ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first time in over 70 days, the dialogue, tone, message and mood was drastically different at the UC Health Training Center the day following a Denver Broncos game.
The reason? Simple, they won.
The reason they won? Also simple, they played and coached better.
Up until Sunday—when the team got their fourth win of the season and the first since Oct. 1—Broncos' head coach Vance Joseph has had the same message to the team and media following each of their eight-consecutive losses: “We have to coach and play better to fix this.”
While the result on the field—a 23-0 shellacking at the expense of the New York Jets—made it clear the players played better, it was the coaches that batted a near 1.000. From offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave—who Joseph said had an “Excellent game”—to defensive coordinator Joe Woods, the first-time head coach couldn’t sing the praises of his coaching staff enough on Monday afternoon.
“I thought Bill called a game to win,” Joseph said, giving the stamp of approval to his interim offensive coordinator. “We had a game plan to play complimentary football in all three phases, and it worked out. To win games in this league, you have to play together. I thought Bill called a game to help us minimize mistakes. He helped call a game to keep drives alive and keep the third downs manageable. It was fun to see.”
For a rare change, the Broncos were better than their opponent on third down, fourth down, red zone and goal to go—all crucial areas in determining success. Even more importantly, however, the Broncos not only won the turnover battle, they didn’t have a single turnover—only the second time they could say that all season.
Outside of mistake-free football, which is incredibly important yet not as easy to game plan for, there has been one game-plan formula that’s brought the team success: Running the ball more than passing. The four times Denver’s had more rushing attempts, they’ve won.
“How we played yesterday, it’s our personality,” Joseph explained. “Running the football on first and second down with efficiency and keeping the third downs manageable.”
On Sunday, Musgrave put this to the test for the first time since he replaced former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, running the ball 35 times compared with 33 pass dropbacks. The result was the best offensive output since Week 2, a mere 85 days ago.
On the other side of the ball, Joseph had even higher praise for his first-year defensive coordinator, saying, “ I thought Joe called his best game of the year.”
“[The Jets] offense scored 38 points last week and had 450 yards against the Chiefs defense, which is a pretty good defense. But I thought Joe kept them off-balance,” he said, backing up his high praise. “He was aggressive. He was aggressive on early downs yesterday, so we had a lot of success stopping the run. In the pass game, he called the right coverage at the right time knowing ’11’ [receiver Robby Anderson] was a deep threat, he didn’t hurt us at all. It was fun to see those guys coach that well yesterday.”
Not only did the Broncos hold the Jets to a season-low 100 yards of total offense, they pitched their first shutout since Week 11 of 2005 against the Jets.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, on the same day that both coordinators had their best game of the season, they were officially eliminated from the playoffs. So the natural question arises, why did it take until Week 14 for all of the “excellent” coaching to come together?
“Why yesterday? I’m not sure. It’s been a long time coming to try and find a plan that worked and played so cleanly,” Joseph said as he tried to find an answer. “Not giving the ball away, it starts there. Not turning the ball over and taking the ball away two times. Our average start was at the 41-yard line; theirs was the 20. It was really flipped from what we’ve seen the last two months. We’ve been backed up for two months. Most teams have been at the mid-field starting on against our defense. Yesterday it was almost flipped.”
Along with field position, the results of the game were flipped as well, thanks to the players playing better and, potentially just as important, the coaches coaching better.