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Horse Tracks: Good play design is not the same thing as good play calling

Tim Jenkins joined Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright on Broncos Country tonight to talk play call, play design, personnel matchups and playing under center.

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NFL: New York Jets at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

It feels like we’ve been firing Nathaniel Hackett for two days now and that there’s nothing left to say about this team until he’s gone.

And it’s frustrating that one of the biggest problems is the coach himself just doesn’t seem to understand the obvious - the offense is breaking down because of his play calling.

But a clue as to why the coach doesn’t get it is something Tim Jenkins and Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright talked about Monday on Broncos Country Tonight.

“The concepts - when you look at them on a whiteboard or film - the concepts aren’t bad,” Jenkins acknowledged. “But then when you dig a little deeper…you’ll see really good concepts but dressing them up with the wrong personnel.”

Bad personnel matchups

In a short clip Jenkins posted on Twitter - which is a snippet of his entire breakdown posted on YouTube - he pointed out a play design where Courtland Sutton was the designated vertical threat and a tight end was sent in the deep over.

Although drawing it up for Sutton to get the 50-50 ball “isn’t the worst idea” in the design, Jenkins notes, having the tight end run a deep over definitely is. That design led to a Jets interception “because of course it did.”

“There’s no safety in the NFL who thinks he has to do press man to get vertical with Courtland Sutton,” Jenkins added. “They just sit back and see the crosser and of course beat the tight end to the slot.”

So Jenkins can see how the coach would maintain that it’s a good play call, just poorly executed.

But that doesn’t make it less of a problem - especially when play design is an issue.

Poor situational choices

Allbright brought up the Broncos’ 4th-down play just after the two-minute warning at the end of the game.

Broncos were down a touchdown but were driving and had made it into Jets’ territory. Instead of finding a good short pass play to get the first down and then eat up the clock while inching closer to the end zone, Hackett and Brett Rypien chose a one-on-one matchup with Sutton.

Jenkins told Allbright and Edwards exactly what the QB read sheet would be for that play’s progression - the main target was Jerry Jeudy, the second option was going outside and the third was to Melvin Gordon.

“They always have that addendum, ‘if you like the one-on-one, take it,’” Jenkins said. “So on paper, yeah, good decision by Brett. But in reality, it’s 4th and 3, you're driving the football, it’s straight cover you’re left wondering if the 50-50 ball is our best shot at driving down and tying this up?”

But that wasn’t even the most egregious error on play calling, according to Jenkins. That honor belongs to the 4th-and-10 play with 37 seconds left in the game.

“The Jets are basically giving you the first down,” Jenkins said, adding the best approach would be a 10-yard out, get the first down and then take four realistic shots at the end zone. Instead it’s a 40-yard out-and-up to KJ that falls short.

“So yeah they may seem like good concepts, but then you get into situations and you’re thinking, ‘how is this the best we have?’” Jenkins said.

There it is. Exactly the problem.

A huge reason player execution is so lacking is that the situation is not setting the players up for success.

The play design may be masterful. But if it’s run at the wrong time, it won’t matter one bit.

Randomness of it all

Finally, there’s just the random nature of when certain formations are chosen, when to run or pass, the decision to go for it or not go for it...

Some of this has been improved by Jerry Rosburg’s addition. But Edwards pointed out that the offense played well in the first half - when the plays were mostly scripted and the offense ran under center 60% of the time. Then in the second half, the offense was under center only 28% of the time and had no more scoring drives.

For Jenkins’ money, running under center is always a good choice - especially with younger, less-experienced QBs because it’s easier to establish the run game, the play-action game, even the boot game.

“I’m always a fan of getting under center,” he said.

And he would highly recommend this plan to Hackett for the Jaguars game in London - so the Broncos can run more RPO, play-action, bootleg.

Y’know, things that will actually play to the strengths of his team.

“Broncos are the only team that when I watch the tape,” Jenkin said, “everything seems hard.”


How can Hackett keep his job for next year, in your opinion?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    String together a win streak
    (204 votes)
  • 15%
    Win 10 least
    (102 votes)
  • 12%
    Make it to the playoffs
    (81 votes)
  • 42%
    Impossible question...he can’t!
    (282 votes)
669 votes total Vote Now

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