Letting Mike McCoy Go May Have Been The Right Thing To Help The Broncos

Taking a step back after the day of the long knives, letting Mike McCoy go may have been the right thing.

McCoy has a very complex offense. When McCoy arrived for his second go-round, the Post published an article about McCoy’s offense, quoting former TE Joel Dreesen as saying “It’s definitely difficult.” The McCoy offense relies heavily on option routes, where the receiver alters his route based upon the defense. For example, a play might call for a receiver to run a comeback against zone and an out against man.

However, for option routes to be successful two things have to happen. First, the offensive line has to be up to snuff. Again quoting from the Post article:

“Our offense will go as far as our offensive line will take them,” McCoy said. “Everyone always wants to look at a quarterback and say you have to have this quarterback. I’m not taking anything away from the quarterback position. It is critical to have that guy, but you have to have the five guys up front playing as one and doing everything right. They’ve got to protect their tails off so that quarterback can sit back in the pocket and do what he can do.”

Second, the QB has to be smart and experienced enough to understand and process what is going on. The receiver and the QB both have to make the right decision as the play is progressing. A simple inside receiver route that everyone runs reads like this:

The different length stems are designed to get the receiver to the same spot on the field underneath the linebacker. Against zone coverage the receiver will turn and sit as an outlet, while in man coverage the receiver breaks away from the defender, going out if the defender has inside leverage and inside if he has outside leverage. Inside the Pylon has a nice primer here (where the above image comes from).

As noted in the ITP article, usually the inside routes have options and the outside routes are set. However, McCoy’s offense will actually use option routes on the deep throws as well. For a deep option to work, the QB and WR have to read the defense to go into a fade or post to get into the seam of a zone, and the leverage of the CB in man to decide between a corner or post route. With the QB and WR reading the same, all that remains is execution.

A good example of failed execution came on a play late in the third. On third and long, Fowler lined up in the slot and ran a deep route covered by a safety in man coverage so he was the first read. The DB aligned straight up and gave ground before committing to outside leverage, so Fowler correctly optioned to a post. Meanwhile, the Bengals came with a four man rush and collapsed the pocket back into Osweiler before the DB committed, so he guessed on a corner route. The result was a ball thrown 15 yards away from an open receiver, and a lot of groans and WTFs in the game thread.

While a bit more time in the pocket might have helped that play, and the line play has been inconsistent at best, there have been a lot of failures with QB reads. Osweiler has not been shy about diagramming his expected routes when the receiver went in an unexpected direction. Siemian stopped going through his progressions and started fixating on receivers. And both QBs have made bad decisions based on pre-read snaps.

The offense started out well, but then we saw defenses begin to disguise their coverages and confuse the offense. Confused QBs tend to hold the ball longer, which is not a good thing when your line is not a high quality line. We’ve also heard rumors of plays being called that weren’t practiced during the week, which would be consistent with an offensive playbook being grown week-to-week as McCoy indicated he would be doing: “We’re going to build our system over time.”

I believe that the playbook was too complex for the young QBs. The QB miscues come from trying to make inexperienced players do too much. And while McCoy gets a lot of kudos for simplifying the playbook and winning with Tebow, I’d argue that throwing out the playbook was forced on him be the fact that Tebow was nowhere near the pocket passer QB prototype that McCoy’s offense needs. And even given a prototypical QB, McCoy has not had major success as either an offensive coordinator or head coach:

  • 2009 8-8 Orton
  • 2010 4-12 Orton
  • 2011 8-8 Orton/Tebow
  • 2012 13-3 Manning
  • 2013 9-7 Rivers
  • 2014 9-7 Rivers
  • 2015 4-12 Rivers
  • 2016 5-11 Rivers
  • 2017 3-7 Siemien/Osweiler

While it is possible to argue that Orton, Siemien, and Osweiler have a “ceiling” that renders them incapable of being NFL starters, the same is not true of Rivers. Over the course of ten years, River’s stats have not changed significantly no matter who his head coach and coordinator were. The biggest success of McCoy’s career came with Peyton Manning running his offense, but Manning would make just about any offensive scheme look great (excepting of course the run and shoot — nobody can make that look good).

I wish McCoy well. I hope he gets to take his system somewhere with enough offensive talent to run it. In the meantime, hopefully Musgrave will simplify the routes and the reads to allow the team to see if the QBs on staff are capable of running a normal offense, let alone the Star Wars offense we were so astounded by in 2013.