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Bill Musgrave looks to have Broncos offense play to its strengths

Posted Nov 24, 2017

As a former NFL quarterback with nearly two decades in coaching and working with QBs, Musgrave has plenty of experience he can tap into as he takes control of Denver's offense.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Everyone is a product of their influences and the places they've been. For new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, these go back to his first days as a professional in the early 1990s, when he joined the San Francisco 49ers.

In 1992, his second year in the NFL, Mike Shanahan arrived in San Francisco to become the 49ers' offensive coordinator. They would spend the next five seasons together in San Francisco and Denver, laying the foundation for his coaching career.

"I was a young QB once with Shanahan. He really did a great job with me and got me off on the right foot," Musgrave said. I try to apply those lessons as I go forward."

One of those lessons was simple: Adapt your instruction to what allows each player to learn most effectively.

“You handle every guy differently," Musgrave said. "Some guys respond to different styles of coaching, so that’s the key. It’s a little bit like a teacher.

"You find out what that student’s champion is and play to his strength. That’s what we’re going to try to do as coaches. We’re going to think players first, then plays and play to our guy’s strengths to keep those concepts up their respective alleys.”

That philosophy extends to the entire unit. When Musgrave was hired by the Oakland Raiders for his last previous offensive-coordinator stint in 2015, he made that point clear.

"I’m definitely not going to come in with a system and force anybody to do something that’s not natural," he said in January 2015 upon assuming the reins of Oakland's attack. "We’re definitely going to try to customize and tailor the Raiders’ system to fit the Raider players.

"Philosophically, I do believe in running the football. I definitely want to be a physical outfit that runs the ball and imposes their will on the defense. At the same time, it’s difficult to defend through the passing game and through being diverse."

In Oakland, Musgrave's influence has been missed. Oakland is slightly up in first-down rate, moving the sticks once every 3.50 plays compared with once every 3.54 snaps last year. But their average per pass play is down by 0.32 yards, their average per carry has dropped by 0.24 yards and their sack rate has spiked from one every 34.1 pass plays to one every 25.1 pass plays.

Most revealing of all is the fact that Oakland's offense has averaged 3.9 fewer points, 0.5 fewer touchdowns and 2.2 fewer first downs per game than it did in 2016.

One of the reasons behind the Raiders' success with Musgrave was his use of run-pass options that occasionally had concepts similar to those used in plays run by the Philadelphia Eagles under Chip Kelly, under whom Musgrave worked as quarterbacks coach during the 2014 season. Some of those concepts could be adapted to Paxton Lynch as he returns to the starting lineup Sunday. Those concepts helped Derek Carr find a comfort zone in Oakland and could help Lynch, as well.

"Running the football is always a must for a young quarterback and giving him a chance to have some easy completions," Head Coach Vance Joseph said.

Lynch's strengths at this point are his athleticism, his ability to make plays off-script and his potential to keep defenses off-balance with his feet -- not only in scrambling for gains, but extending the play outside of the pocket, allowing his receivers to break off their routes and capitalize off fatigued defensive backs. This could give the Broncos the opportunity to generate some explosive vertical passing plays to complement their ground game.

Musgrave and Joseph want to minimize mistakes, not only to help Lynch, but to help the entire team, as turnovers have been a primary cause of the Broncos' six-game losing streak. But even giveaways can be learning experiences.

"Quarterbacks learn a lot more from their interceptions than they do from their touchdown passes," Musgrave said in 2015. "I’ve tried to do a good job of learning from my mistakes over the years, whether it be in Jacksonville or with Washington, Atlanta, Minnesota or here in Philadelphia, and applying those lessons as I go forward to improve each and every day."

Now he has a chance to apply those lessons with Lynch and an offense that looks to recapture the form it flashed at the start of the regular season.

"We’re going to try to be much cleaner in our approach and take care of the football and quarterback," Musgrave said, "and be explosive when the ball is in our hands."

If the Broncos do that, their offense can find the rhythm it has lacked in recent weeks.