What Is Complicating Denver's Ability To Call Offensive Plays On Game Day?

There's something strange about Denver's offensive play-calling of late. Adam Uribes tries to get to the bottom of it.

The Denver Broncos were brought back down to earth on Sunday, humbled after dropping their first game of the year to the Atlanta Falcons, 23-16. With rookie first-rounder Paxton Lynch making his first NFL start, the offense stalled early and often, while failing to help out a defense that would have its own difficulties in slowing down the combo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1715531-sky-falling-in-denver-pum... One game does not necessarily dictate the need to panic or make knee-jerk reactions but perhaps there should be cause for concern regarding the offensive direction and execution under head coach Gary Kubiak. As an offensive assistant previously with Denver, Kubiak would have great success in directing the Super Champion Broncos to numerous offensive records, as well as helping Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett to the best production of their respective careers while in Baltimore (2014).

Kubiak, largely, was a given a free pass for the offensive difficulties last year, as he and the now-retired Peyton Manning did their best to create some semblance of production, while both were of differing philosophies in how to move the football. Now in year two, and despite a strong start, the team has regressed, and are struggling to put points on the board.

And they're not making use of their two Pro Bowlers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, as well C.J. Anderson, who's an excellent scheme fit. With so much uncertainty from an offensive-minded coach like Kubiak, is it time for a serious examination of whether Kubiak should be calling plays going forward? Here are three things to consider. 

When Is Enough Enough?

With injuries to starting right tackle Donald Stephenson, the team has been forced to move forward with 2015 second round pick Ty Sambrailo in his absence. Sambrailo, barely recovered from his own injury woes, struggled in getting back on the field and has gone on to have sub-par games against Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. 

In his most recent start in Week 5, Sambrailo would make Vic Beasley look like the second coming of Lawrence Taylor and proceed to give up 3.5 sacks to the young defensive end, who had collected just five in his short career up until that point.

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It was an eerily similar situation last year at home against Oakland when Khalil Mack would torment emergency starter Michael Schofield to the tune of four sacks (five total) that helped Oakland secure a 15-12 win in Denver late in the year. 

Coach Kubiak admitted to the media after the game Sunday that they've been asking much of Sambrailo and throwing a lot at a young player who probably isn’t in the best physical shape. That still begs the questions that if he is aware that Sambrailo is struggling, why not adapt the game plan to help him?

Despite having a good pass protection running back in Anderson, as well as a tight end in John Phillips primarily known for his blocking, Sambrailo was left on an island for most of the day with little help in the form of chips or double-teams and was only pulled late in the game with little hope of a comeback. 

Kubiak has earned the respect of players for being loyal to a fault but in the case of Schofield last year and Sambrailo this year, his loyalty to each player has had negative consequence for his offense.


Numerous times this year, Denver has faced a 3rd-&-1 only to come up short and be forced to either punt the ball away, or rely on a risky fourth-down call to keep the chains moving. Going all the way back to the Super Bowl last year, Denver has failed consistently in short yardage situations. 

After Manning’s departure and the Broncos moved to acquire personnel more in line with what Coach Kubiak is looking for. The team signed Stephenson and left tackle Russell Okung to go along with the drafting of fullback Andy Janovich — all with the idea of improving the play up front and making the run game more of a factor. After early success that would see the team run the ball well against Carolina and Indianapolis, Denver has fallen off quite a bit over the last three games since. 

Most telling would be Week 5, as Atlanta would be forced to play with journeymen-type players and safeties as linebackers, yet were still able to stuff the Bronco rushing attack and limit them to only 84 yards on the ground. Both Anderson and Devontae Booker were held under four yards per carry. 

The passing game has netted similar results, with Denver throwing for first downs against the Bengals on two separate drives, only to come up short and go three-and-out. Whether it be a lack of execution on the offensive side of the ball or the play calling itself, in the two years with Kubiak calling the shots, we have yet to see the kind of offensive production and cohesion associated with a West Coast Offense replete with historical precedent. 

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

It isn’t unusual for a head coach to call plays on game day — about a third of coaches around the league handle that duty. However, Denver also has a Director of Analytics in Mitch Tanney who helps with play calling, and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who Kubiak calls his “eyes and ears” in the press box. They also have "Passing Game Coordinator" and quarterbacks coach Gregg Knapp.

Four separate voices, inputs and perspectives is very inclusive and forward thinking, but it could also be coming at the expense of having a streamlined offensive approach.

Have the results beared out that the approach works for the team? As of this year, not really.

Denver is 25th in the league in total offense, 25th in passing the ball and 16th on the ground. To put that in perspective, divisional rivals Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego all have a better ranking in total offense, with the Raiders and Chargers being in the top 10. 

Coach Kubiak is an excellent offensive mind and there has been evidence to reinforce that. But as of late, the offense has stumbled and continues to do so under his watch. Kubiak will stay at home this week due to health concerns, so the team will move forward under interim head coach Joe DeCamillis (special teams coordinator), who will allow Wade Phillips to handle the defense, with a collaboration of assistants taking care of the offense. 

It will be interesting to watch in this contest against San Diego on Thursday to see if any improvement is made in the offensive game plan without Coach Kubiak. If the offense as a whole moves the ball and puts up points against another soft defense, it may be time for Kubiak to either relinquish his role as main play-caller, or be the only voice relaying plays on game day. 

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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