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What new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave can bring to Denver’s offense

Here’s a look at some potential wrinkles Musgrave might add as he takes over the Broncos offense

NFL: Denver Broncos-OTA Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, after the team’s 6th straight loss, sitting at the bottom of the league in red zone scoring and at the top in turnovers, the Broncos announced they had let offensive coordinator Mike McCoy go.

This opens the door for quarterback coach Bill Musgrave to take over as the interim OC to try and make some positive strides in what has been a muddled offense with no identity for over two years.

Bill Musgrave was instrumental in the Oakland Raiders offensive turn around over the last two years as their offensive coordinator, and was the main reason Derek Carr developed and improved the way he did.

He went from completing 58% of his passes, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, with a 76.6 passer rating in 2014, to 63% completion at 7 YPA, with a 96.7 QB rating in 2016, and cut his interception total in half in his second year with Musgrave.

So what will Bill Musgrave bring to the Broncos offense over these next few games?

I’ll be doing a deeper dive into the film later this week, but for now, Raiders analyst, Dan Nguyen from FanRag sports (he does some great work, ya’ll should go follow him) broke down the things that Musgrave brought to the Raiders offense, and I think there’s some definite crossover for Broncos fans to pay attention to.

He points out five major things Musgrave brought to the Raiders.

1. Modern spread concepts

2. Mixing spread with the power run game

3. Starting the 6th Oline trend

4. Helped Carr’s development by giving him freedom at the line

5. Clever play design

Let’s take a look at a few of these.

Modern spread concepts

Nguyen points out that Musgrave spent a year in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly and began incorporating some of these concepts into the Raiders offense over the last two years.

This is likely something that appealed to Head Coach Vance Joseph as he recognizes the prevalence of these concepts throughout today’s NFL. When asked a few weeks ago about spread concepts finding their way into the league, he responded:

“It’s part of our league now. It’s here and it’s not going away, even the zone-read stuff. You watch the Chiefs and it’s more than zone read, it’s option football. You have to change your defensive rules to adjust versus a team like this. If not, they will gash you. We’ve spent a lot of time on option football this week. If that’s what they’re running, that’s what it is. It’s here and it’s not going away.”

The teams that have been the most successful with young quarterbacks, have been the ones that have incorporated these concepts into their offense. Teams like the Rams, Eagles, and Cowboys all have 2nd year quarterbacks who are successfully executing various “college” offensive concepts at the next level, add in Kansas City essentially running a full-on spread system under Andy Reid, and 12.5% of the league’s offenses are already embracing this.

I would love to see Denver be on the forefront of those innovations too under Musgrave.

I have been calling for more RPOs (run/pass options) for at least a year, as these give the quarterback an easy read, and is essentially playing a numbers game with the defense.

Nguyen broke down Musgrave’s use of RPOs specifically in a post from last year. It is a great read and shows the advantage this gives the offense when executed well.

Clever play designs

Andy Benoit of the MMQB has broken down Musgraves’ offense on a few different occasions and has praised his work on scheming his guys open. Here he shows a few different play designs from Musgrave utilizing Amari Cooper.

Joseph has liked what he’s seen from Musgraves’ passing offenses in the past as well. When asked yesterday about what went into the decision to switch to Musgrave, he specifically mentioned his work in the passing game.

Moving to Billy, I think we’re going to have a chance to have a more efficient pass game with simply simplifying the concepts and helping our quarterbacks by having a cleaner progression on where to go with the ball. That’s why it was made. I’m looking forward to Bill having a chance to put his touch on offense, having the chance to watch our pass game grow a little bit and [to] not be so scattered in our passing concepts.”

“Just going against ‘Billy Mus’ over the years and watching his offenses play—just having a system of completion passes in a pass game. Again, sometimes it’s doing the same thing more often. You can kind of master it. I feel that we have a lot of good offense and a lot of good plays that we miss. But, we hadn’t mastered anything. I think it’s going to bring a sense of consistency to our offense that we can master four or five concepts and that’s good enough to get better.”

Diverse/multiple offense

Nguyen alludes to this a little bit on his list, but what I see from Musgrave is someone who uses a variety of formations and personnel groupings, and is constantly mixing up the looks he’s throwing at defenses.

