For those of you who don’t know Shasta77, let me start off by saying he’s the bee’s knees. The guy has been here at Mile High Report as long as I can remember and has directly influenced me a great deal on how I see the game and how I analyze plays on the field, decisions by the coaches, and design that we fans try to reverse engineer from the peanut gallery.
I don’t ask a lot of questions about Shasta at a personal level as he’s just here enjoying the Denver Broncos with the rest of us, but I do know this much: he knows his stuff and has been a part of the game. He’s one of the guys that I listen to with a great deal more weight than most of us yahoos here on MHR.
Thank you, Shasta for taking the time to share with us. I hope Broncos Country finds this as insightful as I did!
MHR: Are many of us Bronco fans nuts in thinking that it is completely silly that the team isn’t running the ball more often overall with how effective it has been? Two weeks ago, Coach Joseph’s call was that teams are loading the box and forcing the offense to pass. I’m a pretty consistent box counter when I watch our offense and I just don’t see this as being accurate. What are your thoughts?
Shasta: Teams that have been gashed by the Bronco running game early have played a little chicken with Musgrave and Keenum. They are picking spots to load box, because Musgrave seems to forget about the running game so quickly. And because his route calls often take a fortnight to develop, those extra guys in the box are actually now creating chaos in the passing game.
I have seen a lot of Green Dog blitzes in the first 7 weeks by the Broncos opponents. This usually results in Keenum either bailing from the pocket with no outlet to throw to, a sack, or a panicked throw that isn’t there (there have been plenty of those).
MHR: What are you seeing from Case Keenum that is keeping his play so shaky after we watched him light it up last year and even look far more accurate of a passer in training camp and pre-season than we are seeing now?
Shasta: Again, I put a lot of the blame on Musgrave. He’s not giving him any steady diet (if any snack at all) of the routes that Keenum excelled at targeting in Minnesota. No Hi Lo crossing routes, no Hi Lo Floods, no quick throws that aren’t WR screens, little use of motion to give a receiver a free-release into the flat, and too few throws to the RBs.
The Vikings love to attack with the TE short: A delayed release where they block initially and then run a short stick, out, or dig route behind the LBs. Keenum successfully completed a lot of those routes last year. I’ve seen almost none of that this year.
And that’s important for a couple of reasons:
First, you force the LB into coverage, or worrying about it.
Second, because of this concern, focus starts to shift to “where is the TE?” making them a step slower in the running game.
Finally, it’s an easy read for the QB, the TE is either immediately open or he isn’t and you go to your next read.
Musgrave has not helped Keenum build any confidence, and he hasn’t punished the defenses with the kind of undefendable routes like late motion out of the backfield towards an overloaded side (the perfect pick play setup), or reverse motion where you quickly throw to the backside. He’s choking Keenum with slow-developing 15+ yard pass plays with no safety valve way too often.
MHR: What needs to be done with the scheme to help him execute better?
Shasta: RUN THE DAMN BALL!!
Nothing opens up the playbook faster than a good running game. And Keenum is very good at play-action. But teams don’t believe that Musgrave will stick with a running game, so we’ve seen a lot of “mock in the box,” where its stacked pre-snap and then the bail into various versions of zone coverage.
It’s nightmare for a QB if your “check” to a passing play was something deep, and now there is no place to throw it. Wade did this more than a few times.
Teams don’t believe the Broncos will run the ball if the box looks stacked. And their right, the Broncos mostly haven’t.
That’s telling your OLine you don’t think they can win, and that’s a big mistake. You want the OLine fired up early and often. And the best way to do that is to tell them we need 3 yards, and I know you guys can knock someone on their ass to help us get it. Especially for the young OLine guys, that getting them rolling early is a huge deal. Making them backpedal from the first series on is a great way for them to get frustrated and make mistakes. Let them pancake a few guys on that first series and you’ll see an entirely different level of energy.
Musgrave is gunshy of the 8 in the box for no good reason. There are plenty of running plays that are specifically designed to attack a defense that is stacking the middle. Where is the Weakside Lead, the Counter Lead, the Crack Toss, the Lead Toss, and the Stretch G? These are all dynamite ways to attack “8 in the box.” And we have two RBs that would be perfect for those plays.
