The Broncos biggest issue is a massively underperforming defense
The Denver Broncos just suffered one of the most-deflating, unimaginable and inexcusable losses in the history of the franchise. The Las Vegas Raiders came into Empower Field at Mile High and dominated to Broncos for 60 consecutive minutes, dumping a bucket of cold water onto Mike Shanahan’s induction into the Ring of Fame.
The game marked the third consecutive double-digit loss, dropping the Broncos to 3-3 on the season and effectively wiping out any and all positive momentum built up during the soft 3-0 start.
Adding insult to injury, the most painful realization during this three-game skid has been the fact that the Broncos defense has completely imploded statistically. Contrary to what Vic Fangio will tell you, the defense, which boasts one of the highest payroll figures in the league, has been a massive disappointment.
In the first three weeks of the season, Fangio’s crew looked primed to be one of the best units in all of football. Against the Giants, Jets and Jaguars, the Broncos’ defense boasted:
• 26 combined points
• 178 rushing yards (one touchdown)
• 545 passing yards (two touchdowns)
• Five forced turnovers
In the three games since, things have looked drastically different. Against the Ravens, Steelers and Raiders, who many would argue are “legitimate” competition compared to the first three opponents, the Broncos defense has been torched to the tune of:
• 84 combined points
• 336 rushing yards (four touchdowns)
• 910 passing yards (five touchdowns)
• One forced turnover
Let me phrase that another way: the Broncos defense has officially devolved into the “Burger King” defense. Do you want to air it out? Go for it. Feel like running it down their throats? No problem. Because, with the Broncos defense, you can “have it your way.”
The fact that the last three opponents have all averaged more than 300 yards through the air and 100 yards on the ground is certainly evidence of that.
As if all of that wasn’t hard enough to swallow, Fangio stepped up to the podium after being thrashed at home by a team with a special teams coordinator serving as interim head coach and completely deflected responsibility for the lopsided loss.
“We need to be a balanced offense to be an effective team,” Fangio said.
He referred to the majority of the offense’s yards as “hollow”, because, in his eyes, they were gained while the team faced more than a two-score deficit and things were out of reach.
Let’s analyze that for a second.
First off, the offense started out in a hole because the defense gave up a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the first three minutes of the game. It was the third big-play, opening-drive touchdown they had allowed in the last five games.
Secondly, it was a 10-7 game in the final minute of the first half until the defense gave up a five-play, 82-yard scoring drive that took just 31 seconds and ended with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Kenyan Drake. It was one of seven plays of 25-plus yards that the defense surrendered during the game. Seven!
Pat Shurmur and the Broncos’ offense are not without fault, and certainly have plenty to reflect on after a game in which they allowed 17 quarterback hits and turned the ball over four times. But, given the drastic regression we’ve seen from the Broncos defense in recent weeks, Fangio is the last person who should be casting a stone.
The offense didn’t allow an average of four touchdowns and 400 yards of total offense in the last three weeks. The defense did. The offense doesn’t have roughly $98 million allocated toward it. The defense does. The offense wasn’t billed as a top-five unit in all of football for the majority of the offseason. The defense was.
Let’s also not forget that the team’s philosophical approach since Fangio was hired has been to lean on a talented defense to keep them in games and help compensate for limited offensive production.
The “evil genius,” as dubbed by Khalil Mack, was supposed to help bring this defense back to the level of play that won them a Super Bowl. And to help him do so, new general manager George Paton spared no expense to make sure he had all of the tools he would need.
Von Miller’s $17.5 million option was picked up. Justin Simmons became the highest-paid safety in the NFL for a time, Kareem Jackson was brought back, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller were acquired at a premium, and Pat Surtain was drafted ninth-overall in the offseason with Justin Fields and Mac Jones still on the board.
Yet it appears that at virtually every turn, Fangio is pointing the finger somewhere else. From explaining away his litany of questionable game-management decisions, which surfaced again yesterday, to glossing over the defense’s failures and focusing on issues elsewhere, Fangio has largely failed to take responsibility for anything since he’s been hired as head coach.
The only thing worse than someone who is underperforming at work is someone who is underperforming at work and also has no accountability for their shortcomings. A leader who constantly blames those who work beneath him isn’t really a leader at all.
Don’t get things twisted. The root of the Broncos problems this season has been the lack of production from an overpriced and overrated defensive unit and an absence of accountability and direction from the head coach in charge of leading them.