The 2013 Broncos are a fascinating offense to study. Led by Peyton Manning’s record-setting season, the Broncos played to a 13-3 record and a trip to the Super Bowl. The Broncos scored 606 points that season, averaging about 38 a game. This figure led the league by a whopping 36 percent to the second highest scoring team. They averaged 7.8 yards per attempt in the passing game; that's good for second best over the past five seasons (according to pro-football-reference).
Throughout Manning’s career, a few core principles have carried throughout the years. One of these core principles is “less is more”. Manning’s offenses will notoriously run the same plays throughout a game. While his teams will still add plays week to week, the repeated concepts create the core of the offense.
This article will focus on one particular concept that the Broncos used frequently, and often in a no huddle environment. The Hank concept was one of the Broncos most frequent play calls throughout the season. The diagram below shows a common variation used in 11 personnel.
The play is simply the curl flat concept mirrored, with a “middle” route from one of the slot receivers. The play stretches zone defenses horizontally with five evenly spaced targets. Against man coverage, the slot receiver can work against a slower and weaker cover defender, either a linebacker, rolled down safety, or nickel corner.
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Most often, Manning would read the side of the tight end first, flat to curl. In the no-huddle tempo that the Broncos used, the flat route from the tight end would be open frequently. The video cut up below shows three occasions that this was the case in their week one matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. In this game, the Broncos went 3/3 averaging about 8 yards an attempt with this concept.
This was also the case in their week two matchup with the New York Giants. The video below shows a cut-up of this concept. Once again, the Broncos went 3/3 averaging about 7 yards per play.
The first clip shows the concept out of a pistol set. This alignment allows the running back to swing to either side, which gives the offense the ability to hide which receiver will run the middle route. When the Giants roll their safeties to the field, Manning reads the curl-flat combination on the other side of the field.
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In the second clip, the Giants come out in a nickel defense. They play a man under, two-deep coverage with the linebacker at the top of the screen having run responsibilities as well as the tight end man to man, Manning sees this as an opportunity to hit the tight end quick.
In the third clip, the Giants play cover two. This coverage would typically encourage the quarterback to work the middle route. Pre-snap, Manning sees the linebacker tucked inside, so he attacks the flat route quickly.
The next video shows the concept against the Dallas Cowboys. With the Cowboys playing mostly cover two, it seems that the game plan was to work Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas on the middle hook against the middle linebacker.
The first clip shows the concept against man under, two-deep. The tight end is isolated in the middle of the field on his middle hook route. Once he settles and realizes it is man coverage, he adjusts his route to break away from the defender.
The second clip shows the play against cover two. The middle linebacker opens up away from the middle route.
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The third clip shows the concept against a cover three. With the inside hook defenders wide, Manning hits the middle hook route.
This concept can work against any coverage and is an easy pass concept to call in a no huddle environment. The play does not take too long to develop and can even be thought of as a quick game concept against certain defenses. Also, the natural rub to the side of the middle hook route gives the play an added “pick” element vs man coverage.