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Are the Broncos the George Karl-era Nuggets?

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The Nuggets repeatedly won lots of regular season games, but failed in the playoffs. Are the Broncos the NFL version of the Nuggets?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Say it ain't so John Fox. Say that the Denver Broncos haven't become the George Karl-era Denver Nuggets.

How dare I make the correlation between the two? After all, the Broncos have future Hall of Fame players littered everywhere, and the Nuggets had/have... ? To be fair, they did have a future HOF player in Carmelo Anthony and maybe Chauncey Billups, but that was about it, and they both got traded away anyways. However, even with those weak parallels, I contend that the Denver Broncos are almost the exact same team as the Denver Nuggets: A team that will run fast-pace offenses, rack up a lot of regular season wins, and ultimately get beat in the playoffs because that style of football (or basketball) simply doesn't translate in the playoffs. Look no further than when the Broncos (or Nuggets) play a real defense or team that can play defense such as the ST. Louis Rams, winners against the Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers by playing stout defense and balanced offense.

I'm going to gloss over very superficially the Nuggets for a moment because, well, this is the Broncos blog, and basketball isn't even one of my Top 3 favorite sports (thank you Formula One and Hockey). So let me just say this: During the George Karl days, the Nuggets would run a fast-break, up-tempo offense. Their philosophy was that they play at altitude, so they're going to take full advantage of that and simply run the wheels off of their opponents, and do you know what? They were wildly successful at it in the regular season. Defense? Well, they were good, even very good at times, but that was easy to do when the other team couldn't hang with them offensively (think 1999 St. Louis Rams).

Once the playoffs started, the Nuggets would fizzle out. In Karl's eight seasons as head coach, they made the playoffs every single time. However, Karl's undoing was that the Nuggets were bounced from the playoffs in the first round 7 of 8 times. Why was he ultimately fired and why did the Nuggets keep failing to win it all in the playoffs? Simple, it's because that fast break offense simply didn't work in the postseason when you had to contend with a well rounded team. Does that sound like a stat that follows around a certain Hall of Fame Broncos QB (i.e. a bunch of one-and-done in the playoffs)? Yeah, I thought so too...

Enter the Denver Broncos. Let's take a brief statistical overview of the two best Broncos teams in their history: The 1997 and 1998 squad.

In 1997, the Broncos had about as close to a 60/40 split of Pass/Run ratio as you can get. In terms of yardage, 59.5% of their yards came from Elway's right arm, and 40.5% came from the legs of our should-be Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. Yep, that seems pretty balanced.

How about the 1998 Denver Broncos? Strangely enough, it is EXACTLY the same: 59.5/40.5 Pass/Run ratio. Staggering. Remind me again how dominant these two squads were and what the season ending results were again? Oh, that's right, a championship!

Now lets dig into some NFL history here and see the pass/run splits for all of the Super Bowl winning teams since the 1997/1998 Denver Broncos shall we? Before I look them up, I'm going to assume that 4 teams were pretty pass-heavy (Rams, Colts, Saints, and Packers), and the rest were pretty balanced.

Super Bowl winners pass/run ratio
Year Team % Pass % Run Notes
1999 Rams 68% pass 32% run and it was a CLOSE Super Bowl mind you
2000 Ravens 56% pass 44% run Lopsided Super Bowl as they had a very good balanced attack
2001 Patriots 63% pass 37% run Close Super Bowl, pretty even split
2002 Buccaneers 68% pass 32% run this really surprised me. Really surprised me
2003 Patriots 68% pass 32% run again, very close Super Bowl, right John Fox?
2004 Patriots 62% pass 38% run very balanced, and their most dominant Championship victory
2005 Steelers 57% pass 43% run suck it Seattle!
2006 Colts 71% pass 29% run This is the first Championship team to throw at least 70%
2007 Giants 59.5% pass 40.5% run Same as our Championship Broncos teams
2008 Steelers 66% pass 34% run who saw that coming? But they beat a more lopsided team
2009 Saints 67% pass 33% run more balanced than I thought
2010 Packers 72% pass 28% run most lopsided team by 1% point
2011 Giants 76% pass 24% run but again, they beat a more lopsided team
2012 Ravens 66% pass 34% run leveling back to a decent ratio
2013 Seahawks 60% pass 40% run they hit that magic sweet spot and thoroughly dominated an out-of-balance team

So there you have it folks. There have been 3 Teams since the Denver Broncos first won a ring that have passed for 70% of their yards or more. In other words, passing that many times is an extreme outlier and hardly the norm. So to recap, a team that throws the ball over 70% of the time, meaning their offense is built to pass first and ask questions later, has an 11.76% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Wait, does my math not add up? You are quite the stat guru to notice that, aren't you? The reason why is because the Giants won, but only because the Patriots were even more out of kilter, so I disqualified them as counting as a 70%+ passing team to win.

