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What parts of the Packers offense will Nathaniel Hackett bring with him to the Broncos?

How much change looms over the Broncos’ offense?

Now that the Denver Broncos have hired Nathaniel Hackett to be the 17th full time head coach in franchise history, it’s time to start digging into what it means for the rest of the roster. While Hackett was not the primary offensive play caller with the Green Bay Packers, there’s plenty of hints that he could be bringing a variant of the same system with him to his new job.

To find out more about what that actually means, I reached out to Bobby Peters for today’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos. Peters is a civil engineer and author who wrote The 2020 Green Bay Packers Complete Offensive Manual, something I pored over last offseason to learn about Aaron Rodgers’ offense. What follows is a brief overview of the topics we discussed.

  • While both systems are originally from the same tree, one of the big differences between the Packers offense under Matt LaFleur and the San Francisco 49ers offense under Kyle Shanahan is how Green Bay mad a concentrated effort to simplify their personnel and scheme. Is that something Hackett brings to the Broncos?
  • What are the benefits to a streamlined vs. multiple offense?
  • What are the drawbacks of this approach?

The Packers offense have leaned heavily on 11/12 personnel since 2019:

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

  • Like LaFleur and Hackett, Pat Shurmur’s offense in Denver played most of their snaps out of 11 and 12 personnel.
  • During the two years Pat Shurmur was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator they ran a diverse run scheme that utilized both zone and gap blocking. Hackett’s been an offensive coordinator for three NFL teams: the Buffalo Bills, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Green Bay Packers. Throughout his stops as he’s favored a zone blocking scheme.

The following data is pulled from The Kneel Down, which takes Pro Football Focus’ charting data and presents it in graphical form. Worth noting that PFF charting dates back to 2014, so I’m still digging into the 2013 Buffalo Bills.

First up is the 2020 and 2021 Broncos. Shurmur leaned on inside zone as a bread-and-butter concept for Melvin Gordon, who majored in it dating back to his time with the Wisconsin Badgers.

The Broncos run concept usage in 2020
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
The Broncos run concept usage in 2021
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown

Like the 2021 Broncos, the Packers under Hackett and LaFleur also used inside zone more than any other concept. What’s notable is how they very rarely used any gap concept but duo.

Duo is commonly referred to “power without a puller.” It utilizes gap blocking up front and can be hard to distinguish from inside zone. The difference lies with the offensive line. Unlike inside zone, the blockers don’t step in unison toward the same direction on duo. Instead, they step towards each other in an effort to create a double team on their assignment in order to create vertical displacement.

Without understating the importance of the offensive line, it’s important to recognize the onus put on the ball carrier’s decision making to maximize duo. His initial aiming point is the outside leg of the play side guard, but where he winds up depends upon his read of the Mike linebacker. If the Mike leverages the inside gap, the back should look to cut towards space. If the Mike leverages the outside gap, the running back should accelerate to and through his initial aiming point.

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

One thing that really stood out to me about Hackett’s time as the offensive coordinator of the Jaguars is how the offense deemphasized outside zone after Jacksonville drafted Leonard Fournette fourth overall in 2017. This wasn’t a coincidence. The 228 lb. Fournette left LSU as a phenomenal size/speed prospect who had questions about his vision, which can become exacerbated in an outside zone scheme. Similar questions dogged the Broncos’ Javonte Williams when he left North Carolina.

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 2014 Bills was a tough year in Buffalo due to injuries, but the data point is worth taking note of. C.J. Spiller fractured clavicle in October and missed most of the second half of the season, while Fred Jackson missed a month of the season after suffering a groin injury in October. The 33-year-old still finished as Buffalo’s leading rushing. Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown also saw significant snaps, and the Bills used inside zone more than four times as often as any other concept.

The Bills run concept usage in 2014
Ryan Weisman / The Kneeldown
  • Are there any noteworthy similarities between the two offenses?
  • In what ways is Hackett a departure from what the Broncos have done the last two years?
  • Peters noted in the introduction to his book that the Packers drop back passing game focused on isolating the WR1 and making him the first read in the quarterback’s progression. Over the last three years Davante Adams has been targeted 445 times in the regular season, which is more than triple what any of the Broncos’ leading receivers have received over the last three years. What could Hackett’s passing offense mean for Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy?