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Tale of the Tape: Trickeration opens things up for the Denver offense

Bill Musgrave designed a great scheme on Sunday to help the Denver offense exploit the aggressiveness of the Steelers’ defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

While Sunday’s big win against the Pittsburgh Steelers was driven by the defense forcing turnovers, it was also accented by a well-designed offensive gameplan, tailored for that specific defense.

Somewhat overlooked amidst the spectacular play of individual stars like Phillip Lindsay, and an opportunistic defense is the fact that the offense has taken steps forward over the last few weeks, specifically in its design.

I have said this often this year, I know it’s in vogue to criticize the coaching staff, particularly Bill Musgrave, for a host of things, some warranted; however, its also important that we recognize and give kudos appropriately when deserved.

The game plan Bill Musgrave designed last Sunday is one that deserves recognition, as it set the Denver Broncos up with big plays that pushed them into scoring position.

Last week, I looked at how Denver utilized Phillip Lindsay, and a big portion of that was getting him involved in swing passes and bubble screens. So this week, Musgrave added another layer onto that, by using that tape against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh blitzes more than anyone in the league, and so Denver put together a plan that stretched their already thin coverage horizontally, opening things up vertically.

Strap in, this is gonna be a fun one.

Play #1

The first play immediately plays off of the attention the defense is going to be giving to Phillip Lindsay.

Denver sends Sutton down the field to draw the corner away, and runs Lindsay on a quick flat route. This draws the attention of both linebackers, below.

All eyes are on Lindsay at this point, not only because of the weapon that he is, but also because this is a common look and situation Denver likes to utilize this quick hitter to Lindsay.

Meanwhile, check out Heuerman sneaking in behind the underneath coverage.

The corner is occupied by Sutton, and the linebacker has realized the deception too late. Keenum drops it in the bucket for a big gain.

At the end of last week’s piece, I said the next step in utilizing Phillip Lindsay is using him as a decoy to open things up for the rest of the offense; Denver did just that, here.

Play #2

The next play featured another common play Denver runs, a bubble screen to the slot out of a 3x1 set.

Here Denver shows that look, even carrying out a pump fake to Sanders. This draws the nickel corner down towards Sanders while the tight end, Lacosse, works the space left open down the sideline.

Pittsburgh is in zone and doesn’t have enough defenders to account for both the screen, and the vertical route of Lacosse.

Another on the money throw from Keenum, and big play from Denver. This would set up the Broncos for a touchdown on the next play.

Play #3

The first two plays, Denver is stretching the defense vertically and throwing in behind them on the outside.The next two feature Denver exploiting the middle of the field by stretching the defense horizontally.

This play features not one, but two fake screens. The first is a fake screen left to Freeman, and then the play turns towards Janovich on the right.

The first pump fake draws the two defenders on the left, towards fake #1, while fake #2 will move the two defenders on the right.

All the while, Jeff Heuerman is slowly blocking as if it’s a screen play, and then releases at the last minute into the vacated middle of the field.

Just a brilliantly designed and executed play by Denver. A few plays later, they would punch it in for a touchdown.

Play #4

The last one, features Sanders in the slot out of what becomes a trips set after motion.

Denver motions Janovich across the formation before the snap and again draws the defense’s attention with his flat route.

The Steelers are blitzing which leaves a ton of space over the middle for Sanders to work on his slant route.

The middle linebacker gets caught peaking at the flat route by Janovich just long enough to let Sanders get in behind him.

Keenum sees it and immediately feeds it to Sanders over the middle.

This was really cool and fun to see, because Denver’s offense has made it’s living with short flat routes on the outside. We have talked all year about the slant/flat and curl/flat combos being staples of their offense.

So now, in a must-win game late in the season, Musgrave takes what the opponents have seen on film all year, and uses that against them for four big plays that all contributed to key scoring drives for the offense.

Kudos all around are in order for both design and execution. I look forward to seeing more gameplans like this down the stretch.