ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos can’t admit they’ve traded for quarterback Joe Flacco. They can’t say how excited they are, and they can’t explain why they did it or even why they think Flacco is the guy to help them break a three-year playoff drought.
No, the Broncos can’t publicly discuss the trade for their new starting quarterback until March 13, which is the formal start of the new league year.
But that doesn’t mean the team’s offensive coaches haven't begun, in earnest, planning for what the playbook will look like with Flacco behind center.
Even before the deal for Flacco was put into place, everybody from president of football operations/general manager John Elway to coach Vic Fangio to newly hired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello have said how they will repair an offense that consistently scored too little and stressed too few defenses.
That new offense should look like an old one to Flacco. It'll largely be the play-action and run-heavy offense Gary Kubiak ran in Baltimore as Flacco's offensive coordinator in 2014.
In short, the Broncos want Scangarello to pull some of the evolution from the college game -- more motion, more spread concepts -- into the offense that brought three Super Bowls to Denver.
“Philosophically, my roots have always been in the zone-run system that Kyle Shanahan has run," Scangarello said earlier this offseason. “... I see an offense that’s willing to take shots, that’s aggressive but is detailed in every way. That takes care of the football, that empowers its players to be the best that they can be by putting them in a position to be successful. I think our offense empowers the quarterback to have success and can adapt to his skill set."
Elway made it clear this offseason it’s what he wanted when the Broncos tried to work out a deal for Kubiak to have a role on Fangio’s staff, but the deal came apart when Kubiak, Fangio and Elway couldn’t agree on the rest of the offensive staff. Fangio then looked for potential playcallers with experience in similar schemes.
Flacco’s career-best 27 touchdowns came with Kubiak -- at least seven more than in any season he’s had since -- and his 3,986 passing yards that year were the second most of his career. A survey of multiple personnel executives in the league in recent weeks revealed their predictions that the Broncos’ offense would revolve around Flacco’s health and how well the line could protect him.
That's more true than the scheme. Flacco's ability after knee, hip and back injuries since 2015 is the key, and he was in Denver this week for his physical.
Some in the league say since Flacco’s playoff run to close out the 2012 season -- 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions as the Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl -- he generally has played a more timid game. Some point to the Ravens’ protection issues as part of the reason, as well as an overall lack of consistent playmakers in the Ravens' offense.
Flacco also has faced criticism that he wasn’t a vocal enough leader and that the perception the six-year, $120.6 million deal the Ravens gave him in the months that followed the Super Bowl win weighed him down.
And despite his arm strength, in his nine starts this past season before being replaced by Lamar Jackson after injuring his hip, Flacco averaged more than 7 yards per attempt just twice.
Elway has said he wants to see play-action in the Broncos’ offense and a quarterback willing to push the ball down the field. With Case Keenum playing every snap but one this past season, the Broncos were one of nine teams in the NFL that averaged fewer than 6 yards per attempt, and three of those nine teams started rookie quarterbacks.
“... It’s going to be very important for us to get some continuity on the offensive side," Elway said. "This will be our fourth system in four years. That is something that we’re really going to concentrate on, getting some continuity. That’s what comes with the same system and finding the right guys."
For Fangio’s part, he has said that after three-plus decades as a defensive assistant in the NFL, he wants an offense that's difficult to defend and that a run game, no matter the percentage of run-pass, is a part of that.
“I’ve said I do believe in balance," Fangio said. “But that isn’t just run-pass. There are other things that are balanced -- do you throw it short, intermediate or deep? Do you run to all parts of the formation, mix schemes, play-action or movement passing game? I know what’s hard to defend and that’s what we want to do."