Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What two-back formations could do for Denver

Earlier today, I was reading Andrew Masons latest post, Noting OTAs: Fullbacks, O-Line, Etc. After reading about Denver using Spencer Larsen more as a fullback in practice, it got me thinking about the Broncos rushing attack last season.
It’s been a few years since the Broncos were one of the teams that most often used a fullback; the slot was gradually de-emphasized in Mike Shanahan’s final years as coach and was further marginalized last year. But the substantial work given to Spencer Larsen and tight end Marquez Branson at fullback Monday offered evidence that the position will have increased relevance to the team this year. “We’re going to use a little bit more two-back sets,” McDaniels said. “We’re still going to be spread out and do some of the things that we’ve done before"
Mason went on to note how the use of a fullback has helped the Panthers rushing attack have great success over the past few years. Using a Tight End as a fullback is also something the Panthers did, also generating success. After reading all this, I looked over Spencer Larsens games from last season, and how the Broncos rushing attacked fared when he was blocking.

For most of the first half of the 2009 NFL season, Spencer Larsen was out with an injury. But he returned mid-season ready to go. His third game back, against the Redskins, the Broncos used him in many eye and gadget formations, along with TE Tony Scheffler. On one of the first plays of the game, Denver lined up in a double-back formation, and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 15 yards. The success of the rushing attack opened up the passing game, with Orton finding Brandon Marshall wide open a few plays later for a score. Later in the game, Marshall lined up close to the O-line, with Tony Scheffler in the backfield, in place of a fullback. Buckhalter got a first down off the formation, before fumbling the ball. A short while later, Denver lined up in an off-set eye formation. Orton then did a play action (faking to Moreno before preparing to pass), then hit Marshall again wide open for a 75-yard touchdown. In the second half of the game Simms came in, and didn't play well, while the defense broke down. The Broncos got away from two-back formations, and ended up losing the game. Rookie Knowshon Moreno rushed for 97 yards, mostly in the first half - when Larsen was in the game. Using Larsen helped the run game against the Redskins, and opened up the passing game.

Two weeks later on Thanksgiving, Denver used some similar formations against the Giants. Tight ends Tony Scheffler and Dan Graham lined up in the backfield a few times, as well as Larsen. Moreno scored on a goalline run, with Larsen as the leading fullback. In the game, Moreno rushed for 88 yards, while Correll Buckhalter pounded out 51 yards.

The next week Denver traveled to Kansas City. Veteran running back Correll Buckhalter ran all over the Chiefs defense single handily, in one-back formations. While Moreno thrived in eye formations, scoring twice, rushing behind the blocking of Larsen. Are you beginning to see a trend yet? Towards the end of the game Peyton Hillis went in as tailback, and rushed for about 50 yards behind Larsen's blocking. In the game, Denver rushed for about 250 yards.

Watch the highlights from the Chiefs game below, notice the blocking of Spencer Larsen (#46) and the play action pass plays that are set up by the run:
Towards the end of the season, Denver got away from two-back formations and the running game was mediocre, at best. Spencer Larsen didn't play fullback often in the last four game, and the Broncos finished the season 0-4.

The Broncos rushing attack cleary was most successful in two-back formations last season. Running behind a fullback (or a Tight End) especially aided Knowshon Moreno, who had his ups and downs. This season, expect McDaniels to use Larsen, and formations with Branson in the backfield more often. Two-back formations should improve the Broncos rushing attack, possibly even to the extent to Moreno to having a breakout year.

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