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What Are the Broncos' Fans Likely to See From John Fox?

     There has been a lot of discussion about how John Fox uses a run first offense along with much disconcerted discussion over how Fox has not addressed the defensive line. Much of the offensive dialog has originated among those who are promoting Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback. The theory being that the Fox offense will basically consist of run, run, pass, which should allow Orton to do just fine. The defensive dialog has arisen due to Fox's seeming silence in free agency when it comes to the defensive tackle position.

     This raised my curiosity flag and prompted me to survey Fox's history at Carolina in terms of the Run/Pass balance and to ask what Fox has done to improve the team thus far in the off-season. What I found surprised me just a bit. Take a jump with me and see if it surprises you also.

The Run/Pass Balance

     It might be helpful to keep in mind that Fox has stated that we are going to see the "most sophisticated" running scheme in the NFL. As a quick aside, based on that, some of his draft, college free agents and free agent acquisitions make a bit more sense. But still, the question remains, how much did Fox run the ball with Panthers and how much did he pass?

     Fox was the head coach in Carolina for nine seasons (2002-2010). Five of those nine seasons, the Panthers posted a .500 or better record, went to the playoffs three times, made it to the NFC championship game twice and earned a spot in the Super Bowl once. Three of the Panthers' four losing seasons were 7-9-0 records, including Fox's first season where he improved a 1-15-0 team from the previous regime by six games.

Let's take a look at Fox's Run/Pass Balance (just for fun, I've included Denver's balance during that same span)

Carolina Denver
Year Record Runs Play % Passes Play % Year Record Runs Play % Passes Play %
2010 2-14-0 428 47 484 53 2010 4-12-0 398 41 580 59
2009 8-8-0 525 53 465 47 2009 8-8-0 440 44 558 56
2008 12-4-0* 504 55 414 45 2008 8-8-0 387 38 620 62
2007 7-9-0 451 47 505 53 2007 7-9-0 429 45 515 55
2006 8-8-0 423 44 539 56 2006 9-7-0 488 52 454 48
2005 11-5-0* 487 52 449 48 2005 13-3-0* 542 54 465 46
2004 7-9-0 422 44 536 56 2004 10-6-0* 534 51 521 49
2003 11-5-0** 522 53 460 47 2003 10-6-0* 543 53 479 47
2002 7-9-0 452 49 464 51 2002 9-7-0 457 45 554 55

*Playoff season
**Super Bowl season

     A couple of things leap out when you look at this data. First, in each of the four seasons that the Panthers ran more than they threw, they ended the season at .500 or better. Three of those four seasons, they made the playoffs. Two of those three seasons, they played in the NFC championship game. The year the played in the Super Bowl, they ran more than they passed. In only one of the seasons where they passed more than they ran did they finish at .500.

     As an interesting aside, in the only three seasons that Denver made the playoffs during that same span of time, they also ran the ball more than they passed. When the team switched to Cutler, and later to McDaniels there grew a steady emphasis on passing more than running. The results were less than successful.


A Look at the Defense

     So it would appear, at first glance, that John Fox's team is more successful when it runs the ball more than it passes it. But is that all that there is to the story? Remember, Fox is a defensive-minded coach by all accounts. When we look at the defenses (Year, Record, Points Allowed Rank, Yards Allowed Rank, Take Away/Give Away Rank) Fox had during his Carolina tenure we find:

Year Record Pts Allowed Rank Yds Allowed Rank TA/GA Ratio Rank
2009 8-8-0 9 8 6
2008 12-4-0* 12 18 7
2005 11-5-0* 5 3 3
2003 11-5-0** 10 8 25

*Playoff season
**Super Bowl season

     The story becomes more interesting here. Fox's Panthers finished at .500 or better four times. In three of those seasons, Fox took the Panthers to the post season. In all four of those seasons, Carolina ranked in the top 12 in the NFL in not giving up points. In three of those four seasons, they ranked in the top 10.  Once, they were in the top 5. In three of the four seasons, Fox's team was in the top 10 in not surrendering yards. Finally, the Panthers were in the top 10 in Take Away/Give Away ratio in three of those four seasons.

Let's compare this to the defense of the under .500 Panthers under Fox:

Year Record Pts Allowed Rank Yds Allowed Rank TA/GA Ratio Rank
2010 2-14-0 26 18 25
2007 7-9-0 15 16 13
2006 8-8-0 8 7 23
2004 7-9-0 15 20 4
2002 7-9-0 5 2 23

Here we see that the Panthers defense was above 15th place in surrendering points only twice. Once they went 8-8-0, the other they went 7-9-0. They were above 16th place in surrendering yards only twice. They were above 13th place in Take Away/Give Away ratio only once. Undoubtedly there is a correlation between how the offense fares and how the defense fares. When the offense doesn't get the job done, the defense struggles. Likewise, when the defense isn't getting the job done, the offense is often having to "play catch-up" which tends to shift it away from a ball-control running offense and into passing attack.

Some Closing Thoughts

     What we see, then, is that Fox has been most successful when his offense has run more than they pass and when he has built an above average defense. Which can really be said about lots of teams. What this does do is shed some light on the approach taken with player acquisition by Fox thus far (all one week plus) in the off-season.

     If Fox is intent on bringing an effective running game back to Denver, picking up Willis McGahee (RB), Daniel Fells (TE/H-Back/FB), and Mario Fannin (RB) all make sense. Drafting Julius Thomas (TE) and Virgil Green (TE), along with picking up Dante Rosario (TE) can only help to bolster a corp which most fans would say have underwhelmed us the last couple of years and raises some interesting possibilities for two TE sets with one TE being a blocker and another being a receiver for play-action passing. Finally, adding Orlando Franklin (OL) bolsters a unit which has been nicked by the injury bug over the last couple of seasons.

     On the defensive side of the ball, acquiring Rahim Moore (FS), Quinton Carter (DB), is a move towards supporting a defensive backfield which has been criticized for showing signs of age, and is facing the uncertainty of what will happen with Perrish Cox. Adding linebackers Von Miller, Nate Irving and Mike Mohamed while resigning Wesley Woodyard can only help improve a relatively solid linebacking corp.

     But what about a defensive tackle? Everyone knows we need to sign a big-name, free agent defensive tackle. I'm only speculating here, but apparently that is not Fox's evaluation of the defense. He drafted only a single DL -- Jeremy Beal. He's brought in Derrick Henry (DE). So where's the much needed DT? Fox apparently believes that he can do something with the DTs he inherited from the previous management. This is testified to by his resigning Marcus Thomas, Ryan McBean and Kevin Vickerson. I vaguely remember reading that Fox had commented that DE was a bigger issue than DT (I could not find the reference on this, so if I'm misremembering the statement, please let me know).

     So let's recap: in an off-season marred by the longest work stoppage in NFL history, and given just a week so far to prepare his team for the 2011 season, Fox has acted to address quarterbacks (Weber), running backs (McGahee, Fells, Fannin), wide receivers (Anderson), tight ends (Thomas, Green and Rosario), offensive line (Franklin), defensive line (Henry, Thomas, Beal, McBean, and Vickerson), linebackers (Miller, Irving, Mohamed, and Woodyard), defensive backfield (Moore, Carter, and Dawkins), and special teams (resigning Matt Prater).  In other words, Fox has attempted to add value to every unit on both sides of the ball as well as special teams.

    I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see if this strategy will pay off, not only in 2011 but also in the long term. Wouldn't it be great if we saw the same six-game improvement in Denver that Fox achieved in his first year in Carolina. One can only hope.

Go Broncos!!!!