Freeman would be killer on an Inside Trap. With his size and speed, he’s in a position to shed the LB (if he needs to) and run right over the safety and he’s gone. I saw him do just that while he was at Oregon, they loved that call. Instead Musgrave keeps bending to the will of the opponent, which is the last thing you want your OC to do. It’s why we’ve seen so few carries from stud rookie RBs. Maybe Thursday night’s game will finally open his eyes that running the ball the whole game is a good thing.
MHR: The offensive line keeps having some hiccups here and there...do you like where it is headed from a talent level or are there serious concerns with our LT situation or anywhere else on the line?
Shasta: They are starting to come together. Losing Leary hurts, but I see some cohesion starting to develop. Billy Turner has been a pleasant surprise. He’s a road-grader in the running game, and has surprised me in Pass Pro. Bolles will get there. He’s got crazy strength, so when he gets his hands on a guy they aren’t getting away. His issue is then taking the down, rather than just controlling them. He’ll get there. People forget he basically had 1 year at the position in college. So he is basically a junior in college playing LT, who happens to be facing NFL talent. Strausser has made huge strides with him already, as I knew he would (he’s a stud coach). Garcia has more fire this year than he did last year. And McGovern just needed some technique adjustments and situational coaching. Again the addition of Kugler to the coaching staff has immediately had a positive impact on Garcia and McGovern. I expect to see that continue.
MHR: A lot of drama is being made of the talk between the defensive players and the coaches. Do you see some sort of disconnect between Woods and the players or Joseph and the players?
Shasta: Not at all. This is a proud Defense, and they were frustrated early that folks were throwing all over them. But you have to understand that Woods was in a tough spot. He’d lost Talib and his 4 and 5 CBs were newbies due to the injuries with Jones and Brock. And he’d lost nearly all the safety depth that he thought he was going to have, particularly Su’a.
So what he did last year he wasn’t going to get away with in the nickel or dime. And as a result he was not showing a lot of late movement (because that will only confuse the newbies as to who they are covering), and he had them playing back more to give the younger guys a better chance of staying with their coverage assignments.
Was it the best move? Probably not. But with the lack of depth at safety, it was the only move—until he could see how they would perform. And of course it was ugly.
So they switched things up and went back to more of an attacking coverage, that did move, in nickel and dime formations. Just like Woods did last year and also how he coached that group under Wade. And then the run defense, that had been performing so well, imploded.
Some of that was poor angles, a lot of it was poor tackling. Kollar was screaming about the tackling all the way to Westminster. But for now, I think they’ve found the happy medium by going more Base D (with plenty of DLine rotation) and dropping Simmons down to cover the slot, as needed. And having a healthy Brock and/or Jones certainly hasn’t hurt the use of nickel and dime packages.
Su’a might be available soon, and that would be a huge help in what Woods feels they can do. I expect to see further tweaks to this approach, as teams will adjust. But from a talent level, Woods is trying to keep his weak links off the field, or scheme to protect them more.
Not a bad strategy at all. And the “chirping” from the players has stopped, in part because he did what they wanted and they got shredded. This hybrid approach of Base D with personnel packages that allow you to be flexible will likely be the outcome of all of the “experimentation” that we’ve seen through the first 7 weeks.
MHR: So much is being made of our head coach looking like a guy way out of his depth. I honestly agree with that take so far in his short career. Do you see anything that shows forward progress for his job execution or is this team in trouble because of having a guy at the top who’s not quite ready to handle the job?
Shasta: He’s a different guy this year. When passing D issues came up he dove in to see what they could do to stop it. And when the run D collapsed right after, he made another change. He’s not waiting for things to improve this year, he’s being more proactive and more involved in the game planning. That’s a good sign.
Is he the Walrus or Belicheat? Of course not. But I see lots of little things that are trending the right way.
One thing in particular that folks should continue to monitor is game day fire. If the HC coach isn’t also calling plays on one side of the ball or the other, their biggest points of impact are game planning (as they can veto what the DC or OC is planning to do), and getting the whole 53 locked in to what those plans are. That’s how you get game day fire.
Overall, this team has much more game day fire than last year’s did. So I am encouraged. But I will still be watching that. Going into KC is going to be a great test. It’s a hostile place to play, so getting a great plan together and getting the team fired up to execute it will be another hurdle for him to clear. But I do see a very different HC than I did last year. So that leaves me hopeful.