clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bill Musgrave: “I believe in players playing fast.”

Here is why the Denver Broncos are dumping Gary Kubiak’s West Coast Offense for something new and improved.

Denver Broncos v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

A typical West Coast Offense has 67 pages of play calls and verbiage. The calls are wordy and long. The quarterback and center must know every concept, look and memorize every play. The QB has the play sent into him, he relays it to the team and then makes sure that each player is in the right spot.

In the case of Denver, under Gary Kubiak, this was often relayed through one or two more people.

The QB then reads the defense to make sure they're giving him the look that the play assumes has a shot of working. Meanwhile, the Center is doing the same, only he's using his own code to tell the line what the snap word is and often who he sees needs blocking.

This is why offensive linemen and especially centers are oftentimes the smartest guys on the field. The Right Guard typically is the one watching the QB, not the center, so after the QB uses the real snap word, he taps the ‘C’ on the leg. All this is done for one play. Anywhere from 40-70 times a game.

It goes without saying, while an OC or HC or both are relaying the calls and the QB is huddling with his team, the defense has that time, too. They're substituting players, communicating with each other, lining up in the right spot. The longer an offense takes to get the quarter back into position, the longer the defense has to counter plan.

Not only does the defense have time to get their act together, the longer they have to catch their breath and mentally prepare for the next play. Offenses that spend time in the huddle are a defense’s best friend.

Besides a wordy system being an overload for a new QB, it can be the same for new OL and Wide Receivers. Why am I bringing this up? Because our new hires are telling us we're dropping a WCO. Or at least most of it. Maybe it'll be a blend because it's tough to dump half your offensive players, but a change is coming to be sure.

“There will be some language that our guys will recognize right off the bat because it will have some West Coast roots, and it will have some formations and protections that are more along the Pittsburgh Steelers offense, which we ran down here in Atlanta with coach Mularkey.”

Bill Musgrave continuing on in an interview to the Star Tribune...

“One thing I believe in is minimal verbiage, and we’ll make it very streamlined, we’ll make the formations easy to learn for the guys, because I believe in players playing fast," he said. "We don’t want them out there thinking what word was used for this or that. I know with the group of coaches that Les has put together we’ll put together a system that is easy for those guys to digest, and they’ll go out and cut it loose."

Vance Joseph in his press conference backs this up when he said, “I want an offense that is attacking. Being a defensive guy my entire career, only 14 seasons, when you play on offense that is attacking, it makes you be careful of your calls. If an offense was conservative, I loved it because I can be the attacker, but if the offense was attacking, with multiple personnel groups and all types of formations, that is what I want them to look like. I want to score points. Points win. Obviously defense wins championships, but you have to score points. I want an offense with swagger and I want an offense that’s up-tempo and has a chance to score a lot of points.”

When Musgrave was asked in an interview in Oakland about his changing formations and tendencies over the years, he said, “No name,” Musgrave said. “Hopefully, just a ‘score points’ offense.”

Concerning the quarterback...

“Ideally, you would like to find a young guy that has a bunch of promise and potential,” said Musgrave, “and you would hand him the keys and let him make his mistakes and learn and but also know that he would be there for you in the long term."

"Trevor is a guy with great poise, a great technician with great footwork,” Joseph said of the Broncos quarterbacks. “He makes few errors with the ball. Obviously, Paxton is a big gunslinger, an athletic guy. He’s young. He needs time. But he’s a talent.”

When you begin taking the words and actions of these coaches you begin to see a picture forming. They want an aggressive, not conservative, simple scheme that is tailored for a young guy with lots of potential. The more you read below, you'll see that not only do these coaches build around their talent, they also see the need for a ‘less is more’ tactic.

Going to a more traditional power scheme for the Broncos offensive line and a more aerial attack with the QB mostly in the gun, is simpler. While a WCO is supposed to help the run because the RB has better vision and more space to run, it hasn't helped the Broncos.

In 2013, they had over 5,000 passing yards and 1,800 rushing. Last season they had, 1700 and this year 1,400. In 2013, they had 76 TDs and Manning was sacked 18 times. This year they had 37 TDs and our QBs were sacked 40 times. 400 less rushing yards and 1,500 less passing. Pretty anemic.

