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The Sports Daily > Buffalo Wins
List of Joe- Everything you need to know about Rick Dennison

1) You’re Robin – When it comes to having a new regime change, the decisions on who to hire as your coordinators is just as important as who the head coach is. I remember during the dark ages of the 2000s, you would always count on the Bills hiring the lowest of the low rent coordinators. Turk Schonert, Tom Clements, Steve Fairchild, and a few others were very green and virtually unknowns when the Bills hired.

Things changed though under Pegula as he loosened the purse strings to basically let his HC hire anyone he wanted. I remember the Bills hiring Greg Roman as their OC really made me like the hiring of Rex because Roman was a hot coaching candidate at the time. With McDermott being the defensive guy, you always want to make sure you have an equally solid offensive guy who is innovative with running the offense. Hopefully Dennison is that guy.

2) Calling plays vs shadowing – Dennison has been an offensive coordinator for 9 seasons. That’s more coordinating years than what Wade Phillips, Kevin Gilbride, and Jim Schwartz had prior to coming to Buffalo. Unfortunately, he’s never really called the plays as it was Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak who ran the offenses in Denver and Houston. Basically, you could term him as what Curtis Modkins did when Chan Gailey was here.

Now, Kubiak didn’t call the plays for the majority of his time under Shanahan in Denver, yet, he did alright in Houston (More on that later) when they hired him as HC/OC. I guess you could count Andy Reid as he was the QB coach in GB before he became the HC/OC in Philadelphia. It is still a very rare list though when it comes to guys having success as figure head OC. Dennison has paid a lot of dues to finally get his shot at calling plays.

3) What is the offense – As I’ve mentioned a ton of times before, I am not a football sage when it comes to Xs and Os. However, I have watched the Shanahan offense for almost 20 years. Passing wise…you are going to see a lot bootlegs and play action which I think will help Tyrod a lot. I’ve always loved play action passing and feel the Bills didn’t do it enough. According to Football Outsiders, the Bills were 23rd in Play action passing attempts in 2015.

Yet, they averaged 9 yards per play which ranked 2nd best in the NFL off play action. It is football 101 that when you have a top tier running attack, you use play action to burn teams over the top. Not only does it make sense for the Bills to use it more, but it makes sense to have Tyrod move out of the pocket more on roll outs because of his athleticism. Play action has been a staple for years with the Shanahan offense. His son used it a lot last year in Atlanta with a QB who isn’t really that mobile.

4) Running backs- When you think the Shanahan style of offense, you think about the running backs. From Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Orlandis Gary, Tatum Bell and Clinton Portis. All of these running backs had 1,000 yard seasons under Shanahan. For Dennison, from 2006-2012 (With Denver and Houston), those teams ranked 8th, 9th, 12th, 7th, 2nd, and 8th. In Houston, running backs who came from obscurity (Slaton/Foster) had stellar seasons there. The Shanahan offense has made a career on making late round picks become household names.

Over his last 3 seasons as OC (2013-Houston and Denver-2015/2016), things changed. The Broncos were 17th and 27th in rushing yards and only 17th and 15th in rushing attempts. The Texans fell to 20th in rushing yards and 22nd in attempts in 2013. Why the sudden fall? I think QB was a big part of it. 2013 was the Matt Schaub implosion, 2015 was Manning falling apart, and 2016 was Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch’s growing pain. Football 101 tells us that if you don’t have a respectable passing game, it is easier for teams to focus on the run. On the other hand, is zone blocking a thing of the past since more teams run out of the spread? Bottom line is Dennison’s running game has fallen a bit.

5) Run to pass ratio- A lot has been made about how this offense is going to run the ball first and foremost. It would make sense since it is what they did best last year and your best offensive player is LeSean McCoy. However, Dennison’s past isn’t like what Roman and Rex had when they were always near top in rushing attempts, but near the bottom in pass attempts in SF/NY. That’s not the case for Dennison.

Rush attempts                                                          Pass attempts

  • 2006- 9th                                                                        26th
  • 2007-18th                                                                        21st
  • 2008-28th                                                                       3rd
  • 2010-19th                                                                        10th
  • 2011-1st                                                                            30th
  • 2012-4th                                                                          18th
  • 2013- 22nd                                                                      6th
  • 2015- 17th                                                                        13th
  • 2016- 15th                                                                        17th

In 4 of the 9 seasons as OC, Dennison’s offenses ranked higher in passing attempts than rushing attempts. I do think Cutler/Schaub were better than Tyrod during those years, but I think the key is just how close it was in 2015 and 2016 when it was obvious the Broncos passing game was suspect at best. The Broncos kept it as balanced as you can get, even with crappy QBs. I think Tyrod is better than what the Broncos had the past two years at QB and can see the Bills being more balanced than what they did the previous two seasons.

