ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos formally adjourned from their fourth consecutive playoff miss and their third consecutive losing season with a few very obvious facts glaring at them.
The Broncos play in the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs rule the AFC West. The Chiefs are the Super Bowl champion. The Chiefs have a 24-year-old apex touchdown machine in Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. The Chiefs outscored the Broncos 53-9 last season. The Broncos need to score more points.
As Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway put it at season’s end: “We didn’t score a touchdown against the Chiefs. They’re the team and obviously our goal every year is to win the [AFC] West. They’re the team that we’re going to have to beat.”
The Broncos scored 16 or fewer points nine times last season. They were 2-7 in those games and finished 28th or worse in the league rankings in points scored, total offense, passing, third down conversions and red zone offense.
To put all of that in perspective, the 2015 Broncos, with one of the best defenses of the Super Bowl era, allowed more than 16 points nine times that season. So, scoring 16 points ain’t going to get it done over the long, or any, haul.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio fired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello in the days following the season and hired Pat Shurmur as the team’s playcaller and Mike Shula as the quarterbacks coach. Fangio has said he wants to be more aggressive on offense with Drew Lock at quarterback, wants to push the ball down the field in the passing game.
But Fangio also wants the option to run when the Broncos want to run. That’s why he picked Shurmur, why the Broncos gave a $44 million contract to offensive guard Graham Glasgow and why, even after the Broncos have said they want to get running back Phillip Lindsay a new deal, they’ve added Gordon.
It’s simple, the Broncos added Gordon for catches and touchdowns.
Lindsay has had limited impact in the passing game during back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons with 35 catches as a rookie to go with 35 catches last season. He has just one career receiving touchdown. Shurmur wants more, as in a lot more, from running backs in that part of the game.
Consider what he said earlier this offseason: “I think it’s important for a runner to be able to catch. There are three elements to playing running back. Number one, when you hand it to them, they have to have good vision, balance, body control, collision balance and they have to be able to run with the ball and score. You certainly need to be able to pass protect to protect the quarterback. If you can’t catch the ball out of the backfield or you can’t have an impact in some way … then it’s hard to be a full runner.”
In his previous 11 seasons as an NFL playcaller or head coach, Shurmur has had a running back catch more than 50 passes seven times. And in the past two seasons, when Shurmur was head coach of the New York Giants, running back Saquon Barkley finished with 91 and 52 catches, respectively.
Gordon has had at least 41 receptions in each of his last four seasons and has 47 touchdowns in those four years as well — 36 rushing, 11 receiving. Since the start of the 2014 season there are just four players in the league with at least 4,000 rushing yards to go with at least 200 receptions — Gordon, Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley and LeSean McCoy.
So, yes, Gordon’s arrival may raise some eyebrows, including Lindsay’s, but for the Broncos, the pursuit of touchdowns trumps all these days.