Fat Camp: Understanding what makes Jacob Tamme important to the Denver offense

Happy Thursday, friends.  I happened to notice in the Lard the other day that Jeff Legwold had written a stupid article for the Denver Post.  Shocker, I know.

TJ told me recently that Leggy is like 5 foot 4, so every time I think of him now, I picture a Hobbit.  And really, how can a dude who is that short have a nickname like Leggy?  Shouldn’t it be Stumpy or something?

We ponder only the most important questions at IAOFM.  You’re welcome.

This is the article that I’m referring to, and it’s the one in which Jacob Tamme is shouted out by Peyton Manning as a key to the Broncos offense.  There are two things that I find completely silly about it, and if you follow me over the jump, I’ll tell you what they are.

Good, glad you made it.  Here’s the first bit of dumbassery:

But in all of the formations the team uses, in all of the personnel groupings, with all of the motion and all of the "pages" in their iPad playbooks, Manning said when he's trying to decode what the defense across from him is doing, he often watches what it does with ...

Jacob Tamme. Yes, tight end Jacob Tamme.

If you have been reading IAOFM for a while, you know what a Peyton Manning offense looks like.  They have historically tended to be characterized by several unique factors:

  1. Few personnel groupings, almost exclusively 11 and 12 personnel.
  2. Little use of motion.
  3. Very few different plays, such that a playbook isn’t really necessary.

Legwold’s paragraph shows little understanding of what the Broncos are doing.  I don’t know if he’s lazy, or he just doesn’t know, but he’s wrong.

This year’s Broncos team has retained a lot of the elements of the McDaniels/McCoy running game, but the passing scheme is all Manning/Tom Moore, encompassing ten or so concepts, no more.  They’ve used motion more than the Colts typically did, but a lot of that is designed to get either Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas in tight to the line of scrimmage to help get the running game blocked.

As for personnel groupings, your boys at IAOFM were right, and the DP was repeatedly wrong, when there was all that talk all summer about using a lot of fullback.  The Broncos have operated almost exclusively out of 11 and 12 personnel, all season long.

In 11 personnel, the Broncos will have Thomas, Decker, Brandon Stokley, a TE, and a RB on the field.  In 12 personnel, it’s Thomas, Decker, two TEs, and a RB.  That’s pretty simple, right?

The second thing I thought Captain Obvious was wrong about was his interpretation of what Manning meant when he said that he often keyed on how defenses were playing Tamme.  He took it to mean how they were covering him, and with whom.

I am pretty sure that Manning was getting at what defensive personnel grouping is on the field to match Tamme.  That’s a far more important consideration than whether a linebacker or safety is covering him.  Is the linebacker even on the field?  That’s the question.

You probably have a feel for this, because you read Part 2 of the Manning Offense series back in March.  When the Broncos use 12 personnel, or even 11 personnel with Tamme as the TE, the key read is how many DBs are on the field. 

If a defense is going to put an extra safety or cornerback on the field to cover Tamme, then that’s going to make Manning want to run the ball against a light box.  If they stay in base, it’s going to make him want to throw the ball, because most of the time, that base defensive group lacks the speed to cover all the routes in the concept.  Even if they handle Tamme, they’ll probably leave themselves short somewhere else.

The fact is, 12 personnel is the hardest grouping for any defense in the NFL to match up with, because the offense can make you wrong no matter what you do.  Manning was just telling Lil’ Jeff something that is well-understood by knowledgeable people.  He wants to know how a defense will account for a receiving-focused TE, and that will help him get the offense into the right play.

When I look at the 2012 year-to-date participation data, I see the following for the Broncos TEs:

Player Snaps Pass Pattern Run Block Pass Block % Pass Plays
Joel Dreessen 813 285 407 121 49.9%
Jacob Tamme 512 299 167 46 67.4%
Virgil Green 146 13 115 18 21.2%
Julius Thomas 2 0 2 0 0.0%
Total Snaps 1473 597 691 185  
Offense Total 1080        
TE per Snap 1.36        

They’re using 1.36 TEs per play, and 2.63 WR.  That means they’re using 1.01 RBs, which doesn’t surprise us.  When Stokley is on the field as the third WR, defenses tend to play nickel, no questions asked.  When Tamme is out there instead, different teams play it differently.

Personally, I’d err on the side of trying to play my best 11 defensive players.  If my third safety is a better player than my starting Sam LB, I’d use him.  Otherwise, I’d stay in base.  Either way, I’d know I have a problem to account for.

As for the question of whether Dreessen or Tamme is the primary TE, I think it’s an oversimplification to think about it in terms of a depth chart, and doing so can lead us down the path to misunderstanding.  Instead, we should start from a point of understanding that they don’t play the same position.

Dreessen is an inline two-way TE.  He’s a base guy, and he brings as much value blocking as he does as a receiver, maybe more.  If he got hurt, his snaps would be more likely to be absorbed by Virgil Green than by Tamme.  Dreessen’s plays are 50-50 run/pass, which shows the extent to which he’s a base player.

Tamme is more of a specialty player, like a big slot guy, as Manning said.  He lines up with his hand on the ground sometimes, but you don’t put him in the game and ask him to hook a defensive end, or drive a linebacker five yards off the ball.  He’s out there to run routes, or to block a defensive back if there’s an extra one on the field.  The Broncos throw the ball 67% of the time Tamme is out there.  (They have thrown on 57% of all plays, for the record.)

Manning told Legwold something useful, and he didn’t understand what he was told, for one reason or another.  Luckily, you have IAOFM, so you have access to some good football analysis.  Tell a friend, and have them tell another friend, and we’ll make a more knowledgeable Broncos fan base, one article at a time.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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