Andy Benoit describes it this way:

The director of this unit, Bill Musgrave, is coordinating his fifth offense in 18 years. Also a longtime quarterbacks coach, Musgrave has been exposed to a litany of players and systems in his career. In building his system, he’s devoid of ego and caters to the strengths of his personnel. With a quarterback he fully trusts and a variety of usable chess pieces, he has turned the Raiders into the NFL’s most diverse offense. Most diverse does not mean best, though the Raiders are steadily trending up that chart. Their 25.4 points per game and 365.3 yards per outing rank eighth and ninth, respectively.

What, exactly, are the implications of having the league’s most diverse offense? Imagine if you’re a defense preparing to face the Raiders. You must have a specific plan for:

spread multi-receiver sets, likely featuring three-step timing passes. This is Carr’s forte; he ran this sort of system at Fresno State.

closed formations, with all receivers to one side and all tight ends up on the line of scrimmage opposite the receivers. This formation sets up zone-reads and unbalances a defense. Musgrave learned a lot about it in 2014, when he spent a year as the QB coach on Chip Kelly’s staff.

base sets, such as I-formation or dual tight ends on the line of scrimmage. From these, Carr plays in and out of the pocket.

vertical downfield deep-shot plays, which Oakland runs out of just about any formation.

heavy sets, with backup guard/tackle Khalif Barnes coming off the bench as a sixth lineman (there were 16 snaps of this in Week 5 against Denver).

Think about when Denver played Oakland last year. The Raiders ran with 6 offensive linemen for most of the game right at Denver’s poor run defense. The week before, they spread it out with 4 and 5 wide receivers and Derek Carr threw for 500+ yards and 4 touchdowns.

In 2016, the Raiders had on of the most diverse attacks and were one of the most multiple offenses in the NFL. Now, to Benoit’s point above, that does not necessarily equal “better”, but it certainly gives the offense some advantages.

Benoit makes the point that Musgraves’ offense often draw predictable coverages, due to defenses trying to keep things simple in order to prepare for everything he will throw at them.

Given the flexibility and depth at running back and tight end, almost all of these formations can be executed out of any of Oakland’s personnel packages. This includes two tight-end sets, three tight-end sets, two-back sets, three-receiver sets, sets with two backs and two tight ends, and the occasional four-receiver spread. Not only must a base defense plan for a litany of formations, the sub-package nickel and dime units must do so as well.

When asked last year what kind of offense he ran or what label one would put on it, Musgrave replied “No name. Hopefully, just a ‘score points’ offense.”

Matching with Denver’s personnel

CJ Anderson had some interesting comments yesterday when asked about Bill’s offense and what he brings to the table:

“We’ll see. You can go back and look at some Oakland tape and how they did things over there with their quarterback and their two big-time receivers and how [Minnesota Vikings RB] Latavius [Murray] was running the ball and things of that nature. We’ll see Wednesday. That’s the best I can get it. We’ll see Wednesday. We have to change right now. [Offensive Coordinator] Billy [Musgrave] has been doing this for a very long time in this business. We trust Billy just as much as we trust Mike, but it’s up to us to do our job individually to make sure Billy is successful. We didn’t do our best jobs with Mike to make Mike successful, so hopefully we can just play better and do our jobs to make Billy successful so we’re not firing two OCs in one year.”

If you look at the personnel Musgrave had in Oakland, while Denver’s offensive line certainly isn’t as talented, the overall skill positions match pretty well. Denver has two prolific outside receivers and a solid stable of backs who are at least as good as what Oakland had last year.

The biggest question that remains to be seen is whether or not Bill Musgrave can recreate the quarterback whispering he showed with Derek Carr, with Paxton Lynch or Brock Osweiler.

If I was to read the tea leaves, I would say the fact that Musgrave likes to run some spread concepts, incorporates RPOs and occasionally some zone-read, and his recent success with a young quarterback all point to Paxton Lynch getting a shot under the new offensive coordinator for a six-game audition.

We’ll see what happens, but I believe Musgrave gives Denver a chance to begin to build a competent NFL offense, and find some type of identity on that side of the ball that has been missing since Peyton Manning retired.