|12-02-2007, 06:06 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Broncos' offense gets groove back
By Mike Klis
The Denver Post
For too long this season, the Broncos' offense was the flirtatious beauty of the NFL.
A big tease.
The Broncos would move the ball and look good doing it. Travis Henry would scoot and Jay Cutler would zip. Yet the end zone remained elusive and Jason Elam would be called on to kick a field goal.
Suddenly, unpredictably, the Broncos started scoring. Just when it appeared the season was lost, they started reaching the end zone.
Going into today's 2:05 p.m. game at Oakland (KCNC-4), there's no easy explanation.
"You can't just wish for something and have it happen," left tackle Matt Lepsis said. "But after the Detroit game, it's one of the things we sat down and talked about. We talked about how we move the ball well but we don't have the bust-outs. So we have consciously worked on it."
For all the discussion about tough talk in meetings, though, it doesn't explain how the Broncos have more than doubled their previous scoring in their past three games. At the season's midway point, when they were 3-5 and coming off a humiliating whipping at Detroit, the Broncos were averaging 15.8 points per game.
In their past three games, when they've won two and blew a third in Chicago, the Broncos averaged 31.7 points a game.
Some of this dramatic increase can be explained by the continued development of Cutler, the second-year quarterback.
"He's the type of guy who just keeps hanging in there and I think everybody else hangs in there with him," said Rich Gannon, a former Raiders quarterback who has covered two Broncos games for CBS this year. "He's fun to watch. I know everyone has fallen in love with his arm strength, but I like that he plays with poise for such a young player.
"Something bad happens, or something good happens — Joe Montana was that way. Go back and watch his career, whether he threw an interception or threw a touchdown, the emotions weren't that dramatically different. And I see a little bit of that in Jay Cutler."
Philosophy remains same
Cutler's play seems the most logical explanation for the offense's improvement. After all, the offensive line lost its most important blocker, Tom Nalen; No. 1 receiver Javon Walker went down; top running back Henry got dinged; and tight ends Stephen Alexander and Nate Jackson sustained season-ending injuries.
The only position with the same player is at quarterback. Maybe Cutler is that much better.
"After the first five (games this season), I felt a lot more comfortable," Cutler said. "Things come to you. You're just out there reacting. You're not out there thinking, wondering where guys are going to be. You get to the play call and see the entire picture and know where everyone's going to be. You know where your hot routes are. You just get a better feel in the pocket, when to step up, when to get out."
The only problem with placing all the credit on Cutler's powerful right shoulder is that it conflicts with the data. The biggest difference statistically between the eight-game scoring struggle and the three-game scoring binge has come in the running game.
The past three games, the Broncos used backups Selvin Young and Andre Hall and averaged an NFL-best 148.3 yards a game in that stretch. In fact, the Broncos averaged more passing yards in the first eight games than in the past three.
To those who complained about the conservative play-calling in the first half of the season, the numbers say it's the running calls that have made the biggest difference since. It's true, when the team is scoring, Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike Heimer-dinger call plays with more confidence.
"You always do," Heimerdinger said. "When things are working and guys are making plays, then that sheet becomes real big and there are lots of plays you like. When things aren't working so good, that sheet gets real small. You don't hear quite as many suggestions. But the philosophy hasn't changed any."
Defense does trick
The offensive turnaround started with the second half of the Kansas City game. And it was the Broncos' defense that started it.
Trailing 8-6 at the half, cornerback Dre Bly intercepted a pass early in the second half and the offense quickly converted with a 20-yard touchdown run by Young. On the next play, a sack by Elvis Dumervil led to linebacker Nate Webster returning a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown.
It's no coincidence the Broncos' three-game scoring surge occurred simultaneously with the defense getting 11 takeaways.
"We've got more turnovers on defense, which has given us more opportunities to have the ball," Shanahan said. "And while we were doing a good job with our 10-play drives, we were getting field goals instead of touchdowns. We've improved in that area."
Greater red-zone efficiency has helped, at least a bit. The Broncos converted 12-of-26 red-zone possessions into touchdowns in the first eight games, 4-of-7 in the past three.
A bigger difference has been the big play. During this scoring spree, only one of the Broncos' 11 touchdowns came from inside the 14-yard line. Five touchdowns were at least 40 yards out and two — a run by Hall and catch by Brandon Marshall — went for at least 60.
Game of inches
Big plays are often the creation of 11 guys working as one. Marshall threw a key block on Hall's run and Hall was a check-down decoy on Marshall's long reception at Chicago.
"One thing about this system, the more you can do, the better off you'll be," Marshall said. "The more you show you want to be out there for your team, whether blocking or special teams, the more good things will come to you."
Breaking a big play in the NFL is about fractions. A fraction slow and the defender will be there. Two fractions quicker and the hole opens.
With the heavy offseason turnover and in-season injuries, the Broncos' offense went through periods when they looked like 10 strangers and a second-year quarterback. Now, they're looking like an offense.
"Maybe getting a little bit more time to gel together has been the difference," receiver Brandon Stokley said. "The more time you spend together on the practice field, the more it translates in the game. It's just a little bit here and there. There's not a big difference between an incompletion and a touchdown in this league."
|12-02-2007, 08:57 AM||#3|
Draft Defense Early&Often
Join Date: Oct 2004
|12-02-2007, 10:53 AM||#4|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: New York
|12-02-2007, 12:26 PM||#5|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Apr 2005
Actually, the D has played better since the break. Other than the Detroit mess, in which everyone one STANK without exception, the D has improved. The arguably played well even in the Chicago game. Yes the stunk at the end, but they needed a lot of help from ST to start stinking.