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What do the Broncos 3 finalists for head coach suggest about Paton’s plans for the roster?

Back to the future, again?

With the Denver Broncos search for their 17th head coach in franchise history stretching into a third week, I thought it time to do a preliminary dive into the three finalists. On this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos Tim Lynch and I discussed how their schemes and personnel usage appear to differ from what the Broncos have used the last three years under Vic Fangio to see if there’s any hints at the way George Paton will overhaul the roster this offseason.

Keep in mind that some of this stuff could change if the finalist is hired and adapts to the personnel on hand. Also worth noting that I plan to dive into the system a lot more if they’re hired.

The Broncos three finalists:

Dan Quinn - Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator / Atlanta Falcons former head coach

Nathaniel Hackett - Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator

Kevin O’Connell - Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator

Dan Quinn

  • Offensively Quinn is sort of a wildcard because he’s never been a coordinator.. But we know from his time in Atlanta that he favored a Shanahan OZ heavy offense. Part of this is that the Kyle Shanahan was so successful he tried to get the next OCs Steve Sarkisian to keep parts of it moving forward. Dirk Koetter diversified the run game and worked towards blending Shanahan with Air Coryell in the passing game.
  • We’ve already seen some discourse about the how a Quinn hire would mean a move from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3, but keep in mind that the Cowboys used less than 100 snaps of base personnel last year.
  • The bigger changes up front will be the way Quinn’s defense used their DL compared to Fangios. Less gap and a half, more penetration. This could be really good for Dre’Mont Jones in my opinion. If the last 3 years of both are any indication, we will also see more bear fronts and a lot less light boxes. This could lead to some rather interesting decisions over the offseason.
  • Baron Browning would probably take a Micah Parsons’ role.
  • Bradley Chubb looks like a good fit if healthy.
  • Jones and Harris may look better.
  • Who is the second edge? Who is the third? This was a huge issue in Atlanta. Dallas had 3 strong edge rushers
  • Who is the middle linebacker? Quinn’s had Bobby Wagner, Deion Jones, and Leighton Vander Esch
  • In coverage a Quinn hire would push the Broncos away from Cover 6 to more quarters on passing downs, and a lot more single high shells outside of obvious passing downs. This is the “Seattle style” so we’ll see a lot more three deep and variants off it with 3 match. On third+fourth downs it will look more like what we saw last year than the first two years of Fangio - a lot of man coverage with an extra rusher coming from the second level.
The Broncos coverage usage under Vic Fangio in 2021
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
2018 Falcons coverage usage under Dan Quinn
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
2019 Falcons coverage usage under Dan Quinn
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
2020 Falcons coverage usage under Dan Quinn. Quinn was fired after an 0-5 start, but the defense stuck maintained similar coverage usage over the remainder season.
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
2021 Cowboys coverage usage under Dan Quinn. A lot has been made about how Quinn’s defense changed in Dallas, but fundamentally he simply used more nickel personnel and mixed in more quarters with less C3.
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown

Nathaniel Hackett

Hackett and O’Connell are complete wildcards as far as what they’ll do with the defense. I want to mention that, because it’s an area where George Paton will know a lot more than us.

As for what we do know:

The Packers offense is a variant off of Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay which means a west coast passing game and zone rushing attack with a good bit of pre-snap motion. Hackett worked under two pretty different head coaches with very different personnel in the NFL. Then when he was at Syracuse he was operating out of more spread, which makes sense given the way the game is played in college. It’s worth noting that 12 and 21 personnel can be used interchangeably if the second tight end or fullback is versatile enough.

2019:

11: 60% of all snaps

12: 20% of all snaps

21: 12% of all snaps

22: 3% of all snaps

13: 3% of all snaps

2020:

11: 55% of all snaps

12: 24% of all snaps

21: 14% of all snaps

22: 2% of all snaps

13: 4% of all snaps

2021:

11: 60% of all snaps

12: 29% of all snaps

21: 2% of all snaps

13: 2% of all snaps

**Public personnel data only goes back to 2018**

The last two years under Pat Shurmur the Broncos used 11 personnel on about ⅔ of their snaps with 12 personnel the next most utilized. Everything else was situational.

