|10-24-2005, 11:23 AM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Very Interesting Read on Denver Playcalling
Note: This is written prior to the Giants game.
Updated: Oct. 21, 2005, 8:26 PM ET
Denver must learn to play from behindBy KC Joyner
The Denver Broncos are 5-1 for the third consecutive season, which would be a good omen had the previous two seasons not ended so badly. Is there anything the Broncos can do to avoid another second-half collapse? My research shows a play-calling tendency the Broncos' brain trust needs to correct.
One of the questions I am asked quite frequently is "Why do you focus on the vertical passing game so much?" The reason I focus on vertical passes is because they contain the most beneficial and most harmful plays in a game. Deep passes gain the most yards, but they also contain the highest percentage of interceptions. Deep passes also have the lowest completion percentage, so they have the highest number of incompletions.
Remember that old adage: "Three things can happen when you pass the ball, and two of them are bad"? That line really applies to the vertical passing game. It is often the way teams balance the risk/reward of deep passes that determines whether they win or lose.
Take the Broncos. I ran a metric study of all the deep passes in their wins and losses during the 2004 season (I only had five of their losses because I didn't have the footage from their Week 2 game at Jacksonville). Here are their deep pass metric summaries from their wins and losses:
Result Attempts Comp Yards Yds/Att TDs INTs Penalties Yds
W-10 40 19 606 15.5 8 1 5 131
L-5 40 14 594 14.9 3 3 3 50
There are three things of interest in these numbers. First, the Broncos' yards per deep pass attempt in the wins and losses were almost identical. Second, their interception rate was higher in the losses but was still less than one per game. The third and most interesting statistic was the number of deep pass attempts in the wins and losses. The Broncos averaged four deep pass attempts per game in their wins, eight per game in the losses.
My first thought when I saw this was that the Broncos probably fell behind in these games by a large amount and started passing deep to catch up, so I decided to check into this a bit further.
Two of their losses stood out and provided a lot of insight into the disparity. The first was their Week 8 game versus Atlanta. The Broncos got out to a 14-3 lead early in the first quarter, but Atlanta climbed ahead 17-14 with 3:55 left in the first half. Up to that point, the Broncos had thrown only one deep pass in their first four drives, a post route to Rod Smith for an 80-yard TD.
Over the course of the next three drives, they threw 14 total passes. Five were deep passes. Denver didn't score on any of these drives, and Atlanta ended up building a 34-17 lead and went on to win the game 41-28.
It wasn't that the Broncos' deep passing game failed them. They did complete two of the deep passes on those three drives for a total of 50 yards. The thing that caught my eye was their change in play calling. As soon as the Broncos fell behind, they started throwing the ball deep, even though they were down by only three points late in the first half.
A similar occurrence took place in Denver's Week 13 game at San Diego. Trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, the Broncos attempted a deep pass in their second offensive series, a 44-yard completion to Ashley Lelie. They opened their fourth and fifth series with deep pass attempts, the first resulting in an incompletion and the second in a 36-yard completion to Lelie. Down 14-7 in the second quarter, the Broncos attempted two more deep passes. Both were incomplete.
Once again, Denver started passing deep as soon as it fell behind. This is a team that throws only four deep passes a game in its wins, yet threw five in the first half of this game despite being down by only seven at the start of each drive. It seems that Mike Shanahan will run the ball when he has a lead, but if you get him down, even early in a game, he will start throwing the ball deep early and often.
This trend seems to have carried over to this season, as well. Here are the Broncos' deep pass metrics for their five wins and one loss this season:
Result Attempts Comp Yards TDs INTs Penalties Yds
W-5 16 6 194 1 0 1 5
L-1 8 2 24 0 2 0 0
To be fair, the loss at Miami got out of hand quickly, but there was one notable sequence in the third quarter. The Dolphins had just gained a 13-3 lead with 4:52 left. The Broncos hadn't thrown a deep pass all game long and tried four on their next drive, one of which was intercepted.
These metrics make certain things clear about the Denver offense. Shanahan doesn't want to throw deep very often, but the minute he falls behind, he seems to get visions of Daryle Lamonica in his head and starts chucking the ball vertically.
I know the deep pass percentages are almost as good in the losses as they are in the wins, but they aren't good enough to sustain drives. This team is built on a power running game, augmented by a deep passing game. When the Broncos lose their focus on the run, it takes away their offensive strength.
The key to beating the Broncos is to get them behind early and wait for them to change to a lower-percentage offense. Denver is 4-6 in the past two years when it attempts more than four deep passes in a game. As long as the Broncos keep an early lead in games and don't change their offensive structure, they will continue to win.
If they fall behind and start looking like their old AFL counterparts, that spells trouble. Until Shanahan becomes more patient with his running game when he falls behind, this will always be a stumbling point for the Broncos.
KC Joyner, aka The Football Scientist, is a regular contributor to ESPN Insider. He has a Web site at http://thefootballscientist.com.
|10-24-2005, 12:04 PM||#5|
Join Date: Jan 2004
haha, I love how the summary is basically "as long as denver doesn't get behind early they will win", and then like 2 days after publication the O provides a 13 pt 4th quarter lead and the team ends up losing.
I'd also imagine that any team who chucks up deep passes numbering 5 or more are probably not winning most of those games.
Joyner does a good deal of work, but this is less Meaningful Metrics and more Misguided Metonymy. Ahem.