The Denver Broncos had a date with the Cleveland Browns in a cold and wet Dawg Pound on Thursday Night Football. Both teams entered the game with a .500 record with hopes of staying alive in their respective divisions.
Most of Broncos Country has been clamoring for the early dismissal of head coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. With good reason, as the same problems have persisted on the field week after week, sending Denver to the losing column once again.
From mismanaging the clock, to irresponsible coaching challenges and reckless decision-making, Fangio continues to flutter as the Broncos' head man. No, Fangio won’t be left in Cleveland to fend for himself, but these Broncos are unquestionably broken.
The mantra that has been echoed ad nauseam from this coaching staff has become beyond stale. In the final analysis, the Browns snapped their two-game losing streak with a 17-14 win on Thursday while Denver hit a four-game slide with ex-Bronco Case Keenum exacting his revenge against his former team.
Let's talk takeaways.
Better Late than Never, Shelby
Last spring, the Broncos re-signed defensive lineman Shelby Harris to a three-year, $27 million contract. The 30-year-old fan-favorite inked a deal that guarantees him $15 million with a $9 million signing bonus. But for the first frame of the 2021 regular season, Harris was relatively quiet in the trenches.
Headed into Week 7's primetime matchup with the Browns, Harris had logged 19 tackles (nine solo), three QB hits, and one sack. When Denver needed CPR in the first half in Cleveland as the team was getting shut out, Harris made his TNF appearance.
The Browns attempted a 41-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter that was blocked by Harris. On the same drive a few plays earlier, he recorded his second sack of the season.
In addition to making two huge plays for Fangio’s defense, Harris consistently fought multiple offensive linemen to clog up the lanes for the NFL’s leading rushing team. The argument could be made that the Wisconsin native’s performance against the Browns was one of the only silver linings to the same familiar loss to fans.
In addition to the blocked field goal, Harris finished the night with three tackles and a sack in front of a rowdy Browns crowd. Sacks and nasty hits from the defensive line are always welcomed but Fangio’s defense is practically on life support.
If Harris is literally denying points to opponents, who are we to argue with that?
Fangio’s Player-Safety Pearl-Clutching is Insincere
A quarterback playing hurt in the NFL is nothing new to fans, coaches, or players. But when Teddy Bridgewater has been hobbling along in front of the media all week and is thrown to the dogs (pun intended), that's a problem. Was Fangio so desperate for a win that a 50-percent healthy (at best) Teddy outweighed a 100% and able Drew Lock?
The entire point of the backup QB is to provide a band-aid solution when teams are in a bind. Just ask Cleveland, who benched an injured Baker Mayfield for Keenum, who had his way with his old team. The journeyman Keenum squared off against his former teammate as both he and Bridgewater played for Shurmur in Minnesota.
The Browns' expensive $18 million backup QB was the ultimate insurance policy and led his team to victory and kept their season alive. Meanwhile, Fangio, who publicly blasted Ravens head coach John Harbaugh for a lack of player safety in ‘kneel gate’ a few weeks ago, was more than satisfied with putting Bridgewater in harm's way.
In that same Week 4 matchup with Baltimore, Teddy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. However, the Denver coaching staff rushed him back into the starting lineup just seven days later for the road game in Pittsburgh.
This week, Fangio elected to start a team captain that was battered after being hit a whopping 17 times by the Las Vegas Raiders. But that’s no big deal right? I mean, forcing an injured player at the most important position in all of pro sports to play two games in five days is no big deal.
Bridgewater literally limped through the entire game, finishing 23-of-33 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns with one bad interception that cost the Broncos points. It was blatantly obvious that Fangio and Shurmur are on the hot seat. And while the defensive ‘guru’ has never seemingly cared about the offense, to have such blatant disregard for a man’s safety, who’s previously suffered significant lower-body injuries, is simply unacceptable.
Some teams will run through a brick wall for their head coach, but it feels like the Broncos are instead willing to build one to protect themselves from Fangio.
Gordon Playing for New Contract, New Team
The Broncos' offense under the guidance of Shurmur continued to plummet into NFL purgatory on TNF. And as a result, one of the most effective players from this game won’t be on the team next year.
Running back Melvin Gordon, who’s been mostly splitting touches with rookie RB Javonte Williams, has been a pleasant surprise this season. I previously reported that Gordon appeared to be quicker and stronger in training camp, and his play through seven weeks backs up the early assessment.
Midway through the third quarter of what felt like a much larger deficit, the seventh-year veteran caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater on a phenomenal diving effort. However, Gordon concluded the game with just eight rushes for 18 yards and two receptions on three targets.
While his stats didn’t win anyone fantasy football points, Gordon was heavily leaned on this game. In addition to his strong and tough running, he has yet to turn the ball over this season, which has previously plagued his career.
The former Pro Bowler entered the game with 70 rushing attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Shurmur has previously expressed interest in even carries with Gordon and his rookie teammate, who’s the future lead-back of this franchise.
Some would argue that Williams is already the better of the two despite his rookie snafus. Still, Gordon has produced a solid season as an aging running back in a receiver-friendly league.
It’s extremely unlikely that the 2015 first-rounder out of Wisconsin will be retained next season. In March of 2020, then-GM John Elway signed the former L.A. Charger to a two-year, $16 million contract.
Gordon had a rough first year as a co-starter alongside Phillip Lindsay. Then last spring, new GM George Paton traded up in the draft to select Williams, signaling the future lies in the youthful former North Carolina Tarheel.
So, Broncos Country, rejoice when Gordon scores a touchdown because that’s a rarity for Shurmur’s offense. Just don’t go buying ‘Flash Gordon’ jerseys.
Then again, how many fans are buying Broncos jerseys this season?
Follow Luke on Twitter @LukePattersonLP.
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