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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. The Denver Broncos’ search for a quarterback in the post-Peyton Manning era has been a costly affair.
Expensive in a record that has leaned firmly against a growing pile of losses, costly in the erosion of any kind of patience among the team’s faithful and costly for the head coach.
Sunday morning, Vic Fangio became the second Broncos coach to be fired in the past four years because the offense was too stubborn, too lukewarm and too big an issue. The Broncos have lost five of their last six games and scored 13 or fewer points in four of those losses to go from the wildcard chase to out of the playoffs for the sixth season in a row.
The insecure quarterback and inability to match the starter with the playbook could be seen almost as soon as Gary Kubiak – who helped the Broncos win the Super Bowl 50 – walked away due to health reasons following the Broncos’ 9-7 finish in 2016. was last season, Denver finished with a winning record.
The Broncos lost four of their last six games that year, scoring 10 or fewer points in three of their last four games. Vance Joseph fired an offensive coordinator during his first season (2017) and was even fired after the 2018 season.
Fangio fired an offensive coordinator after his first season (2019) and has now been fired two seasons later with the same problems of staring the Broncos in the face. If it feels familiar, it’s: The Broncos’ strategy of replacing coaches until they get the quarterback question answered goes into its third edition.
The numbers are well worn at this point. There have been 10 different starting quarterbacks since midway through the 2016 season – 11 if you count running back Phillip Lindsay, who started the 2020 game against the Saints where all three of Denver’s quarterbacks were out due to COVID-19 issues – – and the team has not averaged more than 23 points in a match since 2014.
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They have tried the trade / free agency market with Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater. They have tried premium draft picks with Paxton Lynch in the first round (2016) and Drew Lock in the second round (2019).
They have tried to pick Trevor Siemian in the late round (seventh round in 2015). They have tried training camp competitions and mid-season flip-flops.
They have tried to build and maintain a defense that is good enough to have been No. 1 in scoring defense with three weeks left this season. (The Broncos are likely to be No. 3 when the games end on Sunday.) They have tried first-time head coaches with defensive backgrounds in Joseph and Fangio.
They have also repeatedly tried to play offensive plans, which they did not block very well. They have tried to keep bridging the gap between “playoff teams” and “close” or “right there.”
The flimsy nature of it all was demonstrated by the 2015 Broncos. The team that won the Super Bowl 50 scored only 20 more points than this in 16 games (1.2 points more per game). The 2015 Broncos won nine games in the regular season by seven or fewer points with a generational defense.
They have had defenses that were good at times over the last six years, even very good at times, but never repeated the close match, great momentary performances from the 2015 group. As a result, several close fights escaped, in between an ugly round or three, with a foul that did not help.
General manager George Paton issued a statement Sunday morning similar to those John Elway made before him.
Paton said in part, “Our quest to find the next head coach for the Broncos will be a comprehensive collaborative process. We approach it with an open mind and look forward to spending time with some excellent candidates. With the foundation in place, the progress that ” is done, and the resources we have to get better, I’m excited about the future of our team. We want to find an excellent leader and head coach for the Broncos and our fans. ”
If Paton chooses another Broncos coach with a defensive background, he should have a PowerPoint presentation clear on how he envisions the attack. And if Paton chooses a first-time player, he should be ready to explain why he will be different.
And if he chooses an offensive wizard, he should be ready to explain how the team will cover the inevitable step back in defense. It comes with the job and it will all be asked of Paton in the coming weeks when he presents the next guy in line.
The bottom line: The next person on the job will not do much better than the previous two if they do not match a quarterback with an offensive playbook that matches the rest of the players on the depth chart.
If they do not, they can just keep the statement they issued Sunday morning at hand, because they will need it again in two or three years.