Who am I? What is my purpose? What am I meant to do in life? Ok, maybe the Broncos problems aren’t as deep as all that but there’s still a very important question Denver needs to answer if they want to become relevant in the AFC West again: What is our identity?
Defensively, as expected with Vic Fangio, they are coming into their own. Even with all of the injuries this group is a top 10 unit in yards allowed per game (339), passing yards per game (230), and rushing yards per game (109). They held the best quarterback in the league, Patrick Mahomes, to just 200 yards passing and kept the Chiefs from converting even one 3rd down last Sunday. Thanks to corners Bryce Callahan and surprising rookie, Michael Ojemudia, Denver can rush the passer with confidence and are starting to climb the ranks in sacks with 18. They may not have an obvious identity yet, but with a lot of guys stepping up and elevating their game, Denver’s defense is well on its way to establishing their brand of play.
Things are completely different on the offensive side of the ball. This past offseason I questioned the free agent signings of Nick Vannett and Melvin Gordon while growing even more confused when Denver drafted two wide receivers back to back in the 2020 draft. When Vannett and Gordon were signed most assumed this would be a ground and pound unit with a lot of big tight end sets. Gordon, paired with Phillip Lindsay in the back field, promised to be a dangerous combo, even at the risk of upsetting Lindsay with a crowded depth chart. The signing of guard Graham Glasgow further cemented the idea that the Broncos were ready to commit to running the football behind an improved offensive line but then the NFL draft happened. When Jerry Jeudy fell to #15 it was a no brainer even for those that wanted to see another offensive linemen or standout defensive player. But when Denver doubled down on the WR position by taking Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler, the identity of the 2020 Denver Broncos was becoming very fuzzy. After all, they already had a #1 WR in Courtland Sutton, so adding Hamler didn’t make a whole lot of sense especially when there were other needs available (CB, OL, LB). As if that wasn’t confusing enough, Denver drafted a tight end to go along with Noah Fant and recently signed Vannett in Albert Okwuegbunam. Ok, so a lot of multiple tight end sets? A lot of 4 WR sets? Gordon and Lindsay in a dual RB look? I felt like the Broncos offseason was like a 12 year old playing Madden and simply loading up on everything they could get their hands on with no fear of a salary cap or developing a system. That 12 year old playing madden is me, by the way. And take it from me, it might work in Madden on a 6 beer Friday night but in the NFL, dedication to a system is critical.
Last week against Kansas City, Drew Lock looked lost. He was going deep when he should have checked down, he didn’t have a feel for the pocket and he was inaccurate for a good chunk of the day. Is that because he has too much to worry about before the ball is snapped? Offensive Coordinator, Pat Shurmur, was reluctant at first to admit that going deep and being too aggressive is an issue, but in a recent press conference he told reporters, “You want to be aggressive… but it’s also important that you get completions.” He went on to say that maybe he can’t give as many options to Lock, right now, as he would a veteran QB. That’s the tough part with John Elway’s strategy though. He drafted the options. He signed the options. How can Shurmur, Lock and Head Coach, Vic Fangio not feel compelled to cook what Elway brought home for dinner?
Year after year we see it with the Duke of Denver. He drafts the best player available or signs a guy to an ungodly amount based on a scattered past or pays the wrong guy and cuts the other wrong guy. There’s no rhyme or reason as to why he takes a pass rushing LB with the 5th pick when that was already a position of strength. There’s no rhyme or reason why he took two WR’s, back to back, when Denver already has a #1 WR. There’s no rhyme or reason to give Chris Harris Jr. $3 million dollars just for the fun of it before the 2019 season. Sometimes I think Elway is the guy that goes to the super market hungry. He buys a lot of things that look good at the time but in the end, he’ll never eat those off-brand fish sticks. And in doing so, he forgets to buy what’s good for him like the boring stuff; apples, carrots and bananas. K.J. Hamler and Melvin Gordon are those fish sticks while a needed Offensive linemen or defensive back would provide the nutrients this team needs to grow strong.
Bottom line; until John Elway stamps an identity on his offense, there’s little Vic Fangio, Pat Shurmur and even Drew Lock can do about it.