6) TE impact – Tyrod Taylor said last month the Bills were going to play more 2TE offense. Charles Clay and…ANYONE? The Irish golf grandson guy? Anyways, the Broncos ran a lot of 2TE from 2006-2008 with Daniel Graham and Tony Scheffler.  Between the two of them, below are their stats

  • 2007: 63 catches for 7 TDs
  • 2008: 72 catches for 7 TDs

While in Houston, it was the Joel Dreessen and Owen Daniels combo in 2010 and 2011

  • 2010: 74 catches for 6 TDs
  • 2011: 82 catches for 9 TDs

In 2012, it was a 3-way TE combo with Daniels, Garrett Graham, and James Casey. The trio combined for 124 catches for 1,309 yards and 12 TDs. In 2013, it was another 3-way combo with Casey being replaced by Ryan Griffin. The trio combined for 92 receptions for 1,041 yards and 9 TDs.

In 2015, the Broncos didn’t get much out of their TE position as they combined for 37 catches. Last year though, the Broncos got 104 catches and 6 TDs out of Ryan Griffin (Same guy from Houston) and CJ Fiedorowicz. Keep in mind it was close to a balanced approach from the TEs. Sure, Daniels was the #1 TE in Houston, but it wasn’t like one TE had 70 catches and the next TE had 20. It was pretty close to even across the board in terms of spreading the ball to TEs.

7) #1 Wide receivers- If there’s one thing I’ve always remembered about the Shanahan type of offenses, it is that your #1 WR gets a ton of looks, while your #2 and #3 don’t. From 2010-2013, it was the Andre Johnson show. Here’s how his numbers go by targets and receptions:

  • 2010- 138 targets /86 receptions
  • 2011- 51 targets/33 receptions (Played just 7 games)
  • 2012- 162 targets/112 receptions
  • 2013- 181 targets/ 109 receptions

After Andre Johnson, the #2 WR in Houston caught anywhere between 40-50 catches and only one had over 621 yards receiving. In 2012, the 2nd leading WR had just 41 catches for 518 yards. The most a #2 WR caught during a season in Houston was 52 receptions. In 2010 and 2012, 24%  and 33% of Matt Schaub’s throws went to Andre Johnson. That’s a hell of a ratio.

Now in Denver, it did become more of a 1-2 punch with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. Thomas had slightly better numbers, but they were pretty close. In two seasons, Thomas had 195 catches for 2,387 yards and Sanders had 155 catches for 2, 168 yards. In both seasons, each WR had 1,000+ yards receiving. As for the #3 WR, he didn’t really exist as Jordan Norwood had barely over 20 catches each season.

Overall, if you were a #1 WR in Dennison’s offense, you made out pretty well.

8) Pass protection – Over the last two seasons, the Bills have given up the 3rd most sacks in the NFL (88). That’s pretty alarming when you consider the Bills have attempted the fewest throws in the NFL during that time. We can get into the chicken & egg argument with whether good pass protection is based on scheme, guys up front, or QB. In other words, I don’t really know and the bottom line is the QB is getting killed back there. As for Dennison, the Broncos gave up the 11th most sacks (77) over the last two seasons. In Houston, the pass protection was better as the Texans gave up the 11th fewest sacks from 2010-2013.

9) Super Bowl titles – This may come in as not meaning much, but off the top of my head, does Dennison have the most SB rings ever to be on a Bills Staff? He’s got 3 rings as an OC in (2015) and special teams coach (1997/1998). I can’t think of anyone whose been a HC or OC on this staff who was able to show off the hardware as a coach elsewhere.

10) Passing offense – In terms of the passing game, the Shanahan offense has made a lot of QBs look really good who weren’t exactly franchise QBs at the time. Matt Schaub had a number of respectable years in Houston (Three 4,000 yard seasons). Jake Plummer was basically an afterthought in Arizona after his 2nd year. Then he went to Denver and had a 4,000 yard season (2004) and almost got the Broncos to a SB in 2005. Jay Cutler’s best years came in Denver as the Broncos had the 3rd most passing yards in 2008 and 13th most in 2007. This was all when Cutler was a 2nd and 3rd year pro in the NFL.

Even Brock Osweiler, who is a complete turd sandwich, went 5-2 in Denver in 2015 and had 2 games where he had over a 100 QB rating and had 270 yards or more passing in 4 games. If you go by what Dennison/Kubiak did in Baltimore -which doesn’t get talked about a lot aside from the Tyrod connection- they did very nice things with Joe Flacco, who had 3,986 yards passing (2nd most in career until last year) and 27 TDs (Most in career). For the season, the Ravens were 8th in scoring and Justin Forsett had over 1,200 yards rushing while averaging 5.2 YPC.