As mentioned in “Fox/Paige Affair, Part I”, Broncos head coach John Fox told nationally syndicated columnist Woody Paige that he still does not regret having Peyton Manning take a knee to force overtime. On the other hand, Fox said he regretted not going for the game-clinching first down on the Broncos drive before Joe Flacco’s miracle TD pass. In 2013, the Broncos will have two critical new pieces in place, one a coach, the other a player. If that coach was in charge of the offense that cold January evening, and if that player was in a Broncos uniform then, the Broncos would quite possibly have gone to New Orleans; and these two individuals could very well hold the keys to another Broncos Super Bowl appearance…and championship.
Meet Adam Gase
On January 17, 2013, the Broncos named Adam Gase as their offensive coordinator, replacing the departed Mike McCoy (now head coach of San Diego Chargers). This is Gase’s 5th season with the team, as he spent the last four seasons coaching the Broncos wide receivers (2009-10) and quarterbacks (2011-12). In his introductory press conference as OC, Gase vowed a more up-tempo, “pedal-to-the-metal” offensive approach. He considers the legendary Mike Martz (who he worked under as an offensive assistant with the Detroit Lions in 2006 and 2007) a huge influence on his play-calling.
Why The Martz Influence Is So Important
Martz is best known for his years as OC and head coach of the St. Louis Rams, where he was the brain behind the record-setting “Greatest Show On Turf” offense. An aggressive play-caller, Martz was one of the best in the business at finishing games. In games where his teams held a 4th-quarter lead, Martz posted an amazing 55-5 record. His offenses, particularly in St. Louis, consistently stepped on the gas to extend leads and drives late in games, effectively delivering the game-winning knockout punch. The Broncos obviously failed to do so on that third-and-seven play with two minutes left and the Ravens out of timeouts. Instead of putting the final nail in the coffin, then-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy called a simple run play with only a single receiver in the formation. The idea that McCoy would call such a play in that situation is astounding given that the Broncos ran 161 pass plays on third down versus 52 run plays in 2012, according to Pro Football Reference. In addition, the Broncos completed 47.2% of those passes and gained an average of 7.46 yards in the process. Distance-wise, the Broncos only needed an average of 6.72 yards to go on those plays! On the other hand, the Broncos only converted 38.5% of their third down runs, and the average in yards to go on those plays was a mere 2.15. With one of the most consistent passers in football and an uber-talented offense, what on earth was McCoy thinking?? As a protégé of Mike Martz, it would be BEYOND shocking if Gase plays it safe in such moments. If Gase were at the helm on that third-and-seven, he probably would have called a completely different play.
What Play May That Be?
The shallow cross route is one of the tools from the Martz playbook the Broncos are expected to employ this season. That play is designed to give the quarterback a quick, easy target down the middle of the field. To make it all work, a speed receiver (Receiver A) will come across the formation and his route will intersect with that of the receiver (Receiver B) going across the middle. As the routes cross, Receiver A will attempt to free his teammate from his defender with either a head (or shoulder) fake or a quick stutter-step. Martz’s Rams ran this play to perfection by bringing the speed receiver on a 5-6 yard route underneath; and with Kurt Warner’s remarkable accuracy and precision, the yardage after the catch (YAC) was off the charts. Last season, the Broncos had a reliable speed receiver in Demaryius Thomas, but they didn’t quite have a dependable inside-the-numbers target on third downs of 7+ yards to go. Per Cecil Lammey (ESPN Denver, Bleacher Report), slot WR Brandon Stokley was targeted 10 times on such third/fourth downs in 2012, and he caught 5 of those targets for 52 yards (10.4 yards per catch) and a touchdown. While a 50% consistency rating in that department isn’t bad, the Broncos wanted a better such weapon in their arsenal that could be targeted more (and who could deliver more) in those situations. They got the best person for that job in Wes Welker.
Welker The Third Down Wonder Weapon
Since arriving in New England in 2007, Welker has revolutionized the slot receiver position and has established himself as one of the NFL’s best playmakers between (as well as around) the hashes. In the minds of many, his presence is felt the most on third down. Over the past two seasons, Welker has caught 31 passes for 426 yards (13.74 yards per catch) on third downs with 6 or more yards to go. Also according to Pro Football Reference, Welker reeled in 30 of his 43 total third down targets in 2012 (69.77% completion rate) for 318 yards and 2 touchdowns. These numbers are no miracle given Welker’s amazing route-running skills plus his ability to consistently gain separation from press coverage. It can obviously be argued that the addition of Welker gives Peyton Manning his best third-down security blanket ever.
In addition to his third-down effectiveness, Welker also gives the Broncos another solid run-after-the-catch target. Welker was the league leader in YAC yardage the last two seasons with 732 in 2011, and 702 in 2012. Also, Demaryius Thomas was 4th in the NFL in YAC yardage last year with 538. With a top-flight speed receiver in Thomas, and a terror for defenses down the middle in Welker, the Broncos figure to run the shallow cross route a ton in 2013. Plus, with the ability of both to get a lot of yards after the catch, the Broncos could sort of be like a second coming of the “Greatest Show On Turf.”
The Gase/Welker Effect
After his controversial decision to play it safe late in the playoffs, Mike McCoy departed the Broncos for his first head-coaching job. Not too long after his exit, the Broncos promoted quarterbacks coach Adam Gase to the position. Gase made clear from day one that he wanted the offense to play at a faster pace and step on opponents’ throats in key moments. A disciple of Mike Martz, Gase’s offense is based in the 11 personnel (1 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE) system, and the Broncos entered the 2013 free agency period without a third wide-out that could make the new system function at the highest possible level. Just two days into free agency, they got that third WR in Wes Welker, whose presence makes it possible for Gase to dig deeper into the playbook of his mentor. The promotion of Gase and the acquisition of Welker add a key new dimension to the Broncos. Because of the places these two men are in, the Broncos look like a team that’s willing to take chances when it counts the most. They didn’t resemble such a team in their heartbreaking playoff loss, and Gase and Welker could be just what the doctor ordered for the Broncos.