We caught up with Paul Thomas from Broncos Europe to find out their feelings on how the 2017 season has gone so far, and how, after such a strong start they have ended up where they are..
On the 5280 Podcast during training camp and preseason, we had talking heads from Denver’s sports media predict everything between 6-10 and 10-6. Some had us as playoff contenders, others had us missing out altogether.
The spectrum showed that, as talented as this team is on paper, the only consensus was that we didn’t know what this team would be capable of with a new coaching staff, and the strongest strength of schedule in 2017. Being optimistic, we settled on 10-6, which would have been an improvement on 2016, and a return to playoff contention.
Just after the mid-way point in the season, the disappointment is similar to that of 2010 when the Broncos finished 4-12 and had the second overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Garett Bolles is the Broncos’ only standout rookie in 2017
The 2017 rookie class has been largely underwhelming because of injury. Michigan tight end Jake Butt and Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly came to the team recovering from ACL injuries. By November, both were redshirted.
Louisana Tech wide receiver Carlos Henderson, who was projected to play in the slot, picked up an injury and has not been seen since preseason.
Georgia wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie was named punt returner and has been a bust so far, muffing five catches. His status with the team is looking increasingly shaky, but Vance Joseph lacked the balls to bench him until week 11.
Running back De’Angelo Henderson, who many tipped to rise up the depth chart, has seen little action behind CJ Anderson, Jamaal Charles and Devontae Booker. Since Booker returned from injury, Henderson has been a regular inactive on game day, despite the Broncos lacking options at wide receiver and Henderson showing promise as a pass-catching back in preseason.
On defense, Lamar cornerback Brendan Langley hasn’t seen much action other than on special teams, while the Broncos can’t work out what to do with defensive end/linebacker DeMarcus Walker, who has been another regular on the inactive list.
The one shining light from this year’s class has been Utah tackle Garett Bolles, who won the starting left tackle job and has been solid for the most part.
There are growing pains, and he hasn’t yet stamped out the holding penalties that were flagged in the scouting reports, but he’s done well against some of the league’s best edge rushers and, frustratingly for Broncos fans, has looked more of a veteran tackle than injury-prone, Manchester-born right tackle Menelik Watson, who gave up 7.5 sacks then was placed on IR with a calf problem.
Aside from Bolles, this is another disappointing draft class for John Elway and co in the front office with fans having to wait again to see if the new recruits break out in year two.
Broncos coaches have underwhelmed throughout 2017
It’s fair to say that the coaching at times this season has left a lot to be desired. We raved about head coach Vance Joseph icing Los Angeles Chargers kicker Younghoe Koo at the end of game one.
The 42-17 win over Dallas in week two was another early sign that we could be on to something with rookie head coach Joseph, but since the early bye week in week five at 3-1, everything seems to have fallen away as the Broncos suffered embarrassing defeat after shambolic defeat to fall to 3-6.
Joseph has consistently reeled off the same lines about practice being great, everyone doing fine, trusting the process, and that’s without the talk of not making changes because of two-score games or, in stating the obvious, that everyone has to coach better, play better.
Special teams coordinator Brock Olivo has a clear passion for the game, but whatever he’s doing with the special teams hasn’t translated on to the field, especially when it comes to the coverage and return game. It’s amazing that McKenzie hasn’t learnt when he needs to fair catch the ball. That’s fundamental for a returner and that’s on the coach, and the player.
Olivo is lucky to still be in Denver. The fact he’s a first-year coordinator probably means he gets a pass from the team for now, but if there’s no improvement by the end of the season, he shouldn’t get too comfortable in Colorado.
San Diego appears to have done something to offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Instead of the expected injection of a varied offense, with a lot of running and dynamic plays with McCoy’s return to Denver, we’ve seen a stagnant offense that is one of the worst in the NFL and abandons the run too quickly. That wasn’t the McCoy we remembered from his stint as OC from 2009-2012 when he made Kyle Orton look like a decent quarterback before the fun-filled Tim Tebow years.
For all the talk that the promotion of Joe Woods from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator wouldn’t been much of a change in the defense following the loss of Wade Phillips, we’re yet to really see it.
The defense started out well, particularly up front with the addition of nose tackle Domata Peko, defensive end Shelby Harris, and a healthy Adam Gotsis making a difference in the run defense that snuffed out the threat of Pro Bowl backs Melvin Gordon, Zeke Elliott, Shady McCoy and Marshawn Lynch, but the declivity in overall defense has been brutal at times, notably with the 50-burger achieved by Philadelphia and the 40-burger enjoyed by New England.
Given how well the Rams defense is playing despite a scheme change under Phillips in Los Angeles, Broncos fans can be forgiven for wishing the front office hadn’t sought the cheap route by promoting from within rather than paying to keep one of the league’s best defensive minds.
