Ask Mase: Will a new scheme and team for Wilson allow him to catch foes by surprise?
SEATTLE — It’s game day. Let’s dive in.
From Dennis in Denver:
First Mase, happy you’re with The Fan. Nobody knows the business better than you. Love listening to you.
Advantage or disadvantage that the league is pretty much familiar with Russell Wilson’s tendencies and style of play in coming to the Broncos who for the most part are young and not yet a known quantity?
Appreciate the kind words!
As for Wilson’s tendencies … I think the Broncos have an advantage non only because of their youth, but due to the unknown aspect of how this offense will work. Effectively this is a new offense that is liable to be tweaked as the season goes along. It’s an outside-zone scheme that has the timing-and-rhythm principles of offenses on the Shanahan-McVay tree, but will play to Wilson’s off-script and deep-ball strengths.
So, it’s something relatively new. And that gives the Broncos an edge.
That being said, the cerebral demands were heavy in recent months. As Tim Patrick said during OTAs, the work was defined by “meetings, meetings, meetings.”
“The offense is difficult,” Patrick said then. “Just the regular, routine practice is not going to be enough to get it down pat, so, we have to do things on our own so we can get it.”
It would be a surprise if it was a finished product Monday night. That, too, helps the Broncos. I expect we’ll see new wrinkles frequently throughout the season.
From Chris in Arvada:
Over/under 28 total starts between Chubb and Gregory?
Under, but not by much.
Consider the combined starts by the Broncos’ two projected outside linebackers since 2015, when they changed to a 3-4 alignment:
2015: 26 of a possible 32
2016: 24 of a possible 32
2017: 23 of a possible 32
2018: 32 of a possible 32
2019: 19 of a possible 32
2020: 14 of a possible 32
2021: 22 of a possible 34 (includes Von Miller’s starts with the Rams)
That works out to an average of 24.1 per 34 games.
It’s the nature of the position. Attrition happens on the edge. Is it any wonder, then, that George Paton and Nathaniel Hackett opt for the “you can never have too many” philosophy?
Yes, they traded Malik Reed, but that was in part due to the form of Baron Browning and the quick return to form from Jonathon Cooper. Throw Nik Bonitto in the mix and even when not factoring in special-teams ace Aaron Patrick, you have a sufficiently deep group. And in all likelihood, they will need that depth at some point.
From Craig in Colorado Springs:
Whatever happened to Alexander Johnson? It seems he disappeared off the face of the earth. We’re pretty thin at ILB and could use him.
There was no interest in him around the league … at least not to the degree that anybody brought him in during the offseason. Age — he turns 31 in December — is a factor. And a number of teams completely crossed Johnson off their boards when Johnson was charged with aggravated rape in 2014 — charges of which he was acquitted in 2015, 17 days before the Broncos signed him.
From Leroy in Crestview, Fla.:
Love your commentary and have a business-related question. God forbid anything happens to Russell Wilson, but what happens contract-wise if he was to be injured and out for the year? Do the Broncos have a Lloyd’s of London policy or what? Just curious. Been a fan since 1972.
The Broncos are on the hook. Injury doesn’t change that and they wouldn’t get any salary-cap relief. That’s the key thing … if a team did take out the kind of policy you suggest, it would only impact their cash outlay. When it comes to the cap, no insurance can help.
If there were to be a Lloyd’s of London policy taken out, it would be by the player individually. For example, Eagles offensive lineman Chance Warmack had a Lloyd’s of London policy that paid him if the value of his second contract was under $20 million. In recent years, the NFLPA has also set up programs through Lloyd’s for players to obtain policies that provide payouts in case of an injury or illness that ends a player’s career.
From Reuven in Denver:
As I’m sure you’ve read, Brandon Staley uses some algorithm to decide whether to go for it on fourth downs. Does Hackett have a similar system? How does he plan on making those decisions? Is there an analytics team he uses that differs from Vic Fangio or other NFL coaches? Also, will he have a coach or person in charge of time management? Fangio seemed to never figure that out.
All game-management matter go through Brad Miller, the team’s football-strategy analyst. Also involved at Hackett’s side is Derek Haithcock, the assistant to the head coach.
It starts with Miller, of whom Hackett said: “We have a lot of conversations, a lot of talks. In my past, I kind of did all of it by myself. So, it’s really great to have somebody there that’s always in your ear, giving you the go if you want to go for it on fourth down, when to take a timeout, and always keeping you up to date with that.”
Then, Haithcock is there for matters in the moment, such as ensuring the Hackett has his coaches’ challenge flag and, as Hackett said, “just to make sure I don’t do anything crazy.”
Analytically, some decisions can be made in advance. But the feel and flow of the game will impact what Hackett does. For example, if the defense is having a dominant night, a fourth-and-2 at the Seattle 47 with a 4-point lead might lead to a punt instead of going for it.
I wouldn’t draw much from Hackett’s fourth-down aggression in preseason. But I would take something from his willingness to take timeouts when the opponent had the football to potentially maximize the clock for an end-of-first-half series. He did that against both Dallas and Minnesota.
And I think Fangio gets a bad rap from some of his decisions. For example, the decision to go for two after an early touchdown against Kansas City in 2019. In theory, you should actually go for two in almost every instance.
Based on percentages since 2015 — when extra points were moved back to be 33-yard placekicks — a team with league-average percentages would score 37.5 points by going for one every time in a 40-touchdown season, compared with 38.7 points if they went for two every time and had a league-average percentage.
You should go for one when the benefit of getting a single point is transformative — e.g. if a touchdown puts you up by 3 late in the game. That’s because going for 1 means you have a 93.7-percent chance of forcing the opponent to need to go the length of the field to win. There isn’t a functional difference between being up 4 and 5 points late in the game. But there is a massive difference between a 3- and a 4-point lead.
But early in the game? Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin always had the right idea when he went for two after his team’s first touchdown.
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