ENGLEWOOD • Josh McDaniels isn’t saying first and second down don’t matter. He just doesn’t think games are won and lost on those plays.
Listen to the Denver Broncos coach long enough and you’ll hear the term “situational football.” His players now parrot the saying after hearing it so often. Tonight, the Broncos will be prepared for almost any scenario against San Diego.
Situational football is from the school of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The basic philosophy is the Broncos want to execute perfectly in specific, important situations such as third down, short-yardage, inside the 20-yard line and the final 2 minutes of each half.
“Other teams I’ve been on, we haven’t practiced situational football like we do here,” said Broncos defensive end Vonnie Holliday, who is in his 12th season.
McDaniels’ definition of situational football is plays or series that determine possession (such as converting a third down into a first down, or getting a stop on defense) or scoring points inside the red zone, where a mistake can be the difference between a touchdown and field goal.
Not executing well in important situations draws McDaniels’ ire. Against New England, the Broncos drew two penalties while the Patriots were punting, which resulted in first downs. Television cameras caught McDaniels screaming at Broncos special teams coach Mike Priefer on the sideline.
“You can play good football, lose the situations and lose the game,” McDaniels said. “You can play mediocre football, win the situations and win the game. There’s no doubt those situational plays and the things over the course of four quarters that determine possession and points impact the game and the result more dramatically than the other things do.”
The preparation has shown up in one pretty amazing statistic: The Broncos haven’t allowed an opponent to convert a third down after halftime in three straight games. That hasn’t happened in the NFL in 17 years, according to the team.
The Broncos go through more than basics. Through the offseason, training camp and in-season practice, many unusual situations are brought up. Holliday used one example: The team has practiced what to do if a field goal is blocked and the ball lands behind the line of scrimmage.
“We’re prepared for all situations, things you don’t think about,” Holliday said.
If an odd situation happens during the season, McDaniels hopes his players have seen it at least once.
“You can’t go over every single thing every single week,” McDaniels said. “Hopefully we’ve built up enough of a library with our players that they know what to do when those situations come up.”
Players have bought into it. Cornerback Champ Bailey said McDaniels has his team “as prepared as you can be” for a game, something he hasn’t seen that much in his 11 seasons.
“Whatever they like to do, just understanding the situation to not be surprised and being ready for them to be able to stand up to the task,” Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said, defining situational football.
The Broncos spend plenty of practice time on specific situations, and have been successful in many of them. That might be a reason Denver is 5-0.
“It’s worth wins and losses, so you have to spend a lot of time on it,” McDaniels said.
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