During his first three seasons as the Broncos’ left tackle, Garett Bolles had the same routine. Grind away in the weight room to add strength. Put hours of work into improving his technique. And learn a new offense.
Every single year.
“Different terminology and different words that you have to get used to and that takes some time,” he said.
But for the first time since 2016, the Broncos have the same offensive system and same play-caller (Pat Shurmur) in consecutive years. The organization believes that continuity will help the offense climb into the top 20 in points per game for the first time since 2015, which was also its last playoff appearance.
Just as general manager George Paton flipped the script this offseason, prioritizing additions on defense in an effort to slow down Kansas City, the Broncos’ offense needs to change its narrative, too.
They need to make more big plays and score more points.
“Everybody has a little more confidence and it’s little more of an efficient operation and execution of the offense,” coach Vic Fangio said.
That confidence must lead to a lot more efficiency and execution to get the Broncos out of their tailspin. Since 2016, the Broncos’ offensive slumber has produced eye-opening statistics. A look:
- 30th in points per game (19.5); New Orleans is first at 29.5.
- 31st in passer rating (79.0); New Orleans is first at 106.4.
- 31st in touchdown passes (95); Tampa Bay is first with 166.
- And 30th in yards per play (5.1); Kansas City is first at 6.2.
Bonus bad statistic: The Broncos have scored 25 or more points in 18 of their 80 games, compared to 57 for Kansas City.
Instability represents the root of the problem.
The Broncos had different offensive play-callers from 2016-19 (coach Gary Kubiak and coordinators Mike McCoy, Bill Musgrave, Rich Scangarello and Shurmur) and they will start their fifth different Week 1 quarterback Sunday in five years against the New York Giants (Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater).
In choosing Bridgewater over Lock last month, Fangio sided with experience (59 starts for Bridgewater compared to 18 for Lock) and how No. 5 can distribute the football to the Broncos’ play-makers. And they do have some. That’s the rub on the offensive struggles. Shouldn’t a unit with tight end Noah Fant, running back Melvin Gordon (and now Javonte Williams) and receivers Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler experience more success?
It isn’t like the Broncos have avoided trying to improve their offense. In the last five drafts, the Broncos have gone offense with 12 picks in rounds 1-3, including six projected Week 1 starters in Bolles, Fant, Sutton, Jeudy, Hamler, left guard Dalton Risner and center Lloyd Cushenberry. In free agency, they spent big money to sign Gordon and right guard Graham Glasgow.
And yet, something always happens.
Last year, it was injuries to Sutton (ACL), Lock (shoulder) and departed running back Phillip Lindsay (multiple injuries). The Broncos got stuck in a rut and couldn’t climb out. They were 28th in scoring (20.2), 26th in yards (215.7), 26th on third down (36.7%), 27th in the red zone (53.3%) and first in turnovers (32).
The level of optimism, though, had a different feel during this year’s training camp. The Broncos have a better grasp of Shurmur’s offense, believe in Bridgewater’s ability and leadership, expect an up-tick in performance from the second-year players and have high expectations for Williams, the rookie second-round tailback.
“The offense was really young last year,” Paton said. “They lost their voice in Courtland and their juice. He means so much to this team. Then you have a rookie center (Cushenberry) and you’re young at quarterback and receiver. I just think another year in the program and a year with a (regular) offseason (will help). I like our offensive line and like our backs. The tight ends are talented. We’re talented at receiver. These guys just need to play.”
Sutton leads the group. His Week 2 injury last year elevated Jeudy to the top receiver spot and that meant learning on the job against elite cornerbacks. If Sutton is healthy and productive, he and Jeudy can be a very good 1-1A combo. That would allow Hamler to work out of the slot and Fant and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (also coming off an ACL injury) to roam the middle of the field where they are mismatches for lumbering linebackers.
“Guys can interchange at different positions,” Fant said. “I can be split out wide and I can be in the backfield. I think everybody is getting utilized in their own specific ways. I’m definitely happy with where we’re going.”
Where the Broncos need to go is to 25-points-per-game territory. Last year, 15 teams reached that bar and 11 made the postseason. Paton, Fangio and Shurmur are banking on a diverse attack that makes it hard to pinpoint who will get the football.
“We’ve got different guys we can throw it to, we’ve got different guys we can hand it off to and we’re good up front,” running backs coach Curtis Modkins said. “We can be really good and explosive on offense.”
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