John Fox's Denver Broncos Keep Their Composure in Loss to the Titans

Chaz MattsonAnalyst ISeptember 26, 2011

John Fox has put the Broncos ahead of schedule.
John Fox has put the Broncos ahead of schedule.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Start and stop with this when evaluating the Denver Broncos:  They are a work in progress, no matter how you slice it, regardless of your angle, for better or for a negative approach.  This team is in transition; the sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can see there is a light burning within the franchise to put them back to what so many grew used too over the years.

So if you see the positive, stay that way and realize it takes time and personnel changes. If you’re negative on the quarterback situation or the coach, take a deep breath; it’s going to be OK.

Losses in football are hard to deal with, probably moreso than any other sport because so much rides on each and every game. The highs and the lows, along with all the elements of good and poor execution, all impact the psyches of how teams see themselves and how they are viewed.

For the Denver Broncos in a rebuilding year, it is clearly the time to find that identity.  Defensively, they have been on the right track, and they know they have a very good defensive unit.  Yes, they took a major hit in the Raiders game and were fortunate to escape the Bengals game with a win at home. 

On the road yesterday, the Broncos held their composure even in a losing effort. Yes, the Titans are a team the Broncos beat on the same field a year ago under Josh McDaniels. But look past the disastrous McDaniels era that was and recognize the Fox era for what it is becoming, while it’s not there entirely just yet.

Willis McGahee and the Broncos offensive line fell just short of scoring though this photo shows he crossed the line.
Willis McGahee and the Broncos offensive line fell just short of scoring though this photo shows he crossed the line.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Everyone has seen and knows of the issues with the offensive line and Kyle Orton at quarterback that continue to rear their ugly head. Yet there is progress team wide, and regardless how things go with Kyle Orton or the offensive line down the road, there is something solid to look at and realize. The Broncos had the Titans on the ropes and they did let them off the hook. It’s that simple, but to look deeper: The Titans are a team that essentially owned the Baltimore Ravens last week—a team many think might reach the Super Bowl this season.

The NFL is about gaining respect and giving credit where credit is due. It’s highly competitive, so you have to see it for what it really is. The NFL is always at least half-full. That’s just giving the league credit where credit is due. These teams are all fairly balanced. Matchups are everything, and this is a banged up Broncos roster. 

The Broncos currently have something good to build upon here. It is something that is often talked about with football teams, but rarely seen in defeat, because it is usually over-looked.  There is a definite silver lining with the Broncos' loss at the Tennessee Titans yesterday. So it should give fans of the team hope.

Yes, there are outstanding issues, like picking up a yard when you have to punch it in to put your opponent on the ropes. The offensive line has issues transitioning to a run first offense, especially against bigger defensive fronts like Oakland and Tennessee.

Kyle Orton had a good game, but he needs to step up in clutch situations, and he needs to do it soon, or the Broncos will be faced with that tough decision of how to move on. Then the next obstacle is the competition between Brady Quinn and Tim Tebow, and can you trade Orton anywhere?

Will Kyle Orton please step up?
Will Kyle Orton please step up?Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Still there is hope, and this team is improving. So before you get to looking at the glass entirely empty, look at it being a quarter to half full. Keep in mind it’s a roster repair job that is ahead of schedule. That’s right; I said it, this repair job is way ahead of schedule, but setbacks are just going to happen. 

Yes, it could be hard for some to see when they remember Josh McDaniels won his first six games, and was even able to win at the Titans last season. But don’t be fooled; don’t fall into the trap of negativity. McDaniels was fortunate to have inherited a richer roster than John Fox inherited. Start there, work your way out and realize the Broncos are in a very good spot despite their early set backs.

This progress and adversity through diversity of injuries and a rigorous schedule show this team is getting closer. There is a thought that the Broncos could be 3-0 or even 0-3 at this point because these games have been that close. Perhaps a better quarterback or better quarterback play would have the team undefeated right now. Then again, the team was fortunate to hold off the Bengals; otherwise, they could be 0-3.

One thing that is standing out clear as blue skies right now, the Denver Broncos are a much more competitive NFL team right now than they were last season. That is worth something. In it of itself, that is composure.  A team with character, a team that cares, a team that has a chance in every game they play. So camp on that thought as you look deeper at where this team is.

Is Mike McCoy hanging too tightly to the past failed scheme?
Is Mike McCoy hanging too tightly to the past failed scheme?Handout/Getty Images

The Coaches

Last season, it was the young Josh McDaniels vs. the longtime veteran Jeff Fischer who became the face of the Oilers/Titans franchise for a little over a decade in Tennessee. Surprisingly enough, McDaniels found a way to have the last laugh in a game that was physical, dirty, chippy, whatever you want to call it. The Broncos won at Tennessee last season, 26-20, in Week 4.

In the offseason, both teams saw coaching changes.Tennessee is now under the guide of their longtime offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who was with the club for the 13 previous campaigns under Fischer. The Denver Broncos are now under a more positive and sensible wave of change with John Fox at the helm. That wave started late last season for the Broncos, but Fox wasn’t hired until after the regular season was over.

One thing that did not change on Sunday was the physical, and at times, chippy play that plagued last season’s matchup. Fans of both teams might think these two teams were heated rivals, as they seemed to have saved something special for one another on the day.

Without a doubt, the greatest coaching let down is at offensive coordinator. Mike McCoy is not putting up stellar numbers on the stat sheet, and quite often, the use of the previous offensive scheme just keeps the offensive attack stagnant. There is no growth on the offensive side of the ball. As mentioned at the beginning of the season, this would be the coaching position to watch, and right now, it’s fallen far short of expectation.  The only real way out is to gradually change the scheme and better utilize all the talent that is in-house. 