The most obvious shift Denver will go through if Hackett’s hired and implements what he’s used in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Buffalo is that the Broncos will probably move away from gap scheme being a significant part of their run game. inside Zone, outside Zone, and duo were the key components of the Packers rushing attack.

  • Changing the blocking scheme could create a noticeable adjustment period for the Broncos’ current offensive line and running backs.
  • Garett Bolles should thrive in an outside zone scheme as he has the mobility to excel in a system where stretching a defense horizontally is key.
  • A system with less pulling could impact how valuable Dalton Risner is, as he’s at his best working as a lead puller on gap runs.
  • Quinn Meinerz is a tremendous athlete who originally looked like a strong fit for gap runs, but he looked very promising when the Broncos’ used zone concepts in 2021.
  • Javonte Williams’ biggest issue his rookie season stemmed from decision making and vision, and using outside zone as the base run concept would require he improve in this area.
  • During Mike Boone’s time with the Minnesota Vikings he showed he is at his best on outside zone. He’s good at reading out the defense and making the right cuts to maximize his blocking.

**The Kneel Down’s data goes back to 2014**

The Broncos run concept usage in 2020
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Broncos run concept usage in 2021
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Packers run concept usage in 2021
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Packers run concept usage in 2020
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Packers run concept usage in 2019
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Jaguars run concept usage in 2018
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Jaguars run concept usage in 2017
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Jaguars run concept usage in 2016
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Bills run concept usage in 2014
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown

Kevin O’Connell

Like Hackett, O’Connell’s plans for the defense are a complete mystery to us on the outside. As McVay’s offensive coordinator, O’Connell is not the play caller. It’s also worth noting that he was not officially the play caller in Washington under Jay Gruden that they also ran a variant of the same offensive system. With that in mind, O’Connell’s coaching experience suggests he’d bring a McVay system to his next stop. Boiling it way down - West Coast passing game, zone rushing attack mixed with duo, good bit of motion.

**Personnel data only goes back to 2018*

2018:

11: 71% of all snaps

12: 18% of all snaps

13: 7% of all snaps

22: 2% of all snaps

21: 1% of all snaps

2019:

11: 70% of all snaps

12: 14% of all snaps

10: 6% of all snaps

21: 5% of all snaps

22: 2% of all snaps

2020:

11: 65% of all snaps

12: 29% of all snaps

2021:

11: 84% of all snaps

12: 13% of all snaps

One thing that distinguishes the McVay system and its offshoots from Kyle Shanahan’s is the heavy use off 11 personnel, bunched sets and the threat of a WR on jet sweeps. The run game is also significantly different than what San Francisco uses: McVay’s offense leans heavily on outside zone, duo, and then restraint concepts. O’Connell’s time in Washington does hint that he may bring a more varied approach to the Broncos if hired.

The Rams run concept usage in 2021
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Rams run concept usage in 2020
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
Washington’s run concept usage in 2019
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
Washington’s run concept usage in 2018
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown

Final Thoughts

If there’s one schematic trend to keep an eye on in Paton’s search for a head coach, it’s that the Broncos look like they’re moving back towards an offense that will remind fans of the Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak years. The offense will be a true system that builds off itself rather than a smattering of concepts that get thrown at a defense willy-nilly.

Two of the Broncos three finalists for head coach have either worked under Sean McVay himself or under a coach who utilizes an offshoot of his offense. The other candidate used Kyle Shanahan’s system long after he left to become a head coach. At this point there are significant differences between Shanahan’s offense and McVay’s, but they both lean heavily on outside zone as a key run game concept.

While things could change once the head coach and his assistants are in place, I expect Paton to begin to tailor his roster for an outside zone run game this offseason. Mobility will be an important consideration for offensive linemen, and a back’s peripheral vision and decision making will receive greater scrutiny.