Five Plays That Showcase how Predictable Rich Scangarello's Offense has Become
All season long there has been an issue with the play-calling from the Denver Broncos. Over the last few weeks, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has done a better job, especially with calling plays to the strengths of his players on offense.
However, there are still many plays out there that are very questionable no matter the outcome. Not every failed play is a bad call. Sometimes the players just fail to make the play, just as not every good play is the right play-call because players can make the play.
Plays that ended up working could be the wrong call, and simply works out for one reason or another. Serendipity. Play-calls are fluid and vary based on down, distance, time, and situation.
The Broncos defeated the L.A. Chargers last week 23-20. I've identified five questionable plays for various reasons. Some of them are highlighted because of the down, distance, and field position.
This has been the biggest issue with the Broncos and Scangarello — getting very conservative when they shouldn’t be. There were 15 total plays that were bad calls, so for length reasons I cut them down to a third to illustrate the issues.
Play 1: 7:39 | Second Quarter | Week 13
This play-call is highlighted because of the down, distance, field position and momentum. The Broncos had just recovered a muffed punt, so momentum was on their side and now was the time to take full advantage of it. They’re up 14-3, and getting a touchdown could have taken the life out of the Chargers. Since it's first down, the smart call here would have been to take an aggressive shot.
If it fails, you're behind on second down, but you’re already in field goal position. Up 14-3 with over 7:30 left in the second quarter isn’t the time to go conservative. And yet, that is what the Broncos do here. There are analytics that reveal that passing on first down is more beneficial in this situation, but that was apparently too aggressive.
The play-call is worse when you look at how the teams are lined up. This is a formation the Broncos run out of, and the Chargers are ready for it and loaded on the line. You have a one-on-one matchup at the top of the screen with WR Courtland Sutton, who already has two touchdowns on the day. Line up in this formation, and throw a fade to Sutton. In this situation, you can’t be afraid of an interception and taking your foot off the pedal as the Broncos do.
Play 2: 6:22 | Second Quarter | Week 13
Just a couple of plays later, and the Broncos are in third down with two yards to go. This is following a sequence of runs, including the play above. With momentum on their side, the Broncos are content to just run the ball and potentially settle for a field goal instead of being somewhat aggressive and trying for a touchdown.
Once again, the Broncos are lined up in their obvious run formation since they barely pass out of this formation. They have Sutton in a one-on-one, this time at the bottom of your screen. Sutton is one of the best slant receivers, and he has enough separation to get inside and get the first down, but Scangarello calls the run it.
Being a predictable play-caller hurts your offense. Denver has ran 79 plays with only one receiver out there on the field, and over 60% of them have been runs. This allows teams to tee off against the run. Mixing it up a bit more, could help the Broncos move the ball more consistently, and put more points on the board.
Play 3: 1:58 | Third Quarter | Week 13
Denver is in their own territory on this one, but there is plenty of time left. The call is a screen, and it fails miserably for a five-yard loss. This puts Denver behind schedule for the rest of the series.
It's first down, but this play-call isn’t bad for that reason. Nor is it a bad one based on time left. The issue is, the Broncos set this formation up and get their two receivers at the top of the screen on three guys in coverage. One of them will have a favorable matchup for the Broncos. Additionally, the Chargers are heavy in the box and that is killer for screen plays.
QB Drew Lock should have audibled out of this play, if he had that freedom. Even so, the Chargers had been giving similar looks to the Broncos all game long. This was a very good time to take advantage of those looks and dial-up something to take a shot. Instead, the Broncos play to the strengths of the Chargers defense that they’ve shown all game long. Predictability kills an offense.
Play 4: 0:37 | Third Quarter | Week 13
Two plays later, the Broncos had another very poor play-call. It was a third-and-long situation, and the call sees two receivers go deep, with a receiver, tight end and running back well short of the sticks. Basically, Lock's option are to either take the deep shot or end up short of the first down, barring a miracle. There is no call to attack every level of the field.
When you are going to have five receivers on a play, especially on third-and-long, you need to attack all three levels of the field. This play is highlighted because this is a bad trend with Scangarello. Often this season, on third down, he has called plays that are 'all or nothing' type plays. There's been no attacking of the intermediate levels of the field.
There are multiple issues with having it being only deep and short with nothing on the intermediate. One is there is no receiver to draw the linebackers away from the line, allowing them to stay close to the line, shutting down and chance of moving the chains after the short catch. It also doesn’t draw in the safeties or have them ease up on their deep coverage.
There was an execution error on this play as well, as the line did allow some pressure on Lock. If they have given him a bit more time, he would’ve had time to get to the tight end, who was the only receiver that had a reasonable shot at the first down, and even then, it was unlikely.
Play 5: 6:04 | Fourth Quarter | Week 13
Another predictable play-call with the Broncos in their running formation. The game is tied at 17, there is a little over six minutes left in the game, and the Broncos are set up on first down. This is one of the worst play-calls all season. Predictable, conservative, playing-not-to-lose type of call.
Just like a few other plays, the Broncos have Sutton in a favorable one-on-one matchup on the bottom of the screen. It is first down, you are near field goal range, so be aggressive and take a shot. There is something to be said about using your best play-maker and letting him go try and make the play.
The Chargers aren’t just heavy in the box, but heavy on the offensive left side, right where the run is going. There was little doubt about what the Broncos were going to do on this play. Scangarello needs to have trust in the young quarterback, even in his first start, and most importantly his young stud receiver. Stay aggressive and attack the defense.
What it Means
Scangarello has improved in recent weeks, but there are still concerns with him as a play-caller that I highlighted weeks ago. There is still very conservative and predictable play-calling.
Scangarello still makes calls that play right into what the game has revealed to be the strengths the defense, instead of trying to take advantage of it. The improvements he has had have been encouraging, but there is still a long way to go.
My biggest concerns are, it is very rare for conservative play-callers to suddenly become aggressive. That, and the obvious lack of trust in his play-makers late in the games.
Be more aggressive, and give play-makers opportunities. Those are just a couple of the differences between being a solid offensive coordinator and being great.