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Broncos notes: Tight ends push receivers aside in latest game plan

Sutton added to hamstring problem. Hackett welcomes Deion Sanders.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — To implement their "small  ball" game plan, the Broncos often employed their "big" packages Sunday against Baltimore.

Three Broncos’ tight ends had more offensive snaps than all but one receiver. Kendall Hinton played in 41 of 53 offensive snaps – and had one catch for 11 yards. Then it was the tight end trio of Greg Dulcich with 38 snaps, Eric Tomlinson (27) and Eric Saubert (26) before it got to the second-highest play count among receivers with Brandon Johnson, who had 25 snaps in relief of the injured Courtland Sutton, who pulled up with a hamstring injury while running a clear out pattern on his 23rd snap.

It was as if the Broncos went into their game against the Baltimore Ravens with a plan of winning the game, 10-9. It almost worked. The Broncos lost 10-9.

Tight ends had more catches – 6, all by Dulcich for 85 yards – than the receivers, who had 5 combined for 76 yards with 4 catches and 65 yards coming from Jerry Jeudy, who played just 20 snaps because of his return from an ankle injury.

Credit: AP
Players huddle up around Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) ahead of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Air Raid or Spread Offense it wasn’t.

“We definitely went in wanting to run the ball,’’ said Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett. “I don’t think we ever go in with a mindset of wanting to win and not score a lot of points. I think we’ve been efficient with some of our bigger packages, whether it be 12 (one back, two tight ends) or 21 (fullback and tight end) when Beck was there. And our 13 package (three tights ends) has been very efficient also with Dulcich playing a little bit more of a wide receiver role.

“So we thought we had some advantages versus this (Ravens’) defense, which is a very, very good defense instead of spreading them out and opening up the pressure (blitz) looks with our 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). We wanted to condense it and be able to work the play-pass and the run-action, hoping we would get explosive plays, which we got a couple of them – one to Jerry, one to Dulcich.’’

Hackett didn’t say this, and never would, but by and large teams employ two and three tight end sets when they either are shy in  receiver weapons, or the offensive line needs help, or both. The Broncos are averaging an NFL-low 13.8 points per game.

Hamstrings from Hades

While Hackett’s lighter workload approach to training camp was well-intentioned for the preservation of players’ health, it didn’t prevent the hamstring epidemic that has hindered the Broncos this season. Sutton missed the second half of the Broncos’ 10-9 loss Sunday at Baltimore and while Hackett said he is day-to-day, it would be surprising if the No. 1 receiver is able to play Sunday afternoon (not Sunday night as originally scheduled) against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High.

Hamstring injuries have sidelined 11 Bronco players this season. The hamstrung player with games missed because of the injury:

  • Greg Dulcich, 5
  • Quinn Meinerz, 4
  • KJ Hamler 7*
  • Darius Phillips, 4
  • Tyrie Cleveland, 3
  • Jonathon Cooper, 3
  • Andrew Beck, 3
  • Essang Bassey, 2
  • Russell Wilson, 1
  • Dakota Allen, 1 game
  • Courtland Sutton, ?

*Hamler has missed 4 games because of his hamstring and has a minimum three more games left on his IR stint).

Primetime and no primetime

A couple days after the Broncos were snubbed from primetime viewing by Sunday Night Football executives, Primetime became the new head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Hackett was asked if he had any interaction with Deion Sanders as a kid – Hackett’s dad was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinators when Prime was in his prime – and his reaction to the enormous hiring down the road.

“I congratulate him—what a great opportunity,’’ Hackett said. “What he did at Jackson State was unbelievable. It shows how good of a coach he is. I’m very excited for him and the state of Colorado to have him here. I met him one time when I was a kid. I remember that, but he probably wouldn’t remember that. It’s Primetime. He’s one of the best to ever play this game, and it’s great to have him here.”

Credit: Drew Litton


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