Shotgun runs key Broncos win

Posted Nov. 07, 2011 @ 3:06 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

All across the NFL, offenses are becoming more and more advanced. The Packers' attack, based on the timing and precision throws of QB Aaron Rodgers, has been unstoppable this season. In New Orleans, QB Drew Brees leads an offense that has weapons lining up all across the formation, causing defenses to have to choose where they want to focus. For the Steelers, the combination of their tough running, speedy receivers and versatility of QB Ben Roethlisberger (generally) gives opposing defenses fits.

Yet in Denver, the Broncos are running what equates to a college offense, akin to what the Oregon Ducks use every Saturday to great success.

That is meant as no slight, no criticism, no knock whatsoever on head coach John Fox or offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. They are doing what they need to do with the personnel on their roster. If running a simplified, zone-read offense is what works — and it surely did on Sunday against the Raiders in a come-from-behind 38-24 win — then by all means, continue doing it.

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The Broncos offense ran wild against Oakland, but did so in an unconventional way. Instead of lining up in an I-formation or single-back set, formations generally used for the power running game that Fox and McCoy planned on installing for the team, the vast majority of the team's ground game came out of the shotgun. With the mobile Tebow behind the center and a running back (generally Willis McGahee) at his side, Raiders defenders had two players to key on, one more than normal. That extra moment of wondering who would get the ball was all the Broncos needed.

On Sunday afternoon, the Broncos ran out of shotgun 23 times, gaining 216 yards and two touchdowns (9.4 ypc). That included a McGahee 60-yarder up the middle for a touchdown, a 32-yard run by Tebow off left end and a run for 28 yards by Tebow off right end. Both McGahee and Tebow ran for more than 100 yards in the game, despite running basically one play over and over again.

On the zone-read play, the quarterback takes the snap and then determines how the defensive end/outside linebacker are attacking him. If they are coming inside the offensive tackle, the QB hands the ball to the running back to go outside. If the defense rushes from the outside, the QB can keep it and run through the offensive line himself. Different variable create different results, but it all depend on the quarterback's decision-making.

Tebow, who ran the offense in college, is a master of the zone-read. Though his development as a passer isn't where it needs to be quite yet in his second year in the NFL, the quarterback has shown in his brief time he can make plays. He sure did on Sunday, throwing for two TDs and controlling the Broncos running game as well as anyone in the league could.

"Tebow got the ball in his hands and he's dangerous," McGahee said after the game. "When I have the ball in my hands, I can be dangerous too. We have a (two-man threat) as far as running the ball."

In the fourth quarter, when the Broncos took control of the game, they ran out of the shotgun 10 times for 78 yards and didn't attempt a single pass. It wasn't exactly the way most teams would close out a game in the current NFL, but for Fox and McCoy, it was exactly what they needed to do.  

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