Hard Evidence Emerges Suggesting Broncos' Offense has Caught up to Chiefs
In 2013, the Denver Broncos put together one of the greatest offensive performances in the history of the NFL. Led by arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game in Peyton Manning, the Broncos’ high-flying offense put up 606 total points and 7,317 total yards with multiple records being set along the way.
Of course, Manning did not do it on his own, surrounded by a fantastic arsenal of weaponry in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, and Knowshon Moreno.
While the 2013 season didn’t end as Broncos Country had hoped (a bitter loss to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII), it is hard not to look back at that historic season with nostalgia. How easily the Broncos were able to move the ball and put up bucket loads of points each and every week.
How much more would Broncos’ Country have appreciated those seasons if they had known the offensive struggles the franchise would endure just around corner?
Obviously, any offense starts and stops with the quarterback position. A team does not have to have a franchise level quarterback to succeed in the NFL, but without a solid or better player under center, a team almost needs an all-time roster around that signal-caller to even compete in today’s pass happy league.
While some teams search for their guy for decades, the Broncos wandered the proverbial quarterback desert for just three seasons — that is if Drew Lock can become ‘the guy’ in Denver at the ‘Q’ (what Lock calls the quarterback position) in his second year.
While it is popular right now for many to dub Lock the savior of the Broncos, set to lift the franchise out of the realm of mediocrity back to the elites of the AFC, last year’s five-game sample size does not prove Lock can be the guy, but rather he could be the guy. Lock has everything anyone could want in a young franchise quarterback, but he has not earned the moniker just yet.
Given that NFL quarterbacks historically tend to take their biggest career leaps between their first and second seasons, the Broncos should have a much better idea if Lock can be the team’s first long-term answer at quarterback. However, in order to properly assess Lock and leave little-to-no room for excuses in their evaluation, the Broncos needed to accumulate better weaponry around the young quarterback just like Manning had back in the record-setting 2013 season.
There is no doubt that quarterback is the first thing on the checklist of what a team needs in order to compete in today’s NFL offensively. After the quarterback position, things can get a bit murkier.
What is the next most valuable aspect of an offense? Is it the offensive line to protect the quarterback? Is it a strong running game to help keep the defense guessing?
Or is it a variety of complementary pass weapons that can create explosive plays before and after the catch? It truly depends who one asks.
Long-time NFL scout and current insider Daniel Jeremiah says the Broncos now possess one of the fastest quintets of offensive skill players from 11 personnel in the entire NFL.
The Broncos dabbled a bit in every department of improving the offense this offseason. Adding Graham Glasgow to help the offensive line and Melvin Gordon to complement Philip Lindsay and the run game. However, if one were to look at the actions of the Broncos’ overall this offseason, one would argue that Elway and the Broncos’ front office emphasized the passing weapons surrounding Lock above everything else.
There is a common narrative surrounding the AFC West this offseason in trying to dethrone the reigning Super Bowl-Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Led by phenom Patrick Mahomes, a bevy of explosive pass catchers, and an offensive mastermind in Andy Reid, the Broncos, Raiders, and Chargers are left with two choices: build a defense to slow down the Chiefs or build an offense that can keep up.
The Broncos under Vic Fangio should at least have a solid defense in 2020 if not a top-five unit, but what really stands out about the Broncos transition on offense over the last few seasons is how much incredibly faster the weapons have gotten on offense.
Simply put, the Broncos needed to get faster and more explosive on offense in order to stand a chance in the AFC West and give their young quarterback the means to succeed.
11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) is a favorite of Broncos’ new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Utilizing 11 personnel on 70% of the offensive play calls in 2019 for the Giants was the second-highest rate in the NFL, so expect the Broncos to utilize their speed from 3-WR set to put defenses in compromising positions in 2020.
With an average 40-yard dash of 4.45-seconds for the likes of Courtland Sutton (4.54s), Jerry Jeudy (4.45s), KJ Hamler (assumed 4.27s but did not run at the NFL Combine), Noah Fant (4.5s), and Melvin Gordon (4.52s) the Broncos could be nightmarish to matchup with given the diversity of skills and overarching speed all five of these weapons possess.
The Broncos get even faster substituting Lindsay (4.39s at the Colorado Pro Day) in for Gordon shaving down the average speed down to 4.43. On paper, the Broncos are AS fast as the Chiefs, but whether can they play as fast on the field remains to be seen.
The 2020 regular season is set to become the Broncos’ most important since the team won the Superbowl in 2015 and Manning rode off into the sunset. However, the 2020 season isn’t a championship-or-bust season but rather a year to evaluate the direction of the Broncos and, most importantly, whether Lock can indeed become the franchise’s much needed long-term option at quarterback.
Elway and the Broncos empowered Lock with a multitude of weapons that can win in different ways and can all create explosive plays in the passing game. The Broncos’ offense isn’t perfect by any means with concerns at offensive tackle and one of the youngest (and likely erratic) offensive nuclei in the league.
However, the roster surrounding Lock is good enough that there should be no real excuse for him if he does not succeed. Elway and the Broncos built the nest around Lock by crafting one of the fastest offenses in the NFL and now it’s on Lock to prove he is up to the task to carry this team in 2020 and well into the future.