The last article I wrote, I asked the question ‘who are the 2017 Denver Broncos?’ After impressive victories to start the season, we were met with error prone losses. At the time, I mentioned how we would go in either two directions. We would either rediscover the good early season form or our win-loss record would nose dive quickly. And we all know how that turned out.
Sadly it’s not even Thanksgiving and we’re effectively out of the playoff race. Stats on NFL.com show the Broncos have an 8.7% chance of reaching the post-season. I think that’s being generous in all honesty. Sitting with a 3-7 record and the losses are piling up and our team is making history for all the wrong reasons. Considering we’re only 2 years removed from a Super Bowl championship. That is some turnaround. The manner of the defeats is what I suspect is hurting us the most. In our losses, a lot of the game look over or at least out of reach by 3rd quarter. Even the points we do manage to put on the board look to be garbage time points, stat peddling as our opponents opt to play relaxed coverage with the game all but over. We’ve even seen back-up quarterbacks being trotted out to see out remainder of games for the opposition. That’s sickening to see and emphasizes how out matched we are,. That applies to both players and coaches.
We’re at the stage now were perhaps getting ourselves a top 5 pick in the 2018 draft is wise for the long term aspirations of our proud franchise. People are even suggesting we tank the rest of the season to get ourselves a high enough draft pick to grab ourselves an immediate impactful starter. I can almost understand that train of thought but can it at least wait a week? We play the Raiders this week. We shouldn’t tank this week, we ought to tank them! I can’t bring myself to being somewhat accepting of a defeat to those damn Raiders. Also with the news Paxton Lynch is now starting, the ideal scenario is he shows enough promise to be our franchise QB. So for that to happen, he will likely need wrack up a couple of wins. So let’s hold off tanking just yet.
The next question we all need to ask is how have things gotten so bad so quickly? The cracks started to appear even during our Super Bowl winning season. Our offensive line was brutal and has been for over 2 years despite several attempts to fix it. The reason we overcame that was two-fold. Firstly and most obviously was because our defense was playing at such an elite level. They got us to the playoffs. With Manning out injured, Osweiler done enough to let our defense win the game. In the regular season finale against the Chargers, our offense nearly dropped us from potential number 1 seed all the way down to a wild card. A total of five turnovers nearly saw Broncos throw it away. Had things continued that way and we dropped into the wild card round, there is good reason to think we might have gone ‘one and done’ in the playoffs. Our offense needed a spark, enter the second reason how we overcame a poor offensive line to win a championship; Peyton Manning. Whilst his physical attributes were clearly declining, his superior knowledge in orchestrating an offense, his ability to read a defense and align his offensive line into the correct protection turned a poor offensive line into somewhat average. It was enough of an upgrade offensively to allow our defense to take over games. We rode that wave all the way to a Super Bowl championship.
On 7th March 2016, Manning, as expected rode off into the sunset as a Super Bowl champion. And since then, a whole 21 months later, we’re still looking for an answer at QB. John Elway’s answers for both the quarterback and fixing our offensive line both failed. When Osweiler chased the money to Houston, he opted against making a trade for Colin Kaepernick in favour of a 3 way QB battle between a cheap error prone veteran, an unknown 7th round pick in his 2nd NFL year and a highly invested 1st round pick. The cheap vet Mark Sanchez was never going to work out, he was a training camp/pre-season arm at best. The unknown 7th round pick Trevor Siemian in reality was hoped to be back up to the big 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. Various scouts said Lynch was a 2-3 year development project yet Elway essentially opted for a back-up calibre QB to lead us into the 2016 season. Elway’s big free agent pick-ups to aid the offensive line quickly looked an expensive mistake. Okung and Stephenson at both tackle positions were undisciplined and over powered. Effectively making most additions to the 2016 roster no better than back up calibre at their respective positions. The line couldn’t open any holes for the running game, couldn’t pass protect and Siemian was left in a precarious position carrying an offense he wasn’t experienced enough or talented enough to carry. We had no QB on the roster to help overcome any offensive efficiencies and soon realised how hard it is to find a good starting quarterback in the National Football League. Last season, when it became clear Siemian couldn’t elevate the offense, we really should have thrown in Lynch, at least get him some reps. With his mobility alone, at least he could extend plays where Siemian couldn’t do due to the poor pass protection. He might have been in a better position to challenge Siemian for the starting role going into 2017.
