The Denver Broncos’ 2-0 start to the season is a distant memory. In four consecutive losses, the Broncos have looked like a candidate for the title of “worst team in the NFL.”
The offense is No. 26 in points scored due largely to the fact that prized free agent acquisition Case Keenum has been awful with a league-leading eight interceptions through six games. The defense has been even worse in October, giving up 219 rushing yards to the Jets’ Isaiah Crowell and 208 rushing yards to the Rams’ Todd Gurley in consecutive weeks.
Vance Joseph looks like the coach likeliest to get fired first this season, while the man who constructed the entire disaster, John Elway, has been quick to point the finger at everyone except himself.
“We’ve got to change some things and things have to change this week,” Elway said, via NFL.com. “Our veterans have to play better, coaches have to coach better. On short week it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how physically how you feel. We got to go into Arizona on Thursday night fighting for our lives cause that’s what we are.”
Those comments came two days after he called out the Broncos defense.
“We’ve (gotten) very soft in there,” Elway told the Denver Post. “To give up the amount of yardage the last two weeks has been tough. We’re not playing very well inside.”
Elway, 58, is a legend in Denver, where he played quarterback at a Hall of Fame level for 16 years. He won two Super Bowls as a player, then when he took over as general manager in 2011, he constructed a roster that won Super Bowl 50.
His list of accomplishments mean he has a long leash and plenty of room for error — of which he’s made plenty lately.
The Broncos’ problems are bigger than a lack of effort
The glaring issue for Denver during Elway’s tenure has been an inability to find a quarterback to succeed Peyton Manning. In his first couple of years on the job, Elway used the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft to pick Von Miller and then a year later, convinced free agent Manning to sign with the Broncos.
While Manning instantly turned Denver into an explosive offense, Miller became a building block for a defense that continued to add talent until it became an elite unit.
But when Manning declined and then retired, Elway failed to find his replacement. He used a first-round pick on Paxton Lynch, a second-round pick on Brock Osweiler, and seventh-round flyers on Zac Dysert, Trevor Siemian, and Chad Kelly. Only Kelly remains on the team. Unless he continues his unlikely climb and becomes a franchise quarterback, that’s a lot of draft picks gone to waste.
With consistently poor quarterback play since Manning’s departure, the Broncos have sat in mediocrity. Elway tried the free agent route again this offseason, giving Keenum a two-year, $36 million contract. But that was risky, too. Keenum was coming off his best season yet in his lone year with the Minnesota Vikings, but his journeyman career didn’t suggest he could maintain that level of play.
And with resources devoted to fixing the offensive issues, the defense has wilted.
DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, and T.J. Ward are all gone, and the Broncos are still trying to fill their void. Maybe Bradley Chubb will live up to the potential that made him a top five-pick, but first-round picks Shane Ray and Bradley Roby haven’t played anywhere near the level of the Pro Bowlers they replaced.
Defensive end DeMarcus Walker was a second-round pick in 2017 and he’s been a healthy scratch every game so far in his second season.
With such bad roster building on that side of the ball, it’s no wonder the Broncos defense has gone soft.
Why is Vance Joseph still around?
The Broncos hired Joseph as head coach after he spent the 2016 season as defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins — his first coordinator job. In his only season in Miami, the team was No. 29 in total defense and the Dolphins got bounced in the Wild Card Round with a 30-12 loss to the Steelers.
What exactly Elway saw that led him to believe that Joseph was ready to man an entire coaching staff is a mystery.
According to Dolphins coach Adam Gase, it was Joseph’s “alpha-type personality” and the fact “he demands a lot from players and they give him everything he has.” But in his first season with the Broncos, Joseph had to field questions about whether or not his team was quitting.
“I don’t believe that at all,” Joseph said after a 35-9 loss to the Dolphins, an eighth straight loss, at the time. “If you watch our football games, I always watch last five to 10 plays, I show the guys those plays, I show the guys flying around, that’s proof that guys are still playing to win. ... The guys we put on the field are trying to win football games and no one has given up.”
The Broncos finished the year 5-11 and — for some reason — Joseph was retained:
Vance and I had a great talk this morning about our plan to attack this offseason and get better as a team. We believe in Vance as our head coach. Together, we'll put in the work to improve in all areas and win in 2018.— John Elway (@johnelway) January 1, 2018
So isn’t Elway the only one to blame when he opted not to make a change and is now getting the same exact result? Just a month into the 2018 season, the team is back to losing and it again looks like the team is quitting.
Elway built all of this.
He inherited some pieces from his predecessor Brian Xanders, but Elway did the rest and built a Super Bowl-winning roster full of excellent free agent acquisitions. But if he gets the credit for all of that, he deserves the blame for what the Broncos are now.
They’re a 2-4 team that averages just 20 points per game and is No. 27 in yards allowed on defense. A Thursday Night Football matchup with the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals could be a chance to bounce back. Von Miller is confident that’ll happen.
If he’s wrong, Thursday could be the rock bottom that ends Joseph’s tenure. If that happens, there will nobody else to blame for the Broncos’ failures except Elway.