In two seasons under offensive coordinator Adam Gase, the Denver Broncos finished 1st and 3rd in the NFL in passing yards.
Gase set the bar high in Denver and will be looking to replicate that success as OC of the Chicago Bears.
In Part 2 of our three-part series analyzing Gase’s passing playbook, let’s first focus on the Broncos Week 9 matchup against the New England Patriots and a secondary that features Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cover corner in the league.
Play I: Dual Cross RB Slip
QB Peyton Manning lines up in shotgun with RB Ronnie Hillman (red) to his left. Three receivers are to the right of the formation. The two inside receivers (white) will run drag routes, one in the underneath zone and the other in the intermediate zone. The wide receivers on both sides (yellow) will push vertically, occupying the wide corners and safeties. Following the two-tiered cross, Hillman will release from the backfield and break to the vacant area near the right hash.
Here we see both of the inside receivers breaking across the field. This occupies the linebackers, who are sitting in zone coverage. Notice the vacant blue area. Hillman (red) is now clearing the line of scrimmage and will break for the blue circle.
The linebackers (blue Xs) are preoccupied with the two dragging receivers and do not notice Hillman running the opposite direction underneath.
Hillman is wide open just outside the right hash. Notice both inside linebackers are nowhere near the ball.
Analysis: As we’ll soon see, this play is a staple in Gase’s passing playbook. The dual drags, with receivers in front of and behind the linebackers, clogs up the middle of the field. The linebackers must respect the crossing routes or Manning will make them pay. At the same time, Hillman sneaks out into the open area on the other side of the field.
Play II: Cross Rub
This is the very next play in the series. WR Emmanuel Sanders (red) is going to run a crossing route to the far side of the field.
On the left side, the two wide receivers clear vertically, taking the corners with them. The slot receiver, Demaryius Thomas (yellow), runs an intermediate drag, which gets the attention of both inside linebackers. The white circle is the catch point where Sanders is headed.
Sanders builds separation and is heading toward the traffic Thomas is creating. This will force the trailing corner to slow up briefly, allowing for more separation.
Thomas’ rub gives Sanders two yards of space, of which he takes advantage for a 7-yard gain.
Analysis: The dual cross in the middle of the field is crucial on this play. It initially occupied the play-side linebacker and forced the trail corner to maneuver around the bodies. This gives Sanders, who has very good speed, the space he needs for the catch and run.
Play III: Dual Cross RB Slip (Round II)
This is the following play. Notice anything familiar? It is a carbon copy of the first play of the drive. There will be a dual drag, verticals out wide and Hillman slipping into the right flat.
Here again we see Hillman with no one around him as he makes the underneath grab for six yards.
Analysis: Obviously, Gase isn’t afraid to call the same play during the same drive if he feels he can again have success. The Patriots were quicker to react this time, yet the completion sill picked up good yardage.
Play IV: Dual Cross, No Slip
This is the same play, only this time the Raiders blitz, which forces RB C.J. Anderson to stay in and block. Otherwise, this play is no different than the two Gase ran against the Patriots.
Thomas (red) again creates separation out of his break. With the backside receiver running a fly route, there’s a juicy section of open field outside the left hash.
Thomas makes the grab in stride and is able to turn up-field for a 17-yard gain. Notice Wes Welker (yellow) was also open on the play.
Analysis: The dual drags work again, with both Thomas and Welker finding open space across the middle. Even without the running back slip, Gase’s play design gives Manning two open options on crossing routes.
Play V: Dig vs. Cover 3
The Patriots will use Cover 3 with a deep middle safety and off coverage out wide. Sanders (red) is matched up against Revis, who gives a seven-yard cushion. Sanders is going to run a 15-yard dig route. The key on this play will be Welker (yellow) in the slot. He’s going to get the attention of both play-side linebackers (blue), which will give Manning the passing lane he needs.
The Pats bump Welker at the snap.
Welker then gets bumped again, this time illegally. Because both LBs are so focused on the slot receiver, neither drops into the deep left zone.
Here we see Sanders (red) in his break. Notice Manning has already released the pass. The two linebackers, who were too focused on Welker, have not cleared enough ground to undercut the pass to Sanders, who will be open in the area denoted by the white circle.
Here we see Sanders make the grab with no one near him.
Analysis: This was a strong play call against Cover 3. Revis does not press at the line of scrimmage and gives cushion throughout the route, of which Sanders takes advantage. Welker’s presence in the slot cannot be understated. Both linebackers pay him too much attention and with him running down the seam, the safety can’t break to Sanders out wide.
Play VI: Play Action Deep Cross
Manning is lined up in the pistol and will fake a handoff up the middle (white). In the left slot, Welker (red) will run a deep cross behind the linebackers (blue).
The play action (white) pulls both linebackers and the box safety forward.
The play action gives Welker the room he needs in the deep-intermediate zone.
Analysis: This is a simple play-action that relies heavily on the aggressiveness of New England’s linebackers. Once they step forward, they are toast. Welker sprints behind them and Manning lobs the pass into the open zone.
**Full Disclosure: Welker lets the ball bounce right off his chest and into the hands of the trailing linebacker for an interception.**
Play VII: Comeback vs. Cover 1
The Raiders will use man coverage with a single safety over the top. Notice both of the weak-side linebackers (blue) are showing blitz. This indicates to Manning that Sanders (red) will have single coverage in open space.
Sanders will run a 15-yard comeback route. The left linebacker does not blitz, yet takes himself out of the passing lane in his pursuit of the running back.
In this shot, the ball is almost to Sanders, yet he’s just coming out of his break. The timing here is crucial. As we can see, there is no defender in front of the receiver who can break up the play.
Analysis: This is just a simple comeback route. It’s doubtful this play would have worked against zone coverage, with a linebacker sitting underneath Sanders, but against single man, this is a perfect call. The key on this play is the running back flare, which forces the play-side linebacker forward and opens the passing lane.
Play VIII: Cover 2 Beater
The Raiders will run Cover 2, with two deep safeties and underneath coverage from the wide corners. Thomas (red) will find the soft spot in the zone between the corner and safety (blue).
Thomas runs to the open area and sits. Manning finds him for the big gain.
Analysis: As most Bears fans are aware, the deep sideline route is a Cover 2 killer. The Broncos recognize the coverage and Thomas sprints to the zone, where he’s wide open for the first down.
Crossing patterns are critical in Gase’s offense. He uses them on almost every play, often with an opposing cross used as a decoy or interference.
Like we pointed out in Part I of this series, every passing play relies on pass catchers working in tandem. On nearly every drop back, there is an off receiver, or receivers, whose job it is to clear space for the primary target. We saw that twice with Gase’s Dual Cross RB Split.
Again, timing between the quarterback and receivers is absolutely critical, particularly on deep routes. If Jay Cutler can’t anticipate the throws, most of these plays won’t be successful. Gase’s offense also relies on pass catchers who can find and exploit open areas in zone coverage.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.