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A roster move may have given us a hint about what the Broncos' offense will look like in 2018

Ryan Koenigsberg Avatar
September 6, 2018

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In 2017, the Denver Broncos were without an identity, unless, of course, “bad” is an identity.

In 2018, they want to change that. Back at the NFL Scouting Combine in March head coach Vance Joseph made that clear.

“In Denver, we want to play great defense all the time and run the football,” he said.

I didn’t happen to notice him in the media scrum but, considering he was in Indianapolis at the time, Pete Carroll may have been listening in.

On Wednesday, I asked Carroll what he expected from the Broncos offense this year.

“I think that they’re going to be the team that coach Joseph wants them to be,” he said, potentially harkening back to that day in Indy. “I think he wants them to be an aggressive, tough team that runs the football and plays good defense. That’s his background, and I wouldn’t expect anything different.”

Well, I suppose that settles it, the Broncos are gonna hand the ball off to Royce Freeman 30 times and live on four yards and a could of dust, right?

Not so fast.

First of all, Joseph said that before the team had their starting quarterback, Case Keenum, and also before they drafted a guy by the name of Courtland Sutton.

Second of all, when assembling their roster, the Broncos made a move that may have given us a hint that they won’t exactly be a ground-and-pound football team.

Coming into training camp, the projected Broncos tight end depth chart looked like this:

  1. Jeff Heuerman: A well-rounded—but not spectacular—tight end who has the ability to block and catch at an average level.
  2. Jake Butt: An exciting prospect who projects to be more of a pass catcher in the NFL.
  3. Austin Traylor: A smaller, wider-bodied guy who is athletic enough to make plays in the passing game but excels more as a blocker.

For a team planning to run the ball, that group makes sense. A guy who does both and a specialist in each area, giving you two guys who are plus tight ends in the running game.

The Broncos, though, ended up going in a different direction.

Here is the team’s depth chart heading into Sunday’s opener.

  1. Jeff Heuerman: A well-rounded—but not spectacular—tight end who has the ability to block and catch at an average level.
  2. Jake Butt: An exciting prospect who could develop into a more well-rounded guy, but projects to be more of a pass catcher in the NFL.
  3. Matt LaCosse: Another young guy who could do both, but projects as more of a pass catcher this season.

Now, it should be noted that LaCosse outplayed Traylor on both offense and special teams in the preseason, but that does not look like the tight end group for a team that is planning to run in order to set up the pass. That looks like a team that’s going to chuck the rock around, with Heuerman really serving as the only plus blocker in the tight end group.

On Wednesday, though, Vance Joseph doubled down on running the ball, noting, “That’s our formula to win.”

“Obviously, this [Seahawks] defense, it’s a really, really stout front,” he added. “They are a single-high coverage team, so they’re going to have one more guy in the box than you can account for every down. We have to have a great plan to block that guy or influence that guy, but we can’t get frustrated with the running game. We have to stay with it. It may look ugly sometimes, but we have to stay with and puncture some runs to make our pass game more available.”

Run to pass, run to pass, run to pass.

Here’s the thing, an eight-man box means single coverage on the outside for your trio of explosive receivers. And the emergence of Courtland Sutton, combined with a weaker tight end group, leads one to believe you’re going to see a healthy helping of three-wide looks from Bill Musgrave.

From this view, that looks like a team that’s set up to pass in order to set up the run.

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