It is the bye week and our offense has not played well lately (aka all season). Naturally, a lot of Bronco fans are worried about the state of our offensive production, and rightly so as it has been just above putrid for most of the year.
However, seeing this as early growing pains in a larger picture might help us all give the offense a little bit of grace as they figure things out.
This is a team that has been absolutely gutted on the offensive side of the ball since 2014 with just three starters leftover from the “Manning/Gase” days. In 2015, Gary Kubiak came in and cobbled together a hybrid offense around an aging QB who couldn’t run his system.
This is the first year that he has had a chance to fully install his offense; an offense that consistently has ranked in the top 10 or top half of the league in statistical output wherever he has gone. It produced one of Joe Flacco’s better years as a QB and made Matt Schaub look like a starter, even earning him a Pro-Bowl nod.
Consistency is key
Now before we continue let’s look at what this offense is all about. This is a West Coast offense built on short passes, and running the ball consistently. This is a 10 play, 5 minute touchdown drive offense. In Baltimore, in 2014, Joe Flacco threw over 55% of his passes behind 10 yards, which was 6% higher than NFL average that year.
He was also below NFL average in 10-20 yard passes, and bottom of the league in 30-40 passes attempted. Yet, on passes 40+ yards, he was top 5 in the league in terms of attempts. Which confirms what we know about this offense. Consistent paper cuts, with a few big shots per game.
The key to all of this is consistency. Zone blocking guru, Alex Gibbs said one time in a coaching clinic that some power plays and counters, etc. have potential to gain bigger yards, but they do not run them because they also have bigger potential for losing yards.
His philosophy was to consistently get 3-4 yards every time, and occasionally get 10, as opposed to getting 1-2 and then 20. Thus, the scheme is built on execution and consistency from the running game.
Are you noticing a pattern here?
At his pressers, Kubiak has mentioned “staying on schedule” and executing when asked about play calling and the offense. Essentially, what he’s saying is, it doesn’t matter if we run 5 passes in a row, or 5 runs in a row, if we don’t execute and gain yards on those plays, it kills the drive.
This offense isn’t built to face 3rd and long all the time. It requires execution on 1st and 2nd down to get small yardage to set up 3rd and manageable.
So before throwing the baby out with the bath water, let’s take a look at what we started with this year.
QB - avg age: 23
Our two QBs going into the year had combined for one NFL snap in their careers and had little experience in Kubiak’s system. Trevor Siemian had a year with the offense, but was a 3rd team QB. It’s not like he was getting extensive reps with the offense last year. So essentially we have two young, green, inexperience, pick your adjective, quarterbacks who both have shown good things at times. The problem with young QBs however, is consistency. We all expected some bumps from this position since the pre-season.
RB - avg age: 23.5
Our most experienced back went down with injury, forcing a rookie into the backfield, as well as a rookie FB blocking for him. Booker has shown talent and potential, but this offense more than most relies on the RB to make the right reads on zone runs, something that Booker needs some more experience with to fully realize his potential.
TE - avg age: 25
We currently have Virgil Green as the senior most member of our TE corps. Jeff Heuerman has missed a lot of time with injury, as has Green. Additionally, our newest TE, AJ Derby, has been on the team for 3 weeks.
OL - avg age: 26
Now this group has received probably the most criticism over the last two years as any position group in the NFL, perhaps; some of it warranted, and some not.
The reality is that this group brought in 4 new starters at their position this year, with Matt Paradis being the only starter leftover from last year, and he is a second year player. To say this group is young and in need of gelling is a huge understatement.
This group more than any other, needs consistency and continuity which only come from reps. Unfortunately, that has been further hindered by injuries that started in training camp and have continued into the season.
Honestly, all things considered, this group has played pretty well, in my opinion. They have been playing catch up since day 1 of the off season with injuries and inexperience in a scheme that requires execution and consistency.
Youth + Scheme =
So couple the youth listed above with a scheme that requires consistent execution to methodically move the ball down the field and you start to see where our problems lie.
Note: I intentionally left out WRs because they have been playing fine. I wanted to specifically focus on areas that need improvement. Their avg is 26.5 if you’re interested.
The good news on all of this is that Denver’s offense is being built to win from now on. With all the youth on this offense, they have the opportunity to gain continuity and really have something special in the next few years.
They may just hit a few bumps along the way as the teenagers learn to drive. Buckle up.