New Grantland: One-Trick Pony – How a return to the simplicity of Peyton Manning’s Indy offense has ignited the Denver Broncos

It’s now up over at Grantland:

By using Tamme as the fulcrum, Manning is able to analyze the defense and get into one of his handful of preferred plays. Although the Broncos running game is a bit different from what Manning used in Indianapolis — primarily because the Broncos use moreinside runs with pulling guards while the Colts’ best play was the outside zone — the passing game has become virtually identical: three and four verticals, deep cross, all-curl, and a drag or shallow cross concept.

But the play Denver runs more than any other is the same one Tom Moore diagrammed on the back of a golf scorecard for Larry Fedora roughly a decade ago. Known as “Dig” in the old Colts playbook and as “Levels” to most coaches, the play has an inside receiver run a square-in or dig route while an outside receiver runs a five-yard, in-breaking route on the same side of the field. On the other side, an inside receiver runs a “Read-Seam,” either streaking up the seam if there is a single deep safety or breaking to the middle between two deep safeties.


Read the whole thing.

  • Shanti Ram

    Excellent article! Thanks for sharing and giving fans a deeper insight into one of the best QBs of all-time (this coming from a diehard Patriots fan). Simplicity can be beautiful.

  • Kyle Jones

    How common are plays like Levels and Smash in the NFL that are truly one-sided? I know many are combining concepts like smash (cov2 beater) with a cover 3 beater on the other, and go with what defense gives them, but these seem like Denver isn’t even looking backside.

    Is it just for simplicity’s sake that you didn’t highlight that? Or is Denver’s offense really THAT simple?

  • theyoungballcoach

    You can still read it to the back side. If you get 1-High you can look the safety off to the levels side and then hit the read seam which would stay vertical in the backside seam.

  • smartfootball

    The read seam is generally the first in the progression, and the go route is (my understanding) typically an “Alert” or peek type route — and Manning can throw it back shoulder vs press with a good matchup.

    They also commonly tag the outside receiver away from the levels/smash side on a curl, so against 1 high the read can be Read Seam to curl to flat, which is the old curl/flat combo. Of course Manning is so good he often does coverage reads and knows where he’s going.

  • Kyle Jones

    Good to know. Amazing how such simple schemes never go away.

  • MarkDitka

    OT, but I’d like to hear people’s opinions on mobile QBs. It seems to me that mobile QBs are not more susceptible to injury because they run the ball in designed running plays, but because (as mobile QBs) they believe they can extend any pass play with their feet, and so end up putting themselves in harm’s way, whereas immobile QBs have (by necessity) developed a hyperawareness of the pocket, and are also much more likely to release the ball sooner. It seems to me this is a much bigger obstacle for the transformation of the NFL to option football than anything else.

  • Jesse Besor

    it is particularly brutal irony that this highly interesting and insightful article was written just days before a game in which 2 decisions by the same coach effectively expressed a lack of trust towards one of the greatest QBs ever, Peyton. John Fox took the ball out of Manning’s hands, 1st on the 3rd and 7, with 2 mins left, and Baltimore playing an 8-man front and leaving themselves wide open to play-action or a “Dig”, and a 1st down ends the game. THEN, minutes later, to take a knee(A/K/A “lie down”) at the end of regulation, without even trying a screen pass…. The magnitude of Coach Fox’s fear-the-worst and play-not-to-win mindsets, while at the same time having PEYTON MANNING as the QB, will be talked about one day on an ESPN Classic or show/segment – mark my words.

  • Scott Bolander

    This article should be considered required reading in addition to the one above (which is excellent).

  • Mr.Murder Murphy

    Think this was more applicable to Baltimore’s elevation on a vertical basis. Cam tried to game the underneath/control stuff more, and the Caldwell elevation stayed with concepts that stressed the top of team coverages. He blew the roof off of folks when the Ravens speed wideouts got into those looks, and it meant nobody could help out on Boldin and Pitta and those guys control games. Stick with what works. Often he didn’t even use other targets as much, but by formationing a set back to their side he could secure inside release for slants on fear of a switch for bigger targets to gain crucial leverage. Subtle changes let him work his best size guys to their advantage.