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Early tape notes on the Pat Shurmur offense

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The former Giants’ head coach is an experienced play caller who probably won’t leave egg on Fangio’s face.

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I spent the hours leading up to the Chiefs’ playoff game watching prospects to explore who Elway and the Broncos may be interested in if Henry Ruggs III was off the board. The plan was going to be to spend Monday poring over some A.J. Epenesa, Isaiah Simmons, and a few others to start to get up to speed on players I didn’t watch enough of this past year.

Then Vic Fangio threw a pretty hefty wrench in my plans right around the time Houston went up 21-0. Rich Scangarello was out. Speculation was rampant. At one point I felt pretty strongly that Gary Kubiak was going to be the hire.

Before Houston completely blew the game, it was crystal clear Pat Shurmur would be the new offensive coordinator. I’d only watched a few Giants’ games this year as they weren’t on the Broncos’ schedule and studying bad football is closer to work than fun. Which meant I had a lot of catching up to do.

I’ve made a point to go back over and try to watch Shurmur’s work with all of his starting-caliber quarterbacks the last three years, and I focused on the concepts and designs that might give me a better idea of how Shurmur’s hiring might change the Broncos’ philosophy this offseason.

It’s early, but here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

  • Joe Mahoney looked at how Shurmur’s offenses performed from 2009-2019 and put them under a microscope.
MHR’s Joe Mahoney did some serious digging into the numbers here.
  • The Broncos will still use their guards on pulls. I saw this across all of the games I watched, and it remains something to watch with Ron Leary. If the Broncos don’t retain him, I would think they will want someone at right guard who can move.
Shurmur’s offenses with both the Vikings and Giants asked for guards to pull on both runs and play action concepts.
  • He’ll motion the receivers down into nasty splits quite often. This will happen on runs, passes, and play action. There are times Stefon Diggs is asked to block in tight like this, so it isn’t about size so much as getting angles. It probably bodes well for DaeSean Hamilton, who really stood out for his blocking in 2019.
Shurmur uses a decent bit of close sets, and will motion receivers in tight.
  • It looks like there’s more to his running game than I dared hope going in. It will be interesting to see how he blends the blocking scheme with Munchak’s expertise in order to maximize Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. It wasn’t too long ago Fangio and the coaching staff seemed to believe the 2018 third-round pick could be a 1A type of workhorse.
  • I tried to play a little game on Twitter before the National Championship last night. See how you do:
  • One of the more interesting complaints about the Rich Scangarello offense by some was how it didn’t use Mesh Concepts. While this wasn’t true (see the Packers game in Week 3) it’s fair to say there will be more of it with Shurmur calling the offense.

What is a Mesh concept? Well, it’s a staple in just about every modern passing attack in football today. Two drag or crossing routes are used in combination to create a rub directly in front of the quarterback. It’s a man beater because a player will often be picked as he tries to keep up with his assignment.

There are different variations of Mesh scattered throughout the tape I’ve watched so far.
  • Janovich may find his offensive role minimized. Shurmur’s Vikings used C.J. Hamm 18% of the time in 2017, Elijhaa Penny was used as the Giants fullback in 2019 and used on close to 12% of all offensive snaps.
  • Shurmur strikes me as a play caller who will go back to a concept until the opposing defense proves they can stop it. This was most notable in the first game I watched where Daniel Jones threw five touchdowns against Washington in week 16.
  • Before Scangarello was fired I strongly believed a true third down back like Theo Riddick was a need. This wasn’t because Lindsay and Freeman had bad hands so much as the fact that they didn’t show advanced route running skills. My first thought watching through the 2017-2019 games is that this won’t be as big a need this offseason. Saquon Barkley ran a few concepts that looked beyond the third year backs, but he was the exception.
  • This may be a sample size thing, but it looks like Shurmur is a fan of max protect three receiver routes. Most of these came on play action, but I’ve seen a couple others. It could lead to some chunk plays as Drew Lock will theoretically have a little more time to scan downfield, but it also led to Eli Manning scrambles.
The Broncos may solve some of their protection issues with more blockers in 2020.
  • Had a 72/28 pass/run split out of 11 personnel in 2019 and a 74/26 split in 2018. Things were more when he had two tight and two receivers in the game.
  • One of the bigger concerns is how Shurmur’s redzone offense will look. There was a lot less motion and far more static isolation routes in the games I watched. Both of these things would represent a big step back from where Denver’s O looked during Lock’s five games.
Hopefully Shurmur brings the same kind of modern offense to the redzone that he hinted at in the Tampa Bay game.
  • I’m very curious to go through and see how Evan Engram was utilized when he was healthy. It’s notable how he had as many targets in his 9 games as Noah Fant did over all of 2019. Fant was compared to him coming out because both are supersized receiver types and ridiculous athletes for the position. There’s a decent chance Fant is a better fit in an Engram role than the George Kittle one Scangarello was molding him to. Things I’ve noticed so far is tight end screens, button hooks, crossing and flat routes.
  • Right after the 2019 season ended KOA’s Benjamin Allbright reported that Henry Ruggs III would be the Broncos’ selection if he was on the board at 15. A true burner made a ton of sense in the old system. There remains a decent chance Elway would still break tradition and draft a player from Alabama if he’s available come April, but the change to Shurmur means a player like Justin Jefferson or Tee Higgins could also make some sense. The receiving class as a whole deserves another look.

It struck me as strange how often the Giants and Vikings were using concepts I dial up when I play Madden 20 with my brother. Shurmur didn’t come across as the kind of coach who will reinvent the wheel and show an opponent something they’ve never seen before. That’s okay, where he may yet be an improvement over Scangarello is his ability to call the right play at the right time and present a simplified scheme for the young offense to learn and master.

The fact that many are selling the hire as a move towards aggressiveness does strike me as odd. It’s even stranger that many are now clinging to the 16-game stats when it was so obvious the offense made a huge jump when Drew Lock entered the lineup. The offense I watched for the better part of 2017-2019 wasn’t some sort of aerial circus with deep bombs left and right so much as a variation of the Alex Smith Chiefs.

This isn’t a bad thing if it means Denver is controlling the clock and their quarterback is managing the game. After all, Pat Shurmur’s offense with Lock will almost certainly look more aggressive than the 2019 Broncos 16 game offense because any full season with Lock at the helm should look more dynamic. Especially when you consider Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant will have more experience and there should be more talent than what was available for large parts of last year.

Happy to share more thoughts as I continue to dig through the tape. Let me know what you think, Broncos Country!

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