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

Tebow's ability to roll out and run, as well as his strange throwing situation, has created the most unique play calling situation Broncos fans have seen in recent decades. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

One of the hottest debated topics of last season had to do with the play calling. Actually this has been a topic that has been in contention since 2008 up till today. For example in 2009 fans were upset the offense didn't take enough passes downfield so in 2010 the Broncos ranked in the top 5 in passes beyond 20 yards. In 2011 both opinions were heard, early on fans wanted a deeper passing game rather than just running the ball but around the mid season mark fans wanted less deep passes, fans were upset the offense went deep too often, calling for more screen, shovel and slant passes. Who knows what changes will take place to the offense this off-season, though I have made my personal thoughts known on the topic. The biggest issue though about this is sometimes fans just react to what they see in one part of the field, and since the game happens at such a fast pace, it's hard for those who don't TiVo it or have NFL Rewind to get a clear picture of the play calling. There were a number of trains of thoughts that went around including, but not limited to:

- "Broncos don't pass enough on 1st down"
- "McCoy won't take shots downfield"
- "Why doesn't McCoy put a safety net in to help Tebow under pressure"
- "We are running too much"
- "We need to do easier, shorter passes to move down the field"
- "We aren't using multiple wide receiver sets enough to create mismatches"

Now some of these have more bearing than others, and I'll be the first to say there were issues with the play calling this, both before and after Tebow took over, but I would like to take a more detailed look at the Broncos offensive play calling this season to see if we can't clear a few things up. This will be the first part in a three part series looking at the Broncos offense.

Today though we will be looking at one of the three aspects of the Broncos play calling:

- The Broncos offense compared to previous years

Next Time:
- Reviewing each drive, down and yard situation
- The Broncos offensive packages

Let's get this thing rolling.

A Broncos Offensive History:

I talked about this topic back before the season started, but after this season, it's important to review. This section will deal with how the Broncos moved the ball, how often they did it, and the ratio between running and passing plays. Let's begin with the table, it will list each coach, broken down by season, and look at: passing and rushing attempts, passing and rushing yards, and a ratios between rushing and passing attempts and a ratio dealing with rushing and passing yards. For example, in 1983, Reeves the was the head coach, we passed the ball 499 times and ran it 471 times, so we have a ratio of 1.06 passes per run. But another factor recorded here is the yards, we had 3466 passing yards and 1784 rushing yards, so that would be a ratio of 1.94 passing yards to 1 rushing yard. That means that passing was 94% more often used to move the ball than running was that season. Whereas in 2003, the team had a yardage ratio of 1.13 passing yards to 1 rushing yard, a more even balance of moving the ball.

By having these two ratios we can see how often they attempted to run or pass the ball, and how often they succeeded doing one or the other. We are also able to see who successful each aspect of the offense was under a head coach or for a given year by yards per attempt for passing and rushing. For example the best passing season would likely be 1995 because of a high yards, TD's and yards per attempt whereas the worst would be 2011. The best rushing season would likely be 1998, 2000, or 2011 and the worst could be 1994. From this we can see what aspect of the offense was working and possibly why the play calling went a certain way.

I realize it's a bit complicated, but it makes sense once we get to the table:

Table Time:

We'll be looking at this in two parts:

- Play calling and yards per attempt
- Scoring

Play Calling:

Year Pass attps. Pass yards Pass YPA Rush attps. Rush yards Rush YPA Ratio yards (pass/rush) Ratio attps. (pass/rush)
Reeves
1983 499 3466 6.9 471 1784 3.8 1.94 1.06
1984 475 3116 6.6 508 2076 4.1 1.50 0.94
1985 617 3952 6.4 497 1851 3.7 2.14 1.24
1986 549 3811 6.9 455 1678 3.7 2.27 1.21
1987 530 3874 7.3 510 1970 3.9 1.97 1.04
1988 581 3941 6.8 464 1815 3.9 2.17 1.25
1989 474 3352 7.1 554 2092 3.8 1.60 0.86
1990 527 3671 7.0 462 1872 4.1 1.96 1.14
1991 459 3310 7.2 507 2015 4.0 1.64 0.91
1992 473 3312 7.0 403 1500 3.7 2.21 1.17
Avg. 518.4 3580.5 6.9 483.1 1865.3 3.9 1.94 1.08
Phillips
1993 553 4061 7.3 468 1693 3.6 2.40 1.18
1994 626 4383 7.0 431 1470 3.4 2.98 1.45
Avg. 589.50 4222.00 7.2 449.50 1581.50 3.5 2.69 1.32
Shanahan
1995 549 4260 7.8 440 1995 4.5 2.14 1.25
1996 536 3662 6.8 525 2362 4.5 1.55 1.02
1997 513 3704 7.2 520 2378 4.6 1.56 0.99
1998 491 3808 7.8 525 2468 4.7 1.54 0.94
1999 554 3419 6.2 465 1864 4.0 1.83 1.19
2000 569 4243 7.5 516 2311 4.5 1.84 1.10
2001 511 2940 5.8 481 1877 3.9 1.57 1.06
2002 554 3824 6.9 457 2266 5.0 1.69 1.21
2003 479 2969 6.2 543 2629 4.8 1.13 0.88
2004 521 3999 7.7 534 2333 4.4 1.71 0.98
2005 465 3227 6.9 542 2539 4.7 1.27 0.86
2006 454 2799 6.2 488 2152 4.4 1.30 0.93
2007 515 3584 7.0 429 1957 4.6 1.83 1.20
2008 620 4471 7.2 387 1862 4.8 2.40 1.60
Avg. 523.64 3636.36 6.9 489.43 2213.79 4.5 1.72 1.08
McDaniels
2009 558 3627 6.5 440 1836 4.2 1.98 1.27
2010 580 4038 7.0 398 1544 3.9 2.62 1.46
Avg. 569.00 3832.50 6.7 419.00 1690.00 4.0 2.30 1.36
Fox
2011 429 2708 6.3 546 2632 4.8 1.03 0.79
Avg. 429 2708 6.3 546 2632 4.8 1.03 0.79

a

Scoring:

