By most measures, including statistics and the age-old eye test, the Denver Broncos boast a powerhouse of a defense that passes all NFL colors, both confounding the All-World likes of Patrick Mahomes and making life absolutely miserable for emerging young stars such as Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, to name a few.
Some argue Vic Fangio is better suited to be a defensive coordinator rather than a head coach. But the point remains: He's damn good on that side of the ball, and despite everything 2020 threw at him — a roster plagued by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic and a murderer row's schedule — Fangio has walked the walk to earn his immense clout.
Even if he doesn't necessarily see it that way.
“I don't know. Every experience good and bad you learn from and you just have a good backlog when you have the experience of things that have happened, things that you've used, when it's a good time to call something, when it's not," Fangio said Thursday when asked if he's improved as a play-caller. "There are no guarantees that any of it will work. I think the more you do it—and it's been 20 some years calling them—that you do get better. But it doesn't mean it's going to be perfect. It doesn't mean you won't have a bad series or a bad game, but I do think the more you do something, the better you get at it.”
The results through 11 games for his 4-7 squad suggest the answer to the above question is a resounding "yes." Despite the absence of All-Everything pass-rusher Von Miller and the majority of the Week 1 starting defensive line, the Broncos' defense ranks seventh in sacks (31) and passing yards per game (210.1), eighth in opposing QBR (88.8), 11th in total yards allowed per game (341.4), and 12th in third-down percentage (39.5).
This, also without Fangio's de-facto coordinator and close friend Ed Donatell, who's away from the organization while he battles the coronavirus.
The one area where Denver has lacked, surprisingly, is its run defense, which cedes 131.3 yards per game, seventh-worst in the league. Little-known fact: They've allowed 200-plus rushing yards in three of their past five games.
Very un-Fangio. And very unacceptable — if not explainable.
“Like I said, it's just one of those things that—those first couple games it was guys trying to reach and make those big plays and getting out of their gaps and I feel like this one was just one of those just wear and tear on the field and stuff like that," outside linebacker Bradley Chubb said Thursday. "So, like I said, can't dwell too much on it. I feel like with the guys we got we know we can bounce back. We know what kind of defense we can be and we've just got to go out there and prove it. The talking is not going to do much. We know what we put on paper, now we've got to go out there and fix it.”
A litmus test on Fangio's prowess will come Sunday night when the Broncos take on the 10-1 Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The last such test was a positive grade as Patrick Mahomes was held to 15-of-23 for 200 yards and one garbage-time touchdown.
How will this test go?
“Well, it was an unusual game," Fangio said of the Week 7 affair. "They had a 100+ yard kickoff return for a touchdown and they had a 50-something yard pick six for a touchdown. They had some short field. So, it was unusual circumstances—their offense against our defense. As a result, their team beat our team. The way the game played out, their offense didn't—it wasn't a normal game for them nor a normal game for our defense.”
But never short of the standard — however Fangio views it.