Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Foxball: Run; Defend; Win

The style of football John Fox has brought to the Denver Broncos is nothing new in the NFL, although some analysts may think so. Since second year quarterback Tim Tebow took control of the offense, the Broncos have become a ground and pound team — ranking first in the league in rushing and getting after opposing quarterbacks on defense.

Successfully operating a run heavy, option oriented offense, quarterback Tim Tebow has taken criticism for only completing 45.5% of his passes. Some have questioned how far the Broncos rushing attack and formidable defense can take them, pointing out that all the "contenders" in the NFL have a talented throwing franchise quarterback.

Fox however, has won before using the same formula Denver has installed.

"It's a proven formula in this league," said Fox on Monday. "It just takes awhile to implement."

In 2003, Fox was a second-year head coach of the Carolina Panthers and took the team deep into the post season using the same philosophy he has installed in Denver. That season, the Panthers scored 20.3 points per game and rushed for 2,091 yards.

The Panthers quarterback, Jake Delhomme, completed 59.2% of his passes that season and turned the ball over 22 times yet still managed to lead the team to an 11-5 record due to a consistent rushing attack and reliable defense. The Panthers made it all the way to Super Bowl in 2003, only to lose 32-29 in overtime to the New England Patriots.

This season, since quarterback Tim Tebow was named the starter, the Broncos have scored 19.3 points per game and rushed for 1,248 yards. Tebow meanwhile has only completed 47.1% of his passes but has also only turned the ball over twice — twenty times less than Delhomme, albeit in fewer games; Tebow has done a great job of protecting the football this season.

In order to completely emulate the Panthers 2003 season, Denver would have to win out, by finishing 11-5 and winning their division. That seems unlikely, but the AFC West crown is not yet out of reach.

At 6-5, the Broncos are just one game behind the division leading 7-4 Raiders. Coming off an undefeated November run in which they defeated all three of their division rivals on the road in a four week stretch, the Broncos have built up confidence heading into December.

The remaining five teams Denver will have to play include the Vikings (away), Bears (home), Patriots (home), Bills (away) and Chiefs (home). If the Broncos can win four of their remaining five and the Raiders lose at least one game in the same time period, Denver could be headed to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005 season.

Foxball has won the Broncos five of their last six games. Only time will tell how much farther it can carry them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kansas City claims quarterback Kyle Orton off waivers

On Tuesday, the Denver Broncos waived veteran quarterback Kyle Orton, ending his stint with the team. According to a league source, Orton and his agent, David Dun, requested that the Broncos waive Orton after learning that Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler broke his thumb last week.

The Broncos obliged, and placed Orton on waivers. The Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs all placed waiver claims on Orton. The Chiefs were awarded Orton because they had the worst record of the three teams that placed a claim.

Orton struggled early in the season, throwing eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions while going 1-4 through Denver's first five games. Against the San Diego Chargers in Week Five, Orton was benched at halftime in favor of second year quarterback Tim Tebow.

Tebow rallied the Broncos to a narrow 24-29 defeat and has kept the starting job. Since the loss to the Chargers, Tebow and the Broncos have gone 4-1; San Diego has gone 0-5. The Broncos play San Diego again this week, on the road.

The Chiefs found themselves in need of a quarterback after starter Matt Cassel broke his hand, an injury sustained when his hand was wedged between his chest and the helmet of Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller on November 13th. On Tuesday, the same day Denver waived Kyle Orton, the Kansas City placed Cassel on injured reserve.

Orton will return to Denver on January 1st when the Chiefs play the Broncos in Week 17. The game could have playoff implications, as both the Chiefs and Broncos are in the thick of the AFC West race.

Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn are now the only two active quarterbacks on Denver's roster. Undrafted rookie Adam Weber is also on the practice squad, and may be activated by the club.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fans Vote Willis McGahee Broncos' Mid-Season MVP

Halfway through the 2011 season the Denver Broncos are sitting at 3-5 and just one game back in the AFC West. This week seems like a good time to hand out mid-season awards.

We asked fans on our Facebook page who they thought was the Broncos Most Valuable Player through the first eight games and the vote was almost unanimous. Broncos veteran running back Willis McGahee received nearly 64% of the votes. Receiver Eric Decker and rookie linebacker Von Miller came in second with approximately 13% each.

