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GIF Horse - The Bill Musgrave Offense Part 3

Let’s go over some go-to plays from the Bill Musgrave offense that we might see with Case Keenum and the Denver Broncos in 2018.

Casey Barrett

In Part 1 of the Bill Musgrave series, I went over key run game concepts that the 2018 Denver Broncos will surely utilize. Last week I went over the formations Musgrave has strongly favored in his time with the Broncos and Oakland Raiders.

This week, it’s time to cover the rest of the story, starting with passing concepts the Broncos will go to time and again.

The Slant/Flat and Double Slant

The Slant/Flat Double Slant combo was the Musgrave Raiders go-to quick game play.

The play above is a key concept used throughout the NFL but Derek Carr and the Raiders tore apart opposing defenses with it. It’s a simple concept, but flexible enough for a quarterback to find success against Cover 2 and most, if not all man coverage.

Motion from Trips open to 2X2.

As I mentioned last week, Musgrave often motions a player to make the defense show to the QB. That’s what Sanders does here.

It’s impossible to miss the communication going on here.

Any quarterback would see the motion above and adjustment by the defense. Also take note how the left edge shifted to ensure he’s outside of Sanders. If the Broncos were running the ball, that motion just created additional room inside.

Blue is Broncos routes, orange is notable defensive assignments.

The key coaching point of the double slant pattern is the aiming point, as I wrote in the diagram above, receivers are coached to aim their route at the inside leg of the second defender inside of them.

As I originally mentioned, slant/flat double slant is effective against both single high man to man defense as well as Cover 2. Against the zone, the double slant will force a shallow zone defender to declare and create room for a receiver to get open.

Against single high Cover 1 like the play above? At the snap, the quarterback is responsible for reading the defender responsible for the slot receiver. If they move to cover flat route, the QB throws to the slant wide receiver. If defender sits in order to stop the slant, then the QB throws to the open flat. It’s a basic read and simple pass, as Osweiler proves with his completion to Sanders in the flat.


If the defense sinks in order to stop verticals, the QB needs to dump off to an outlet, as Carr does here.

Verticals is a simple concept. Most defenses primarily defend with a 2 deep zone or 3 deep zone, verticals floods it with 4 receivers. Simple, yet it can be devastating when the offense possesses the talent to execute it. With the Raiders, Musgrave had two dangerous vertical threats in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. If camp is any sign of what’s to come in 2018, this years’ Broncos have three in Courtland Sutton, Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

In Oakland Musgrave had a QB in Carr who had the talent to terrify opposing secondaries with his arm strength and touch, as well as an offensive line that ranked among the stoutest in all of football. While there are questions along the Denver offensive line that need solving, there’s no reason to believe Case Keenum can’t threaten with the deep ball, as he’s shown a willingness to give his receiver chances to make plays throughout his career.

What’s encouraging about Keenum is that while he’ll toss a bomb every now and then, he’s just as willing to dumpoff to the outlet receiver and let him gain yards after the catch in order to move the chains.

Switch Verticals

Slant/flat to the right, Switch Verticals to the left.

The play above is just one reason why the “simplified” offense is equal parts fitting and overblown. With the Musgrave offense, multiple passing concepts can be run out of a set which makes it simpler to learn for the offense, but tough to defend for an opposing defense.

A defense has to hope pressure gets there, because this is tough to stop.

One reason Musgrave will call switch verticals as compared to the simple form is how effective it is against man coverage. If the corners defending the switch don’t exchange assignments seamlessly on the fly, they will either collide or give space to the receiver. That step is all a receiver needs to blow the top off a defense.

While the switch itself is a two man concept, out of trips sets an additional defender can be used to occupy the space left by the vertical routes. This gives an easy escape valve for the quarterback.

The concept is a modern adaptation from the June Jones Run and Shoot, which should excite fans of Sutton. If you want to read more on the switch, Chris Brown of Smart Football fame dedicated a post to it here. It’s an awesome concept.

The Empty Arrow

The Empty Raider Staple.

One of the glaring weaknesses of empty sets is that the defense has no reason to respect the run. Pass rushers can tee off against blockers because the QB is all alone back there. This means the quarterback has to make the right read and quickly or he’ll eat a sack lunch.

One way to combat this is to build concepts into the sets that provide easy outlets when the rush comes bearing down. During the Raider era Musgrave often utilized the double arrow concept.

The arrow concept is a foundation upon which the empty quick strike game was built.

Similar to the flat route in slant/flat, the arrow concept causes a ton of stress on defenses because it is an easy completion that causes an either/or decision. If paired with double slants, a defender in man coverage winds up behind the arrow because of a natural rub.

The arrow can be run against man or zone coverage.

One of the great things about the concept is that it’s useful no matter how a defense chooses to defend the empty set. It will work against man, but it’s also useful if the defense chooses to utilize Cover 2 or 3. Against zone coverage, the arrow concept is an easy completion in the vacated zone.

Slant/Flat to the left, Arrow concept to the right.

With the 2018 Broncos, I would expect players like Sanders and DaeSean Hamilton to excel on the arrow route as route running from the slot is a strength of both.

3 and Out: Other Musgrave notes

  1. Readers may have noticed that a ton of the passing concepts were shown in empty sets. There’s a good reason for that. The 2016 Raiders were the best team in football out of the set, according to Football Outsiders. Last year’s Case Keenum Vikings? 2nd.
  2. I’ve been asked a few different times about the zone running concepts versus duo, and how frequently Musgrave favored one over the other. I didn’t add up the plays as I watched tape, but Duo was usually the run design favored for short yardage and goal line runs, while the zone plays were frequently mixed in everywhere else. This makes sense as Duo aims for a vertical push up front, which is easier to come by than a stretch when up against the goal line. I would expect Inside Zone to be the most common run concept this season, as it better suits the personnel than Duo does as a foundation.
  3. I’ve been reluctant to buy into the Courtland Sutton hype because I have huge concerns about the defensive back depth chart, but the fact that he’s earned a place among the 1s is noteworthy. With Oakland, the 2 by 2 formation was their base offense, with three receivers and a tight end. Barring a huge setback or injury, he’ll a starting receiver this season. Hamilton will earn a healthy dose of playing time, but the threat Sutton provides vertically can’t be ignored.