It's fair to say the Denver Broncos' offense has gotten better as the season as gone along, culminating last week in a fantastic performance against the Packers that resulted in the best single-game DVOA by any NFL team since 2013. That improvement is partially due to continual personnel tweaks Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison have employed week-to-week; let's explore some of those changes in detail.
The offensive line has been in flux for most of the season because of injuries starting with Ryan Clady's. You can see this in the graph below.
Only Matt Paradis and Luis Vasquez have taken 100% of the OL snaps this season. The other three positions along the OL have had the starter miss at least some time with injury. Keep in mind that we have used six offensive lineman on occasion this year. Also note that I have left off Matt Ferentz since he has so few offensive snaps this year and many of them were as a goalline fullback. Max Garcia has seen a steady increase in his offensive snap% since game 4. Tyler Polumbus has been used in place of Ryan Harris when he has played.
This should also be noted here, our rushing yards in games 4-7: 144, 43, 152, 160. Look at who played on the OL in games 4, 6 and 7 - Harris at LT (mostly) and Schofield at RT. Anyone looking for a reason why Schofield has cemented his place at RT needs to look no further.
We broke camp with six wide receivers in our 53-man roster and we have kept all six as game day actives most of the year. Latimer was inactive for game 5 and Norwood was inactive for game 7.
Despite being a whipping boy at MHR, Andre Caldwell has seen a gradual increase in his offensive snap%. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been fairly constant with a slight decrease in their usage over the course of the year so far.
The most interesting things from the above chart are the numbers for Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood and Bennie Fowler. Latimer has only been heavily used in one game this year, taking 34 offensive snaps against Cleveland. This might have been a response to DT's nagging injuries and a desire to get Latimer in to be used as a run blocker. Norwood's playing time was slowly dropping until last week when he wasn't even activated for the game. We had our best day running the ball last game - 160 yards. There might be a connection there, but we'll have to wait and see since we ran the ball well in game 6 against Cleveland with Norwood in on more than 50% of the offensive snaps. Norwood hurt his hamstring in practice last week and missed the Packers game. We'll see if he practices this week to be ready for Indy.
We all love the feels created by an undrafted free agent becoming a significant contributor. Bennie Fowler is quietly following the path tread by Rod Smith, Chris Harris Jr and Shaq Barrett before him. While Bennie has yet to have a truly breakout game, he has the best catch rate on the team (nine catches on ten targets) and he is an above average run blocker. Like Virgil Green and Cody Latimer he provides a great target in the red zone with his strength and ability to win jump balls. At this point we haven't seen that in the regular season (from any of them, really), but I think we will see it from Bennie (and Virgil) before the season is done. With his trendline, it is only a matter of time until he has his breakout game where the rest of the league sees what Bennie can do.
Running Backs and Tight Ends
The snap count could get really interesting for the TE group with Vernon Davis coming on board and Peyton Manning showing a willingness to use his TEs last game.
I, like many on the staff, envision us using two and even three TE sets in the latter half of the season. I have left Richard Gordon off the graph since he, like Ferentz, has so few snaps at this point. We have in the past and will probably continue to use Green in the backfield (watch the first play from last Sunday). The trend for Green is upward while the trend for Owen Daniels is slightly downward.
What will be interesting to see moving forward is who loses snaps when we start using Vernon Davis. Once he gets up to speed with the offense, which might take a month or more, do we take snaps away from one of the wide receivers like Norwood, Caldwell or Fowler or do we just insert Davis in place of Green or Daniels? Keep an eye on this.
From the running back group, we have used used Juwan Thompson very sparingly, partly because of his injuries. Ronnie Hillman has been trending upward while C.J. Anderson has been trending downward. Moving forward I can see them both getting roughly 50% of the offensive snaps as they both looked good running the ball against the Packers. Gary Kubiak basically said that it was going to be a 50/50 split moving forward in his post-game comments on Sunday.