This next table will look at how the team scored. It will cover how many passing and rushing touchdowns there were that season, and will look at how often either scored on a passing or rushing attempt. By examining the past this way, we can see how often the team tried scoring passing or running the ball, and if they were a goal line rushing or passing team.

For example, 1983, we had 17 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing touchdowns, that's a ratio of 1.13 passing touchdowns for every rushing touchdown. Now another key statistic here is the ratio of touchdown per attempt, which is converted into a percentage. In 1983, for every passing attempt, we had a 3.41% chance of scoring a touchdown, and for every rushing attempt, we had a 3.18% chance of scoring. Now in 2002, it was flipped with the running attack having a better chance to score then the passing offense.

Now obviously there are other factors at play here, but it gives one a feel for how each season went and what parts of the team ran effectively.

Year Passing TD's Passing TD's/attp Rushing TD's Rushing TD's/attp Passing TD's/Rushing TD ratio
Reeves
1983 17 3.41% 15 3.18% 1.13
1984 22 4.63% 12 2.39% 1.83
1985 23 3.73% 20 4.02% 1.15
1986 22 4.01% 17 4.40% 1.29
1987 24 4.53% 18 3.53% 1.33
1988 24 4.13% 13 2.80% 1.85
1989 21 4.43% 15 2.71% 1.40
1990 15 2.85% 19 4.11% 0.79
1991 13 2.83% 16 3.16% 0.81
1992 16 3.38% 11 2.73% 1.45
Avg. 19.7 3.79% 15.6 3.30% 1.30
Phillips
1993 27 4.88% 13 2.78% 2.08
1994 18 2.88% 19 4.41% 0.95
Avg. 22.5 3.88% 16 3.59% 1.51
Shanahan
1995 27 4.98% 14 3.18% 1.93
1996 26 4.85% 20 3.81% 1.30
1997 27 5.26% 18 3.46% 1.50
1998 32 6.52% 26 4.95% 1.23
1999 16 2.89% 13 2.80% 1.23
2000 28 4.92% 21 4.07% 1.33
2001 26 5.09% 7 1.46% 3.71
2002 21 3.79% 21 4.60% 1.00
2003 19 3.97% 20 3.68% 0.95
2004 27 5.18% 13 2.43% 2.08
2005 18 3.87% 25 4.61% 0.72
2006 20 4.41% 12 2.46% 1.67
2007 21 4.08% 10 2.33% 2.10
2008 25 4.03% 15 3.88% 1.67
Avg. 23.8 4.56% 16.8 3.41% 1.60
McDaniels
2009 21 3.76% 9 2.05% 2.33
2010 25 4.31% 13 3.27% 1.92
Avg. 23 4.04% 11 2.66% 2.13
Fox
2011 20 4.7% 11 2.0% 1.82
Avg. 20 4.7% 11 2.0% 1.82

Review:

Let's take 1994 and 2011 as two examples. In 1994 Wade Phillips was the coach and really didn't have a talented running back, I mean who would consider Leonard Russell a real long term running back. So his main offensive weapon was John Elway and because he knew John Elway could succeed whereas Russell wasn't reliable he let John Elway throw more than at any other time in Elway's career. As a coach he knew what his team did well (passing) and didn't force it to be something that it wasn't (rushing). 2011 was the opposite, at no time during the Broncos history since Reeves took over have the Broncos ran this much in terms of a ratio to pass plays. But when John Fox came in, he knew had a better running team than a passing one, and with that being his preference he built along those lines by bringing in a quality running back in Willis McGahee. While in the first five games, Orton was very up and down, and was benched and Tim Tebow came in. Now having seen more of Tebow than anyone else, they decided that they had more talent in the run game than in the pass game, and if we look at the results and play calling we can see that. Now many argued that would be a mistake, but after looking at the season and comparing to those of the past, no Broncos passing game has been this bad, ever, so it's only logical for Fox to make the Broncos into a run team, just like it made sense for Phillips.

Something else to note is that a large percentage of the Broncos touchdowns came on long plays. Of the Broncos 20 passing touchdowns 11 were 20 or more yards and 6 were 30 or more yards and 4 were 50 or more yards, the Broncos passing offense scored big or didn't score at all, leading the league in big play (20+ yards) passing touchdowns of total passing touchdowns, but once the offense got into the redzone, both the run and pass struggled. Of the 20 passing touchdowns only 8 came in the redzone, that's a bad sign.

This past season was one of the most oddly focused offenses, but when you think of the big picture, this team was clearly built to run, and the results agree with it, and this mindset lent to a team that went 8-8 and went to the playoffs. While I do expect their to be more of a passing game next season, I do expect us to see continued focus on the run game, it suits the team, it suits Fox and it plays to Tebow's strengths and the Chunk Offense.

But as we'll discuss in the next article, we'll look at the Broncos play calling situation by situation and go more indepth.

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