The Denver Broncos, theoretically, could finish with eight wins this season which would represent the most wins this team has had since 2016 and the most since Vic Fangio took over as the head coach.
On one hand, having eight wins is better than the seven wins in 2019 and the five wins in 2020. On the other, it doesn't mean the Broncos are where they need to be.
This is why Fangio continuing to state, "The Broncos are a better team than last year," can be true, while the statement, "The Broncos aren't good enough," can also be true. And it is why Fangio may be gone, even if the Broncos post eight wins.
The evidence that Fangio needed to get the Broncos to the playoffs in order to get a fourth season as head coach is pretty clear. General manager George Paton approached the past offseason in a way to acquire players that Fangio believed would allow him to succeed now, while not tying the Broncos down to too many of them beyond 2021.
If Paton truly believed Fangio deserved more than this season to prove himself, he wouldn't have signed Kyle Fuller just for the year, nor would he have renegotiated Teddy Bridgewater's contract to void the final season. He might have been a little more aggressive in free agency and, perhaps, more aggressive in extending certain players.
Instead, Paton treated 2021, for the most part, as Fangio's chance to prove he should be the long-term head coach under Paton. Rather than build the team his way from the start, Paton built it in a way that allowed Fangio his chance to show he could win with his players.
That the Broncos remain a middling, inconsistent team that appears destined to win just enough games to give fans hope, but lose just enough games to miss the playoffs, doesn't bode well for Fangio's chances to return in 2022.
We've talked about Fangio's issues before. It's not that he's bad at Xs and Os — Fangio is, in fact, one of the better defensive minds in the NFL. What he lacks are the finer points that make for a quality head coach.
Fangio's mismanagement of time-outs is a major issue. Case in point was Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, in which there were two instances of failure to use time-outs when the situation called for it.
First, there was the fourth-down play in which there was confusion among the Broncos about the play to run. I still don't buy Fangio's explanation for what happened there. Good head coaches should be able to figure out whether players are confused before the ball gets snapped, and call time out to ensure the players understand the play call.
Second, when the Chiefs got the ball back and opted to run on the first play, instead of trying to push the ball, Fangio allowed the Chiefs to burn the clock. He didn't call time out until the second-down play.
If the Chiefs had gone for a pass, it'd be understandable Fangio might not call time out. But the run play indicated the Chiefs weren't likely to push for points, so use the time out right away and make it clear to the opponent you intend to get the ball back.
I know some people will complain about Fangio's latest failed challenge, but the Travis Kelce "incomplete pass" ruling was debated by many on Twitter as to whether or not it was really a fumble. I don't blame Fangio for challenging there.
But Fangio's reputation for making bad challenges precedes him. It's still mind-boggling that he challenged that reception by Henry Ruggs III against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 6, when the replay showed nothing to suggest the ball hit the ground.
That play was Fangio simply trying his luck and failing. That's not the way to utilize challenges. The time to do so is when you see evidence on replay that a call was wrong. You won't always win, but you better be able to point to evidence that gives you a case for a challenge.
I don't think Denver's players dislike Fangio, and I've never seen evidence that they've quit on him, even if fans might think otherwise. However, it's possible for players to like the coach, but still get frustrated with questionable decisions.
Fangio seems a lot like Wade Phillips, in that he's exactly the guy you want to run your defense, but he's not the guy to be head coach. Phillips had more years as a head coach and, while he had a little success, his teams mostly underachieved.
The same thing is happening with Fangio. He may not always have the best talent on the field, and he might not always have everybody healthy, but there's still been enough talent on his teams to at least keep most games close and push for more than a .500 record. Instead, the Broncos are inconsistent, seldom executing in all three phases of the game.
This is why it's not in the Broncos' interest to keep Fangio should the team fail to make the playoffs. If the team's fate is to finish with eight wins — and that means an 8-9 record — Fangio's fate is to be out as head coach.
Eight wins might be better than five wins, but that does not mean the Broncos are on the right track. It means they're still underachieving — and that means change will be on the way.
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