May 22, 2022

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New Broncos staff aims to succeed on offense where…

4 min read
New Broncos staff aims to succeed on offense where...

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Nathaniel Hackett and Justin Outten find themselves next in line to wrestle with what has been a familiar problem for the Denver Broncos, an issue that has stumped several coaches since the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season.

Since Peyton Manning retired after that championship, Outten is the team’s sixth offensive coordinator and Nathaniel Hackett its fourth head coach. The Broncos have had 11 different starting quarterbacks post-Manning and, more importantly, zero playoff appearances.

Those coaches and quarterbacks have lost their jobs in large part because of an offense that has been unable to consistently get the ball to its best players and has scored way too few touchdowns. Outten and Hackett, along with a starting quarterback to be named later, are now tasked with solving that puzzle.

“Our goal is to score points here, and that’s how you win football games — finding creative ways, especially when you get down in the red zone,” Outten said earlier this week when presented with the rather ugly truths of the past six seasons. “To put the ball in the end zone is your No. 1 goal. These coaches are going to work tirelessly, trying to find ways to put the ball in our playmakers’ hands.”

That isn’t a new goal. The Broncos haven’t averaged more than 23 points per game since 2014 and more than 21 points per game in the six seasons following Manning’s retirement.

Opposing defensive coaches have privately said that the Broncos haven’t consistently stressed their defensive game plans in the passing game. When the Broncos have had to throw the ball, their pass protection wouldn’t consistently hold up long enough, no matter the personnel grouping, to allow them to get the ball to their best players.

To that end, wide receiver Courtland Sutton had six games last season with three or fewer targets and 11 games with three or fewer receptions. Yet Sutton still led the team in both catches and receiving yards.

When asked about the most common issues that prevent a team from getting the ball to its prime weapons, Outten spoke of needing to make sure the plan is tailored each week for who is in the lineup along with what defense the Broncos will face. It’s a rather basic, foundational idea the Broncos haven’t been able to execute. They have also struggled to make in-game adjustments when the initial plan isn’t going well.

The Broncos scored on their game-opening drive just three times last season — two touchdowns, one field goal — and had one first down or fewer on 10 game-opening drives. They didn’t fare much better coming out of halftime. They scored on just six drives to open the second half and got one first down or fewer on eight drives to open the third quarter.

“We have to make sure that we are taking pride in our preparation and giving these guys answers out there because sometimes defenses will throw you a curveball,” Outten said. “They’ll allow you to prepare for certain things like that. You have to have answers in your back pocket, and that’s the stuff that we have to develop in OTAs this offseason and training camp. It’s just giving them tools so they can work with it and get around some of the issues on the field while they’re out there, and then coming to the sideline and making adjustments off of that.”

Hackett and Outten have already pointed to limiting turnovers — Outten said “the ball is everything” — but the Broncos’ offensive struggles have been so pronounced that even seasons with limited turnovers haven’t seen increased production.

After the Broncos led the league with 23 interceptions in 2020 — in large part due to quarterback Drew Lock throwing 15 picks — quarterback Teddy Bridgewater largely cleaned that up last season, as the Broncos had only 18 giveaways, tied for sixth fewest in the NFL. They also had the sixth-fewest turnovers in 2019, but limiting turnovers didn’t result in an increase in points, as they averaged 19.7 points per game this past season and 17.6 in 2019. They actually scored more points per game in 2020 (20.2) despite their carelessness with the football.

Solving the offensive issues is on Hackett’s to-do list as the new Broncos staff has gone through meetings this week with general manager George Paton before heading to the scouting combine next week.

“First and foremost, any offense that you have has to be maneuverable and adjustable for whoever you have on your team,” Hackett said. “It’s about finding out what your guys do the best and being able to do that over and over again and taking advantage of their skill sets … You want to make the defense cover the entire field.”