Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Does Jedd Fisch Want This Offense to Look Like?

E!'s Adam Rittenburg has a blog blurb about his time spent with the Gophers before last weekend's game against Cal. He has nothing but nice things to say about the players, coaches, and of course, the stadium. The one thing that stood out for me though was this about new Gophers offensive coordinate Jedd Fisch:

The former Denver Broncos assistant brought much of the Denver offense to the Gophers, and since Minnesota hasn't run all the plays in games, the players watch tape from the Broncos' 2008 season to give themselves a better feel.

Now I knew he came from Denver, an offense that in 2008 piled up the yards and points, but I didn't know, or maybe just hadn't paid attention to, that Fisch is showing his QB's game tapes from the Broncos 2008 season to help them understand his offense. I had thought o-line coach/running game coordinator Tim Davis was in control of this "power run game" they talked about bringing in, which of course, has been anything but powerful thus far. So does this mean Fisch would like to run a reasonable facsimile of what Denver did in 2008, as well as in the previous bazillion years Shannahan coached there (Fisch was only with the Broncos for one year as their wide receivers coach)?

I'd love to know what Fisch's vision of the offense is, because I think we can all agree that Jedd, and everybody else, would like it to be much more efficient than this. The Gophers offense has struggled mightily in the first three games, and I'm certainly not going to say it's because Fisch has a terrible scheme. You can attribute the struggles to everyone getting used to a new scheme, as well as the Gophs schedule thus far, which has been tougher than anyone else's in the Big Ten.

Still, the numbers through three games have been mighty ugly. You might want to hide the women and children before looking at these: they are dead last in the Big Ten in points per game (21.3), yards per game (319), 3rd down percentage (32.5%), touchdowns (6), yards per play (5.26), rushing yards per game (85.7), average yards per rush (3.3) and team QB rating (119.1). The Gophers have really done nothing well except get the ball to Eric Decker early and often, and yet despite the toughest OOC schedule in the Big Ten, we're still 2-1. Thank you defense. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU DEFENSE!!!!!!

Obviously things can- and damn well better- get better offensively. As I said off the top, I'm not here to call for Fisch's head because there's a lot of factors playing into all of this. We all want to see a productive running game, a more efficient passing game, and an offensive line that actually, you know, blocks. Hopefully all of that comes together, and comes together soon, and the fact Decker is being reported as looking healthy AND that Matt Stommes is getting some looks at right tackle (I'm not blaming the offensive line woes on Jeff Wills, but they need to do something to shake things up!) has to be encouraging news.

So things can and should get better, but I'm wondering today that when they do, what's that going to look like? What's Jedd's dream offense look like? Through three games, the Gophs have ran the ball 77 times and thrown 105 for a run pass ratio of 42/58. Obviously a big part of that stems from last week where the running game was non-existent while the passing game was the only way to move the ball. Right now I don't trust that Weber is capable of being efficient enough for us to win games if he's being asked to throw 60% of the time, but if we can't run and Eric Decker continues to do his best Jerry Rice impression, then that may be the best option we have.

Still, what does Jedd want this group to be? While Fisch is going to put his own tweaks and flair into the offense, I think we should expect it to look very much like what the Denver Broncos ran in 2008 under Mike Shannahan. The vast majority of the time that position coaches become coordinators, they bring very much the same offense they worked with before to their new role. While I don't think we'll see an exact replica of the Shannahan Era Broncos, I think we should expect a lot of similarities, or at least that's what Fisch is going to want.

So what were the Shannahan Era Broncos, at least post-Elway? It really varied from year to year, which says that they looked at their personel, and then would do whatever worked with the skill they had. This might seem obvious, but a lot of coaches and OC's want to run THEIR offense regardless of who their players are, and will often try to fit round pegs into square holes. If Fisch liked what Shannahan did in his time, which if he's showing his QB's game tapes from the 2008 season means he definitely did, then Fisch is going to take the same approach.

Here's the yearly numbers for the Bronco offense from 2008 back to 2002:
Passing yards per game rank: 2nd, 13th, 25th, 18th, 6th, 22nd, 8th
Rushing YPG rank: 12th, 9th, 8th, 2nd, 4th, 2nd, 5th
Pass att: 620, 515, 454, 465, 521, 479, 554
Rush att: 387, 429, 488, 542, 534, 543, 457
Run/pass %: 38%/62%, 45/55, 52/48, 54/46, 51/49, 53/47, 45/55

Shannahan showed a willingness to change his strategies depending on the type of team he had. The 2008 team Fisch worked for was an aberration, as that team had an awful defense and no good running back so they were throwing a lot more than they probably wanted to. They of course also had an excellent quarterback like Jay Cutler, and three really good receivers in wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, and TE Tony Scheffler, so throwing that much obviously made sense. But in the other six seasons on our chart, only twice did they pass more than they threw, meaning that if Shannahan had a reliable running game, he was going to use it.

Time will tell how this relates to the Gophers, as Fisch and the offense will hopefully grow up together this year and in future seasons, but if he does indeed intend to incorporate a large chunk of the Shannahan offense into the Gophers, I think these stats are good news for us. It shows that Jedd's going to be willing to work with the strengths of the offense, and not stubbornly try to do things his way whether we've got the athletes or not. Our old coach was running 60% of the time no matter who he had, making us very one-dimensional. I think Fisch is going to play to his strengths. While Weber hasn't been as efficient has he'd like, if throwing 55-60% of the time is his best option, that's what he's going to do, while in future seasons WHEN we get better backs and offensive linemen in here, he's going to have more options on when to run and pass and how much.

It gives me hope that he's going to find more and more ways to get Troy Stoudermire and MarQueis Gray involved in ways that will use their strengths to an advantage. Let's hope it starts this Saturday against Northwestern.

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