Super Bowl 2014: Controlling the Clock - Blueprint for Victory?

Mike Ehrmann

What has been amazing this entire year has been the way the Broncos entire organization has changed and adapted to different situations. As it stands right now, the 2013 Denver Broncos are one of the most resilient teams in NFL history having made it thus far in the face of devastating injury after devastating injury not to mention all the other noise and embarrassments certain executives and players wrought upon the organization in the offseason.

Without a doubt, this Broncos team and specifically the offense has shown the willingness and tendency to adapt and to overcome flaws that opponents have exposed. Early in the season of course it was the short yardage running game, followed by Cover 2, followed by press man, followed by ball control issues on defense etc etc. Early on the Broncos offense was ripe with big plays. I can remember 40-50 second sequences of two or three plays that it took them to march down the field and score a touchdown.

Later in the season however, especially the last two regular season games and both postseason games a couple of new wrinkles have emerged. The Broncos have a killer 4-minute offense just begging to stay aggressive and choke out the clock, and they have a killer methodical offense that eats up chunks of 7 minutes before scoring points.

We know the Broncos can move the ball, we know they can hit the big play and move in chunks. We also know they can eat the clock play after play before punching it into the endzone, just as they did when they extinguished the hopes of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. But what is the correct recipe for success?

I owe the teeth of this post to you crazy Broncos and Seahawks fans that bickered endlessly about DVOA in the threads yesterday. Yes I know about DVOA but I've never really used it in my work. It sounds a lot like egg head nonsense to me. Regardless, I ventured over to Football Outsiders to try and make sense of it (still seems like egg head nonsense) when I stumbled upon a couple of neat statistics they compile (egg head nonsense that interests me). In fact here's a couple of screen shot of what I found:

Play_speed_large

These numbers are called "pace stats" and are precisely what they mean. They intend to show how fast or slow a unit plays or how much time elapses on average between plays. As you can see from this metric the Denver Broncos offense is (not surprisingly) one of the most efficient in the league posting the 4th fastest time from play to amongst all NFL offenses. It really strikes me as weird that NE is even on this list given how inept they were at times.

Surely the Outsiders also track the same stat for defenses right?

Time_stats_large

Well looky who is very last on that list, our Super Bowl opponent Seattle Seahawks! Now, for offenses, a faster time meant they played faster. For defenses--who are pretty much helpless when it comes to clock control and pace--a slower time means they had the most time in between plays, meaning they had more time to catch their breath and more importantly more time to make substitutions. Ultimately, it means that the Seahawks have not really faced a hurry-up or fast paced tempo of any consistency all season long. Advantage Broncos.

When taking a look at the Seahawk Defensive Line yesterday, I noted that you have two very unique set-ups: 1) Their bigs alignment (Mebane, Bryant) meant to stuff the run and their 2) Nascar alignment (McDonald, Bennett, Avril) meant to rush the passer.

Since the Broncos run their offense primarily from 11 personnel, it leaves them in a position to dictate a fast pace early on thus limiting the rotation and substitution of that defensive line (creating fatigue). It also presents the flexibility to attack what personnel is out on the field over prolonged groups of plays (pass against the fat guys, run against the fast guys).

Given that Seattle is not used to playing against up-tempo offenses this could provide a strategic advantage early in the game especially if the Broncos were able to establish a rhythm and convert 3rd downs.

You couple this approach with what hopefully becomes an early lead, and combine it with a grind em out campaign in the 2nd half and you have a preliminary blueprint for domination.

Playing fast can work against you. If you fail to keep the chains moving and your defense has a hard time getting off the field, the opposite intended effect is created. It is a risk, but part of taking that risk is also knowing that you are going to make the opposing team play outside of it's comfort zone.

"HURRY HURRY!!!!" followed by "Hey man slow it down!" is what Bronco Mike prescribes in order to win the Lombardi Trophy and secure a trip to Omaha.

What do you think football fans? Does this theory hold water?

GO BRONCOS!!!

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