Thursday was probably the beginning of the end for Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio. A fourth-straight loss — this one coming to a bunch of Cleveland Browns backups on national TV — doesn’t technically end Denver’s season. But the team is bad on offense and not particularly good on defense. The Broncos seem destined for last place in a very competitive AFC West, and Fangio is on the hot seat.
Will Vic Fangio get fired?
Short of a big-time turnaround, Fangio is probably coaching his final 10 games in Denver, assuming he lasts that long. He was never general manager George Paton’s hire — John Elway made that call long before Paton came aboard — and those shotgun weddings rarely last. Paton and Fangio never worked together prior to this year, and it’s looking more like a one-and-done situation.
Firing Fangio — either in-season or in January — would be easy for Paton to defend. This is Year 3 for Fangio as a head coach after more than three decades as an assistant. The franchise is, at best, treading water. Fangio is now 15-24 with the Broncos, Denver’s quarterback situation is as unsettled as ever, and the defense is worse than its rankings.
The Browns exposed that final truth last night when super subs Case Keenum and D’Ernest Johnson for a night transformed into Bernie Kosar and Earnest Byner. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt out, Johnson gashed the Broncos for 146 yards, including 61 for three first downs on Cleveland’s clock-milking game-ending drive. The Broncos knew exactly what the Browns wanted to do and still got run over.
This comes a year after the Broncos ranked 26th in scoring defense (27.9) and 29th in yards per carry allowed (4.8). There’s no compelling argument that Denver is better on defense now than they were when Fangio took over nearly three years ago. And it won’t get any better if Von Miller misses time after spraining his ankle against Cleveland.
Broncos’ issues at quarterback
But while Denver’s defense is a contributing factor to the Broncos’ struggles, it’s not the leading factor. The offense in general, and coordinator Pat Shurmur in particular, deserve most of the blame.
Teddy Bridgewater probably shouldn’t have played last night. He was clearly hobbled by foot and quad injuries. The Broncos needed Drew Lock’s live arm to beat a Browns defense that is nearly impossible to run against. Instead, Bridgewater played all 50 offensive snaps Thursday. Bridgewater threw an interception in the end zone, and the Broncos went without a first down on five of their eight drives. And yet, Fangio said after the game that he gave no consideration to pulling Bridgewater and inserting Lock.
“Thought he played good, especially there in the second half,” Fangio said. “I do not think Teddy’s injuries from my vantage point affected him that much. I thought that he was courageous. He is our quarterback.”
Is Fangio losing the locker room?
Fangio also stood by Shurmur late Thursday. He insisted there will be no change in play-caller, even though Denver has scored just 64 points during this four-game skid. Is Fangio demonstrating confidence and loyalty? Or simply stubbornness?
Either way, it’s not going unnoticed in the locker room. There are rumblings out of Denver that Fangio’s message is growing stale and he’s losing a segment of the locker room — if he hasn’t already. That’s usually the death rattle for any embattled coach.
“We have to rally,” Fangio said. “We have to overcome our injuries. They can’t use them as excuses. We have to get back to playing better football as a team. Make more first downs, which will lead to touchdowns on offense. Play the run better on defense so that you do not get so many third-and-ones and third-and-twos.
“We just have to play better, and we have to coach better. I do not want to be remiss in saying that. We have to coach better, and we have got to adjust to what we have right now.”