Broncos to combat AFC’s elite differently as Paton tweaks philosophy

Broncos defense celebrates a turnover against New England. Credit: Paul Rutherford, USA TODAY Sports.
Broncos defense celebrates a turnover against New England. Credit: Paul Rutherford, USA TODAY Sports.

George Paton has a vision of how the Denver Broncos can beat the Kansas Chiefs and the AFC elite and it differs from his predecessor.

in 2020, John Elway emptied his bucket of resources on the offensive side of the ball. He believed to compete with the high-scoring Kansas City Chiefs, you had to match their pieces.

This approach was successful when the Broncos used the 2013 Seattle Seahawks model to create the 2015 “No Fly Zone“.

Elway wanted to open up the offense so he fired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello before hiring Pat Shurmur. Shurmur, unlike Scangarello, uses a 3WR set most of the time (similar to the Chiefs and Andy Reid).

Elway brought in pricey veterans Melvin Gordon and Graham Glasgow to beef up the offensive firepower to support Shurmur’s style.

Elway drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler with the team’s first two picks to fill out the offense. Then, Elway brought in matchup tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with the team’s fourth-round selection.

All of the additions did not pay off in 2020. The Broncos finished 30th in the NFL in offensive DVOA according to Football Outsiders.

With minimal success offensively, and an 11-game losing streak to the Chiefs call for a new approach.

Broncos bring in new vision with Paton

With a change in the front office, first-year general manager George Paton brought a tweak in philosophy with him.

It is clear, Paton and head coach Vic Fangio believe they have the defensive scheme to slow down the game’s best. To execute the vision Paton needed to bring in the right players.

Paton’s allocation of resources has been focused on the defensive side of the ball. The Broncos’ priorities focused on retaining and improving the defensive talent.

Von Miller, Shelby Harris, Justin Simmons, Alexander Johnson, and Kareen Jackson all returned to a solid defensive unit.

Paton masterfully switched out oft-injured A.J. Bouye with cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby.

Finally, the team spent high draft selections on cornerback Patrick Surtain II and linebacker Baron Browning. Paton added two safeties Jamar Johnson and Cayden Sterns in the 5th-Round. Finally, he added 3 defenders in the 7th-Round. A total of 7/10 picks were defensive players. All of the focused resources led to an influx in defensive talent.

The key additions lead to the Denver Broncos defense primed to be great in 2021.

Emphasizing defense

The Broncos can look at past success to know that a good defense goes a long way. Seven of the top 10 defenses made the playoffs in 2020.

Currently, the Broncos are projected to be the top defense in the NFL, per ESPN’s Mike Clay. This suggests the defense could again lead the Broncos towards a successful season.

This defense is built on getting pressure with minimal additional rushers and being able to cover on the backend. Offenses should have more problems passing the ball against Denver as a result.

The pass rush will be formidable with the return of Miller and Harris to compliment Bradley Chubb and ascending Dre’Mont Jones.

To compliment a pass rush, Paton has brought together a vaunted secondary.

With Surtain II, Fuller, Darby, Bryce Callahan, and Michael Ojemudia all provide strong coverage skills. Add the best safety tandem in the game, and this defense is built to challenge the league’s best offenses.

The shift in prioritizing defense this offseason is in direct result of how the team faired against the Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills last season. Paton knows his defense will need to be elite to challenge the leagues’ best.

The offensive game plan will look different

The aforementioned offensive additions last season were meant to help the offense match team’s score for score.

That philosophy seemed great on paper, with so many variables (COVID-19, injuries, etc.) the outcome left some to be desired. The offense just was not consistent enough to win against good teams.

Enter George Paton and the necessary adjustment.

To compete with the league’s best offense the Broncos will use a new template. Going back to the Broncos’ week 13 matchup with the Chiefs the Broncos used a smashmouth approach.

The Broncos controlled the game in this matchup, rushing for 179 yards. With a strong run game, the Broncos used play-action to hit big shots.

This philosophy helped guide them to their most convincing win of the season against the Miami Dolphins a few weeks before.

This style of play compliments quarterback Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, who sit atop the Broncos depth chart.

Paton signed a bigger back in Mike Boone to replace Phillip Lindsay to support Shurmur’s scheme. He then used premium capital for Javonte Williams and guard Quinn Meinerz to add more physical players to the offense.

Finally, Paton grabbed tackles Bobby Massie and Cam Fleming to complete an improving offensive line.

These moves were made to add to a dimension that was only there in spurts last season. By featuring a consistent running game, this offense can be more consistent.

Be prepared to see a lot of physical run plays early and often.

The 3rd phase

The Broncos’ issues on special teams have been well documented. Game after game, an error would occur leading to a critical score by their opponent. The Broncos were not good enough to overcome these issues.

Paton ensured players like Boone and his day 3 draft picks were all players who could contribute on special teams.

The Broncos are committed to addressing the 3rd phase of the team and fix the issues it has had last season.

Winning with complementary football

Paton tweaked the team to complement one another for the first time since 2015. The team addressed significant issues in the secondary while adding depth on offense. Also, the team added players that profile well as strong special teamers.

In hindsight, last year’s team did not have phases (offense, defense, special teams) to support one another.

For example, throwing the football too often with a young team taxed the defense. Or the special teams unit gave up big returns to set up scores. As a result, the team lost 6 games by one score or less.

Paton saw a chance to create a more rounded football team, capable of beating anyone on their schedule.