Can Brock Osweiler Get The Broncos To The Super Bowl?

Are the Denver Broncos better with Brock Osweiler instead of Peyton Manning? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Justin Gomer Ph.D., Broncos Fan, Lecturer, American Studies, UC Berkeley, on Quora:

Maybe. More importantly, Osweiler potentially gives the Broncos a better chance to beat the New England Patriots, the reigning Super Bowl Champs and  likely hosts of this year's AFC Championship Game.

Peyton Manning is undeniably one of the 5-6 best QBs of all time. His understanding of Denver's offense and opposing defense's coverages and blitz schemes is unmatched not only in the league today but in the history of the NFL. However, as injuries continue to wear down his body, his intellect may now be unable to overcome his mounting physical limitations. The velocity on his passes just isn't where it needs to be to complete a high percentage of passes and minimize interceptions. The 17 picks he's thrown this year matches the most he's thrown in any season in over a decade, and he's only played 9 games. That isn't evidence that defense's are suddenly fooling Manning; its a sign that he can't consistently deliver the ball where it needs to go on time.

Osweiler obviously has nowhere near the NFL aptitude of Manning. He turned 25 years old today and his 27 pas attempts in today;s win over the Bears brings his NFL total to 81, 6,000 fewer than Manning. What Osweiler does bring, however, are physical tools that could better position the Broncos for a deep playoff run, especially given the team and coaching staff around him.

For one, Osweiler has a stronger (although not necessarily more accurate) arm than Manning, which will be increasingly important as the weather cools in the last quarter of the season and playoffs. Secondly, Osweiler is more mobile than Manning. While certainly no Russell Wilson, Osweiler has already shown the ability to pick up first downs with his feet, something Manning cannot do, to put it lightly.

Perhaps most importantly, Osweiler takes snaps from under center, which Manning does not. This doesn't seem to be a big deal, and in other offensive systems it may not be, but for Gary Kubiak's offense, its hugely significant. Kubiak runs Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking, run-heavy, pass off of play-action system. Its the same system the Broncos ran in the late-1990s when Shanahan was the head coach and Kubiak the offensive coordinator. Those teams, with John Elway, the current General Manager and Executive Vice President of the Broncos, under center won two Super Bowls.

As I alluded to above, Kubiak's scheme depends entirely on running the football successfully and doing so by zone-blocking. What is zone-blocking? Zone-blocking is a style of blocking for offensive lineman that is too complicated to get into here, but here's a very brief overview. Essentially, rather than calling a run play that requires each offensive lineman to block a specific defensive player and the running back to run through a predetermined gap (i.e. "man blocking"), the zone blocking scheme requires lineman to move laterally as a unit and block defenders in their assigned "area." Runners therefore run to one side of the field, identify a gap in their offensive line, and cut through it for positive yardage (this is what people mean by the "one cut" technique for RBs in this scheme). Zone blocking therefore allows offenses to run through multiple gaps out of the same play, making it difficult for opposing defenses to defend it.

Therefore, zone running relies, among other things, on timing. Running backs have to wait for the line to move and create gaps for them to cut through. Cut too soon and nothing will have opened; wait too long and the gaps close down. All of this is to say that zone running tends to work best when the QB takes the snap from under center. Peyton Manning, for various reasons, does not take snaps from under center. He takes virtually all of his snaps from the shotgun (no good for zone running). Peyton compromised and took a majority of the offensive snaps out of the Pistol formation this year as a sort of hybrid between his preferences and those of his head coach, but Denver hasn't been able to run the ball effectively for much of the year because they haven't synchronized the timing of the O-line and the running backs.

While its too early to tell if the move to Osweiler will kickstart the Bronco run game, early returns are promising. Before today's game the Broncos were one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, averaging under 4 yards per carry. Today, they rushed for 170 yards, averaging nearly 5 yards per carry.

What's the big deal with running? Aren't we talking about quarterbacks? Yes, but back to where I started. Any AFC team that hopes to reach the Super Bowl is in all likelihood going to have to beat the Patriots. How do you beat the Patriots? There's only one way and its through a combination of an elite pass rush, amazing secondary, and clock management.

The Broncos have arguably the best defense in football this year. The biggest strength of their defense is first and foremost its pass rush and secondly its secondary. John Elway deliberately constructed this defense to matchup against Tom Brady and the Patriots.

The final element in the beat New England equation is clock management. To win against the Patriots you have to keep Tom Brady off the field as much as possible. The only way to do that is to run the football effectively, which brings us back to Osweiler under center. With a productive rushing attack, Osweiler doesn't have to do nearly what Manning does in the passing game (think Ben Roethlisberger in his rookie year).

This doesn't mean that Osweiler won't have significant growing pains. In fact, the Broncos play the Patriots next weekend. I imagine the Patriots will win fairly easily. However, with a three-game lead in the AFC West wins and losses don't matter all that much over the next month and a half. The Broncos are almost assuredly going to win their division and will likely end up the #3 seed in the AFC playoffs, at worst. That means they have six weeks to figure out the run game. If, and its a big if, they can run the ball effectively come playoff time, then that, combined with their elite defense, could be enough to dethrone New England.

All this said, if I was the coach of the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning told me he was 100% healthy come the AFC Championship Game, I just might rip up the playbook and tell him to go win us a spot in the Super Bowl.

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