Fangio Touches on What's Holding Back the Broncos Offense in Second Half of Games
It's known as the 'money down' for a reason. Quarterbacks are paid to execute on third down and the job security of offensive coordinators across the NFL hinges on it.
Offensively, the Denver Broncos have been wildly inconsistent on third down this season under first-time NFL coordinator Rich Scangarello. Some of that has to do, in all likelihood, with the fact that three separate quarterbacks have started games for the Broncos this season, though that fact shouldn't be used as an excuse to absolve Scangarello of his unit's struggles and his obvious shortcomings as a play-caller.
When it comes to the criticism the Broncos have received for being arch-conservative in the second half of games, especially last week vs. the L.A. Chargers, head coach Vic Fangio boiled it down to one issue. Third down. And more specifically, third-and-short situations.
“That’s been a problem for us," Fangio said on Wednesday. "We can’t miss third-and-1s and third-and-2s, that’s what stopped us in the second half in half of our drives. We’ve got to be able to convert those. I think that’s the big thing is converting your third downs so drives can keep going. Early in the game, I think we hit on five of our six or seven third downs and then after that not so. Third down does become a big part of it.”
Fangio's answer flirts with the real issue but doesn't come close to answering it. The question goes beyond the mere observation that the Broncos fell short on those key third-and-short situations in the second half. The real question is why haven't the Broncos shown the propensity to move the chains in those situations consistently? What's holding this offense back from coming out on top in those key third-down situations in the second half of games?
Chalk part of it up to execution on the field. But a large share of the blame has to fall at the feet of Scangarello, who has not shown very encouraging signs of creativity or inspiration from a design standpoint on the 'money down'.
Under Scangarello, the Broncos have shown a propensity to be efficient on third down in the first half of games, when the plays being run on the field are coming off the script that is crafted pre-game. But coming out of halftime, when things aren't so scripted and the opponent has adjusted to what the Broncos have established offensively in the first half, Scangarello hasn't shown the ability to counter-adjust.
Look no further than Denver's 23-20 victory over the L.A. Chargers last week. Even with a rookie QB making his NFL debut, the Broncos scored 17 first-half points. But Denver could only must six in the second half, all of which came in the fourth quarter, which happened to be the first points in five weeks that the Broncos had scored in the final period of play.
Luckily, the Broncos were able to steal a victory last week. But against higher-quality opponents, like that of the Houston Texans, Scangarello will have to dig deeper to ensure that Lock and the Broncos offense can sustain drives in the second half.
“Like you said, I think that we come out really strong," running back Phillip Lindsay said on Wednesday. "Somewhere in the third quarter, we fall off. I just think it’s about being consistent, and it’s about, for us, being aggressive. We’ve got to be aggressive. We can’t let our foot off the gas just yet... It’s just about being aggressive. It is. At the end of the day, we can only control what we control out there. We’ve just got to make plays.”
Execution has the best chance of coming together when the play design is inspired and on point and aims to exploit the tendencies of the opponent. Scangarello is calling plays for the first time in the NFL and he's had to roll with the punches of doing so with three different starters at quarterback.
However, if we have to keep making excuses in order to justify or explain the lack of production from Scangarello's offense, it doesn't portend well for his job security. Eventually, it has to click and the lightbulb has to come on. The NFL is a production-based business and converting just 29.5% on third-down tries (ranked 30th) while scoring 16.5 points per game (ranked 30th) is antithetical to that reality.
Part of the purview of an offensive coordinator — what separates the great from the fired — is the knack for calling the right play at the right time. Mike Shanahan was one of the greatest in this respect. It takes time and experience to hone that ability and expertise, but while a coach is figuring it out, he has to have at least some modicum of success in order to be granted the additional time to perfect it.
Thus far, Scangarello has received 12 games to figure out what works and what doesn't. But he's running out of time, and if the front office even remotely agrees with the fans, it might be running out of patience with the 'growing pains' excuse.
The first half of games has proven that Scangarello's offense can work. Now, the Broncos' offensive coordinator has to prove that he can make the necessary counter-adjustments coming out of halftime that allows for the ball to keep moving and for additional points to be scored. He has to make a strong effort to focus in on third down and make that his specialty, which is easier said than done.
This is the NFL. Teams don't throw in the towel because you put up a couple of touchdowns in the first quarter. To quote Jon Gruden, you've got to keep putting wood on the fire.