ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There is a popular saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
After the Denver Broncos dropped their second-straight game to a team with a losing record on Sunday afternoon at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers, Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph is avoiding going insane—as the saying would suggest—by changing things up within his football team.
And no, he’s not changing the starting quarterback.
Instead of making the quick fix of swapping quarterbacks, Joseph looked to find the root of the problems riddling his team, which he identified as “a lot of mistakes,” pointing to all three units on the team—offense, defense and special teams—adding, “It’s a unit issue. We have to coach better; we have to play better.”
“It’s puzzling because we are having great weeks of work. I watch the coaches install all three phases, and it’s so detailed. We are blowing basic concepts. And again, all three phases, not just one phase. It’s puzzling,” the rookie head coach said dumbfounded on Monday afternoon. “We have to revamp how we teach these players, get more positive play out of some guys. It’s mistakes here, it’s winning one on ones here, it’s turnovers. That’s where the problems lie.”
Now faced with the most adversity the team has seen through the first six games of the season, Joseph is doing what he believes will address the root of the problems—taking the players out of the air-conditioned building and putting them on the practice field.
“Less meetings, maybe more walkthrough, maybe more live bodies with these guys,” he said, walking the media through his thought process on how to fix the woes that have touched every part of the team. “We meet three hours a day. So we will get the meeting time in. The coaches are being really detailed with the teachings, but it’s not happening on game day. We have too many mistakes. And that’s what happens. In our three losses, they all look the same—we’ve got busted assignments, and we’ve got turnovers that we can’t overcome.”
Joseph’s diagnosis is precisely correct. In the team’s three losses they’ve turned the ball over eight times, while not forcing a single turnover. Additionally, their three worst defensive games against the run have been their three losses—giving up an average of 101 yards per game on the ground compared to 42.6 in their three victories.
The most frustrating, and mind-boggling, part for Joseph is he thinks the coaching staff is doing their job throughout the week and on game day, but the execution just hasn’t taken place on the field the past month.
“When you watch the tape, the plays are there to make,” he said defending his coaching staff, specifically offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s play calling abilities. “It’s execution, it’s individual play from time to time. I’m not down on the play calling, by no means. There are plays to be made on tape. So what we are doing offensively, I feel good about.”
Going into the second matchup of the year with the Chargers, Joseph and his staff felt as if they had a successful offensive game plan to beat their defense. Sure enough, when the game kicked off and the players took the field “Those things showed up,” according to Joseph and the Broncos had the right looks to put up points.
“The plays [were]there to make. Someone missed an assignment, missed throw or short route,” he said with almost a confused tone as seemingly nothing went right in the game. “That’s my point, when I say we’ve had great weeks [of practice]and it hadn’t happened in a game for us because we are getting those looks and not executing those plays.”
A prime example of exactly what Joseph was preaching happened on the third play of the game. The Broncos were faced with a 3rd-and-four from their own 15-yard line and had the look they wanted.
“[The Chargers had] played us in bracket coverage with Emmanuel [Sanders] and [Demaryius Thomas]—but this week it wasn’t Emmanuel, it was [Bennie] Fowler,” Joseph said, as he meticulously broke the play down to the media. “They doubled Fowler, they doubled D.T. On the backside we got Derby on the out and up on their small safety. Great route, [Melvin] Ingram wins inside, pushes Trevor [Siemian] to his left, gets the throw off.”
So far, everything went just how the Broncos’ offensive staff drew it up.
“Derby comes back and makes the play—it’s a first down, we’re at the 45-yard line, and we fumble,” he said, clearly exasperated by the mistake. “It’s a play we worked all week. It’s the very first third down. We knew what we were getting; it was going to be a big play. If the protection is there, it might be a touchdown, but it’s not. That’s my point about we have good plays called, but not finishing right.”
Joseph later went on to say, “Most of the game, it was that way,” in terms of the Broncos failing to execute a game plan that was set up to succeed. After seeing this happen for three out of the past four games—as Denver has gone 1-3 in that stretch—Joseph is making the change he believes, and hopes, will make the difference come game day.
“We have to coach and play better, and something is not clicking with our players as far as doing things right. So we have to coach differently,” he stated with confidence. “We have to do more walkthroughs and spend more time on the field so we can get this thing rectified. There are some good things happening.”
With the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots on the schedule the next three weeks—combining for a 15-5 record—Joseph is pushing all his chips in, hoping that spending more time on the field, rather than in the classroom, will get the “good things” going again.