Happy New Year, Broncos Country!
We almost had our first no-show for the Ultimate Fan Guide in its history as the assigned writer and another I sought out both ghosted the series. And it’s hard to blame fans for not being too excited about this team. However, the interim coach is already instilling a new attitude that hopefully jolts this team into a productive if not self-reflecting offseason.
But a regular UFG writer and a fan living in the heart of Chiefs country has come to the UFG rescue - just like Jerry Rosburg to the Broncos.
JasonAult16 won’t predict a loss or a win, but he is optimistic the Broncos team playing today will be better prepared and more disciplined than the product we’ve seen most of the season.
Ted Lasso says it’s the hope that kills you. Ironically, it’s what keeps you alive in the meantime.
Week 17: Broncos at Chiefs
MHR - Last week’s debacle is not even worth remembering. Moving on...Did you like the move to fire Nathaniel Hackett with just two games to go - does it send the right message to the locker room and will it get that post-firing “bump” that often happens…or are guys feeling bad it all turned out this way and will be more demoralized? Do you even care? ;)
JasonAult16: First of all, I totally admit that I was wrong on this hire. I thought Nathaniel Hacket would be much better than this. This was the coach who I wanted. Maybe I thought that it meant that another certain quarterback was headed to Denver. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I see some signs that this would be rough. Going all fanboy during Russell Wilson’s intro press conference was pretty cringe-worthy.
I think the firing had to happen. Frankly, I would not have been shocked if it happened after the Carolina loss because that was just as much of a hot-garbage performance as well. You could point to the other losses being close and competitive to justify letting the season play out, but last week was so atrocious and out of control that it needed to happen.
I do think the Broncos will play with much better effort against the Chiefs. I will not say whether it is enough for a win, but there should be a positive bump this week.
MHR - Greg Penner apologized to fans. He’s no Pat Bowlen but do you get the sense he “gets it” when it comes to the standard this franchise is supposed to be about and do you have confidence he and the search committee will find the right fit…finally?
JasonAult16: I like our owners. I get a good vibe from them. I have also tweeted with people in-the-know like Andrew Mason who confirm that. It will take some time, but the Broncos have the right people at the very, very top to get this turned around. I get the sense that Greg Penner will be a lot like Pat Bowlen in that he will set high standards but ultimately let the football people do their jobs and not meddle (hello Jerry Jones and Al Davis). It does not hurt that the ownership group will have the ability to pay top-dollar to bring in the best coaching staff. They didn’t buy this team just to make some more money. They have multiple lifetimes worth of money. They want to win big.
MHR - Teammates took to social media yesterday to defend Russell Wilson after Shannon Sharpe’s hot take that no one in the locker room likes him. Whether any of that is true is almost irrelevant because when a team is losing - and particularly when an offense isn’t scoring - the blame always falls to the QB. How much will Russell Wilson’s play the next two weeks, regardless of a win or loss, impact his relationship with his teammates?
JasonAult16: He certainly needs to play better, as do his teammates. There are so many people hurt though that the next two weeks really won’t be an accurate read of momentum into next season (regardless of record). Whether his teammates love him, hate him, or somewhere in between, I just hope that this season has humbled Russ enough that he will have a bigger chip on his shoulder to improve for next year. I refuse to think that he has fallen off this hard and this fast.
MHR - Ejiro Evero turned down the interim gig in Denver out of respect for his longtime friend. He’s likely to be a HC candidate at several places. Do you think he’s shown enough to be a head coach yet and if so, would you like to see him as Denver’s new - and latest - first-time head coach?
JasonAult16: He has only been a coordinator for one year, so it might seem a little soon to bump him up to the big chair…certainly in Denver where we have had some bad luck with first-time head coaches. Selfishly, I hope that Ejiro is retained for another year, represents well for himself, and gets a head job next offseason. If that happens (particularly while staying in Denver), the Broncos will receive compensatory R3 draft picks in the following two drafts as part of the initiative for promoting more minority candidates. That initiative is also one of the many reasons that I don’t want the Broncos hiring Eric Bieniemy. Doing so would give the Chiefs said compensatory draft picks.