The Broncos defense kept Chris Johnson and the run game in check.
The Broncos defense kept Chris Johnson and the run game in check.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The grade for the offensive output is an F. It has to be that way, with the Broncos currently ranked 27th in the NFL in total yards (286.3 yards per game). New England is first and nearly doubles that number. The Broncos don’t need to double it, but they should focus on becoming a top 15 team this season and top 10 thereafter.

Conversely, the defense is rising up to the level that was expected out of the preseason. Dennis Allen has the defensive unit ramping up. The most impressive thing on Sunday was the performance from the defensive line. It’s special and will be touched on again, but it was a very noteworthy performance.  The Grade for the defense is a C+ right now.  If they can continue their success along the front seven, they will reach an A before the end of the season.

As a coaching staff, though, it’s hard to say overall because they are ahead of schedule and the jury is still out on the season.  A fair grade for a team that has won just one game but been in every game and could be 3-0 is a C, choosing to stay positive as the team continues to grow and change.


The Broncos started with a first down completion to Eric Decker on the first series to set his tone for the pass game. Though the Broncos wound up punting, Decker got into the game action early, as he led all receivers for the second week in a row. Decker finished the day with seven catches for 48 yards. Matt Willis nabbed his first NFL touchdown; it seemed like everything was going their way. 

Kyle Orton had a better effort in a losing cause.
Kyle Orton had a better effort in a losing cause.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

However, as has been the case far too often with Kyle Orton at the helm, the Broncos didn’t score enough points, or even as much as they should.

In fairness, Orton went 24-for-39 for 173 yards through the air, which gave him his best QBR rating of the season at 66.2 as formulated by ESPN.  It was good for 10th on the week, just behind Matt Hasselbeck prior to the Monday night game.  Kyle Orton is currently ranked 19th overall in QBR rating for the season, with a 47.2 composite score.

In contrast, however, there is a visible theme for Orton through the first three weeks of this young season. He has finished behind all of the Broncos opposing quarterbacks in the QBR ratings.  That in it of itself clearly shows that Orton has not stepped up, even when the team around him has positioned him and the Broncos to win the game.


The defensive line is starting to step up big time. Against the Raiders, they had serious contain issues on the edges of the defensive front. Those problems allowed Darren McFadden to go hog wild (pun intended towards the Arkansas grad) on the Broncos defense.  Last week against the Bengals and Cedric Benson, the Broncos held the Bengals to less than 75 yards on the ground.  So this week's test was a key in seeking out some consistency up front.

The Broncos defense on the whole played pretty well; they did not allow the Titans offensive line to set the edge or get middle penetration to get running back Chris Johnson outside. The Titans finished with just 38 net yards on the ground, so they only found two first downs rushing against the Broncos front. 

Von Miller has helped to add pressure to the Broncos front seven this season.
Von Miller has helped to add pressure to the Broncos front seven this season.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Denver also showed some good pressure at times against the Titans, but they could only muster two sacks. Matt Hasselbeck has shown that he has found a new home in Tennessee; it’s obvious the way his team rallies around him. On that day, Hasselbeck went 27-for-36 with 311 yards and two big touchdown passes.

The fact is, if not for one major breakdown late in the game, Hasselbeck and the Titans would have lost the game. The play of the game came when the Titans QB found tight end Craig Stevens on a deep flag pattern, with all kinds of protection. It gashed the Broncos defense and eventually set them up at the four yard-line, where TE Dan Graham, the former Bronco, made the possibility of a loss feel real painful at that point.

The Broncos defense is currently ranked 16th in yards allowed (334.7), in a three way tie for average points allowed (20.7) and total points allowed (62), 14th in rush defense with 300 total yards yielded on the ground and 14th in pass defense, yielding 704 yards.     

Bright Spots

Newly signed Quan Cosby came ready to play and showed his return skill ability with his first punt return, going for 30 yards and setting up the Broncos at midfield. It helped to set up the first score from Denver. His second return went for 17 yards. 

Throughout the game, Cosby showed he could be the Broncos best return option for the remainder of the season. It had to be a very encouraging sign for a team fighting through a slew of injuries affecting some of the team's best starters.

Former Bengal Quan Cosby appears to be an electric pick-up for the Broncos.
Former Bengal Quan Cosby appears to be an electric pick-up for the Broncos.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Broncos also scored the first red zone touchdowns on the Tennessee Titans that they have allowed so far on this young season. Considering red zone defense was a strength for the Titans early this season and red zone offense was a weakness for Denver the last few years, it was a very welcomed sight.  Broncos’ receiver Matthew Willis scored on an out route early, and Willis MaGahee scored late for the Broncos only touchdowns of the game on a scat-in route. Both scores put the Broncos in control at those points in the ball game however.

The Broncos had their defense on the field with a chance to salt away the game. For John Fox’s team, that is where you want to be. The big play was catastrophic; the Titans described it as a broken route, while the Broncos acknowledged it was a broken coverage. That much said, Denver was still in a position to win the game.

The defensive line held their own against a pretty solid offensive line in Tennessee.  Chris Johnson has exploded on the rest of the league, but has had some problems against the Broncos. 

Denver is heading in the right direction. As a fan, hang in there and keep your composure; this team is ahead of schedule.


Look for my next article covering the omega question that is Tim Tebow later this week.


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