The Denver Broncos are off to a heartbreaking start to the 2019 season. Teams that start out 0-3 are usually bad teams with many deficiencies.
However, the Broncos have shown promise at many spots and aren’t as bad as most pundits are making them out to be. There is one deficiency that can be called out as the reason the team has lost three games; the turnover differential.
More specifically, the defense’s inability to create takeaways. I want to examine that issue, but first, let’s examine some of the 'problems' that have been subject to rampant discussion. Most of these are overblown.
Red zone efficiency
First, the Broncos' lack of red zone production. The offense definitely struggled in the first two games, but still, it was within a score of tying or winning both of those games. Furthermore, the offense went 2-for-3 in the red zone against the Green Bay Packers (should have been 3-for-3 if not for a poor holding call the officials should have never called).
The team has shown improvement. This production is not spectacular, but it is solid for the first three games of the season with a new offensive coordinator and many young starting players.
The next one that has been kicked around; the offense has not been able to sustain drives. This is simply untrue. The Broncos have manufactured 12 drives of nine or more plays and against the Packers, they dominated the time of possession with long drives.
There is a correlation between the number of plays per drive and touchdowns. It is only a matter of time before touchdowns are a consistency.
Third down efficiency
Blame has also been levied on third-down conversion percentage, both on the offense and the defense. The offense and defense both struggled in the first game of the season.
However, the offense has improved and the defense is drastically different from that game, allowing only five conversions in the two games since.
Myth-busting flawed player criticism
Joe Flacco, Garett Bolles, and Noah Fant have all been blamed for many of these struggles. Flacco is on pace to have one of the best statistical seasons of his career, though. He is not elite, but he is steady enough to win games with the right contributions from the defense and running game.
Bolles is not the long-term answer at left tackle, but he was not flagged for a hold in the Packers game. His play was not why the Broncos lost in Week 3.
Fant has shown the most improvement. He dropped two passes in the first game, but has caught every pass thrown at him since. He is also on pace to have a solid rookie season and will likely break Broncos’ rookie tight end records. By the end of the season, those complaining about Fant will have faded into the bushes if he stays healthy.
The defense has received criticism also, but in most statistical categories, it has been strong. They are a top-10 defense in yards allowed and held Aaron Rodgers to just a 59% completion percentage, well below his average.
With no pass rush to speak of, the defense is still only allowing just 205 passing yards per game. The run defense had a hiccup against the Bears, but otherwise, it has been decent. The Broncos are solid in most areas, save one; takeaways.
The list can go on, but the buck stops with the defense and the inability to create turnovers. This is one consistently bad area that has reared its ugly head in every game.
Had the Broncos created just one turnover in each contest, they would not be 0-3. They are possibly 2-1 and sitting in a good spot to start the season.
The first two games were a one-score margin and the Packers game could have easily been turned in the Broncos' favor with a turnover, just as it was for Green Bay who totaled 14 points off takeaways.
I hate playing the 'what if' game, but if the Broncos would have forced even a couple of turnovers, this season would look different. The reality is, the Broncos are not good enough to win unless they have a positive turnover margin in each game.
So who is at fault? Who should have the finger pointed at them?
Where the blame really belongs
The biggest disappointment and most glaring scarcity of production comes from Miller. He is the brightest star of the team, yet his production is as dull as a rusty nail. No sacks and exactly zero tackles for a loss.
His inability to create impact plays is killing the Broncos. He has forced more than three fumbles per season over his career, typically off of strip-sacks. He can be an offense-wrecker. However, if he isn’t getting to the quarterback, his chances of creating impact plays diminishes greatly.
Bradley Chubb, who also has zero sacks, has contributed significantly in other ways. He has been spectacular in the run game and has a least hurried a quarterback a time or two. Miller is the engine that makes this defense run and his transmission is stuck in neutral.
Simmons was supposed to take the league by storm this season. He was being tagged as a candidate for a 'break out year' and was to receive the biggest bump from Vic Fangio’s defensive philosophy.
Simmons was intercepting the ball on the regular during training camp and looked ready to carry that into the season. He is yet to log one such takeaway, though.
Under Fangio’s defense in Chicago last season, Eddie Jackson tallied six interceptions from his safety spot which catapulted him into All-Pro status. This defensive scheme can produce turnovers. Simmons defended two passes against the Bears, but otherwise has been pretty quiet in the passing game.
The blame, ultimately, lies at Fangio’s feet. His defense has been incredibly vanilla, predictable, neutralized by the opposing offensive scheme. The worst part is that he has not put his players in position to succeed.
This was a large complaint against Vance Joseph, and rightfully so, and was touted as a strength of Fangio's coming to Denver. Von Miller has been spotted at middle linebacker in short yardage situations and has covered slot receivers.
Playing those positions are not what made him the highest-paid defender in football. Fangio’s first-year as a head coach has been a disappointment to date and this season’s success is hanging on by thread.
If Fangio wants to turn things around, he must pull out all the stops. The defense needs to go to DEFCON 1.
The players on defense need a gut check. Players need to decide how they want this season to go down. Do they want to just play solid or do they want to be spectacular?
This season will be decided by the defensive effort. If the Broncos can succeed in the takeaway battle, if they can have a positive turnover margin each contest, they will win most games.
If the defense can’t, the Broncos will lose most games. It is plain and simple. They aren’t good enough otherwise. At least, not this season.