ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It is always intriguing to see what NFL coaches do with familiarity. And while they always say it's no big deal, there are times when it is, or they wouldn't change their audible so often.
But when coaches who are about to face each other have worked together before, there are really only two choices: switch things up, adding wrinkle here, a surprise there, or simply do what you do and do it well enough to make it work.
That’s the deal for Mike McCoy, Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio this weekend. Del Rio, in his first game as the Denver Broncos’ interim head coach since John Fox's open-heart surgery Monday, will face the San Diego Chargers, who are in their first season with McCoy as head coach.
In McCoy’s four seasons running the Broncos' offense, he spent plenty of time in meeting rooms and on the practice field with both Gase and Del Rio -- Gase especially, given he was an assistant with the wide receivers and then quarterbacks coach. Gase, who was promoted to Denver's offensive coordinator shortly after McCoy left, routinely credits McCoy with help preparing him to be a full-time playcaller.
Gase also worked side-by-side with McCoy in 2011 when the Broncos essentially shredded their playbook well into the season to break out a read-option attack for Tim Tebow. And the two worked in 2012 to retool the playbook again after the team signed Peyton Manning.
They each know what the other likes on almost every page of a playbook, what they don’t like, and what the other believes is the best idea in various down-and-distance situations and against various defensive looks. Del Rio and McCoy worked together one season with the Broncos, each as a coordinator, and both were on Fox’s staff in Carolina in 2002, so they have traveled plenty of road as well.
McCoy’s strength has always been his ability to adapt his ideas to the players he has in the huddle, rather than trying to jam personnel that doesn’t fit a scheme he wants to run. And there are clear elements of the offense he ran in Denver in what he has Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers doing this season as Rivers has cut down on his mistakes and improved his efficiency (a 106.5 passer rating through eight games).
And while Gase has changed some things in the Broncos' scheme since McCoy left, particularly in the team's up-tempo look, there will be plenty that still looks familiar to McCoy.
In the end, defensive coaches always say a quarterback will give you plenty of trouble if “he’s reading your mail’’ and knows what’s coming. But that's how it will be Sunday on both sides of the ball. So, while all involved will say throughout the week that it will come down to execution, that it doesn't really matter, there is no doubt everybody’s reading the mail.
What it really figures to be about Sunday is the delivery.