Five Adjustments to Expect as Pat Shurmur Takes Over Broncos' Offense

Erick Trickel

In a surprising and late move, the Denver Broncos made a change at offensive coordinator over the weekend. Out went Rich Scangarello — who did improve as the season went on but not enough — and in came Pat Shurmur. 

While their respective offensive schemes are similar, there are some major differences in the philosophies of Scangarello and Shurmur.

Before we get to Shurmur, let’s look at what Denver had. Under Scangarello, the Broncos used a lot of 12 (2 TE) and 22 (2RB, 2TE) personnel. The tight ends were very important for the scheme, as was the fullback. 

Scangarello didn't try to spread out the defense but relied on individual wins through routes to get players open. Running backs were a huge part of the passing offense and it put more pressure on the quarterback and receivers.

As for the running scheme, there was a lot of zone-blocking trying to get the ball upfield quickly and through the hole. Athleticism was a must from the running backs, as was having burst and speed. 

With Shurmur taking over, what is going to be different with the Broncos offense? What are the core philosophies of Shurmur? 

1. Spread Them out & Kill Defenses With Spacing

One of my biggest takeaways from watching Scangarello was his improper use of spacing. There were too many plays that saw multiple receivers in the same area in the secondary. 

The more receivers in one area, the more defenders are too. This limited the Broncos offense as there weren’t many other options for the QB.

Shurmur believes in spreading out defenses. He is going to use a lot of 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) personnel and maximize spacing. This makes things easier on the quarterback and doesn’t rely on individual wins. The use of spacing by spreading out the defense can give the quarterback more places to go and less risk through the passing lanes.

This is very beneficial for a young QB like Drew Lock, as well as the receivers, but it puts a little more pressure on the offensive line. Also, with the maximization of spacing, it really pushes the Broncos' need for having different, complementary receivers way up the priority list. The Broncos always needed speed at receiver, though, as they haven't had anyone who can take the top off a defense. That need remains.

The other need is a receiver that is very dynamic after the catch. Having a speedy wideout to take advantage of deep zones and drawing defenders backward really opens up the underneath. So, by spreading out the defense, what was an eight-yard gain can now be a 28-yard gain because of the dynamic receiver who can make guys miss.

2. Don’t Expect Changes to the Running Scheme

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter about the Broncos moving to a power/gap-blocking scheme, but Shurmur's offense utilizes zone more often. Shurmur's most commonly-called run play, by a decent margin in my initial viewing of his offense, was the outside zone.

Even on inside runs, there is a large amount of zone. There were some power/gap concepts, but it tended to depend on the style of running back that was on the field. Don’t expect much power/gap in Denver with Shurmur arriving.

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3. Tight Ends & Fullbacks Lose Value

Now, this doesn’t apply to Noah Fant. His athleticism should and will be weaponized by Shurmur and be a big role in maximizing the spacing for the offense. I'm talking about the tight ends behind Fant who are going to take a hit, as well as FB Andy Janovich.

The reason for this is simple. Shurmur’s offense doesn’t utilize them nearly as often as they were/would’ve been under Scangarello. Janovich will still have a role and be a key cog on special teams, but look for him less on offense. As a result of usage, the need for a long-term No. 2 tight end possibility isn’t there.

It will be interesting to see what changes come to the Broncos' tight end room as a result of these changes. Austin Fort, Troy Fumagalli, Bug Howard, Austin Beck, and Jake Butt have all been put on notice. Between those guys, there may be one spot open in the Shurmur offense.

4. Adjustments, Adjustments, & More Adjustments

Shurmur is one of the best minds out there when it comes to making adjustments to his offense. He doesn’t just adjust it in-game, but he also does so to account for the styles and strengths of whichever quarterback he's worked with. 

What you see in the first half of games is going to be quite different from what you see in the second half, in terms of how they are attacking defenses. And that's what you want to see. 

Shurmur wants to keep defenses on their heels with his calls and adjustments, which is one big reason Vic Fangio wanted him on the staff so much. Fangio has the same line of thought, just on the defensive side of the ball. Keep the other side guessing as long as you can and the wins will come.

Also, Shurmur has successfully adjusted to a number of different signal-callers, which is outstanding. As the interim offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017 as the full-time OC both with the Vikings, he had to build an offense around Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. Then in 2019, he had to go from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones, then back to Manning during the season, which wasn’t an easy task. Shurmur did it with some success offensively, despite the lack of wins in the standings.

