The final quarter of the season is here, and guys are tired.
Gary Kubiak alluded to it Sunday, and players said the same on Monday.
Fans may think this team should be refreshed after a late bye in Week 11, but the season grind is long and after a draining prime-time loss to an AFC West rival two weeks ago, followed by a long trip to the East Coast, only to be followed up with another road trip out East, it’s no wonder this team is fatigued.
And while that’s true for most every NFL team this time of the year, the Broncos had less offseason than most, so it stands to reason the grind of the season is wearing them down a bit faster than the others.
But that’s no excuse and Chris Harris Jr. isn’t letting it be one. Instead, he told Les Shapiro and Eric Goodman of The Afternoon Drive, that it’s time for the leaders to step up.
"It’s gut-checking time. It’s time for the leaders to step up and lead the way, make impact-changing plays," Harris Jr. said Monday. "Everybody knows your scheme now, so it’s about your one-on-one battles."
That will start with stopping a very good running offense in the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. With DeMarco Murray, who is second in the NFL right now for yards on the ground, plus a scrambling quarterback in Marcus Mariota, the Broncos need to tighten up once again to stop the run.
"We’re getting close. Still got a lot of improvements to make," Harris Jr. said about the defense playing as good as it did in the playoffs last season. "We’ve got a good test against the Titans with their run game. We’re starting to make more game-changing plays, play the run a lot better. We’ve just got to continue to improve, make some game-changing plays...continue to play great situational football."
Goodman and Shapiro debated another aspect of the Broncos’ fatigue, mainly for the defense - they are mentally exhausted having to carry the team every week.
"The whole team is fatigued, it’s that time of the year and they played longer than anyone else last year," Shapiro noted. "But the defensive players are more fatigued because they have had to do so much more to ensure this team gets its wins."
I think Shapiro is spot-on here.
Seasons are enough of a battle with the physical taxation as well as the mental grind to stay positive, get motivated, stay mean enough to take away wins if they have to. But when the defense has no confidence that it can rely on the offense to consistently get first downs and stay on the field longer than a minute, it has to be harder to push through the grind.
That should make the win in Jacksonville that much more of an impressive display by a defense that had very little relief on the sidelines throughout the game.
Goodman and Shapiro also briefly consider whether it’s a myth that Gary Kubiak’s "strength" as a head coach is the offense - mainly game planning creatively for the guys on the field - and that instead his strength is really being a good manager of his players.
It’s a legitimate question that unfortunately the two don’t discuss but merely bring up. It’s also one that has been mentioned in comments here frequently and worthy of debating:
- Have defenses evolved past Kubiak’s ability to game plan beyond them?
- Is Kubiak just too stubborn about the plays he wants to run, regardless of the personnel on the field?
- Is it perhaps a problem with the talent of the players on the field?
- Is it Rick Dennison’s fault first and then Kubiak’s?
- Or, more likely, "whorfin?"
You tell me. With Titans up Sunday, and then Patriots, Chiefs and Raiders on deck, this team is going to need to be firing on all cylinders - coaching in particular - to get out of those games with wins.