ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos started the season nearly how John Elway drew it up—an impressive 3-1. At the beginning of Denver’s fifth week, head coach Vance Joseph made the team’s new motto: “do more.”
After the Week 8 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, in which the defense had a winning performance by all measures, Chris Harris Jr. alluded that the defense needed to do even more—potentially even shut opposing teams out and make more game-changing plays—to allow the Broncos to win.
Not even a week later, Denver’s vaunted defense had their worst game in years, giving up 51 points to the Philadelphia Eagles in the team’s fourth-straight loss.
In all three of these instances, there was one common underlying trend: Trying to do 'MORE' backfired. Badly.
“We want more effort, more focus, more detail and more commitment. That’s our message. As we move through the season, hopefully with success—as we have success, we want to do more to keep our edge so to speak,” Joseph preached to his team on Oct. 9 following their 3-1 start. “That’s our message after the bye. Let’s do more than what we did the first quarter.”
Since that message spread throughout the halls of the UCHealth Training Center, the team has gone 0-4, their offense has been nearly non-existent and their elite defense has given up an average of nearly two more touchdowns per game.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but all signs point to the fact that the Broncos may be pressing—i.e. trying too hard—even among questions surrounding the team’s effort level during their most recent loss to the Eagles.
“After watching the tape, I don’t question the effort, I really don’t,” Joseph said in defense of his team following the 28-point beatdown on Sunday. “I question guys pressing, I question guys trying to make plays and I question guys freelancing trying to make plays. That I do question, but the effort was there.”
Against the Eagles, the Broncos had a season-high 14 penalties for 105 yards. Although inexcusable and “undisciplined,” as Joseph pegged them, a portion of those penalties were the cause of the players trying to make a play and do more.
Von Miller and Shane Ray combined for an astonishing four offside penalties. While those could have been purely based off a lack of focus, it’s also players trying to make a game-changing play.
“I jumped offsides twice. As minuscule as it is—it’s five yards here, it’s five yards there—that cost the team,” Ray admitted. “That’s uncharacteristic of me to do that. But I’m so frustrated, I’m trying to do this, do that, I can’t do that. That’s me being out of character, that’s me freelancing. I need to do my job, watch the ball and make my play within the snap.”
Joseph agreed that players were “pressing to make plays” and added, “But that’s natural when you’re down by three or four scores.”
While the head coach is right that his players were forcing to make plays late in the game, it’s clear his team hasn’t been pressing just when they are down big, nor just in the previous game against Philadelphia.
Much as Joseph changed the dialogue at the start of the second quarter of the season, he’s looking to make changes again as the team starts their third quarter.
“Well, you have to change something. We can’t continue to go down the same path and expect different results. That’s insanity, right,” he rhetorically asked the media as he openly searched for answers. “We have to change something, whether it’s personnel, whether it’s how we game plan or how we call plays or how we play as a football team together—offensively, defensively and teams together. That’s also a thought. I have to figure it out. That’s obviously being explored. How do we win as a team? And win cleaner and play a cleaner, competitive game on Sunday.”
The answer Joseph and his staff are looking for may be along the lines of doing less is more. However, at least as of Sunday night, the opposite message was still being preached from the head coach to his players.
“I think what coach said was perfect. I think everybody just has to look themselves in the mirror and try to do more,” Ron Leary said in the locker room moments after Joseph’s speech to the team following the loss to the Eagles. “Whatever we are doing right now is not enough.”
Or, in reality, it’s too much? The simplistic—relatively speaking—principals that brought the team success early in the season may be the cure the Broncos need as they begin the second-half of the season.
“We have time, but time is running out. We have to fix it right now,” Joseph said with certainty in a week full of uncertainty. “Our division, right now, has all come back to us. So, we do have time to rectify the season and have a chance to finish on a positive note.”