DENVER — The Denver Broncos got all of their guys.
They wanted Vance Joseph; they got him. They wanted Mike McCoy; they got him. They wanted Brock Olivo; they got him. They wanted Bill Musgrave; they got him. Go on down the line, and the pattern holds true, Denver constructed the exact coaching staff that they wanted to usher in the next era of Broncos football. On paper, it appeared to be an all-star staff. On Monday night, in the team’s season opener, they looked like one, too.
It started with offensive guru Mike McCoy. The Broncos offense looked refreshed, explosive, willing to adapt.
Against his former team, McCoy put together a game plan that saw his Broncos outperform the Chargers in just about every offensive category. More total yards (321-249), more passing yards (219-192), way more rushing yards (140-64), more first downs (22-17), better on third downs (53%-25%). You get the point, with McCoy at the helm, the Broncos offense was simply better than the Chargers offense.
The boring, stubborn, out-dated offense of yesteryear was suddenly a thing of the past, as McCoy featured all sorts of misdirection, off-beat formations and creativity to get the Broncos in favorable positions.
Maybe more impressive than anything else, though, was the emergence of the run game. Despite McCoy’s reputation for spreading it out and throwing the rock around—they did that too—the Broncos methodically carved out 140 yards on the ground, averaging nearly four yards per carry.
“Our goal from the spring, since Mike [McCoy] came in was to develop the running game, you can see it,” head coach Vance Joseph explained. “It’s happening right now with C.J. [Anderson] and Jamaal [Charles], that one-two punch. With Trevor, he gained I think 20-yards on the ground. I’m very pleased with the run game. Very pleased.”
In the air, for once it wasn’t just Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Two of the three top receivers for the Broncos were tight ends. Yes, tight ends still exist. The combination of Virgil Green (44), A.J. Derby (34) and Jeff Heuerman (20), combined for nearly 100 yards in the air on the night.
“That’s Mike McCoy’s offense,” Joseph explained. “Everyone gets an opportunity. Facing a cover-three team, that was the game plan to expose the schemes of the cover-three system. It worked.”
On the other side, they also had a game plan that worked. Interestingly enough, it also involved the tight ends.
Last season, the Chargers ate up the Broncos with their big pass catchers. Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates combined for 99 yards on just eight catches.
On Monday night, Henry may as well have been marked absent, and Gates was tardy at best, grabbing the only two tight-end catches on the night for a grand total of 17 yards.
“Joe came with a great game plan for it, man,” explained cornerback Aqib Talib. “The young guys did a great job on the tight ends and the backs.”
Woods was just about as creative as McCoy on the night, combating injuries along the defensive line with multiple formations that only used two down linemen. The first year defensive coordinator used his wealth or riches in the defensive backfield, featuring formations that used five and even six DBs. The results, a stifled run game (64 yards) a held-in-check Philip Rivers (192 yards) and a defense that only gave up seven points on a full field on the night.
“He’s been a great coach for us for a long time,” linebacker Von Miller said of Woods after the game. “He gave us all types of great calls today. We were prepared defensively and mentally… Coach Woods put us in great situations to win the game. Everybody played lights out, and the coaches coached their butts off. It was an incredible day. It was a little bit too exciting, but a win is a win.”
Even special teams coordinator Brock Olivo got in on the action. Olivo’s units put together a 31-yard punt return, a 36-yard kick return and, of course, the game-winning field goal block.
After the game, Vance Joseph told Alex Flanagan of NFL Network that he knew Koo was susceptible to low kicks over the B-gap, right where Shelby Harris punched through. You have to imagine Olivo had a hand in Joseph obtaining that knowledge.
Let’s not short Joseph of his credit, though. The head coach, who has yet to lose a football game—5-0 if you include the preseason—put his literal stamp on the game by calling a timeout during Younghoe Koo’s first attempt at a game-tying field goal, an attempt that sailed through the uprights comfortably.
“I had two timeouts; I wasn’t gonna leave with those in my pocket,” he said.
What he did leave in his pocket was his first true NFL win and a fortified belief from his players.
“He’s a great guy and a true leader who gets guys to follow him not by what he’s saying, but by the way he handles his business,” Miller explained. “I’m excited about this team, and I’m excited about our head coach. He did a great job with us getting us ready for this game, and he’s always positive. Remarkable job by the leadership on this team and we’re feeling good, we got the win… I’m honored to have those guys as my coaches.”
While there certainly were multiple personnel changes after the Broncos walked off the field for the final time in 2016, the true overhaul came on the sidelines. On Monday night, the new-look coaching staff put their best foot forward, living up to the home-run billing they were given back in January.