Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has been hailed in some circles as one of the brightest offensive minds in football following his outstanding work with Tim Tebow in 2011. McCoy implemented a zone-read offense built upon principles utilized extensively in high school and college to help his young signal-caller find a rhythm as a starter. Most importantly, McCoy's adaptability helped the Broncos capture the AFC West title and win a playoff game with an erratic passer at the helm.
This season, McCoy faces the challenge of helping Peyton Manning regain his Pro Bowl form while keeping Denver in contention amid high expectations. McCoy has already shown he can adapt his system to suit the strengths of his top players, and I expect the Broncos to utilize several of the concepts that Manning made famous during his time with the Indianapolis Colts.
Here are a few things to look for when Denver hosts the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night:
1. Wide receiver screens
Manning will go down as one of the most accurate passers in NFL history, but some of his success in Indianapolis was due to the clever utilization of the wide-receiver screen. The Colts would routinely get the ball to Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon on the perimeter to take advantage of their superior running skills in space. The receiver screen also served as an effective counter to blitz pressure without exposing Manning to unnecessary hits in the pocket.
In breaking down 2010 film of Manning, I noticed that the Colts executed three versions of the screen with great success:
The Colts routinely used slip screens to quickly get the ball to their best playmakers in the open field. On the play screengrabbed below -- coincidentally taken from a game against the Broncos in 2010 -- Manning will fake a handoff to the running back before tossing the ball to Collie in the slot. The right side of the line allows Denver's defensive line to rush up the field before working to get on a defender in the second level:
This play was executed perfectly, resulting in a 27-yard gain for Collie.
The Colts also used a jailbreak screen to exploit blitzes from opponents. In the play screengrabbed below, which was run during the Colts' Week 8 matchup with the Houston Texans in 2010, Wayne takes a few steps up the field before retreating to receive the screen pass from Manning. Wayne takes an inside route down the field, following blocks from the slot receiver and left guard on the Texans' second-level defenders:
This was easy money for the Colts, and Wayne waltzed to the end zone for a 15-yard score.
The bubble-screen concept is similar to a toss sweep. The receiver catches the ball on the run and works toward the boundary. The outside receivers are tasked with sealing the edge by reach-blocking defenders, creating an alley for Wayne to run down the sideline:
Wayne scooted to the end zone untouched on this play from a game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 17 of the 2010 season.
2. 999 (all-go special)
Manning is a superb play-action passer from the pocket. He routinely fools linebackers with deft ball handling in the backfield, and his ability to throw down the field following a play fake is unrivaled in the NFL. In studying Manning over the years, I noticed that one of his favorite routes from his time in Indianapolis was 999 (all-go special).
The following screengrab is from the Colts' Week 13 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys back in 2010. Manning is getting set to connect with Wayne for a 34-yard touchdown on a 999 route. The key to the play is Manning's ability to keep the safety on the hash with his eyes until Wayne comes open down the boundary:
3. Follow Y-choice (or H-choice)
The Colts frequently featured variations of shallow crossers from 3-by-1 formations to create easy windows for Manning. The threat of a pick or rub by one of the interior receivers routinely leads to a target running free over the middle of the field, ensuring an easy completion for the quarterback. The Broncos have already incorporated this concept into their game plan, particularly near the end zone.
In the following screengrab from the Broncos' preseason Week 1 game against the Chicago Bears, Manning is looking to connect with slot receiver Brandon Stokley on a shallow cross, with the tight end running to the post against two-deep coverage:
Manning throws the ball slightly off target and sees it intercepted off a deflection. With a better throw, the play would've produced a touchdown.Eric Decker on a five-yard touchdown pass during a game against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 of the preseason:
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.