He navigated the introductions and national scrutiny so nimbly at the NFL owners meetings last March in Phoenix that people left curious about the Denver Broncos new head coach. A first-time NFL head coach, mind you, who in those Phoenix meetings looked so confident, so at ease in a spot where other first-timers often cringe and hesitate.
What did Vance Joseph know that we didn’t know?
And why should we have known more about Vance Joseph?
It was clear that this Louisiana-bred man who was a high school and college quarterback and an NFL defensive back had toiled to the top. Joseph, 44, played at the University of Colorado, then in 1995 for the Jets and in 1996 for the Colts. He coached for five years at the collegiate level. And for 12 seasons as an NFL defensive tactician for the 49ers, Texans, Bengals and Dolphins.
After the Broncos reached for him last January, Joseph explained: "My path has been the right path. I didn’t miss any steps. You need to understand more than just what. You need to understand why. The path I have traveled here has helped me to accomplish that."
The "what and the why" of Vance Joseph is off to a perfect win/loss start.
Joseph just coached in his sixth NFL game –- four in the preseason and two in the regular season. He has won them all, including the 42-17 trouncing of the Cowboys in Denver on Sunday.
There is a sense of clarity and purpose with the Broncos that happens for an NFL team when a head coach confidently places his winning imprint on the bunch. Sure, it is only two regular-season games, but I see some things here that look lasting for Joseph and for the Broncos:
The offense –- Vance Joseph and his staff have coaxed quarterback Trevor Siemian into playing a calm and perceptive brand of football. Siemian threw four touchdowns against the Cowboys, and the Denver running game (178 yards) mattered. The playmakers in this offense are making plays, especially running back C.J. Anderson (25 carries, 118 rushing yards) receivers Emmanuel Sanders (two touchdown receptions) and Demaryius Thomas (71 receiving yards).
The defense -– No NFL defense has solved the Cowboys brute offensive line and gliding tailback Ezekiel Elliott like Denver did. Dallas rushed for only 40 yards. Dak Prescott was intercepted twice. Elliott’s nine carries for 8 yards was his NFL-worst and cornerback Aquib Talib’s 103-yard interception return for a touchdown illustrated the Denver defense’s versatility. Not many defenses in the league can be so physical and yet so fleet.
The style, the message –- Joseph congratulated his team afterward for a flawless plan, outstanding effort, told them they would be tough to beat if they continued both and pushed them further, setting the table for more challenges and more success. It was the perfect blend for a big moment.
Joseph joined the Broncos talking about a reboot instead of a rebuild. This Denver defense last season was 28th versus the run. It’s been tweaked. And so has the Broncos mindset -– even a 62-minute weather delay due to a storm late in the first quarter did not throw them off track.
There is a certain truth to Joseph, a realness. He talks to his players about "being the master of your attitude" and "championship habits" and, most of all, "truth."
I don’t think there is a better way to reach, to touch, to maximize NFL players today than with "truth."
That is a rocky mountain to climb.
It looks like Vance Joseph is laying a foundation that will keep the Broncos climbing. Of the six new NFL head coaches, he is the lone one who is undefeated.
This is a team and coach worth watching the upcoming "whats" and the "whys".
One of the more interesting moments in Sunday’s games was a sideline meeting between Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his combustible tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce drew a taunting flag after a Chiefs’ score and Reid took a few moments to do some sideline, ahem, coaching of Kelce.
Kelce is one of a handful of NFL players who are explosive with explosive temperaments. And coaches for decades have tried to manage that type of fire without extinguishing the natural drive and desire of the player.
Kelce is rare. In the Chiefs 27-20 victory over the Eagles, he aligned inside and outside, was a successful third-down target, was a troublesome deep target, took a pitch run inside and blocked superbly in several instances in the running game.
This player led all tight ends in receiving yards last season.
But he has a hot head, a touch of hot dog and impulsive football personality, a fire that is sometimes better placed on ice.
How Reid figures out Kelce even more in the offense and even more so in these mind games will hugely impact Kansas City’s season.
Henry is the guy
I’ve always thought that Derrick Henry gave the Tennessee Titans the best chance to become what they want to be: a pounding, physical run offense that affects all facets of their approach. Maybe the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch doing just that to the Titans in their opener helped push the Titans to turn to Henry in a similar fashion.
Actually, it was a hamstring injury to starter DeMarco Murray that gave Henry a bigger role and a better shot on Sunday at the Jaguars. Henry rose, gaining a career-high 92 rushing yards in a 37-16 Titans victory.
It is his second Titans season. The Titans have been patient with him, pushing him to master the playbook, the art of NFL running backs compared with college ones, the pass protection musts, the consistent physical approach and desire acquired.
I think, simply, the more you play him, the better he gets.
Some lessons are best learned with more opportunity.
His 17-yard touchdown run where he mangled Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey was an eye-opener.
"I just wanted him to make him feel me," Henry said. "As a running back, you always want to be physical."
For the Titans, this is their game. Their identity.
More Henry builds that.