MHR - Penner sounded like Denver would swing for the fences to bring in the next guy, which has a lot of people speculating about Jim Harbaugh, maybe even Sean Payton especially now that the Chargers are probably not going to fire Brandon Staley (probably). Do you have a favorite coach already you’d like to see in Denver? Does it matter if that coach has previous head coaching experience, either in the NFL or college? Overall, how important is this next hire for the new owners, the current GM, fans?
JasonAult16: I don’t think Sean Payton is interested, plus there is the additional layer of compensating New Orleans. I am also not convinced that he was really that successful. He won a Super Bowl but didn’t really have that much more success, plus he basically lived beyond his means in terms of salary cap and left so that others had to deal with salary cap hell.
As I referenced earlier, I would like to see an experienced head coach this go-around. It needs to be someone strong enough to tell Russell Wilson how it is going to be. Jim Harbaugh certainly could fit that bill, but again, who knows if he’d be interested. He would definitely be a boom-bust type of coach.
My choice is Dan Quinn so long as Brian Schottenheimer is brought in as offensive coordinator. Both have experience with Russ. Brian was OC in Seattle when Russ had his best two statistical seasons. I think if George Paton had his choice, Dan Quinn would have been the guy last year, but the group consensus seemed to go in Hackett’s direction. It also seemed like money could have been a factor. Remember, the Broncos were a cash-poor franchise under Mr. B and later “The Trust.” I remember reading that the Bowlens really weren’t as super wealthy as some of the other NFL owners. Thankfully, that will not be a problem in Denver going forward.
MHR - Jerry Rosburg sounded in his press conference like he had definite plans for how to change the culture - or at least get it headed in that direction (“These next few games, I want this team to play like I envision a football team playing. I want us to be offensively, defensively, and special teams, the way I envision the NFL football being played. I’m going to try to do that in a very short period of time. The good news is that we’re already heading in that direction.”) Sounds great but seems like an astronomical goal. Can he do it? What will tell you that he’s made a difference already in the game Sunday? Also, stop laughing ;)
JasonAult16: I like to think that I can recognize effort. If the Broncos play with effort and energy, then I will live with the results. I will still be irked if they lose, but if they play hard and play clean football (no stupid turnovers, limited penalties, etc.), then that’s really all you can ask for. I certainly understand that they are probably outmanned and are huge underdogs in this game. Just play like you care though. With as tumultuous as this week has been and as hideous as last week was, I think that the effort will be much better.
MHR - Last week Wilson got benched after playing like a high school backup QB and then Brett Rypien threw a pick-six. It was like watching the Bad News Bears. Should Rosburg just hike the ball to Latavius Murray and Marlon Mack the entire game and make the run game truly the focus? Or seriously, how does this offense at least score against the Chiefs?
JasonAult16: They obviously have to find a way to establish the run. It is amazing how you can shorten games by doing that. I still go back to my assertions that the Chiefs defense is not that good…but that they don’t have to be. They are built to play with a lead and then ratchet up their pass rush. To have any chance, the Broncos have to run the ball well…and then when opportunities arise to pass, Russ has to take advantage, find the open receivers, and push ahead.
MHR - One of Rosburg’s main coaching interests is special teams so in his first actions as the interim he fired the special teams coach and the offensive line coach. Do you like these moves right now? Do you think both can improve - even a modicum - in just two weeks? What would be the quickest and most effective change this Sunday that could be made to show Stukes and Barry what they apparently couldn’t figure out the last eight months?
JasonAult16: Jerry gets this short opportunity to run his show in his way, so I am all for it. If he didn’t feel like they would positively contribute to his plan for the next two weeks, then find people who can. As for how to evaluate, I go back to effort. I might understand Xs and Os a little better than the average fan but am nowhere near being an expert, so I won’t be able to recognize schematic changes. But if those two groups can just show effort, I will be pleased. The special teams need to play clean, close up lanes on coverages, and open up lanes on returns. The offensive line needs to communicate well, use sound technique, and give Russell a chance to do what he needs to do.
MHR - OK, I guess we better talk about the upcoming game. Any chance these Broncos, who will be limping into Arrowhead, have a shot? They were close three weeks ago, but that was at home and that was before the defense had a meltdown. Can they intercept Mahomes three times again and this time stop Pacheco?
