Offensively, the Denver Broncos finished last season ranked No. 28 in both total yards and scoring. However, there was a ray of hope down the stretch as Drew Lock was inserted at quarterback, elevating a Broncos offense that had heretofore been the epitome of impotent.
With Lock under center, the Broncos took some leaps forward offensively but it wasn't enough for Head Coach Vic Fangio, who opted to fire Rich Scangarello after the season ended and hire in his place a more proven offensive coordinator. The idea was to hire someone who could tactically raise all ships from an Xs and Os perspective while maximizing the potential of Lock and the young players on the Broncos' offense.
Enter Pat Shurmur, a 21-year NFL coaching veteran, whose offense is a mix between the old West Coast scheme and the spread. If you're wondering how those two offensive philosophies mix, take a look at what Andy Reid is doing in Kansas City. Reid raised Shurmur from a pup back in Philadelphia so naturally, the acolyte's scheme resembles closely that of the master.
Moving to a more spread-oriented system is nothing but a good thing for Lock, who thrived in that scheme at Missouri. Shurmur's scheme is very quarterback-friendly, and combined with the arrival of Mike Shula as QBs Coach, the Year 2 outlook for Lock is understandably optimistic.
But what does it mean for third-year wideout Courtland Sutton? With four months of studying Shurmur's playbook and now having participated in a few virtual OTA meetings with his new coaches, Sutton dished on the expectations for the Broncos' offense.
“The thing I like about Coach Shurmur’s offense is he wants to give us chances to go make plays," Sutton said on Thursday via virtual press conference. "He’s going to give the receivers chances to make plays. He is—which is really rare I feel like—he sees the game how receivers see that game. We feel like we can impact the game in so many different ways."
It's a scheme that not only simplifies things for the QB, but also gives the triggerman autonomy to make checks at the line of scrimmage and audible pre-snap based on the looks the defense is giving. Lock didn't have that level of freedom in 2019, and understandably so. Few rookies are given that much rope.
"Obviously in the run game but in the pass game we can have screens, taking shots down the field, him giving Drew the flexibility to be able to if he sees a mismatch take advantage of that and not say ‘Oh, we’ll come back to that next series,’ or something like that," Sutton said. "If he sees a mismatch or something that he can take advantage of, something that he can do, and they’re giving him the freedom to be able to do that."
The Broncos took a big leap forward simply by hiring Shurmur and Shula in January but the front office continued to focus on bolstering the offense in free agency and the NFL Draft. Free agents like OL Graham Glasgow, RB Melvin Gordon, and TE Nick Vannett helped shore up some holes and brought their own dynamic ability to the table.
But the moves GM John Elway made in the draft are what have people buzzing about the possibilities for the Broncos in 2020. The Broncos selected WRs Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in back-to-back rounds, while also nabbing a starting-caliber center in Lloyd Cushenberry and a tight end in the fourth round — Albert Okwuegbunam — who runs faster than 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant.
The possibilities are endless now. Opposing defenses are truly going to have to pick their poison and Sutton, for one, sounded almost giddy about it.
No longer will opponents be able to sell out to stop one player or aspect of the Broncos' offense. Sure, go ahead and put a safety over the top of Sutton and double-cover him; Lock can look to Fant, or Jeudy, or Hamler to win a one-on-one matchup and play pitch-and-catch.
It applies to the running game as well. As fans saw in 2018 and 2019, when opponents didn't respect the QB or the weapons outside the numbers, they'd stack the box with defenders to shut down Phillip Lindsay and the rushing attack. Doing so in 2020 will come at great risk.
In order for the Broncos offense to truly maximize its new, impressive array of talent, it really comes down to the triggerman being on point. From the sounds of it, Sutton has no doubts that Lock is ready to be that point guard of the offense and distribute the ball to the open guy in order to make defenses pay.
"Drew understanding the offense and the rest of the guys on the offense understanding the offense to a full, we can run any type of check that we need to be able to get the ball to the right spot for the defense that we’re going against," Sutton said. "I think that Coach Shurmur’s offense is going to be able to add a lot of threat to all the weapons that we already have on offense.”
Sutton spent a lot of time gushing on his new quarterback. But I'm going to save those remarks for another article. The takeaway from this one, though, should be this; if everything comes together offensively the way the Broncos envision, we could be looking at a renaissance in the Mile High City in 2020.
It looks unbelievable on paper. Lock, Sutton, and company just have to go out there and translate that in-theory potential into production on the field. With Shurmur and Shula in the fold to shepherd the players, color me optimistic on the odds of it happening.