ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The statistics say the Denver Broncos are a running football team.
The money says they’re a passing football team.
The coach would tell you they are still trying to figure it out.
“Who we are right now? I’m not sure who we are,” Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said when asked what the offense’s identity was during the team’s Week 6 preparation. “Right now, I think it’s a work in progress.”
Through the first four games of the season, the Broncos only have one instance in which a receiver or running back eclipsed 100 yards in a single game—C.J. Anderson’s 118-yard performance on the ground in Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys. Outside of that, statistically speaking, Denver’s offense has proved that is isn’t built around one player, group or aspect, or as some may say, they lack an identity.
Not only is it okay the Broncos’ offense doesn’t have an identity, it may be ideal.
“Star Wars numbers”—as Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay would say—are entertaining and get you to the playoffs, but recent history would suggest that's not necessarily a Super Bowl winning formula. The 2013 Broncos, Peyton Manning’s record-setting year, were beaten by 35 points in Super Bowl 48 in large part because they had too much of an identity on offense.
Even the 2007 New England Patriots, who were 18-0 entering the Super Bowl, were led by an unstoppable Randy Moss and Tom Brady passing attack that couldn't win the whole thing because of their one-sided identity.
Success is even harder to come by when a team is built entirely on a run identity. In 2012, Adrian Peterson eclipsed the magical 2,000-yard rushing mark in a single year—2,097 to be exact—yet the Minnesota Vikings weren’t even able to make it out of the first-round of the playoffs. When Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, the Tennessee Titans finished an average 8-8.
Heck, even the legendary Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway needed a balanced offense in order to win the whole thing. Until Elway received a terrific running game, in the form of Terrell Davis, he was left searching for Super Bowl victories.
Even though last year’s Super Bowl champion Patriots were headlined by Tom Brady, they weren't a Tom Brady led show all season. Outside of Tom Brady’s name, New England actually had a very balanced and unidentified—if you may—offense with LeGarrette Blount leading the league in rushing touchdowns and finishing the season with the second-most rushing attempts in the league.
Additionally, when Terrell Davis had his 2,000-yard Super Bowl-winning season with the Broncos, he wasn't on his own as his signal caller was Elway. That offense certainly wasn't without an identity, but it didn't rely on one lone identity—their identity was a great offense.
When Broncos’ offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was hired in January to rejuvenate the offense, everyone loved that he was going to craft an offense to the player’s strengths and change the offense’s style and game plan week in and week out. Well, through the first four games, that's exactly what they've done.
“It depends on how teams play us. I think our game plans are determined by what we see from defenses,” Joseph explained on the dynamic of the ever-changing offense. “Whatever they give us from a defensive prospective, we’re going to take advantage of.”
Bill Belichick has been praised as one of the best coaches in the history of the game for his ability to completely change New England’s offense on a weekly basis based on how opposing defenses will face them. One week, the Patriots may throw 50 passes and turnaround the next week run the ball 45 times.
That's exactly what McCoy and the Broncos’ philosophy has been to start the season, and so far it's been good enough as the team is 3-1, sitting alone in second place in the AFC West and the entire AFC, only behind the Kansas City Chiefs.
“If they give us shell coverage and [take Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders] away, we’re going to pound the football,” Joseph said without a doubt in his mind. “Hopefully, we’ll force [opposing teams] to close the middle and play more cover three and cover one, so we can get a fair matchup outside. If they play shell, we’re going to run the football. That’s our formula to score points right now.”
“Right now” being in the key words out of Joseph’s mouth. Denver currently has the third-best rushing attack in the league, averaging 143 yards per game. However they have the man power, and financial commitment, to be a passing team as well. If opposing teams continue to devote all of their resources to shutting down Denver’s passing attack, then they’ll have no problem staying committed to the ground game.
Combining history with the Broncos’ 3-1 start shows that in reality, no identity may be the best identity for Denver’s offense. It’s not as if the other side of the locker room is lacking an identity.