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Is Rich Scangarello what’s wrong with the Broncos’ offense?

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The first year play caller has taken a lot of heat. Is it justified?

Joe Flacco’s comments after the Broncos and Colts game hammered home a narrative that has been building in certain segments of Broncos Country for awhile now.

“I mean, come on. I just look at it like we’re now a 2-6 football team and we look like we’re afraid to go for it in a two-minute drill. You know?”

There’s been frustration over the offense since the second half collapse to the Jacksonville Jaguars, which continued in the second half of the Chargers game. It snowballed into an interview after the Colts loss where the Broncos chose to run on 3rd and 5, failed to convert, and proceeded to lose a one point lead in the final minutes.

At first glance, it’s definitely worth being upset over this play.

In the immediate aftermath of the Colts loss, I was right there with Flacco. I thought the Broncos floundered and wound up losing the game because they were too cautious. If you want more of my rationale there, I talked about it at length with Joe Mahoney and Jeff Essary earlier this week.

Since then, Vic Fangio came out and explained how the Broncos planned to go for it if the 3rd and 5 run had gotten 3 or 4 yards. This explains the decision to run rather than pass, as it’s a guaranteed way to force the Colts to burn a timeout or time off the clock.

After getting my hands on the All-22 Tuesday night, the call made even more sense. I also figured out why it failed so badly.

Let me just say I’d run the ball if I saw this defense in Madden.

The Broncos had a number advantage at the point of attack, and if either Connor McGovern or Elijah Wilkinson make it to the Colts’ linebacker Darius Leonard, Phillip Lindsay probably gets a first down. I say this as a statement of fact more than to blame any player. Leonard was an All Pro last year and he’s really dang good. It happens.

While I would have probably planned to pass the ball on 3rd and 5 if I’d faced the same situation in my Madden brother bowl franchise, it’s hard to blame the Broncos for going the way they did. The thought process made sense, it just didn’t work.

This is a common statement with the Broncos’ offense this year. Over the last three weeks, I’ve studied the second halves of the Jaguars’ and Chargers’ games twice over.

As has been the case all season (yes, even when the Broncos offense looked halfway decent), the biggest issue was a quarterback who didn’t process the information on the field quickly enough. This was covered at length last week.

So it should be no surprise it cropped up during the Colts’ game as well.

One of the big complaints Flacco defenders have had about the play calling is how Rich Scangarello doesn’t dial up enough plays where a receiver is open over the middle in the shallow part of the field. The thinking goes that this would play into Flacco’s strengths, as it’s a primary read and still hides Garett Bolles and Elijah Wilkinson.

If they were watching the tape, they’d see Scangarello’s done just that all season. He also tried in Indianapolis multiple times. This is the most painful example:

“Getting in field goal range isn’t that tough,” Joe Flacco

The play above comes from the Broncos’ final third down of the 1st half. They’re creeping towards midfield with 1:11 left on the clock and all three timeouts, so the first down conversion is by far the most important goal.

What follows still baffles me days later.

This is elementary.

Rich Scangarello’s design calls for Phillip Lindsay to go into motion. This serves two purposes. The first is that it forces the Colts to declare what their coverage shell is. Now, there’s ways to muddle this and some of the really savvy coordinators do just that, but even still this is almost certainly Man coverage based on spacing and the way Lindsay has a defender follow him. Based on situation and alignment, it’s almost certainly a variation of Cover 1.

The Broncos’ play call is built to defeat man coverage, especially Cover 1.

The Broncos are using a mesh concept, where two defenders run what amounts to a pick route over the middle of the field, creating a rub that should shake one free for an easy completion and space to operate after the catch. It’s a staple of NFL passing games and has been for years.

Sutton is wide open, Lamar Flacco decides to do it himself.

Pressure off the edges flushes Flacco, and the veteran begins to scramble. I’m not a doctor, but I do suspect that the borderline(?) late hit by Darius Leonard is what eventually lead to Flacco’s neck injury that has him inactive against the Browns.

That pressure is also the one excuse any Flacco stan really has for what transpires on this play, but even that falls apart on closer scrutiny. While Bolles and Wilkinson both give up heat off the edges, the middle of the pocket is clean. It’s hard to imagine a 12-year veteran who knows the play call wouldn’t realize he can step up, deliver an easy throw to Sutton on his drag, and watch the 2nd year star create a huge play to set up a scoring opportunity.

At least until you realize that 12-year veteran is Joe Flacco.

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