete was essentially a game manager (15 TD, 14 Int, 58.5% comp, 188 yds/gm) but he served that role well. It is also interesting to note that the 2002 Panthers OL was the exact same five guys in the exact same positions as 2001, yet the offense was not improved by much, if at all. This is why the Panthers took two OTs in the 2003 draft, Jordan Gross with the #8 pick and Travelle Wharton with the #94 pick.
So what did Fox inherit offensively when he took the job with the Broncos?
The 2010 Broncos were very effective at throwing the ball between the 20s - 7th in yds passing but only 19th in scoring overall - 25 passing TDs. The Broncos in 2010 were poor at running the ball - 26th in rushing yds and only 12 rushing TDs. Similar to his situation in 2002 with the Panthers, his RBs are either old, unproven and/or injury prone (Moreno, Buck, Ball, White). He inherited an upper-tier group of WRs, and one of the weakest TE groups in the league (hence drafting two TEs). He also inherited a volatile QB situation. If Harris comes back the Broncos, could start 3 of 5 players from the 2008 OL that was 12th in the league in rushing yards, despite only running 38.4% of the time. With a return to the zone blocking scheme in which Clady, Kuper and Harris seem to thrive, I can envision our running game making significant strides. Beadles is also probably better suited for zone run-blocking given his size and soma-type. I have no idea which scheme best suits Walton and it may be that he can play equally well in either. If the running game becomes a valuable asset, I can see Fox relying much more on the running game that McD or Shanny (in 07 and 08) did.
What can we expect the play mix to be for the 2011 Broncos?
History shows that only in 4 of the 9 years that Fox was the head coach of the Panthers did they run more than they passed. Unlike McD, Fox historically has shown a desire to control the clock. With the 2010 passing game being much more effective than the 2010 running game, it is possible that Fox could decide that his best option to move the ball is through the air (using the short passing game to control the clock). In that case I could see a 55/45 pass/run play split in 2011 for the Broncos, but that presumes Orton is the starter. So far Orton has shown much greater accuracy than TT, so Fox could decide to use the passing game to set up the run and control the clock that way. (Before the debate starts, KO has proven he can complete ~60% of his passes in the NFL while TT has yet to prove that. I am hoping he can, but it is unknown at this point).
However, if the Broncos can run the ball well in the preseason (if we have one) and then jump out of the gate running the ball well (and staying in games) in the first quarter of the season, I can see Fox relying more on the ground game to gain yardage and control the clock. In this case I can see a split that looks more like 2005 Panthers, 48/52 pass/run. This would make a lot of sense if the Broncos are starting TT and trying to take the pressure off of him by running the ball to set up managable 3rd down situations (something which the Broncos were absolutely horrible at in 2010 - average 3rd down distance). This is the situation that I hope plays out. Of course my hope is completely jaded by my fond memory of the late 90s Broncos who seemingly could run the ball on everyone at will.
So now that you have seen the history and have wasted a good five minutes of your life reading this... :-)
How do you think the play calling will break down in 2011?