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With a team in disarray and the coaching staff under fire, there’s been a lot of talk about the Denver Broncos’ coaching staff’s shortcomings.
From the schemes they’re using, to their inability to make second-half adjustments, to game management, and player development, everything is rightfully being scrutinized.
Beyond any of that, maybe Vance Joseph and crew’s biggest issue is how they’ve been unable to implement game plans that cater to their player’s strengths.
For starters, it’s still unclear why the Broncos have used their cornerbacks in constant off-coverage when every addition they’ve made to the cornerback room, via free agency or the draft, points to them being perfectly suited to play up on the line in press.
Long CBs like Brendan Langley and Isaac Yidaom were third-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018, who didn’t project as complete corners, but in a press-man system, their physicality and length could battle it out and buy the Broncos pass rushers more time to get to the QB.
Tremaine Brock—who Vance Joseph had coached prior to his stint in Denver—had his best years in San Francisco in press coverage, showing great physicality at the line and good ball skills.
Even Adam Jones, who the Broncos had to add late because Langley didn’t work out, showed as recently as 2017 that he could play competently in press and battle against some of the NFL’s best WRs.
Beyond not being the best system to run with this personnel, the decision to play in off-coverage is even more perplexing because it hasn’t worked, as Denver’s ‘D’ is allowing 55 more yards per game in the air than they did back in 2017, going from being a top-five ranked defense against the pass to outside the top 15.
Sure, against the Kansas City Chiefs, pressing in the slot but staying off outside seemed to work for the Broncos but offenses that made a point of attacking with quick routes, like the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets, really hurt the defense.
As a result, the Broncos are allowing a higher reception percentage, as they’re now conceding receptions on 65 percent of the pass attempts they’re, as opposed to 57 percent in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, those two games are the Broncos’ lowest in creating pressure with only five QB pressures combined. They’ve averaged more than 16 pressures per game in their other three contests.
Game planning against off-coverage, for offenses that want to get the ball out in three seconds or less, is just too easy.
More surprising, the Broncos haven’t used quarterback Case Keenum in the same type of offensive scheme that’s hurt their defense, as the quick-passing, shotgun looks have been absent, just as the play-action game hasn’t been there for Keenum.
Per PFF, Keenum’s always excelled on play action with a QB rating of 108.7 across his career, a full 30 points higher than his rating on non-play action passes. The Minnesota Vikings understood this, giving Keenum 28.7 percent of his passes on play-action, while the Broncos are only utilizing their QB 16 percent of the time on play action—fifth lowest in the NFL—despite having the top-ranked running game in yards per attempt.
Furthermore, left tackle Garett Bolles hasn’t made the jump in his second season, as he continues to commit frustrating holding penalties. Bolles is an outrageously talented athlete who tested incredibly during the Draft Combine and showed real promise in his one season of big-time college football.
Despite his improvements as a run blocker, though, it’s been baffling that Denver hasn’t utilized Bolles more on screens, outside runs to his side or reverses, getting him out in space where he could really shine. Whatever it takes to put the athletic tackle on the move it needs to be done, give him more pull blocks, anything.
Moving on, Denver’s edge rushers are the pillar on which the team is built, as the Broncos will only go as far as their outside linebackers will take them. So why have Bradley Chubb and other edge rushers been dropped in coverage in key downs as often as they have?
In a 3-4, that’ll happen from time to time, it has to, but on key passing downs, dropping one of your team’s best pass rushers seems to be a waste of valuable resources.
And on and on it goes…
Courtland Sutton is a YAC machine, he’s physical and really tough to bring down on first contact with his 4.5 speed and massive stature, yet he’s not getting quick hitting screens to get out in space and break tackles.
Some of the criticism directed to this coaching staff might be unwarranted or exaggerated, but their inability to adjust to their player’s strengths, especially their new acquisitions, has become a fundamental issue in the Broncos 2-3 start.
Now, the coaches are far from the only culprits here. The players need to play better, and John Elway and the personnel staff need to do a better job of acquiring quality new additions because right now, this team hasn’t looked very good.
Firing a legend in Elway likely isn’t in the works, and you can’t fire all the players, meaning that if they want to keep their jobs, this coaching staff has to figure out how to best utilize their talent.