So now lets examine our Denver Broncos, shall we? Are we built for postseason success? Or are we built for regular season success with postseason disappointments? Remember, only 11.7% of the teams that pass for more than 70% of their yards win the Super Bowl. 11.7%. I for one, do not like those odds. With that being said, here is how our current squad shakes up:

The 2012 Broncos brought in Peyton Manning and his "Star Wars" numbers. What did that get us? Oh yeah, a one-and-done (very Nuggets-esque) loss in the playoffs. That team for statistical comparison, got almost 72% of their yards from Manning's arm (i.e. a far cry from 60/40 championship level split). Would they be among the 11% and win the Super Bowl? Nope! They were a one and done postseason team.

How about 2013? The Broncos made it to the Super Bowl which surely bucks the trend of the Nuggets (made it to the Conference Finals under Karl)? Well, in 2013, it was even more lopsided with the Broncos getting almost 75% of their yards through the air. Again, a far cry from the 60/40 championship split. Would that get the job done? Hardly. They ran into the buzzsaw that is called "a perfectly split 60/40 team", and it showed.

Well, here we are in 2014, so surely the Broncos have learned something and are going to buck the trend of the Nuggets by playing "playoff translating football" and get back to a more even attack (i.e. 60/40), right? WRONG! The 2014 Denver Broncos are getting 76.66% of their yards via Peyton Manning's right arm.

To compound that even worse, this embarrassing loss to the Rams had the Broncos running the ball nine time. I repeat, nine whole times! Peyton Manning threw the ball 54 times. I don't think I have to do the math for anyone to realize that those attempts were wildly out of balance. The Broncos are actively going in the exact wrong direction as they should be if they intend on winning a championship! If they keep going at this pace, they better hope that they run into an even more unbalanced team in the Super Bowl, or their odds of winning are but one in ten. Those are hardly odds that I feel comfy with.

In stark contrast, the Rams ran the ball 53% of the time, meaning they had a 47/53 Pass/Run ratio. Pretty balanced if you ask me, however, they'd need more passing (and quality passing) to presumably win in the playoffs. In the Broncos embarrassing loss to the Patriots, we saw much of the same thing: 57 passes from Peyton, and 14 runs. Again, hardly the ideal 60/40 split. How did the Patriots do? They had a 67/33 pass to run ratio. Not too shabby, and it showed. They are hovering right around those magical mid 60's to mid 30's ratios that all those Super Bowl winning teams have maintained, which is a far cry from where the Broncos are. A far cry!

I'm not clamoring for "Fox Ball", because that type of play drives me insane. I'm simply calling for a more balanced attack is all. An attack that keeps defenses honest. An attack that even when the ground game isn't going that well, that the defense still needs to account for it. Do you know what else I'm calling for? And it's something that EVERYBODY seems to sweep under the rug and never mention it like it's some sort of disease? I'm calling for Peyton Manning to actually *gulp* go under center. Pass the ball from under center. Hand the ball off from under center. But for heaven's sake, be under center for a good chunk of plays. Don't just go under center for running plays or you're tipping your hand. Go under center for pass and run plays.

So what is this hush hush thing I'm talking about that nobody ever talks about? Simple. One of the biggest complaints about Tim Tebow was that he could only operate effectively from the shotgun. HELLO! That's all Manning can do either. Now, I'm not comparing the two talent wise. I'm simply saying that when Tebow was in the shotgun, he could throw pretty well (not nearly as good as Peyton, but that's not the point). It's that everyone screamed and yelled for him to get his butt under center so it wouldn't tip the offenses hand as to the play call (probably pass from shotgun). Well, why then do you allow it for Manning? The running game is much less effective from back there. The running back needs to take a couple steps (i.e. time) to get to where he would normally take the handoff and before he will gain any positive yards. The same reasons why Tebow and Manning love to be in the shotgun (more space between them and the line so they can have time and read defenses), is the exact reason why its harder for a running back to gain positive yards. It just takes too much time to get back to the line. The defense will have already crashed down onto the line and filled holes. It's a recipe for disaster, but we stubbornly keep allowing Manning to be in the shotgun, and nobody ever says a peep about it because Peyton is all powerful and all knowing. Well, it's time to make the all powerful play by the same rules as everyone else. Get your butt under center Peyton, and then hand the ball off 40% of the time. It's the only way that this offense and this team has a shot at postseason success.

What do you think Broncos country? Do I have a legitimate reason to be worried? Or is history simply that, history with zero chance of repeating itself? Sound off in the comment section and tell me how you feel in the poll below.