Musgrave was the OC for the Oakland Raiders a season ago, and we’ve actually admired how he handled the Raiders offense in the past, especially in a win over the Broncos and Wade Phillips’ touted defense in 2016.
The McCoy firing is a move made out of necessity. Though there's more than just one reason for McCoy being driven out of town, as head coach Vance Joseph explained.
“Moving to Billy, I think we are going to have a chance to have a more efficient pass game with simply simplifying the concepts and helping our quarterbacks have a cleaner progression on where to go with the ball. That’s why [the coaching change]was made,” Joseph elaborated. “I’m looking forward to Bill having a chance to put his touch on the offense and having a chance to have our pass game grow a little bit, not be so scattered in our passing concepts.”
That’s a lot of philosophical football talk, but it makes more sense once Joseph elaborated things further.
“Just having a system of completion passes in the pass game,” Joseph said. “And again, sometimes it’s doing the same thing more often that you can kind of master it. Right now, I feel like we have a lot of good offense and a lot of good plays that we miss, but we haven’t mastered anything. I think Billy’s going to bring a sense of consistency that we can master, maybe four or five concepts and that’s good enough to get better.”
That is the key here, Joseph is saying he doesn’t want a menu with lots of good sounding options but a kitchen that can’t cook any of those dishes well. He wants a smaller playbook that his players can execute, more go-to plays, no more concepts and a variety of options, figure out what works and stick to it. That’s the bottom line, and it really starts with the passing game.
Fixing the aerial attack
Outside of the first couple weeks of 2017, the passing game hasn’t done much of anything well, so Musgrave needs to start from scratch there. Luckily, the former quarterback was very good at keeping things simple a season ago in Oakland where the Raiders passing attack had tons of success. The two basic concepts being implemented were six offensive linemen jumbo packages that were heavily featured on first-downs, allowing for easy runs and lots of play action deep throws with built-in max-protections. The other concept was a spread-out shotgun look, allowing the quarterback to make quick reads. With Paxton Lynch’s unpolished skill set, those two basics should help out a lot.
First and foremost, the Broncos need to establish a physical, bullying mentality up front, regardless of who the six linemen are. This should help the right tackle spot that’s been a major issue for Denver so far. Without a classic swing tackle, Musgrave will have to be creative, and he could use more two tight end sets with blocking specialist Virgil Green playing the role of improvised swing tackle. Or, guard Connor McGovern—who was a high-level left tackle in the SEC only a few seasons ago—could be tried in that role.
This is what allowed Oakland to have so much success last season against the Broncos and it also made them an efficient run team that could be unpredictable when passing out of those formations. Those will be Lynch’s chance to flash his arm strength while having max protection in play action sets. It’s also a tone-setting move, something the offense desperately needs. Denver tried this earlier in the season, and it had some success. It’s time to get back to that.
The four and five-wide looks Oakland used should also benefit Lynch, who’s at his best in the gun and when making quick reads. Like Denver, the Raiders' receiver depth wasn’t stellar, but they had two high-end targets in Amari Cooper and Micheal Crabtree. The spread looks allowed Oakland to stretch opposing defenses laterally to isolate Cooper and Crabtree or stack them to one side allowing for half-field reads. These are all ways of simplifying the offense, allowing for quicker rhythm completions and making life easier on Lynch, which all plays into Joesph’s mandate.
A fun wrinkle that the Raiders would use early on in games, and we’ve started to see with the Broncos the last couple weeks, are easy completions out the backfield, at times with one of the top two receivers in the backfield. Below is a classic man-beating formation out of a spread look where you have either off balance formations and have the backfield receiver go to the empty side or have one side run deeper routes to clear out the underneath for an easy completion. Again, simple, quick-hitting concepts.
Adapting to Paxton
We’ve already covered the best ways to adopt the Broncos offense to Lynch and how Denver might need to modernize their attack to suit their young QB. That can also help simplify things like doing what the Philadelphia Eagles did to Denver on their very first drive back in Week 9.
Plays like that read option touchdown are as basic as they come in the NFL or football at any level. They simply require an athlete at quarterback who can make plays with his arm and legs. Giving Lynch more opportunities to make throws on the run out of play-action looks becomes just as easy with the read-option and adds a wrinkle to the offense that doesn’t complicate any concepts. It also exploits Lynch's best qualities: his athleticism, frame, and ability to throw on the run.
Also, like Joseph said, the run game has had success, which means lots of the passing attack should be aimed to work off of that. That means a balanced attack above all.
Adding window-dressing in the form of pre-snap motions can also be an easy way to make the offense seem more complex than it is. After all, when things get too simple, they become easy to figure out so keeping teams off balance is crucial and there are many ways of doing that.
More change needed
Part of Musgrave’s job is figuring out the personnel that’s best for this team, and the first move was putting Lynch in at quarterback. That might not be the only necessary change that’s required on the offensive depth chart.
First and foremost, something has to be figured out at right tackle and with the swing tackle if more max-protections are really to be implemented. Given how current starter Allen Barbre’s struggled the past few weeks, giving youngsters like Elijah Wilkinson or Cyrus Kouandjio a shot might not be a bad idea, at least they have the length to play the position. Donald Stephenson could also return and would be serviceable especially as the swing OT—he's currently listed as questionable.
Devontae Booker’s also played really well since he’s been back from injury and his impact as a receiver’s been particularly noticeable. Booker, like Lynch, could benefit from more snaps as the organization tries to figure out who the building blocks of the offense are and who to move on from.
Finally, promoted practice squad tight end Austin Traylor did a nice job in his debut last week, he has size and showed decent hands, while also seeming serviceable as a blocker. Trying Traylor out while the rest of the group is banged up is another worthwhile idea, as he could be a primary tight end in this offense, a role that so far no one's taken as everyone the Broncos currently have is more of a one-trick pony.
Fixing the Broncos offense won’t be nearly as simple as the basic concepts that Musgrave must implement, but that’s the mandate he has, and it’s the only way he’ll be able to truly fix things with Lynch at the helm.