Some Clarification is in Order - 2012 Off-Season Stats: Broncos Play Calling Part 3

When these men met in 2010, who expected Manning would be the future quarterback of the Broncos and Tebow would be the one traded? (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Over the past two articles we've covered a lot of questions people have had about the Broncos offense, covering a variety of topics, here's a quick review of the past two articles:

Part 1:
- History of Broncos play calling
- How the 2011 play calling compared to past Broncos seasons

Part 2:
- How often we ran/passed on each down
- Which play calls were the most successful at scoring
- Which play calls lead to the most converted 3rd downs

Today we'll be looking at what formations the Broncos ran their plays out of, how often we ran certain routes, and how often Tim Tebow looked at certain routes.

Next Time:
Time of Possession
- The Flow of the Season

Introduction and Method:

To begin this, when I spent time working with Pro Football Focus I had access to a breakdown of each formation for each team. We got this by watching each play and recording what it was. For example if there were 1 RB, 1 FB, 1 TE, and 2 WR we'd record it as 1-1-1-2, or if a team fielded 2 RB, 0 FB, 2 TE and 1 WR it would be 2-0-2-1. Then we'd record what percentage of the team's total plays were run from that formation. Here's a snippet of the spreadsheet, but it is far too big to post all of it here:

Table 1

3-1-0-1 388 456 352 377 400 448 455
34.4% 40.8% 32.4% 36.2% 38.6% 40.7% 41.4%
3-1-1-0 11 12 5 5 6 44 9
1.0% 1.1% 0.5% 0.5% 0.6% 4.0% 0.8%
3-2-0-0 3 11 1 28 1 2 20
0.3% 1.0% 0.1% 2.7% 0.1% 0.2% 1.8%
4-0-0-1 9 12 5 2 10 4 17
0.8% 1.1% 0.5% 0.2% 1.0% 0.4% 1.5%
4-0-1-0 1 0 0
0 0 0
0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
4-1-0-0 104 15 13 139 9 116 11
9.2% 1.3% 1.2% 13.3% 0.9% 10.5% 1.0%

In this example we can see that the Cardinals ran 9.2% of their plays out of a 4 wide receiver set with 1 halfback while the Ravens only ran 1.2% of their plays from this formation. Now as I said I won't post the leagues info, but we will reference that later, but let's look at the Broncos:

More Tables:

Table 2

Now I won't be including the totals for each play since that would take up a lot of space and the percentage of the total plays is more important anyways:

Package (WR-HB-FB-TE) DEN League Average
0-1-0-4 0.00% 0.03%
0-1-1-3 0.63% 0.55%
0-1-2-2 0.00% 0.06%
0-2-0-3 0.00% 0.01%
0-2-1-2 0.00% 0.01%
1-0-1-3 0.09% 0.04%
1-0-2-2 0.00% 0.03%
1-1-0-3 2.26% 2.34%
1-1-1-2 6.69% 7.95%
1-1-2-1 0.72% 0.24%
1-2-0-2 0.00% 0.48%
1-2-1-1 0.00% 0.07%
1-3-0-1 0.00% 0.01%
2-0-1-2 0.09% 0.28%
2-1-0-2 16.64% 21.19%
2-1-1-1 16.46% 16.36%
2-1-2-0 0.00% 0.05%
2-2-0-1 1.08% 1.31%
2-2-1-0 0.00% 0.03%
2-3-0-0 0.00% 0.01%
3-0-0-2 0.27% 1.11%
3-0-1-1 1.08% 0.69%
3-1-0-1 44.67% 38.59%
3-1-1-0 4.43% 1.59%
3-2-0-0 0.09% 0.49%
4-0-0-1 0.99% 0.91%
4-0-1-0 0.00% 0.01%
4-1-0-0 2.08% 3.12%
5-0-0-0 0.00% 0.16%
3+ WR's Set % of Total 53.6% 45.92%
4+ WR's Set % of Total 3.1% 4.13%

So a quick example to help those who are still unsure how it works, if you want to see how often the Broncos used 2 running backs and two wide receivers, go look for where there is a 2 in the first column then move over and look for a 2 following the dash. For example we see the Broncos ran out of a 2 WR-2 RB set 1.08% of the time, which is below the league average of 1.34%.

So with that explained, let's look at a few notes:

- Broncos ran plays out of 3+ wide receiver sets over half the time, and nearly 10% more than the league average.
- The Broncos used a TE on 91.9% of plays compared to the league average of 92.3%.
- Broncos used multiple running backs only 1.2% compared to the league average of 2.4%, Tebow is likely the cause of this.
- The Broncos used a FB on 30.2% of plays while the league average was 27.9%.

Overall from this we can see the Broncos made the use of their tools the best they could, and we can see the depth at WR really hurt them in that play calling, with all the injuries the Broncos saw at WR, it was clear there weren't 4 wide receivers that could be used often. Now I know many will just ignore this table and just say "the routes and run/pass ratio are what really matter" but this shows that the Broncos didn't run as much max protection as many thought and we saw a lot of spread, even after Orton left.

With that said, let's delve even more deep.

Table 3

This table will be looking at some more specifics, and by doing this we can see what routes Tebow threw to most, but first, let's break down how often certain plays were run. Now for the sake of simplicity I massively dumbed this down. Plays like screens, block-splits, shallow curls and other short, safe passes are moved into one category (check downs). The other categories are fairly self explanatory, and while you may disagree with my classification, but I did my best with this by talking to former coaches and football minds. Now remember this isn't where Tebow threw, instead this is how often certain routes were run on passing downs, whether Tebow threw to them or not isn't looked at yet. So here are the numbers:

- Check downs: 79%
- Outside intermediate (10-19 yards): 71%
- Outside deep (20+ yards): 37%
- Inside intermediate (10-19 yards): 66%
- Inside deep (20+ yards): 21%

Overall, it looks like the Broncos play calling gave Tebow chances to check down. But having said that, let's look at how Tebow did with his passing by direction. Now I'll be doing this purely by direction, and we'll be first looking at the number of attempts and then looking at the percentage of total attempts.

Outside Left Middle Outside Right
20+ Yards 25 18 28
10-19 Yards 29 34 28
0-9 Yards 40 34 22
Minus Yards 4 20 4

From this we can see that Tebow threw to his left for a short gain more than any other direction, but let's look at this from a percentage standpoint:

Outside Left Middle Outside Right
20+ Yards 8.7% 6.3% 9.8%
10-19 Yards 10.1% 11.9% 9.8%
0-9 Yards 14.0% 11.9% 7.7%
Minus Yards 1.4% 7.0% 1.4%

For being left handed I would have speculated Tebow would have gone right more than left, but that wasn't the case. Overall this isn't as important with Tebow's departure, but should be clarified for those who had misunderstands about the passing game last season.

Wrapping Up:

Overall the 2nd half of this study is now moot but still shows there were misconceptions about last season. But the first half that dealt with what formations we used, and this is key because it will show how easily the offense can return to the spread that we saw in 2009 and 2010. I actually expect us to make few changes to the formations we use, the biggest change will come from what is run from those formations.

The Broncos offense will likely make changes, but hopefully this was educational and enlightening.

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