What a roller-coaster of a ride the Denver Broncos season has been. Just over a month ago, fans were collectively calling for Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph’s head (figuratively, of course, they wanted him fired) for the 50-point loss on the road to the Miami Dolphins. However, Head Coach Sean Payton and his staff never quit grinding out the kinks in all three phases.
That work all culminated two weeks ago with the franchise’s first win over the Kansas City Chiefs since 2015. When asked where he thinks the team has improved the most over that low point to now, Payton started with the defensive improvements the team has made.
“I think we’re defending the run better, No. 1,” Payton said earlier this week. “I think our red zone defense has been much improved. I think offensively, we’ve been more efficient running the ball. We had better red zone numbers offensively last week. In the kicking game, week-to-week we’re winning most of those battles, which means a lot. The way we’re returning right now—our punt returns, our kick returns—we’re doing a number of the things that are necessary to win games that I don’t think we were doing nearly as well at the start of the season.”
Then on Friday, the media was able to ask Joseph himself how he was able to stay the course and right the ship from that 70-burger beatdown to holding the Chiefs to no touchdowns in Week 8.
“It was early still,” Joseph said. “It wasn’t good, obviously. You can’t panic—just keep coaching. That’s what we do. It’s more about thinking than being emotional and finding the reasons why we weren’t playing well. That is my job, and it’s me. I’m a guy who is pretty laid back anyways. As a coach when things are not going right, it’s my job to find ways to make it better and to explain versus trying to dictate or to coach with fear. That never works. Just taking our time and finding ways to improve our defense quickly. That was my goal, and it’s happening. It’s not totally done yet. It’s going to be a nice challenge on Monday night, but it’s getting better.”
As a fan who felt Denver needed to fire someone after that Dolphins game, I’m glad my haste was met with no panic. Joseph here in this response made sure to note that this is still a work in progress and there are things that this defense and team still have to do down the stretch. It’s not a time to rest on their laurels after beating one good team.
With the run game that Payton’s offense has right now, they will need to continue to lean on strong defensive efforts to win football games. It’s good to see that running the ball and good defense can still win football teams in today’s NFL.
Since we’re coming out of the Bye Week, we’re always going to get the questions about what the team needs to do in the second half and I loved Payton’s response to that question on Thursday. He talked about the quote he gave a few weeks ago about the fine line between a rut and a groove. Back then, they were in a rut and now they are in the beginnings of a groove. Meanwhile, the Bills are falling into a rut so it is vital this Broncos team maintain some sense of urgency this week and beyond.
“I think it’s important to understand what needs to happen week-to-week so you’re not just a win one, lose one, or win two, lose two,” Payton explained. “[Knowing] what’s required mentally and physically to play your best. This week, it’s a much different type of challenge. This is a team that—they’ve had some injuries and this is a team that’s been contending for the last however many years. They’re coming off a tough loss. It’s always a tough place to play, historically, when you look at the stadium, especially this time of year. I would say—to answer your question—the attention to the details, the preparation and all the little things that we have to be maniacal with and understand. I use that term, ‘the fine line between a groove and a rut.’ You’re always that one step away from one or the other. That sense of urgency, it’s transforming how to do things. So we need to continue with that type of emphasis and details. Obviously, ball security. Those are things that come to mind.”
In years’ past, it felt like this team would be on the verge of giving up on the season after just one bad beat. There seemed to be no backbone or will left after so many 10+ losses seasons in a row. That mentality has certainly shifted a bit. I thought for sure we had reached a “Here we go again” moment after the catastrophic road loss in Miami, but instead this team, under the leadership of Payton and Joseph, has rallied. It’s exciting to see.
Here’s to that groove getting a little more solid and well travelled after Monday night.
‘It's getting better': Broncos’ defense looking to continue recent improvement in matchup vs. Bills
"You can’t panic," Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Just keep coaching — that’s what we do. It’s more about thinking [rather] than being emotional and finding the reasons why we weren’t playing good. That’s my job."
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