In the aftermath of the Denver Broncos' fourth straight loss, the team is searching for answers, especially when supposed strengths have so rapidly devolved into such glaring weaknesses. Despite the preseason hype that surrounded the Broncos' expensive defense, the unit's constant failings are threatening to derail the entire season.
Following Von Miller's second-quarter exit in Thursday night's 17-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Broncos were minus all four starting linebackers. However, such ready-made excuses are falling on deaf ears.
Post-game, head coach Vic Fangio insisted the Broncos still have the personnel to compensate for injuries but admitted they have to find the right recipe.
“We have to make it good enough," Fangio said on Thursday night. "We will find a way and find a formula to do that.”
Broncos Country is through with the under-performing defense coughing up damaging, long, sustained drives. Once again, an opponent’s opening possession drove the field for seven points and the injury-ravaged Browns never gave the ball back to Denver after Teddy Bridgewater's late-game spurt of production narrowed the margin to three points. With 5:17 left on the clock, the Browns protected that three-point lead by gashing the Broncos on the ground.
Fangio is becoming well versed in addressing the shortcomings of his defense but he seems powerless to prevent them.
“Very disappointing,” Fangio said. “You look at the final score of 17-14 and you are going to think that 17 points is good enough defensively, but we did not play good defense tonight. We let them drive it too much. Way too many third-and-ones. We just did not play well enough to win the game.”
Fangio's plan to forestall the Broncos' season from slipping into the sub.-500 doldrums includes a rather timid shot across the bow of his coaching staff.
“We have to rally. We have to overcome our injuries," Fangio said. "They can’t use them as excuses. We have to get back to playing better football as a team. Make more first downs, which will lead to touchdowns on offense. Play the run better on defense so that you do not get so many third-and-ones and third-and-twos. We just have to play better, and we have to coach better. I do not want to be remiss in saying that. We have to coach better, and we have got to adjust to what we have right now.”
Fans will know by 3 p.m. MDT on Monday whether Fangio intends to make any actual coaching changes beyond just stating the obvious need for improvements.
Two crucial defensive failures also combined to put the brakes on Bridgewater’s valiant attempts to orchestrate a late comeback. Whiffing on Case Keenum during his pivotal fourth-down scramble near the goal-line exposed in glaring contrast Denver's recurring failures in tackling technique. Cleveland’s final drive raises questions about the Broncos' overall heart for the battle.
“On the Keenum scramble, we were in a four-man rush,” Fangio detailed. “We were in good coverage. The rush just could not get there. The last drive was very frustrating. We were loaded up for the run and they blocked us and ran it. We could not stop them.”
Stating the obvious yet again will do little to appease Broncos Country, and most worryingly for Fangio, the fans are now demanding radical changes to the coaching staff in ever-increasing numbers. Post-game, Bridgewater stressed the importance of the locker room sticking together, and in particular, not just pointing the finger at the failing defensive unit.
“Honestly, we’ve got so much faith in our defense. Those guys work extremely hard stopping the run and playing the pass and different things,” Bridgewater said. “Today was just one of those games where things rolled for Cleveland.”
Stopping the bleeding feels like it’s going to require a lot more soul searching and mirror-gazing than is currently on display at Broncos HQ, and soft-soaping the situation is just not cutting the mustard.
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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