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