Sharing is caring for Broncos offense

August, 14, 2013
8/14/13
11:53
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are times when the quarterback is like a parent with a car full of kids.

Somebody wants to sit by the window. Somebody wants what somebody else has.

Such is life on a cross-country drive or in your typical high-end NFL passing attack when everybody always believes he’s open.

Everybody might be right, too. Demaryius Thomas had 1,434 yards receiving last season, and Eric Decker had 1,064.

Offseason acquisition Wes Welker has lived over the 100-catch, 1,000-yard mark in five of the past six seasons.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas, Eric Decker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDemaryius Thomas and Eric Decker each posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2012.
But at last report there is still just one ball, which will be thrown by Peyton Manning. So when trying to add up how many passes the Broncos receivers could, or should, catch, consider, too, Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase have each said they'd like to add a sturdier run component to the offense, one that stresses defenses sideline to sideline and can create more impact plays.

While many in the league want to see if Manning/Gase will really run the ball more than last season, Welker's addition as well as the prospect of some additional run plays mean everybody involved in the Broncos' passing attack is going to need some perspective along the way.

Or as Brandon Stokley, a longtime teammate of Manning's in both Denver and Indianapolis as well as a friend, has put it:

"The best way to think about it is, if you do what you're supposed to do, every time, be where you're supposed to be, every time, he'll get you the ball. You'll get your opportunities when he makes the read that you're the best option against the defense he sees. But if you're not in the right spot and he can't trust you to be there, he won't throw you the ball. It's that simple. If everybody does what they're supposed to and he feels comfortable he knows how you're going to run certain routes in certain situations, he'll get the ball to everybody. You always have to remember if you do what you're supposed to every time, your time will always come.''

"I think we don't think about catches, as a group,'' Thomas said. "We know what this offense can do. I think we have a bunch of guys who just want to win no matter how many catches they have or whatever.''

And that's what it will take for all of it to work, in belief and action.

Manning has had one season in his storied career -- 2004 -- when the Colts finished a season with three 1,000-yard receivers (Stokley, 1,077 yards; Marvin Harrison, 1,113; and Reggie Wayne, 1,210). And Indianapolis still managed to hand the ball to Edgerrin James 334 times on the way to a 12-4 finish.

James was fourth in the league in rushing that year with 1,548 yards.

That's almost unheard of efficiency, especially since the Colts put up three 1,000-yard receivers with Manning closing out the year with 336 completions -- the fourth-lowest completion total of his career. What it also means is the marquee players were healthy and always had the ball -- there wasn't much room for anybody else.

The role players had very small roles. James was the team's fourth-leading receiver, with 51 catches, and as a result neither of the Colts' tight ends that season topped 30 catches -- Marcus Pollard had 29 and Dallas Clark had 25. And after the big three no other wide receiver on the Colts roster had more than four receptions that year. And behind James, Dominic Rhodes had 53 carries.

Now, certainly a season that was played a decade ago is not the end-all, be-all template to place over what the Broncos will do in 2013. But it does show how things looked in an offense with three top-shelf pass catchers and how one quarterback divvied up the work without sacrificing a rushing component.

The Colts topped 30 points 10 times that season. They opped 40 points five times, including a stretch of four consecutive games when they scored 49, 41, 41 and 51.

"Its always execution,'' Manning said. "No matter what you do, how you do it, whether you huddle, don't huddle, go fast or slow, I've always felt like it was the execution that made the difference, that you dealt with the defense in front of you with the best play you could run in that situation.''

For these Broncos, they still figure to divide the majority of the carries in the run game between Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. The part to watch will be how defenses align themselves against the Broncos' three-receiver set, which will be their base formation.

In short, defenses simply play smaller far more often now than they did in 2004.

Teams have elected to go smaller and lighter with more cornerbacks and 205-pound coverage safeties working in the nickel and dime packages -- the Broncos often play a safety at weakside linebacker in some of their specialty packages -- so the immediate matchup win is the tight end. Especially a tight end with some size and speed to overpower a defensive back when the ball is in the air and to run by a linebacker.

Running Welker out of one slot position with a tight end to his outside shoulder is a grouping, for example, that should quickly clear the middle of the field and suddenly you have what many running backs coaches call "a friendly box'' to run against between the guards.

So the opportunity to run more will be there if the Broncos truly want to take it.

In the end, though, if the Broncos really don't care about the numbers, there should be plenty to go around.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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