5. Getting the Best out of his QBs

During his coaching career, Shurmur has worked with a lot of quarterbacks at different stages of their playing career. What he got out of them was a lot of good. 

Even when things weren’t great, Shurmur's QB still managed to exceed expectations. So let us look at each year of Shurmur as an offensive coordinator or head coach and how that QB performed. 

2009, St. Louis Rams: Shurmur didn't have good QBs to work with as Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller were his options. Due to their limitations, Shurmur built the Rams' offense through the running game and relied on Steven Jackson. It was a disappointing season with no viable QB that got the Rams into a position to land a better option in the draft.

2010, St. Louis Rams: Bradford was the new rookie QB, and Shurmur's influence was tremendous for his development. Shurmur built an offense around Bradford's strengths and the rookie looked like he was going to be the next big thing at QB in the NFL. Shurmur made things easy for the rookie and got the team to a 7-9 record.

2011/2012, Cleveland Browns: As a first-time head coach, Shurmur got dealt Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace as QBs in 2011. Shurmur gleaned solid play from McCoy after building his offense around him. 2012 saw Cleveland draft Brandon Weeden and Shurmur had to adjust his offense once again to a new QB. There was a lack of weapons, and it was a very disappointing year in which the head coach got fired.

2013-2015, Philadelphia Eagles: Many want to chalk this up to Chip Kelly, but Shurmur was in his ear and right there making play-calls. Nick Foles came in and took the league by storm in 2013, throwing 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Shurmur was very hands-on in Foles' development and was a huge part of designing the game-plan for use of Foles’ strengths. This was a different QB than Kelly was used to working with so he leaned on Shurmur. 2014 saw Foles regress as Kelly took more control over the offense and started to push Shurmur aside.

Things came to a head in 2015 with Bradford as the QB in Philly. Kelly was in full control and Bradford was just okay. When Kelly was fired and Shurmur took over the offense, there was a noticeable improvement collectively and from Bradford.

2016-2017, Minnesota Vikings: Once again, Shurmur got to work with Bradford and exceeded expectations offensively. 2017 saw him adjust his scheme for Case Keenum where got the best year of the former undrafted rookie's career. That's a common theme; Shurmur getting the best year out of the QBs he's worked with during his career. The offense again exceeded expectations and made a deep push into the playoffs.

2018-2019, New York Giants: Manning and Jones. Shurmur had to adjust his offense in-season twice. While the Giants as a team failed, the offense wasn't the primary culprit. Shurmur helped the rookie Jones improve game-to-game, and saw Manning have some good moments as well while being on a very obvious decline.

Bottom Line

There is a lot for Broncos fans to be excited about. This is a move made by Coach Fangio and it was done to benefit Lock. 

There will be some adjustments, but there will be a lot of similar concepts to ease the transition while making things easier on the players. 

Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel and @MileHighHuddle. 

Comments (26)
No. 1-11
Letswin17
Letswin17

That was a much more informative article than the hyperbole surrounding this hire.

It seems that Fangio is driven to improve. He has to realize the offense failed miserably against KC and the Raiders.

RickyBobby_0815
RickyBobby_0815

Very well written article and great breakdown.
Let's talk about shaping the roster going forward - since TE's are not as valuable, do you think it's more likely Heurman gets let go and is it now a forgone conclusion Ruggs to Denver at 15?
I still hope Denver targets IDL or possibly Simmons, if he falls, and get the WR burner in round 2.

BRONCOMOJO
BRONCOMOJO

When the decision (Ellis) to hire Vance Joseph over Kyle Shanahan happened, that was NOT an Elway move, but an Ellis move. That decision put us back 4 years. Where is Kyle Shanahan right now? Thank you Joe Ellis, your hatred for the Shanahans has put us into a proverbial second best to the Chiefs. Good luck Kyle and your family as you move closer to a title.

The issue with the Broncos isn't Elway, it's Joe Ellis. He must be fired! If Brittany Bowlen (which we think she can) move us to an elite football organization, that will be with John Elway in OUR organization with Brittany, and NOT with Joe Ellis.