Here's a quick look at each of the players nominated:
  • Running back Willis McGahee.
McGahee, a nine year veteran, has started six games this season and rushed for an NFL-best average of 103 yards in those games. Despite suffering a broken hand two weeks earlier, McGahee gashed the Oakland Raiders defense on Sunday for 163 yards on the ground Sunday and scored two touchdowns in the process. Heading into this week's game in Kansas City, McGahee has rushed 123 times for 623 yards (5.1 average) and scored four touchdowns on offense this season.
  • Wide receiver Eric Decker.
After catching just six passes in his rookie season, receiver Eric Decker has emerged as the Broncos -- and quarterback Tim Tebow's -- favorite target in the passing game. Starting in five games, Decker has caught 33 passes for 406 yards and six touchdowns, which is the second most among receivers in the NFL this season. Decker has also returned five punts for 128 yards and another scoring, bringing his touchdown total to seven this season.
  • Linebacker Von Miller.
The second overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, rookie linebacker Von Miller has been everything the Broncos could have hoped he would be. Miller has started in every game this season and his 6.5 sacks are tied for the most among rookies this season and is the second most by an AFC defensive player. Miller has also recorded 31 tackles and two forced fumbles this season, playing better each and every week.
  • Punter Britton Colquitt.
Entering his second season as the Broncos full-time punter, Britton Colquitt is playing like a Pro Bowler. Punting 44 times this season, Colquitt is averaging 49.8 yards a punt (3rd best in NFL), averaging 43.1 net (3rd best in NFL) and has a long of 66 yards (10th best in NFL). His 2,192 yards and 1,895 net years rank fourth and fifth respectively. Colquitt has also had eleven of his punts fair caught (due to good hang time) and has landed ten of his punts inside the twenty yard line. Colquitt has played a big part in the Broncos success on special teams this season.
  • Quarterback Tim Tebow.
Named the starting quarterback four weeks ago, Tim Tebow has gone 2-1 over the past three weeks and played a big role in the Broncos rushing attack. Starting in the last three games, Tebow has gone 45-of-97 for 536 yards and six touchdowns (against one interception) and rushed 38 times for 277 yards and another score. The Broncos can only go as far as Tebow can take them. With Denver just one game back in the AFC West, Tebow may be able to take the team to the playoffs this season.
  • Cornerback Champ Bailey.
A ten-time Pro Bowl selection, Champ Bailey was the final candidate nominated by Broncos Zone. Playing in five games this season (starting all of them), Bailey has recorded 16 tackles, four passes defended, intercepted two passes and forced one fumble. An anchor on Denver's defense, Bailey has been his usual self this season -- dominant.

Those were the nominations, here are the results in the voting:

"He gives the offensive side of the ball a ground game that none of the other RB's on the roster can seem to supply in his absence," said Broncos fan Paul Hesketh. The stats verify Hesketh's comments, as third year running back Knowshon Moreno has only been able to produce outputs of 22 and 69 yards in two games McGahee has missed this season.

"McGahee's currently 9th in the league in rushing yards, and I think if he can stay healthy might even crack the top five when the regular season is over," noted Hesketh. McGahee is on pace for 1,246 yards this season, which would make him the first Broncos running back to rush for 1,000 yards or more in a single season since Tatum Bell did it in 2006.

"No one saw this kind of performance coming," added Edgar Luna, a member of the U.S. Army. Though many fans may not have foreseen Willis' productive season, McGahee did. Before signing with the club in the offseason, McGahee told his agent that he saw Denver as a place where he could re-emerge as a starting running back again. Seven starts and over 600 yards later, McGahee is making fans "glad Denver got him!"

Stephanie Krizman commented that with the addition of McGahee, the Broncos running game is making a comeback, and Jose' Archuleta added that McGahee has been the most consistent player on offense each week.

"I haven't seen a smooth running back like McGahee in a long time here in Denver," said Nik Persons. "He has great balance and patience, and even at 30 years old, still has that speed that NFL running backs need." The Raiders defense can certainly attest to that.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Film Study: Broncos' Read Option Stumped Raiders

When Broncos second year quarterback Tim Tebow was named the starter three weeks ago, Denver's coaching staff quickly adjusted the offense to fit his style of play. One of the plays that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and quarterbacks coach Adam Gase implemented in the offense was the read option run.

Knowing that Tebow's legs are more of a threat to opposing defenses than his arm, the Broncos used the play several times successfully in Miami against the Dolphins in week seven before the Detroit Lions contained the play last week in Denver. Against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Broncos offense executed the play to perfection and ran for 298 yards on the ground.

The play is a simple one and is run by high schools and colleges across the country on a regular basis. In the screenshot below, you'll notice that the offensive linemen block down and the quarterback rides the hand off. The key to the play is the quarterback's ability to read the outside linebacker.

If the outside linebacker bites on the run and crashes down, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs (see below).

The Broncos ran the play several times early in the game and each time Tebow gave it to running back Willis McGahee and the play resulted in minimal gains. When Tebow pulled the ball and ran for the first time, the result was a 30+ yard gain.

After the outside linebackers realized that Tebow was a threat to run on the play, they started playing their outside contain responsibilities better, which opened running lanes for McGahee.

The Broncos ran the play seventeen times in all, with McGahee rushing for 125 yards off of twelve carries in the read option, including his 60 and 23-yard touchdown runs. Tebow kept the ball three times for 68 yards and reserve back Lance Ball saw two carries for three yards.

Denver is now 3-5 and just one game behind in the AFC West. The Broncos will travel to Kansas City (4-4) to take on the Chiefs next week and will play the Chargers (4-4) in San Diego three weeks from today. If the Broncos play as well against the Chiefs and Chargers as they did in Oakland on Sunday, they could find themselves back in the AFC West race very quickly.

Adjusting the offense to fit their players' skill sets played a huge role in the Broncos success on Sunday. It will be interesting to see what the team has planned for future games and how defense are able to defend the read option run down the road.

Field images were courtesy of Getty Images; screenshots courtesy of the NFL/CBS Sports.