Broncos' New Game Plan: Prioritizing the run in 2023
By Kyle Collis
During the course of the 2022 NFL season, the Denver Broncos offense seemingly got harder, and harder to watch with few bright spots mixed in. However, after a busy offseason that included a new head coach as well as the most money spent in free agency, things are almost certain to change.
Last season, the Broncos passed the ball 56.3 percent of the time on offense, putting them at sixteenth in the league in pass percentage. Playing from behind in a majority of games will almost always lead to this.
Despite passing the ball more often than 16 other teams, they ended up with nineteenth best passing yards per game at 211.3. Attribute what you want to this, whether it was the declined play of Russell Willson, the offensive line giving up the most sacks in the NFL (63), coaching, or even a mixture of all. Regardless, it seems Sean Payton has an idea of how to improve this offense for the 2023 season.
From 2018 to 2021, when Payton was the head coach of the New Orleans Saints, their offense finished in the top five of rushing attempts in 3 out of those 4 seasons (2018/2020/2021.) This was also a time when Drew Brees was losing arm strength as he grew older, before retiring at the end of 2020 season.
But it didn’t matter as much in an offense designed by Payton, as Brees consistently finished near the top of the league in completion percentage. There was an emphasis on short slants to Michael Thomas and utilizing the pass catching and playmaking ability of Alvin Kamara which helped lead to this. Payton, after seeing the version of Russell Wilson that everyone else saw last year, can view this Broncos offense similarly to the twilight years of the Brees-led Saints offenses. After free agency, it became a little more clear that this is the direction Payton has chosen to go.
Two of the biggest contracts given out by the Broncos in free agency were to offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and offensive guard Ben Powers. McGlinchey ranked fifth in run block win rate among offensive tackles, while Powers ranked second among offensive guards, according to ESPN's statistics from last season.
It’s worth noting that Powers ranked tenth in pass block win rate among guards, while McGlinchey did not place in the top ten for pass block win rate. Those two signings send a very clear message that the Broncos will be shifting to a higher run rate in 2023. And with the upcoming draft, this message could be made even louder.
A more run-heavy offense can be very beneficial to Russell Wilson as it will open up plenty of things in the passing game. Another player who can benefit from this revamped running game will be Javonte Williams. Coming off an ACL tear, any help should prove to be substantial. Williams has done nothing but impress through 21 games for the Broncos, and with an offense that is shaping up to be built for him to succeed, a comeback year is surely looming.
The possible downside to an offense built like this is, obviously, working out the pass game. The floor with this potential offense seems to be rather high. However, if the struggles continue, or worsen, with Wilson, then the ceiling doesn’t go very high. This also would make it very difficult to play from behind.
When the fourth quarter comes around and you’re behind a score or two and the defense is now fine with you running the ball. So even with a more run focused offense, Wilson still needs to be relied upon to improve after a tough first in Denver.
Finally, if the Broncos are to win the AFC West, you clearly have to go through the Kansas City Chiefs. In the past, it was thought there was some sort of “formula” to do so. It entailed running the ball to keep their offense off the field while your defense stays rested. This is surely something the organization had in mind while constructing the current roster.