GiantsFan
GiantsFan

Giants fan here who happened to stumble on this article. Obviously the writer didn't watch any Giants games this year. Shurmur repeatedly ran Saquon Barkley up the middle into a brick wall. Halftime adjustments? Those were made by the opposing team. Shurmur was beyond stubborn in his playcalling, seemingly trying to make his point. That's why the Giants often faced eight men in the box on first and second down, because Barkley rarely got the ball in space.

Arbbq
Arbbq

From the author’s assessment of change, there is a couple of things I’m not that pumped about: less reliance on involving both TE’s and not using a hybrid role of RB and WR for the running backs. As far as I understand, that’s the current trend in the NFL for the successful teams like the 49ers. We got our OC exactly for those reasons. With our prior OC’s post manning, we had teams stacking the box and ignoring the TE ‘s ,FB’s, and RB ‘s in passing lanes. Now we regress with a lousy offensive line. I see 2016-2018 repeat. I will remain skeptical until next season starts. Not saying that we shouldn’t have looked for an upgrade, but it doesn’t feel like we are upgrading.

DenverNative
DenverNative

Coach's have to be in good situations to be successful, look at Belichick, Mike Shanahan Pete Carroll are all examples, Coordinators are no different. Shurmer is a leap forward from where we were with Scangarello. The overall body of work is what you have to base your opinion or analysis on. There were alot of issues in New York long before Shurmer ever got there and will be long after he is gone. We all screamed about Scangarello's play calling, lack of adjustments and taking a Shotgun QB like Lock and making him line up behind Center. After reading more about Shurmers Body of Work, having him as OC behind Fangio's Defense can only make things better. We have roughly $80 Million In Cap Space and possibly up to 12-13 Draft Picks with Compensatory Picks...What is there to think this wasn't a Bad Ass Upgrade at OC with Shurmer...Read Below...

Alot to be excited about moving forward...

During Shurmur's NFL coaching career, he has been a part of eight playoff teams, winning six division crowns and appearing in the Super Bowl.[1]

Shurmur began working for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, serving as both the tight ends coach and the offensive line coach. Shurmur helped mold tight end Chad Lewis into a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

In 2002, Shurmur was named the team’s quarterback coach. In that role, Shumur helped shape Donovan McNabb into the most prolific passer in Eagles history. McNabb holds nearly every Eagles career passing record, and in 2008, he set Eagles single-season records with 345 completions and 3,916 yards. In 2004, Shurmur and McNabb helped guide the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1980 season.

St. Louis Rams

On January 21, 2009, Shurmur was hired by Steve Spagnuolo to be the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.[2]

He helped the Rams improve to a 7–9 record following a 1–15 season in 2009, the second-biggest turnaround in the league in 2010. He guided St. Louis’ offense to improvements in nearly every category including total yards, time of possession and third-down percentage, while they also scored 114 more points than the previous year. In addition, the Rams committed just 21 turnovers in 2010, tied for the ninth-lowest total in the NFL.[1]

Shurmur also made a tangible impact on Sam Bradford’s immediate success as a rookie in 2010. The first-overall pick out of the University of Oklahoma set NFL rookie records for most consecutive passes without an interception (169) and most completions (354). Under Shurmur’s tutelage, Bradford finished the season with a 60.0 completion percentage, 3,512 yards and 18 touchdown passes, winning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

Cleveland Browns

Shurmur was interviewed by the Cleveland Browns on January 7, 2011 to be their head coach. On January 13, 2011,[3] Shurmur was hired by Mike Holmgren, with whom he shares agent Bob LaMonte, to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.[4] He was the 13th head coach in franchise history, and the sixth since the franchise's revival in 1999.

Part of the reason Shurmur was hired was the team wanted him to call the plays on offense as Holmgren did in Green Bay and Seattle.[5] Another reason for the hire was Shurmur's past success of developing young quarterbacks such as McNabb and Bradford. The Browns selected quarterback Colt McCoy in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, and in McCoy’s first season with Shurmur as his coach, the former University of Texas standout posted a slight improvement in 2011, throwing for 2,733 yards and 14 touchdown passes in 13 games. Despite this, the Browns went 4 - 12 that season, a regression from the previous years 5 - 11 campaign. In the 2012 season, the Browns showed little progress behind new starter and first round draft pick, Brandon Weeden, who finished 29th out of 32 qualified starters in passer rating.

