The McDaniels Approach to Deferrals and Gameplanning

This was originally written for Turf Show Times, in response to a comment by member OcRamfan. 

OcRamfan's comment:
guess we can use the toss as a gauge of who’s game plan is followed next year.
receive would be Spags and defer would be McD
Actually, not quite.

The Broncos stopped deferring after the bye week. The O-line had finally gotten healthy, and McD decided to start scripting the opening drives from the Chiefs game onwards, which led to opening drives often ending up as early momentum swings, exactly like the Chiefs game (IMO, the Chiefs game was the best example of what McD was trying to achieve – an offense that can put up points at will and a defense that uses a combination of pressure and coverage to confuse the opposition and force turnovers, as well as perfect gameplanning to exploit your opponents’ weaknesses and minimise your own).

Before I explain the decision to switch, I have to point out that a big part of McDaniels’ philosophy is versatility and the "amoeba way". I’m not joking or exaggerating when I talk about his gameplanning ability, McD is absolutely one of the best, because he doesn’t believe in single strengths and making the other team beat you through one way (because a team like the Patriots that excels in taking away your strengths can beat you easily with proper execution), but tailoring the gameplan specifically to attacking you while keeping you guessing at the same time – amoeba philosophy means different players with different strengths are highlighted every week, meaning the opposing defense (and offense) doesn’t know who they’re supposed to be trying to stop.

What I’m getting at is that every week, McD would install a specific gameplan with specific goals. I’ll give two examples:

1) Versus the Titans. The gameplan here was to contain Chris Johnson and Vince Young, and exploit specific coverages. Robert Ayers was a huge factor in the game, gap disciple was drilled in all week, players were told to apply pressure but not to try to sack Vince Young, and timely run-blitzes were called to stifle the offense at critical points.  I know trying not to sack someone sounds counter-intuitive, but doing so would force Young out of the pocket and allow a possible big play, while applying pressure and sticking your hands in his face would force him to throw to what at the time was a mostly healthy, top-level secondary.

On offense, McD installed plays that would beat the coverages the Titans played, and practised them endlessly. He knew that the Titans would play tough against the banged-up and young line (there is evidence that the Titans were cheating against Ryan Clady, but it was never brought up by the team or media), making it difficult to sustain drives, and the best way to beat them would be to stay close and wait for them to show the Broncos what they wanted to see. Eventually, in the final throes of the game, they did, and Orton called and delivered the play that ended up winning the game.

(With McD, you’re going to be seeing this a lot. Bradford and the O will be taught to analyse coverages and then audible specific plays that will beat them. With the right execution, Bradford should be very good at this.)

2) Versus the Colts. The plan here was to take away Manning’s primary weapons, and make him beat you with his secondary ones. Additionally, there was minimal blitzing because fewer defenders equals more holes in the coverage.

At the time, this was the most bitter loss of the season for the team, because the Broncos knew they had it. The plan was perfect, all of Manning’s main weapons were completely shut down. But as it’s Manning, he found a way anyway, exploiting rookie Perrish Cox on several deep throws that killed the momentum.
Offensively, Orton moved the team up and down all day (he threw for 470 yards), but the line was manhandled and receivers blanketed on the 5 trips to the redzone that ended in failure - that’s what ultimately lost the game. If they’d scored TDs on those 5 possessions, it would have been an easy win, but that’s the difference between great gameplanning and great execution.

Sorry for such a long post; I’ll get to the point now:

As you can see, McDaniels approaches every game differently. The big reason, I’d say, for deferring early on was because he knew the offense wasn’t clicking yet, and the extra possession in a close game was more valuable than an attempt at a quick lead (which wasn’t happening until the line got healthy); after the bye week, getting a quick lead was easier and an extra possession became less valuable when the probability of an opening drive score was high.

I want to say more on this topic, but that's a post for another day.

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