Stats like 2013 won't happen again, but it goes to show that if we want more rushing, we're going to need more passing. We're going to need a scheme that maybe blends what we had, with what will work and kick it up a notch, or three.

Twenty years ago, the style of WCO that Mike Shanahan/Kubiak liked helped an aging and hurt Elway win a World Championship because it took the onus off his shoulders and put it on Terrell Davis. He thought this would help Peyton Manning. Short passes and lots of rushing.

The style that Shanahan used and Gary Kubiak merely tweaked, had 115 pages to memorize. If you care to see it, go here. Not exactly what Bill Bilichick does.

That style isn't working anymore unless you have the perfect linemen for it and a top notch powerback. More and more teams have two RBs. Less and less have their QBs under center as often as we did. Even less use a conservative system with a conservative QB, like KC runs or Denver, did.

The last teams standing have pocket guys or hybrids. All but New England have big-armed guys. Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethisberger, Matt Ryan. The NFL is a passing league. Flip a coin, the pass sets up the run or the run sets up the pass, but one thing is for sure, more sacks than TDs isn't a winning formula.

Speaking of which, Musgrave worked with Matt Ryan the year he became a Pro Bowler. Ryan spent 63% of his time in gun. Carr spent spent 70% and Rivers, 85%.

So, my prediction is that this new scheme, which I now dub, The Denver O, will have simpler play calls with the quarterback in the shotgun.

You want to speed up the game, you cut down 100 pages of verbiage. You can also stick it on a wristband for the more exotic verbiage and change the card each quarter by changing the colors of the direction of the play.

New England runs a hurry up with one word, a number and a direction. Such as Green-21-L. Here's a typical WCO call: shift to halfback twin right open, swap 72 all-go special halfback shallow cross wide open. That's one call. Often, the OC will send in three calls. For each down. So, the QB and team know what the next three plays will be in one huddle.

Say that call quickly. Memorizing 100 pages of lingo, knowing what it means and then letting the players know it, is no small feat. It's why most coaches with new quarterbacks will begin the season with their rookie QB’s by giving them simple calls and then add on as the weeks progress. Since it takes most defenses four weeks to really game plan against opponents, this can buy a rookie a month to get calmer spewing plays in the huddle.

Time spent sending in wordy calls and relaying wordy calls in the huddle is not playing fast. Nor is it giving a quarterback much time to diagnose what the defense is doing.

Many quarterbacks have said that as the new kid on the block you're so focused on saying the call correctly, when you get under center, you realize you concentrated more on getting the words, then what you're supposed to be doing. Even veterans have had brain freezes.

The team of coaches that Joseph and John Elway have brought in, have worked with a lot of QB's. They know getting them comfortable is step one. Last year, both Tampa and Tennessee made sure to give their rookie quarterbacks ‘simple’. This season, we saw Dallas, Philly and LA do the same. Keep It Simple Stupid.

Mike McCoy brought to the Chargers, the same system the Patriots use, The Erhardt-Perkins System. In Denver the first time, he used a zone read with Tim Tebow. He then morphed it to more of an aerial hurry-up type offense with a power OL for Peyton Manning. McCoy has shown that he'll pick and chose which offense or system that best fits his QB and personnel.

If you're a QB who's only played in a spread offense like most schools, tossing a WCO playbook at them, is like learning Greek. In six months, fluent Greek. Add in changing how you take a snap and a rookie learning curve is steep. Most coaches know this and I said above, start out simple and add as the season goes along.

Some QBs have said it's overwhelming. When your head coach says he's going to fit a scheme to what his players can do and then brings in coaches who don't play call a set WCO, it's clear he sees it as a burden, too. He was once a QB himself.

I'm guessing that our coaches are going to take what worked in our old playbook, keep what our quarterbacks were comfortable with and add to it their own ideas. Derek Carr improved when Musgrave tailored the offense to him and to the players on the team. If we draft or sign a new WR, OL or TE, this will help them all.

“There goes that question again -- which a lot of coaches make that mistake too, at least they have historically -- of thinking of schemes and plays that they prefer without thinking about the players that have to execute them," Musgrave noted. "We’re going to do a fantastic job of putting our guys in the schemes that fit their talents."

Bless you, Vance, Mike, and Bill. We can't wait to see what you cook up.