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Film Study: Mike McCoy and the San Diego Chargers offense

Analyzing Mike McCoy's Denver Bronco offense to see how he might help to improve the offense of the San Diego Chargers.

Stephen Dunn

Earlier this week, you read about the recent addition of offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt. I'll be discussing another innovative offensive mind that has joined the San Diego staff this season: Mike McCoy.

Peyton Manning got a ton of credit last year for the success of the Bronco's offense, and rightfully so, but the scheme McCoy constructed last year was brilliant. What McCoy did was take a below average line, and mask their deficiencies by making somewhat simple adjustments that the Chargers offense failed to do last year. He's shown an ability to adapt to the strengths of his personnel, and put them in situations where they can succeed. As San Diego's head coach the Chargers will have the same approach on offense.

  • Get the ball out quickly: Not really groundbreaking stuff here. When the offensive line is below average to average, it is important to adapt and get the ball out of the Quarterback's hand. Look for many short crossing routes, as well as tunnel/bubble screens. Last year, there was only one non-scrambling Quarterback who got the ball out more slowly than Philip Rivers. Last year Peyton Manning was the 6th best in the NFL, getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, 55.3% of the time, Rivers was at 45.3%.

  • Running out of different formations: A big part of what McCoy does is running the ball out of many different formations. Whether there are 4 Wide Receivers on the field, or two Tight Ends and two Running Backs, he's creative at finding ways to run the ball when the defense least expects it.

  • Usage of Tight Ends: In Denver McCoy often used 7 man lines, which employed 2 Tight Ends who could both block and line up in the slot. The main running play he used out of this alignment is the "trap" play, which we'll go over later. Last year in Denver's offense a Fullback was used just over 10% of the time.

  • Attacking the defense horizontally: McCoy did a great job of attacking defenses with route combinations at different depths, specifically the middle of the field. His offenses are very patient, and they take what the defense gives them.

McCoy ran a hybrid offense, featuring a power running game, a mix of play action passes and an intermediate to short passing game. If I had to put a name on it, I'd call it a West Coast offense that takes it's fair share of shots down the field.

Let's review some of the mainstays in McCoy's offense that we can expect to see this upcoming season. I'll show 2 different plays from week 3 when the Broncos played the Houston Texans and plays from week 1 when they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. I chose these two because they were two of the better defensive teams that the Broncos played last year, and also because the Texans are the first team the Chargers will face in 2013.

I charted all 82 plays of this game. 58 of the 82 plays were out of "11 personnel." This is when the team has 3 Wide Receivers, 1 Tight End, and 1 Running Back. I was fascinated by this, because McCoy dictated match-ups. They lined up in a "Stack" or "Trips" (where 3 receivers are to the same side) formation 17 times in the game. He did a good job of forcing the defense's hand by creating mismatches or 1-on-1 opportunities for his playmakers.

The Trap Play

This first play is a good illustration of McCoy running out of different formations. There is a "Stack" formation to the top of the screen, with two Tight Ends and a Receiver. The strong side is clearly the left side of the formation. Most people would think that this play would result in a run or pass to the strong side of the formation.


At the snap of the ball, the Tight End closest to the formation comes down the line of scrimmage and serves as the lead blocker for the Running Back. His responsibility is to kick out the Linebacker, creating a lane for the Running Back. Notice before the snap, the Defensive End at the bottom of the screen is lined up wide, assuming it's a pass play. Due to this assumption he runs himself out of the play.

McCoy not only flipped the strength of the formation post snap, he also kept the defense off balance by attacking the weak side of the formation. 3 things prevented this from being a big play for the offense. First off, the Tight End who came down the line missed the block. Second, the Receiver on the bottom of the screen blocks the Corner allowing him to come in the hole and make the tackle. Lastly, I fault the Running Back for missing a huge cutback lane to the left side.

The play goes for 5 yards. Look for these "trap" type plays, where a player pulls from across the formation, to be a staple of the offense. McCoy loves the "trap" play and runs this play out of several formations.

