When the Broncos take on the Raiders, several jobs should be on the line

Oct 14, 2021, 9:24 AM
Vic Fangio...
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

NFL folks like to throw around cliches. One of their favorites is used to explain away personnel changes.

“It’s a results-oriented business,” they say when players are benched and coaches are fired. The translation is simple: It’s all about wins and losses.

If that’s truly the case, then Sunday’s game against the Raiders is big for a lot of people associated with the Broncos. Because if everyone is being honest, the results in Denver haven’t been good enough for a long time.

Vic Fangio is 15-22 as the Broncos head coach. He’s posted records of 7-9 and 5-11 during his two full seasons, while sitting at 3-2 so far this year.

That may seem like good news, but a loss to the Raiders would tarnish that number. Not only would it drop Denver to .500, but it would erase their 3-0 start. And it would put them behind the eight ball with the toughest part of their schedule in front of them.

The Broncos travel to Cleveland to play the Browns next Thursday. They play the Cowboys in Dallas on Nov. 7. And after their bye, they have two games against both the Chiefs and Chargers, plus a trip to Las Vegas to play the Raiders.

In other words, there are a lot of gimmes on the horizon. Barring upsets, Denver will be on track for another losing season, which would be their fifth consecutive.

Given Fangio’s record against good teams during his tenure, beating someone they’re no expected to beat seems unlikely. Those kinds of wins have escaped the head coach in Denver.

Plus, the optics of a loss on Sunday would be bad. Really bad.

The Raiders are reeling right now. Their head coach resigned in disgrace on Monday, leaving them scrambling for leadership. Rich Bisaccia is replacing Jon Gruden on an interim basis.

If Fangio and his staff get out-coached by what many view as a “coach-less” team, that’ll speak volumes. It’ll be a sign that the Broncos would be better off with almost anyone else at the helm.

That argument can already be made. Lose to the Raiders on Sunday and it’s almost impossible to argue.

But it’s not just Fangio whose job is on the line this weekend. His quarterback is also on the hot seat.

Teddy Bridgewater has been fine as the Broncos starter. During the first five games of the season, the quarterback is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, while throwing seven touchdowns to just one interception.

Nonetheless, Denver’s offense is sputtering, especially early in games. So far this season, the Broncos have scored a grand total of 13 points in the first quarter. They haven’t scored on their opening drive all year. That’s not totally on Bridgewater, but he’s certainly a part of the issue.

The bigger reason the quarterback’s job is on the line, however, is the trajectory of the season. If the Broncos fall to 3-3, the rationale for playing the veteran starts to fade.

In part, Bridgewater won the job over Drew Lock because he gave the Broncos the “best chance to win” this season. As losses pile up, that becomes less apparent. It also begs the question: Win what?

If Denver isn’t on track for a winning season, if they aren’t a viable playoff team, it makes zero sense to play a quarterback who isn’t the long-term answer. And if Bridgewater can’t get the Broncos to the postseason, he won’t be back in 2022.

That being the case, it would make sense for the team to go back to Lock. They might as well spend the final 11 games of the season getting their young quarterback experience.

If Lock plays well, then they have their answer for next season. If he doesn’t, then they’re in a better position to draft his replacement.

The worst-case scenario is to play Bridgewater, finish 8-9 and be stuck in no man’s land. The Broncos would’ve failed to make the playoffs, failed to get Lock experience and failed to put themselves in the best possible draft position.

That’d be a wasted season. And a loss to the Raiders puts that possibility in play.

Which leads to the final person who has a lot at stake on Sunday. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is on the hot seat, as well.

Currently, the Broncos haven’t scored a point on their opening drive in 24 consecutive games. The last 21 of those have come under Shurmur. He’s 0-for-21 since taking over as the Broncos OC. That’s worse than Nolan Arenado’s postseason batting average.

But the offensive woes don’t end there. Last Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Broncos had one first down at the two-minute warning of the first half. One. They also had scored six points through three quarters, on the heels of posting just seven against the Ravens.

In today’s NFL, putting 13 points on the board in seven quarters of play isn’t going to cut it. A furious, fourth-quarter rally doesn’t erase that fact.

If the Broncos continue their offensive struggles on Sunday, the calls for Shurmur’s job will intensify. It’ll be hard for the team to ignore them.

That’s why Sunday is a double-edged sword for Denver. Yes, it’s a very winnable game on paper, looking like just what the doctor ordered on the heels of back-to-back losses. But that also makes it a “must win,” as a loss would be difficult for many within the organization to recover.

Vic Fangio, Pat Shurmur and Teddy Bridgewater have a lot at stake when the Raiders roll into town. Their futures with the Broncos are on the line.

If they aren’t, then the team isn’t living up to the standard set in the NFL. In a trulu result-oriented business, a loss to Las Vegas would have consequences.


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When the Broncos take on the Raiders, several jobs should be on the line