As if there was any lingering doubt in the matter with Peyton Manning aboard, it was confirmed Saturday that the Broncos’ offense will look different than it did last year.
“Zone read is no longer here,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said with a sly, but fleeting smile.
They’ll almost certainly pass more; it would be hard not to. The Broncos only had 29.4 pass plays per game last year, their lowest average since 1978. (The only six times in club history when they passed less frequently were all between 1971-78, and the franchise-record-low of 25.9 pass plays per game came in the 1977 AFC championship season.) In Tim Tebow’s 13 starts, they had 26.8 passing plays per game, only three teams since 2000 (the 2004 and 2005 Steelers and the 2009 Jets) passed the football less frequently in a season.
They’ll also pass more often to the tight ends. Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario left for the Patriots and Chargers, respectively, and were replaced by Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen. It would be hard to argue if Fells and Rosario cited underuse as a reason for leaving; Denver’s tight ends collectively averaged just 1.4 receptions and 19.4 yards per game after Tebow became the starter, as they effectively became extra offensive linemen more often than not.
That won’t be the case in 2012. Fells, Rosario, Virgil Green and Julius Thomas combined for 40 receptions all season; Tamme, Dressen and Thomas might surpass that total in the four games before Green comes off the suspended list.
“Once Tim started playing, we kind of changed certain things. With the guys coming in, tight ends will be more involved. More opportunities for them (as the) main part of progressions, maybe more one or two in the progressions,” McCoy said. “Get back to some more quick game and things like that. They’re going be that first read in the quarterback’s progression.”
But one of the positive aspects of the offensive scheme the Broncos have embraced since 2009 — whose nomenclature and terminology traces back to the New England Patriots of the 1970′s — is the flexibility it offers. It can be adapted to ground-based offenses with mobile quarterbacks, as it was last year and in its initial incarnation with Steve Grogan at the helm, or it can be molded into something like the Patriots run today.
The playbook won’t be new. Some of the points of emphasis will be. But not all, including the use of two-back sets, as McCoy specifically noted.
“There’s plenty of things we’ve done in the past here, that we want to give Peyton the opportunity to see. He’s very flexible, he wants some new ideas and to run some new things,” McCoy said. “We’ve spent some time the last couple of weeks, explaining the things that as an offensive staff that we really like and the things we can help him with.”
What Manning likes will be crucial, as expected.
“If we come Sunday and there are a couple of plays in the game plan that Peyton doesn’t like — or any quarterback here doesn’t like — we’re taking them out,” McCoy said.
There might be some trial and error over the next few months and into the season — but that’s no different than any other year.
“We’ve got a system in place that we’re going to run. We will make some changes, like every team does in the offseason,” McCoy said.
“Just keep building on what we’ve done here in the past, take Peyton’s input from the things they’ve done over the number of years he’s played. Just build the best system we can here.”