Sunday was the latest example that the Broncos are a poorly coached team
They were called for a delay of game penalty on their first offensive play. There were a lot of things to be concerned about in the Broncos 24-19 loss to the Steelers on Sunday, but that bit of ineptitude was atop the list.
If there was ever a moment that summarized the Vic Fangio era in Denver, that was it. Being unable to snap the ball before the play clock hit :00, when it’s something that you’ve worked on all week and knew was coming, is the very definition of being unprepared. That’s the biggest takeaway from the Broncos second loss of the season.
Never mind the inept offense, one that had generated just one first down by the two-minute warning of the first half. Never mind the colossally bad special teams, a group that turned a made field goal into an eventual touchdown for Pittsburgh with a boneheaded penalty. And never mind the ineffective defense, a high-priced unit that made Ben Roethlisberger look 10 years younger.
Those things were bad. They’re all indicative of what currently ails the Broncos. But they’re all a byproduct of the team’s biggest issue.
Denver is a poorly coached football team.
This is nothing new. The Broncos were 12-20 during their first two seasons under Fangio, a stretch that provided example after example of how the head coach wasn’t right for the job.
Nonetheless, Denver brought him back for year No. 3. Despite a 5-11 campaign in 2020, they gave Fangio another shot.
The hope was that he would learn from his mistakes. The rationale was that he would improve with time.
It was a foolish plan. It was an idea that had one fatal flaw.
In order to grow, someone first has to be willing to admit that they screwed up. In order to apply the lessons that comes from failure, admitting that a blunder occurred has to happen.
That’s something Fangio has been unwilling to do. Ever.
He didn’t botch the timeout situation in a season-opening loss last season. He didn’t bail the Raiders out in the season finale. He didn’t fail to hold late leads against pedestrian quarterbacks.
In Fangio’s mind, he always handled things perfectly. The players and coaches around him simply didn’t execute properly.
So it should be no surprise that the Broncos continue to suffer through losses for the exact same reasons. The “I’d do it the same way” attitude of their head coach in the wake of miscues is one that leads to repeating the same problems over and over and over again.
That was readily apparent on Sunday, when Denver’s loss to Pittsburgh was eerily reminiscent of some many recent setbacks. The game unfolded like most of the 20 defeats they endured in 2019 and ’20 combined.
The Broncos offense couldn’t sustain drives or put points on the board. In the offseason, this was blamed on Drew Lock, as the quarterback was the only one in the organization who didn’t get the “COVID mulligan.” But Pat Shurmur’s attack is equally ineffective with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, as Denver was horrific for three-plus quarters against the Steelers.
The Broncos defense couldn’t dominate. Fangio is supposed to be a “defensive guru” and “evil genius,” which is why general manager George Paton gave him everything he needed in order to have a great defense this season. Denver’s high-priced group couldn’t slow down a Pittsburgh offense that had been sputtering all season, however, as Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns and Najee Harris racked up the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
And the Broncos special teams once again was dreadful. Despite making multiple roster moves with an eye on improving the third phase of the game, Tom McMahon’s group continues to struggle. This time, they didn’t give up a kickoff return for a touchdown or get a punt blocked. Instead, they were called for a 15-yard penalty on a made field goal attempt, a flag that allowed the Steelers to continue a drive that eventually ended in the end zone.
None of this was surprising. All of these problems have occurred in multiple games throughout the last few seasons.
They’re things that plague bad teams. They’re the issues that hang over poorly coached teams.
If there was ever a doubt that the Broncos fell into that second category, which should’ve been readily apparent to anyone paying attention the past 36 games, it evaporated on the opening play of the game. That moment erased all questions.
Every team in the NFL knows what play they’re going to open a game with more than 72 hours before kickoff. It’s set in stone, a scripted start to the contest.
But somehow, the Broncos still managed to not be ready to roll on their first offensive snap. Inexplicably, Denver was called for delay of game on a play that they knew they were going to run three days before they were tasked with doing so.
That doesn’t happen to NFL teams. It doesn’t happen in college. It doesn’t happen in high school. Heck, it doesn’t happen in youth football.
Every team, at almost every level, is able to execute the first play of the game. After that, when circumstances are unpredictable, things can go awry pretty quickly. But not on the first play. That’s the one controllable element, a calm before the chaos.
So when a team can’t do that right, it’s alarming. It’s a sign that they are mismanaged and unprepared. In other words, it’s a signal that they are poorly coached.
That’s the Broncos at the moment. They’re a team helmed by someone who isn’t up for the job. They’re a talent roster being wasted by a coaching staff that doesn’t know how to get the most out of them.
Sunday’s loss to the Steelers was just the latest sign. The Broncos are a poorly coached football team.