Play Action with Max Protection

In this next play, McCoy uses an unbalanced line (with two Tight Ends lined up on the right side of the formation) and hits a play action pass for 35 yards. What's the difference in this 7-step-drop play action play and the 7-step-drop play action plays called by Norv Turner last year? This one is only a 2 man route, so 7 people are left in to protect the Quarterback. Let's break down why this play works so well:


The Strong Safety bites on the run fake and leaves the middle of the field wide open. Instead of watching the Running Back, he should be watching to see if the linemen step forward or backward, and then check if the Tight End is running a pass pattern. If he had done this, he would've seen the lineman step forward and the Tight Ends staying in to block, indicating a pass play. The 3 steps the Safety takes forward are more than enough to help create a 1-on-1 matchup outside, and easy pitch and catch for 35 yards.

This is a simple, yet brilliant, play that McCoy loves to use. He tricks the defense with what seems to be a run heavy formation, with the unbalanced line, and he uses the defense's aggressiveness against them. This play works because it allows the offensive line to double the defense's best pass rushers, so the quarterback has time to make his reads.

The Steelers game was a perfect game that exemplifies Mccoy's "Half Court Offense." In this game, the Bronco's only attempted 1 pass over 20 yards. Denver ran several "bubble screens" to the receivers for easy 6 yard completions and focused on attacking the middle of the field while managing to run the ball 27 times.

The Switch Route

The switch route seems incredibly simple, but worked seemingly every time the 2012 Broncos ran it.


The key to the success of this play is simple routes run by the Wide Receivers.

The Receiver on the outside runs a 5 yard in route. In this instance, the Tight End clears out the underneath Linebackers by running a 15 yard dig route. Both Receivers to the top of the screen run vertical routes.

This is a quick an easy read for the Quarterback; If the Linebacker lined up on the Tight End turns his back, the outside receiver is wide open, which is seen in the GIF above. When the Linebackers doesn't chase, the Tight End comes open on the dig route.

The two verticals on top of the screen are important because they hold the Safety just long enough, leaving the intermediate part of the field open for the dig route. If the Safety jumps down aggressively, the play becomes much like the play action GIF referenced earlier, where the inside receiver on the top of the screen has the whole field to work with.

Inside Zone

Despite the fact that many are confused by what they are, zone running plays are actually quite simple. If the zone play is called, each blocker is responsible for the man in front of them. If each of the 5 lineman are covered, each of the lineman except the back side Tackle will block the man in front of them, with the back side Tackle making an attempt to block the Linebacker at the second level.

The "zone" part comes into play when there is an uncovered lineman. If the lineman is uncovered, he steps play side (the side to where the run is going) and attempts to double-team the lineman next to him before making an attempt to cut off the Linebacker flowing towards the play at the next level. A lineman's steps and reads are that simple on inside zone running plays.

The Running Back usually aims for the outside hip of the Guard, and hits either the play side hole or the cut back lane. He's reading the play side Defensive Tackle. His job is to find the vertical crease and get up field.


With the Steelers blitzing on this play, it actually makes the block easier for the Right Guard. Usually he'll have to cut the Linebacker off from going play side. As you can see, each lineman blocks the man in front of them, while the back side Tackle comes to double the Defensive Tackle.

The inside zone works because it simplifies the blocking and allows the running back to get upfield with one cut.

Final Thoughts

McCoy does a great job of dictating the game by using the defenses aggressiveness against them, running several wide receiver screens, using quick crossing routes, and playing to his strengths. His willingness to adapt to his personnel makes me think he's the perfect fit for the Chargers.

Look for Rivers' completion percentage to go back up to the high 60s in this offense, and his fumbles to drop with him getting the ball out of his hands faster.

McCoy has also shown that he likes to run the ball. The Broncos consistently ran the ball more than the Chargers last year from game to game, and ended up running the ball 112 more times than the Chargers did in 2012.

Get used to the sight of 2 Tight Ends, who can both block and receive, on the field at the same time. McCoy's offense also makes the Fullback expendable, and the slot receiver very valuable. Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown should have very large roles in 2013.

McCoy has proven that he can adapt and it's resulted in him calling plays one of the better offenses in the league. There's no reason why he can't do the same, and get the same results, with the 2013 San Diego Chargers.