JasonAult16: Contrary to popular belief, Patrick Mahomes has not necessarily always played well against the Broncos. He has obviously never lost to the Broncos, but he has had more mediocre games than you would think. You have to be physical with him. You can’t be afraid to hit him when opportunities arise (I’m looking at you, PS2, when you pulled up at the goalline last year). Don’t bail the Chiefs out with stupid penalties when they get behind schedule on down-distance. You have to limit big plays as much as possible. It will be difficult but it can be done.
MHR - Mahomes could surpass Peyton Manning’s single season passing record this year. Manning threw for 5,477 yards in 16 games during the 2013 season. Through 15 games so far, Mahomes leads the league with 4,720 yards and needs a 379-yards-per-game average to surpass it. Can the Broncos at least keep him from taking that from us?
JasonAult16: For being January 1, the weather will at least be conducive for Mahomes to throw the ball a lot. I certainly hope that he doesn’t take the record from THE REAL PFM, but I also point out that if the record is broken, it will be done in 17 games, whereas Peyton had 16 games. In baseball, there are so many games that I think a season is a season, whereas in football, there are fewer games, thus making each extra game that much more valuable to accumulating stats.
Even so, 379 yards is a lot of yards, and if this Broncos defense is as capable as made out to be, then they can hopefully keep it manageable to where Mahomes will need an even larger number next week and thus just miss out on the record.
MHR - Rosburg’s plan for Wilson and the offense was promising even if impossible. But still, he seemed confident - “We’re going to do everything we can to put a game plan in place for Russell Wilson to be successful. I’m really confident that we’re going to be able to do that.” Are you also confident in that? How do the Broncos attack the Chiefs on offense, so the defense can do its thing and Denver can get an unexpected victory?
JasonAult16: The advantage that the Broncos offense will have, at least to start the game, is that the Chiefs don’t necessarily have a good idea on what to expect. Jerry didn’t even want to divulge who was calling the plays. The Broncos certainly have to start well and cannot dig themselves another 27-point hole, but if they can just play with some effort and energy and take it one quarter, one drive, one possession at a time, stranger things have happened. Remember, last week not withstanding, the Broncos have generally always been competitive. If Brandon McManus makes one more kick against either Seattle or Baltimore and Russ completes one more third down against either Vegas or Indy or another couple examples where one or two plays made a difference, the Broncos would be in a better spot. Maybe still not in playoff position but also not considered to be utter hot garbage like 4-11 demonstrates.
I was a basketball manager for current CU coach Tad Boyle when he was an assistant at Wichita State. I can still hear him remind the guys that there is a fine line between winning and losing. The Broncos aren’t good this year, but I think they are a much better team than, say, the 2017 Broncos, who seemed to frequently lose by hideous margins. Again, this is not to excuse this year’s team or to blow unnecessary sunshine up anyone’s backside, but I just don’t think this team is “THAT bad.” They have just had pretty much every 50-50 break go against them.
MHR - If the Broncos beat the Chiefs on Sunday, what will you do in celebration?
JasonAult16: I obviously have to temper the celebration since it will look tacky to dunk on my Chiefs friends when they still have postseason goals in their sights whereas the Broncos don’t. Still, I would revel in beating the Chiefs for the first time since the Obama administration. This streak needs to end…and end pronto.
Stats for RUSSELL “LET’S RIDE it out” WILSON? 21-30, 200 yds, 1 TD pass, 1 INT
Stats for each Broncos RB? Latavius Murray 80 yards TD, others 50 yards
Number of yards receiving/TDs for the receivers? Jerry Jeudy 90 yards with a TD, Courtland Sutton 50 yards, others 50 yards
Longest FG for McManus? 45
Number of sacks to Patrick Mahomes? 3
Broncos player with the most tackles? Josey Jewell
Who gets the first sack of the game for the Broncos? Baron Browning
Who gets the most sacks? Also Baron Browning
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Chiefs D? 1 turnover
How many INTs/FF/FR for the Broncos D? 2 turnovers
How many penalties between the two teams? Too few for KC, too many for Denver
How many fights among Broncos on the sidelines? Haha, I think that will be controlled a lot better this week.
Final Score? Call me boring or chicken or whatever. I won’t predict a score. I won’t pick the Broncos to lose, but conventional wisdom says that it will probably happen. I will say that the Broncos will play much more focused this week with better energy and effort. How that plays out on the scoreboard remains to be seen.
