Based on his conversations with the Broncos’ front office, coach Vic Fangio expects to be back for a third season in 2021.
The question of his immediate job security aside, Fangio — 12-19 since being introduced as the franchise’s 17th head coach in January 2019 — knows the Broncos have “to make a lot of improvements” following a fifth consecutive playoff miss and fourth straight losing season.
“We have to get healthy (and) we have to improve as players and coaches — we’re all in this together,” Fangio said. “I say many times that players and coaches are teammates, and we have to improve in those areas. We have to make the plays when they’re there to be made. We have to call good plays. We have to execute better, and obviously getting guys back healthy will play a big part in that, we hope.”
The effect of widespread injuries on the Broncos’ 5-10 mark entering Sunday’s Week 17 matchup against the Raiders can’t be understated, even as other teams in the league also encountered the injury bug in a season in which COVID-19 wiped out all the preseason games and shortened training camp.
Outside linebacker Von Miller was the first big name to go down, as he suffered a season-ending ankle injury six days before the season opener. Season-ending injuries to wideout Courtland Sutton, defensive end Jurrell Casey, nose tackle Mike Purcell and cornerback Bryce Callahan, among others, tied Fangio’s hands to an extent. That’s been especially true over the past several weeks in the secondary, where injuries and A.J. Bouye’s six-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs forced Fangio to lean upon unproven cornerbacks.
Also to account for: Drew Lock’s early-season shoulder injury that cost him two games, the Broncos having to play with a practice squad wideout at quarterback in the Week 12 loss to New Orleans, and COVID-related issues that sidelined one of the team’s best defensive players (end Shelby Harris for four games) and its defensive coordinator (Ed Donatell for six games). The sum of all those irregularities was an assurance from president Joe Ellis and general manager John Elway that Fangio will return despite the team regressing from last season’s 7-9 mark.
Fangio doesn’t make excuses for the team’s ineptitude this season.
“We have to be able to not give up the kickoff return to start the game, deep into our own end (as happened Sunday in Los Angeles),” Fangio said. “We have to make our kicks, we have to catch the ball consistently, we have to throw it accurately and consistently, we have to tackle when our tackles are called upon.”
And in the turnover battle, Denver can only go up. The Broncos rank last in turnover margin at minus-20, tied for last in fumbles recovered at four, tied for 28th in interceptions at eight, and last in interceptions thrown with 23. Lock has accounted for 15 of those picks, and carries an NFL-worst 11-game turnover streak into the season finale.
“We have to get the ball out more defensively and create more takeaways,” Fangio said. “That’s been a big problem for us, and we have to do a good job of taking better care of the ball offensively and consistently in all parts of the field.”
So which of the 10 losses has been the toughest for the 62-year-old to digest this season? The season-opening nail-biter to the Titans that set a losing tone for 2020? The Week 7 demolishing at home at the hands of Kansas City? The Week 9 letdown in Atlanta? The Week 10 debacle in the team’s first game in Las Vegas, or the Week 16 setback to the lowly Chargers?
“All of them,” Fangio said. “They’re all equally tough. Every one eats at you in different ways, for different reasons, but a loss is a loss and they (stink).”
Footnotes. Fangio is ‘hopeful” that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who missed his first game of the season last Sunday due to an ankle injury, will be available to play against the Raiders. “We’ll see how he progresses during the week. I think he’s got a better chance than he did last week, but we’ll see. It’s definitely up in the air.”… Rookie wideout KJ Hamler, who exited in the first quarter against the Chargers, has entered the league’s concussion protocol.
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