Back in week 5, the Dallas Cowboys were without quarterback Tony Romo due to injury. I broke down back-up Brandon Weeden and how the Cowboys offense was extraordinarily easy to read.
With back-up quarterback Brandon Weeden at the helm, the Cowboys have really simplified their offense and it telegraphs the play.
When Weeden is playing in the shotgun (meaning he's a few steps away from the center snapping the ball), the Cowboys pass the ball a whopping 94% of the time. I counted just three run plays out of over 50 shotgun snaps, not including a broken play where Weeden ended up scrambling.
When Weeden is directly under center, Dallas runs the ball 85% of the time. I counted just eight passes out of over 50 passes under center.
How is this relevant? Well a reader sent me a heads up to a video from former coach and personnel man Pat Kirwan that broke down the tendencies of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Kirwan overlapped with Bill Belichick in 1997 with the Jets, and currently hosts an XM Radio show with former Patriots back-up quarterback Jim Miller (2004 Super Bowl Champion!).
What does Kirwan find in his film review? Well, it turns out the Broncos are treating Manning the same exact way that the Cowboys were using Weeden.
It turns out that when Manning is in the shotgun stance, the Broncos called passing plays on 31 of the 39 snaps, or 79.5% of the time. Kirwan believes that the Patriots should keep two deep safeties when Manning is in the shotgun in order to defend the run.
"When are those 8 runs coming?," Kirwan poses in the video. "[Patriots defensive coordinator] Matt Patricia is going to look at it...it's second down. If he's in shotgun...and it's second down, you've got to have a run alert."
Essentially, if Peyton is in shotgun, the Patriots should have two deep safeties. If it's second down, then one of the safeties will have to crash the box to defend the run. The Patriots will likely use three safeties against the Broncos tight end heavy offense, so each safety should be responsible for a different tier of the field.
Patrick Chung is essentially a linebacker, while Devin McCourty should cover the intermediate area of the field. If it's second down, he should think about crashing. Duron Harmon will have the deep area. This way the entire middle of the field is covered from Peyton, and the Patriots will be ready for any run adjustments.
"In the shotgun run game, guess what," Kirwan continued. "The back was set to the left every time...seven of those eight runs crossed the quarterback's face and went to the right side."
This is yet another element that the Patriots linebackers can keep in their toolbox to get a jump on the Broncos execution.
Kirwan highlights that when Peyton is under center, the Broncos ran on 24 of 32 plays, or 75.0% of the time.
"When are they throwing the ball [from under center]?," Kirwan asked. "It came through loud and clear...it's on first down. Seven of those eight pass plays came on first and ten."
So when Manning is under center, the Patriots should do the exact opposite. They should look like they're stacking the box to defend the run, but instead of a safety crashing to defend the run, a linebacker should be dropping into coverage to take away Manning's quick passes.
It's important to note that the Cowboys didn't follow the same exact ratios against the Patriots, and it's probable that the Broncos won't continue to telegraph their plays. But these are important tendencies because these tells will arise on Sunday.
And worst case scenario, you can call out the Broncos plays to impress your friends.