Favorite Broncos win ever? For this question and the following two, I will answer with regular season games, as it is too easy to say a postseason game/Super Bowl. I consider the 2015 overtime win against New England to be the greatest regular season win in Broncos history. It was so difficult to beat New England during that timeframe (especially in that moment since the Patriots took an undefeated record into that Thanksgiving weekend matchup), and to beat them with our backup quarterback was absolutely amazing. I was not present at that game but did attend the rematch in the AFC Championship Game eight weeks later.
Favorite Peyton Manning win? I was at the 2013 season opener against Baltimore when Pey-Pey (that’s what I call him because we are tight like that) exploded for 462 passing yards and seven…count ‘em, SEVEN touchdown passes. That crowd had some extra juice to avenge the previous season’s playoff loss. Great, great experience.
Favorite John Elway win? November 12, 1989. A Broncos fan from Wichita, Kansas, took his 6-year old son to the kid’s first Broncos game. Stop me if you have heard this one before, but The Duke led the Broncos on a late-game drive to beat a Marty Scottenheimer team. I love you, Dad!
Team you love to beat the most in the AFC West? I live in heart of Chiefs territory, so my bigger rivalry is with the Chiefs, differing with many Broncos fans who put the Raiders in that spot.
Coach you despise most in the NFL? Josh McDaniels might have the most punchable face in the NFL.
NFC team you could cheer for in the Super Bowl? I could root for San Francisco because of the Denver ties with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. I also don’t mind the Bears. Neither are remotely close to my rooting level of the Broncos, but those teams don’t annoy me.
NFC team you’d want to face - and beat - more than any other in the Super Bowl? If there is an NFC team that does annoy me, it is Dallas because I detest Jerry Jones (how in the actual &%$@ did he get into Canton before Mr. B?!?!?!?!). That said, seeing as I hope to attend a Broncos Super Bowl someday, I hope for an NFC foe that doesn’t have a huge fanbase that wouldn’t/couldn’t travel well, perhaps something like Carolina playing in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50.
Favorite Broncos player on the current roster? Dalton Risner, last week’s fight notwithstanding. He is a K-State guy, which gives him props from my in-laws who went there. My BIL and SIL met Dalton at a book signing in Manhattan. Dalton signed his book and loved the fact that my son’s name is Denver. That will always be a keepsake for us, even if Dalton doesn’t play for the Broncos next season.
Favorite Broncos player of all time, not named John Elway? Wow! That is like choosing a favorite between my two adorable children. I might have to go with Shannon Sharpe as my favorite non-Elway Bronco. Dude played with big swagger and backed it up.
Favorite new guy/rookie on the team? I really like Greg Dulcich and look forward to seeing him further develop into a top-level tight end.
Favorite game analyst/commentator? Mark Schlereth is an easy answer because of his Broncos ties. Even with those ties, he is not afraid to call out the Broncos for bad play when it is deserved. I love me some Stink on a personal level, especially because I have met him and have occasionally conversed with him on Twitter. I met him at a King Soopers when he was giving samples to his green chile sauce. He took a picture with my buddies and me that day and then signed and personalized copies that I later sent him. He also did a great Cameo birthday video for another friend. It is a great talent to make someone laugh and cry in the same video.
When your kids are older, how are you going to explain to them the dark years since Super Bowl 50? When do you see this team emerging from this dumpster fire?
Not that they really care at this point in their lives, but I occasionally have to assure my kids that it really can be fun to be a Broncos fan. It just hasn’t been for their entire existence. People keep talking about how the Broncos are years away from being competitive, but while they have a steep hill to climb, especially with Mahomes and Herbert being in their division for the next decade, it doesn’t have to take long to turn things around in the NFL. Just get some better luck with avoiding injuries and make a few more plays to turn losses into close wins and close wins into blowouts.
I hope they turn it around soon because I will be more than ticked (not sure how family-friendly I need to keep it here) if my kids start rooting for other teams because the Broncos are continuously bad. My best friend in the world is a Colorado native and thus a diehard Broncos fan like me, but his oldest son roots for the Chiefs because their family lived in Kansas City for a few months and because Kermit is such a rockstar right now.
(Yes, I refer to KC’s quarterback as Kermit. Because we know that Chiefs fans never used awful nicknames for John Elway.)