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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
Play #2 - Is it gap (man) or zone blocking? pic.twitter.com/mlPHVHl5C5— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 13, 2020
Play #3 - Is it gap (man) or zone blocking? pic.twitter.com/ixLpT3wA8N— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 13, 2020
Play #4 Is it gap (man) or zone blocking? pic.twitter.com/7FW47GLPWl— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 14, 2020
Fifth and final play for now - Is it gap (man) or zone blocking? pic.twitter.com/DkZgGic2JV— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 14, 2020
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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Your Broncos Links
Some stats, some history and some good vibes for the future of the Denver Broncos.
Justin Simmons isn’t going anywhere. Is he the only free agent Elway should retain?
Change is in the air for the Broncos at offensive coordinator.
This is one of the key differentiators between the two I'm seeing. One of the reasons I initially liked Scangs was his designs. He was good there, but struggled on playcalling.— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) January 13, 2020
Seems like Shurmur is a better/more exp. playcaller, less so on designs, which is fine if he produces. https://t.co/3Kk0T2VPRl
Vic Fangio made the switch to distract Broncos Country from having their weekend ruined by the outcome in KC.
I've seen this with both Barkley and Cook now. Shurmur likes to get his back out on the perimeter in 5-wide and have them run a slant. Isn't just a redzone thing either. pic.twitter.com/dYzZp5GoHJ— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 13, 2020
Pat Leonard, who covers the Giants for The New York Daily News, joined Ryan and Ben on Broncos Country Tonight to break down the Giants perspective on what the Broncos are getting in former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur as their new OC.
A look at the Xs and Os of the new Giants coach’s offense.
If we're doing this, it's worth noting that the only times his offense looked good in the red zone was when Chip Kelly was calling the shots. https://t.co/xcU6nUet0X— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 13, 2020
The next combination we’ll look at - along with its derivatives - is the Mesh Concept. The Mesh concept is an Air Raid staple that is so successful that it’s found its way into almost every offense.
The basic design of the mesh concept involves two receivers crossing underneath at a mesh point over the middle.
With how much Mesh the Broncos are about to run, this would be a great wrinkle. https://t.co/6bLDQ2Dfm3— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 14, 2020
There seems to be a lot of confusion about gap vs zone blocking. This is a great resource to have.
PFF Rankings: All 32 NFL coverage defenses through 17 weeks of the regular season | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF
10. DENVER BRONCOS New head coach Vic Fangio helped the 2019 Denver Broncos climb up from the 23rd-ranked coverage grade (72.4) they earned in 2018 to a 10th-ranked coverage grade (82.3) in 2019. Safety Justin Simmons played a huge part in that through 17 weeks, as he earned the third-highest coverage grade (91.1) among qualifying safeties on the year. The Broncos played a large proportion of their coverage snaps in either a Cover-3 (18.5% of snaps) or Cover-6 (19.0%) shell. As a whole, their cornerbacks and safeties forced an incompletion on 12.4% of their targets, 11th among the league’s secondary groups.
NFL Draft Links
2020 NFL Draft: Top 10 prospects to watch in the National Championship | College Football and NFL Draft | PFF
These 10 players are worth keeping an eye on in light of the National Championship.
Loved Queen on tape. Needs to clean up some bad habits, but the play speed and recognition skills are there. He's an ascending prospect.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 14, 2020
Queen was LB5 on my latest top-100 draft board. https://t.co/LhWI1uvWV6
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry ran for 2,017 yards in 2019. Only Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard ran for more in the FBS. Perry isn’t likely to play quarterback in the NFL, having passed for only 1,084 yards last season. So Perry is playing receiver in the East-West Shrine Game.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be a top five back in basically any other class.— Walker Kelly (@walkerkelly13) January 14, 2020
The Bears have reportedly settled on a new offensive coordinator. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Bears are hiring Bill Lazor to fill the post. Mark Helfrich was relieved of his duties after the 2019 season.
The Cleveland Browns have announced Kevin Stefanski as their new head coach. The team plans to interview George Paton, who is close to Stefanski, for their general manager position.
Only minutes after a report that the Panthers had requested permission to interview Andrew Berry comes word from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media that the Eagles have denied permission.
Now that the Seahawks’ season is over, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Why he’s trying to get to the Super Bowl by any means necessary.
This directly helps the Broncos chances at the postseason going forward. https://t.co/W1WgE9owAV— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) January 13, 2020
The football-following world is paying way too much attention to the future of Tom Brady, and not nearly enough to the future of Drew Brees. Brady has made it clear that he’ll play in 2020. Within the next two months, we’ll find out where. Brees has said nothing about whether he’ll play in 2020.