United States News Colorado Jackson: Broncos’ slow starts begins with ineffective run game

Jackson: Broncos’ slow starts begins with ineffective run game


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Slow start is an understatement.

The Broncos offense has been coming out flatter than a pancake. Whether that’s just Drew Lock or the entire offense, they seem unsure of themselves. In fairness, this offense is one of the youngest in the NFL and has had minimal time together, with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur estimating they missed upwards of 1,400 reps in the offseason.

But right now, it’s almost as if we are watching them practice on Sundays, working out the kinks. They start to gel as the game wears on, and it’s great to see, but by then it is too late.

Like many “West Coast Offense” coaches, Shurmur scripts the first 15 plays of the game. Bill Walsh started the practice in San Francisco, which was later used by Mike Shanahan and many other successful NFL coaches. The theory is you want to mix in everything you’ve been working on all week. Everything you hope will be effective in the game. You want to try it all out in the first quarter.

The plays that work, you keep running. The ones that don’t, you scrap. Sometimes the situation calls for a different play than what’s on the script. For example, it could be third-and-8 but the next play on the script is a run. So you go off the script for a play, then you come back to it.

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Walsh’s teams usually came out hot. So did Shanahan’s. Scripting the first 15 has worked in the past, so why isn’t it working with the Broncos now?

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As someone who wants to see the Broncos establish the run, I find myself scratching my head when they line up in three-receiver, shotgun formations and hand the ball off. They are relying on two unimposing rookie receivers and a tight end in motion to make crucial blocks in bunch formations to help spring the running back. The result is that the Broncos are averaging 3.7 yards a carry on first down. (By comparison, the league average is 4.3.) Thus, when the Broncos run play-action off the same formation, defenses don’t fear the run.

In my mind, the most effective personnel group for the Broncos run game is two tight ends on the line of scrimmage, two receivers and one running back. This is called “Tiger.” Tiger personnel puts bigger men out on the field and on the line of scrimmage next to the tackles. This creates a more effective push and stretches running lanes laterally, giving ball carriers bigger holes to run through.

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