Broncos crunch the numbers in crunch time, now more than ever


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The Denver Broncos offense has run three plays on fourth down this season and scored touchdowns on two of them.

Now that’s some fun with numbers.

Those key plays are likely the byproduct of an afternoon meeting, usually on Friday, that Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has with Broncos’ director of football analytics Mitch Tanney, a former college quarterback who was once the national runner-up for Division III Player of the Year.

“It's really good; it's a comfort zone as a coach," Kubiak said following Friday’s practice. “When you're calling plays and involved in the game and yet you're involved in the time, all of a sudden, you've got somebody up there who is totally involved in that. I just listen to him, ‘Hey, Mitch, talk to me here. What do you think?' He's in my ear the whole time. It's a very comforting thing. What I do every Friday afternoon … I go spend about an hour with him upstairs and we just review what's going on around the league and how would we have handled things. I think it's a new addition that's very much warranted. I'm glad to have him."

Last winter, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway, a self-avowed “numbers guy," was sorting through a pile of resumes in search of the right person to add a stepped-up analytics program to the team’s way of doing its football business.

Tanney, who worked for the Chicago Bears previously as well as Stats LLC, is in the coaches’ booth during games and on a headset to communicate with Kubiak.

“He's always thinking ahead," Kubiak said. “As a coach, your mind is on the play and his mind is on everything else that's going on. He's been very impressive and the thing that I like about him is that he played. He's an ex-player, so he has a real perspective of some of that, too, I think."

Those discussions came into play when the Broncos kept the offense on the field for fourth-and-1 situations against the Detroit Lions and this past Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

In Detroit, it was a Peyton Manning pass to a leaping Demaryius Thomas for a 45-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown just before halftime. Last Sunday it was a 1-yard pass from Manning to Daniels for a score on a fourth-and-goal from the Vikings’ 1.

This week, Manning touched on what those kinds of plays mean for an offense when the coach tells the players to go for it.

“When he [Kubiak] calls that, he's displaying confidence in you," Manning said. “It's nice when you can come through for him and the coaches to make him glad that he did it and make him say that it's OK to do it again. Where if you don't get it, the next time that it comes around, who knows which way you'll go."

As far as what Tanney usually advises on fourth down, Kubiak said; “I can tell you what analytics guys say on fourth down: They say, 'go for it,' every time."