Losers in three of their last four, the Denver Broncos continue to trend in the wrong direction. What was once such a promising campaign is now crawling toward an unremarkable finish.
The Broncos began the season in shockingly impressive fashion, winning their first three contests. Their latest embarrassment, however, occurred on Sunday as they were defeated by their AFC West rival Las Vegas Raiders 17-13. Denver's offense turned in yet another uninspiring performance, a theme that has become all too familiar throughout 2021. Despite squaring off with a Raiders run defense that has been consistently gashed and exposed time and time again this season, Denver's fearful duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon somehow combined for just eight yards on 14 carries.
Credit Raiders defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who sold out to stop the run. Mission accomplished. It does however speak to a Broncos staff that is struggling to put together a winning game plan on a weekly basis. Shame on offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur for abandoning the run in a close ball game.
The loss may ultimately cost Vic Fangio his job. A 63-year-old head honcho with 42 years of coaching experience under his belt, the Broncos hired Fangio ahead of the 2019 season. It was a rather popular hire, given Fangio's reputation for leadership paired with a stunning coaching resume that had recently been boosted by his work done in Chicago as the Bears' defensive coordinator. Fast forward to today and Broncos fans are begging to see Fangio fired sooner rather than later. The Dunmore, Pennsylvania native has compiled a poor record of 19-28 since taking over the Broncos and fans have reached their boiling point.
If I were a guessing man, Fangio will likely be handed his walking papers. General manager George Paton is in his first year as Denver's shot-caller after spending six impressive seasons in Minnesota in a supporting role. NFL executives are renowned for hiring “their guy", and simply put, Paton didn't hire Fangio to begin with. Paton has quickly compiled an impressive roster that is robust with talent on both sides of the ball. Like many around the league, they are largely seen as being "a quarterback away" from truly competing for football's ultimate prize, and may serve as the starkest example of that bunch.
Paton will undeniably be relentless in his pursuit of a true franchise quarterback this coming offseason. With the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and others potentially being viewed as available, Paton will relish his chance to present a tempting offer. Denver's offense features a trio of starting-caliber wide receivers, a dynamic young running back, and a formidable tight end. Any quarterback in the NFL would be lucky to play alongside such a supporting cast. Should Fangio be fired, it will also make for an attractive job in what's expected to be a heated and competitive head coaching market.
That brings us to our next point. Denver can't win with Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock at the QB position. Paton knows it. Everyone in Denver knows it. Should Fangio be held responsible for Denver's (and his) inability to do so? It seems rather unfair. I can't imagine a head coach (Bill Belichick included) that could compete for a division title alongside the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert while being strapped with the quarterbacks Fangio has dealt with throughout his time in Denver.
Denver must turn over a new leaf ahead of 2022, particularly in the quarterback department. Mahomes and Herbert aren't going anywhere any time soon and Denver has to acquire a quarterback more capable of competing alongside them. Shurmur is also unlikely to return after failing to craft a more effective offense throughout his time in Denver. It will probably happen anyway, but holding Fangio accountable for a mess he largely inherited seems rather unproductive.