ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The first day of the Denver Broncos’ offseason following the 2016 season—Monday, Jan. 2, otherwise known as Gary Kubiak’s retirement press conference—general manager John Elway reflected on his first season of missing the playoffs and the direction his team was going to take entering 2017.
At that moment, he didn’t know who his starting quarterback would be to open the season some eight months down the road and he didn’t even know who his head coach would be. But what he did know was he wanted to keep the same winning formula that brought the state of Colorado their third Super Bowl trophy just a year earlier.
“The priority is to continue to be great at defense,” he said to the surprise of many as his team had just finished the season as a below average offense in nearly every category. “The one thing that I want to make sure is that we don’t take a step back on defense. We’re not going to not pay attention to that defense, either. It’s just important, if not more important to get better on defense than it is to get better offensively.”
Ten months later, following the team’s biggest defeat since Super Bowl 48, Elway knows who his head coach is, but outside of that, the team is searching for answers—specifically looking for a winning formula.
“We’ve played great defense, most of the time,” Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said on Monday, the day after his team fell 51-23 at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles. “Yesterday, we didn’t play great defense and offensively we had a chance to have a decent day if the defense would have played better yesterday. That’s where I’m at as a head coach—I’m trying to figure out what’s the best formula for us to win football games.”
After allowing 51 points to the Eagles on Sunday, Joseph realized the previous formula—play great defense and limit turnovers—wasn’t reliable week in and week out. The plan his boss, Elway, had laid out at the start of the calendar year couldn’t be trusted as the gospel any-longer.
“Again, it starts with me. And I say that because I’m not just coach- talking you guys. I say that because we need to figure out our brand of football to maximize our chances of winning and that comes from me,” Joseph said almost looking for the answers in a room full of media members. “I have to figure out what’s our best formula to win as a team.”
The encouraging piece, among all of the negatives over the past month, is Joseph is willing and actively looking, to make changes to get his team off their four-game losing streak. The discouraging part is the Broncos are all but lost in their search for a winning formula halfway through the season.
“You have to change something. We can’t continue to go down the same path and expect different results—that’s insanity, right?” Joseph said with certainty in his voice. “We have to change something, whether it’s personnel, whether it’s how we game plan, whether it’s how we call plays, whether it’s how we play—as a football team together—offensively, defensively and [special]teams together… But I got 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.”
On the first-half of Denver’s four-game slide, Joseph did make changes. First, he tried changing how the team learned by adjusting their practice schedule and moving the red zone period earlier in practice. After that didn’t work, he turned to more time on the field and less time in meeting.
Finally, after the 29-19 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8, Joseph made a change at quarterback, benching Trevor Siemian in favor for Brock Osweiler. Sunday’s debacle against the Eagles proved the Broncos aren’t just one position change away from winning.
“I have to coach better and get our coaches to coach better because things in the football game that are happening it’s not by accident,” Joseph said holding nothing back. “So we have to figure out a way to coach our players better and have better game plans and to manage the games better from my perspective.”
Through the team’s first eight games, they’ve had a winning formula in just three of them. Sitting three games back of the AFC West-leading Chiefs, Joseph remains optimistic about competing this season.
“We have time, but time is running out. So we got to fix it right now. 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.”
Depending on when, and potentially if, the Broncos and Joseph find the answers needed to win will determine what their “positive note” ends up looking like.