The Denver Broncos have won the AFC Championship and are now set to play in the Super Bowl. Along the way to their Super Bowl berth the Broncos have unleashed an offensive onslaught upon the league.
I charted every Broncos offensive play in the red zone (25yd-GL), for all 18 of their 2013 games (16 Regular Season, 2 Playoffs). This report of the 2013 Broncos’ red zone offense presents some of my charted data and it explains what the Broncos do, how they do it, and who they do it with in the red zone. The report is broken down in to 5 sections; play calling philosophy, pass targets, carries, tendencies by personnel grouping, and Super Bowl predictions. Below are my findings.
Play Calling Philosophy
The Denver Broncos red zone offensive philosophy is to spread a defense out and then determine where they are out-leveraged. Can they get leverage on them vertically, can they get leverage on them horizontally, can they outnumber them in the run game? They will look for weaknesses and exploit them.
This isn’t a well-balanced offense. They ran the ball 109 times and threw the ball 181 times in the red zone. This offense is heavily skewed to the passing game and approximately 62% of their red zone plays are passes. Their pass offense frequently stretches opposing defenses vertically on the front-side and horizontally on the back-side.
Peyton Manning is predominantly not under the center. On approximately 75% of red zone plays Manning was either in Shotgun or Pistol alignment. Pistol formation plays are largely runs with the preferred passing concepts being screen passes to WRs or RBs.
Even when Manning is under center the plays are still two-thirds passes. The pass plays that the Broncos use from under center are largely play-action passes, or passes where Peyton Manning takes a quick step back and throws (usually a fade). Screens are also used frequently with Manning under center. The premise is either play action or quick passes to get the ball out of his hands.
The Broncos use the levels concept quite frequently in their pass plays. These levels concepts feature an inside WR and an outside WR running the same route (in, out or smash) either at the same or different levels of route depth. Running these route combinations at different route depths will stretch a defense both vertically and horizontally. Running these route combinations at the same level of route depth stretches a defense horizontally. The horizontal route features of these levels concepts allow the WRs to cross the face of man defenders or to find soft spots in zones. The majority of these levels concepts are used on the back-side of plays. These back-side levels concepts are almost like a security blanket for Manning and almost every pass play has one.
The Broncos employ lots of rub-action in their routes, where one WR “rubs” the DB off of the other WR. They use rub-action in two main ways. On a 2-WR side the outside man runs a slant right into the slot DB and the slot WR runs outside. The other way rub-action is employed is with two-man crossing routes.
It’s best to just think of the Broncos as a passing team that operates primarily out of Shotgun sets and 11 (1 RB/1 TE) Personnel. If I could boil all of the Broncos’ releases, route combinations, and pass concepts into one play that most symbolizes their red zone offense, it would be the following; 11 Personnel, Shotgun formation, pass play, the front-side featuring two WRs giving Manning a high-to-low read, with a back-side levels concept.
Denver Broncos Red Zone Pass Targets
Catches 24, Targets 36, 66%, 195 Yards, 9 TDs.
Routes: Screen-6, Vertical-5, Out-4, Cross-4, Post-3, In-3, Smash-2, Slant-2, Hook, Flag, Stop and Go, Hitch, Fade, Wheel, Swing
Thomas can do it all in the red zone and is one of the better WRs in the league. He led the Broncos in red zone targets. He is primarily used in the screen game as he is an outstanding open-field runner. The next way he is featured is on vertical routes.
Catches 25, Targets 34, 73%, 157 Yards, 11 TDs, 1 Fumble.
Routes: Out-12, Vertical-5, Smash-3, Screen-2, In-2, Cross-2, Flag, Wheel, Quick, Pop, Swing, Post, Slant, Hitch
Most of these out routes were on “rub-action” plays with Welker lined up in the slot and the outside man running a slant to rub the CB over Welker. Welker was the most efficient and productive of the Broncos red zone targets. He lead the team in red zone TDs, and he caught the ball on 73% of the throws he was targeted on.
Catches 23, Targets 33, 69%, 225 Yards, 11 TDs.
Routes: Vertical-9, Out-8, Slant-3, Cross-2, Shovel-2, Smash-2, Quick, Curl, Fade, Wheel, Flag, In, Delay
Julius Thomas basically played the role of big, tall WR in the Broncos red zone offense. They split Julius Thomas out wide frequently to try and isolate him 1-on-1. He can’t be covered by a linebacker. If Julius Thomas is singled up and split out wide, sometimes Peyton goes right to him without looking anywhere else. He’s very effective going vertical.
Eric Decker:Catches 15, Targets 33, 45%, 123 Yards, 9 TDs.
Routes: Vertical-9, Fade-5, Out-5, Post-4, Flag-3, Slant-2, Quick, In, Smash, Cross, Screen
Decker is the least featured WR in the screen game as the bulk of screens go to Welker and Thomas who are both better open-field runners than Decker. He is primarily targeted in a vertical capacity.
Knowshon Moreno: Catches 14, Targets 16, 87%, 100 Yards, 2 TDs.
Routes: Screen-5, Wheel-3, Out-2, Flat-2, Hook, Slant, Check, Swing
The RBs are frequently split out wide in this offense. As a result Moreno has 16 red zone targets. He is primarily used in screens or in wheel routes.
Jacob Tamme: Catches 4, Targets 6, 66%, 26 Yards, 2 TDs.
Routes: Out-3, In, Delay, Vertical
Some of these targets were while Wes Welker was hurt. The Broncos adapted by putting Tamme in the slot.
Montee Ball: Catches 4, Targets 5, 80%, 11 Yards, 0 TDs.
Routes: Hitch, Screen, Shovel, Out, Flat
Andre Caldwell: Catches 2, Targets 4, 50%, 20 Yards, 2 TDs.
Routes: Out-2, Screen, Post Corner
All of Caldwell’s targets were while Wes Welker was out with injury.
Ronnie Hillman: Catches 3, Targets 3, 100%, 14 Yards, 0 TDs.
Routes: Hook, Screen, Out
Virgil Green: Catches 2, Targets 3, 66%, 10 Yards, 0 TDs.
Routes: Out-2, Flag
Joel Dreessen: Catches 1, Targets 3, 33 %, 1Yard, 1 TD.
Peyton Manning Red Zone Passing Stats:
117/177, 66% completion rate, 882 Yards, 47 TDs, 1 INT.
Peyton Manning is an absolute surgeon in the red zone. He just put together the most amazing red zone performance in the history of football. Manning’s 66% completion rate in the red zone where the defense is condensed is very impressive, but his 47 TDs in the red zone is downright legendary.