Going into this season, clearly the o-line was the biggest need of improvement. We also needed to find out once and for all the situation at quarterback going forward. Elway firstly focused on the draft to help the offensive line. He got the pick correct in my opinion. I’ve been impressed with Bolles, very tough and holds up well in protection. Only criticism I would have is some holding penalties. But we can learn to live with that on a rookie. I got no worries about him developing further. Elway went free agency again to combat the opposite tackle position but I’m afraid he got this one wrong too. Menelik Watson whilst has helped on the run game, pass protection is a big concern. So is his health. Raiders let him go due to injury concerns and I always did question why we gave a 3 year deal to an injury prone player. It should have been a one year, prove it deal with huge incentives. Personally I think Elway offered this deal as he got a little desperate due to the free agency market for the offensive linemen starting to dry up a bit. Ron Leary on the other hand, was a successful signing for the offensive line. Whilst there has been a little improvement on the line. It’s only been shown in running game sporadically. The pass protection hasn’t improved to fully expect any QB to have any time. Our right side has consisted poor play all season. Our starting tackle being injured and a guard pushed to play tackle in his absence. There is much more work needed in order to improve this line.
As far as quarterback goes. It is a little concerning Lynch didn’t put up more of a challenge to Siemian at training camp. But we were told he might need a year or two to acclimatise to NFL offenses and develop into a franchise QB. So passing up a good veteran the year prior came back to haunt Denver once again. However as luck would have it, injury subsequently hampered Lynch’s chances. His injury meant we even seen the return of Brock Osweiler. A player who returned to Denver a shadow of himself since the last time we seen him in a Broncos uniform. With our quarterback position unclear, it was almost criminal for our offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to allegedly over complicate play calling and the system in general. Any development of our quarterbacks have evidently been hampered, this may apply more to Paxton Lynch as he was expected to win the quarterback job during training camp. McCoy has paid for it with his job and ultimately the Broncos still haven’t got an answer to the biggest issues going into the 2017 season. Offensive line still needs further work and we’re no clearer on our quarterback. The season has spiralled, and we may have even have added another issue to that list, the coaching. I’ve already touched on Mike McCoy losing his job. Head coach Vance Joseph, only midseason into his first head coaching job is not showing signs of being head of the regime to take our team forward. In any sport, I always believe the coaches need time. Only giving a coach one season for me is very harsh. But the signs don’t look good. The team play undisciplined, sloppy football. Lots of penalties and poor execution particularly on offense and special teams. Now with McCoy losing his job and special teams under Brock Olivio not looking very special throughout the year. Could Olivio be the next to go? I will give Vance the benefit of the doubt for now. Perhaps he is being let down big time by his coordinators. At this stage, I hope that is/was the case and we turn this round.
Amongst the coaching controversy, our QB quandary continues to develop and we may have an answer on that before the season is out. With 21 starts under his belt, I think it’s safe to say Siemian has had a good run at trying to establish himself as ‘the’ Denver Broncos quarterback. Perhaps it was a couple of games too many for Siemian. His confidence got so low it may have even affected his long term future as a back-up QB in the league, whether that be in Denver or elsewhere. Brock Osweiler is in the same boat. Excuse the pun, but with both Siemain and Osweiler, that ship has sailed. Both guys are no more than serviceable back-ups in the NFL. Now Lynch, seemingly over his injury finally gets his shot. Its perhaps overdue but nonetheless Lynch has the chance now. Vance Joseph and the coaching staff need to keep Lynch in for rest of the season. Let him makes his mistakes now when the season is lost anyway. If Lynch shows enough promise, we may go forward with him and focus our efforts on fixing the offensive line and elsewhere. That’s the ideal scenario for us. If Lynch doesn’t show up well, the only other alternative I see happening is Elway makes a play for someone like Kirk Cousins. We need a reliable starting quarterback for 2018, we’re no longer in a position to wait on a quarterback developing on the field. We’ve had two years of that. We need to have a solid starting QB and any developing quarterback needs to battle for the back-up job. That guy may well be Chad Kelly who has effectively been red shirted for his rookie season. That’s why I can’t see us drafting a QB even if we do have a top 5 pick in the draft.
With Lynch now getting his opportunity, I think our remaining games now have a little intrigue for us as fans. Without that intrigue, the remaining games certainly had a bit of dread about them. Watching them would almost feel like a household chore. Hate doing them but they need done. Don’t get me wrong, I still think we will struggle to get 5 or 6 wins at best. But at least we’re finally getting a proper look at the future franchise quarterback of our team. So at least the remainder of 2017 is somewhat watchable in Broncos Country.