After the end of the 2012 season, Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert, Jr. were fired, after accumulating a 9 - 23 record over the course of the 2011 and 2012 seasons and having finished 25th in the NFL in offensive yards gained in the 2012 season.[6]

Second stint with Eagles

On January 20, 2013, Shurmur accepted a job with the Philadelphia Eagles as their offensive coordinator.[7] Working alongside new head coach Chip Kelly, Shurmur helped orchestrate one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL. Shurmur led an offense that set a number of team records, including points (442), total net yards (6,676), touchdowns (53), passing yards (4,406) and fewest turnovers (19) en route to an NFC East title. Additionally, the Eagles set an NFL record with 99 plays of 20+ yards and became the first team since the 1991 Buffalo Bills to lead the league in rushing while ranking last in time of possession.[1]

Shurmur’s unique ability to develop young talent at the quarterback position was once again on display in 2013. Second-year QB Nick Foles enjoyed a breakout season under the direction of Shurmur, throwing for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions while posting the third-best QB rating (119.2) and third-lowest interception percentage (0.63%) in NFL history. Foles also became just the seventh player in league history to throw for seven touchdowns in a game during a match-up against the Oakland Raiders, and one of three who have done so without throwing an interception.[1]

Interim head coach

Shurmur was named interim head coach of the Eagles after Kelly was fired on December 29, 2015.[8]Shurmur's one game was a 35–30 win over the Giants that was for 2nd place in the NFC East. The Eagles offense gained 435 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns, highlighted by DeMarco Murray running for a 54-yard touchdown in his first carry under Shurmur. Shurmur interviewed for the Eagles' head coaching job and was considered one of the leading candidates until the end, but he lost out to Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.

Minnesota Vikings

On January 25, 2016, the Minnesota Vikings named Shurmur their new tight ends coach.[9] On November 2, 2016, the Vikings promoted him to interim Offensive Coordinator in the wake of Norv Turner's resignation.[10] He was confirmed for the position for the 2017 season.[11] The Vikings finished the season ranked 11th highest scoring offense, after being only 28th overall in 2016. Second-string quarterback Case Keenum posted the best season of his five-year NFL career, after taking over for Sam Bradford, who suffered a knee injury in Week 1. Shurmur was named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year for the 2017 season.[12]

BroncosFanHB
BroncosFanHB

Great article. You put together one of the more in depth analyses comparing the two OCs' offensive schemes since the news broke to date. I also like how you are willing to reply to commenters that don't agree with your take. Makes things more interesting. And there is always room for discussion. I wish you and Nick had a live component to your YouTube/podcast. I suspect sufficient fan interest would be there. Your opinion is definitely valued.

MarkLewis
MarkLewis

Good breakdown, better than the hysterical hand-wringing I've seen elsewhere. One point of concern...the run game. Shurmer's teams have lacked a quality running attack. Also, Lock played better under center than he did in the shotgun last year. That could change if he has real weapons or course. We better get him those weapons in the draft, starting with WR speed (Ruggs or Reagor) but we MUST get some significant OL help, now more than ever. By "significant", I don't mean more old, injured, over paid FAs or 5th round picks. A minimum of 3 picks in our first 7 need to be OL, preferably 2 OTs and a legit C or G. We also have no RB who can catch it consistently out of the backfield. This will be a learning year once again for Lock, which is bad. Hopefully we win enough to avoid Elway pulling the plug and starting all over again, which I have zero faith that he wont' do if we dont' make the playoffs.

DKMI
DKMI

To me, you can measure the quality of a guy by just looking at his job history. Shurmur has been a HC multiple times. He has been OC multiple times. When leaving one position, he is immediately hired to a prominent role elsewhere. That happened again this year. Is he the most dynamic offensive mind in the league? Probably not. But I do feel that he brings competence to the position that we haven’t seen in Denver in a while. I sure hope this staff works out. The constant change of coordinators and HCs hasn’t helped matters.

Denverkewl
Denverkewl

Another home run article Erick! So how about Jano in the passing game as HB/TE2? I think this guy is just underutilized...what does his system do for the Slot corner and TE in the middle in terms of emphasis?

Fixenit
Fixenit

Water under the bridge! Who needs "another " history lesson here??


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