Yes, it’s year one for many of these coaches, but the roster is talented enough to be a playoff team. The Broncos are supposed to be a win now team, not wait years to see if it works team.
It was ridiculous in preseason that some fans aligned themselves as Team Trevor or Team Paxton. What happened to being Team Broncos?
Trevor Siemian was clearly better than Paxton Lynch in training camp and preseason, but we’ve not exactly had it good at quarterback when John Elway and Peyton Manning weren’t under center.
Kyle Sloter should never have been let go after he showed up big time in preseason, but it’s worth remembering it was only 18 months ago that Elway was prepared to pay Brock Osweiler big money to be the starter, so no surprise that he jumped at the chance to bring him back with Cleveland footing the vast majority of his overinflated salary.
The early signs were promising for Siemian, notably after that performance against Dallas, but it proved to be an outlier. Just as the big performance Siemian had against Cincinnati in 2016, it showed he’s capable of doing it, but not nearly consistently enough.
The poor offensive line hasn’t helped, but that’s when quarterbacks really show what they’re capable of. Unfortunately for Siemian, he’s probably a backup quarterback at best. Still, he’s been outplayed by many other backups this season, notably Case Keenum in Minnesota and even the much-travelled Josh McCown now of the Jets.
With Lynch out, the Broncos should have moved to Osweiler long before he was given the reigns for the Philadelphia blowout. That’s on the coaches. Osweiler has shown since his return that he is comfortable throwing downfield and is capable of using his head to move the chains, something Siemian consistently struggled with. His chemistry with Emmanuel Sanders against New England gave us a glimpse of what the offense can do, but we still lack a legitimate third receiver and threats in the red zone.
That’s not to say Osweiler is the answer. It’s not unfair to say the Broncos’ franchise quarterback is not on the roster based on what we’ve seen so far, but despite its numerous deficiencies the offense has looked better in the passing game with Osweiler, although the door is still open for Lynch and Kelly.
The way Osweiler left after the Super Bowl win means he’ll never be accepted by many fans, but he seems to be the only quarterback in Denver who could have a future with the Broncos, albeit as the backup.
It is only a matter of time before Lynch gets a chance to show what he can do in game mode. He wasn’t impressive in 2016, twice lost out in a battle to the guy who is now third on the depth chart, and must surely be on his last legs in Denver.
If Lynch doesn’t show promise he can lead the Broncos in 2018, Elway should cut his losses, clear house, and start again.
Expectations for the rest of the season
Many fans are calling for the Broncos to tank to get a shot at one of the top quarterback prospects in 2018.
The reality is the Broncos are currently drafting seventh overall and don’t need to do much more to be in play. It’s easier to trade up when you’re scheduled to draft in the top 15 than it is when you’re in the second half.
Besides, there’s no guarantee the Broncos will go after a rookie quarterback early, despite there being several high-profile names expected to declare.
The 2018 tackle class is also expected to be highly sought after and better than 2017, so the Broncos could very well look to get their franchise right tackle and assess the quarterback problem in free agency, where the likes of Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith, and one of the guys in Minnesota could come into play, draft a rookie later, and allow Kelly and/or Lynch a chance to compete in training camp.
Those predicting the Broncos would be 6-10 in 2017 are looking good. The first half of the season has been brutal for the Broncos against some very good teams, but only one of the Broncos’ final seven opponents has a winning record.
As well as Sunday’s game against Cincinnati (3-6) at Mile High, the Broncos have just two other home games remaining, against the Jets (4-6) in week 14 and week 17 against Kansas City (6-3), who will likely be looking to secure homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.
With road trips to Oakland (4-5), Miami (4-5), Indianapolis (3-7) on a short week, and Washington (4-5) at Christmas still to come, 6-10 should be the minimum the Broncos achieve, 8-8 should be the target, anything above .500 from this point would be a bonus, but a top 10 pick in 2018 is still a real possibility.
The Broncos had only two winning seasons between 2006 and 2011, five of those years were without playoff football, and that streak was broken in 2011 as they scraped an 8-8 record to finish top of the AFC West. Then came the Peyton Manning years.
Broncos fans, especially newer fans who adopted the team during the 2013 and 2015 Super Bowl years, are used to winning, but history shows us that the team is not immune to needing a few years to rebuild.
It was widely denied in the offseason, but this team smacks of being in rebuild mode rather than transition.
Broncos Europe are the premium Denver Broncos fan group run with one common goal: to become an area for all Broncos fans to socialise regardless of location or nationality. Their hugely successful 5280 podcast has featured numerous Super Bowl winning coaches and players and they recently held their first trip to Denver. Their social following continues to gather pace and you can catch them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube