ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Saddled with a three-game losing streak, losers of eight of his last 11 home games, above .500 three times in 38 weeks, the Bunsen burner is scalding under Broncos coach Vic Fangio.
Fangio knows the lack of results welcome scrutiny about his job security, saying "it is expected." I asked him Monday if he felt his message is still resonating in the locker room.
"I just think that we have the right kind of guys that will rally. I think we have good leadership," Fangio insisted. "I think there’s a high care factor and I have confidence in the guys.”
Confidence remains shaken. The Broncos opened the season with three wins and have spiraled in all facets. The offense remains unbalanced, and the defense, under Fangio's watch, has allowed roughly 400 yards per game during the losing skid, including touchdowns on first drives in two of the last three games. Some of this falls on the players. But the coaches deserve much of the blame, too.
The secondary has underachieved. It's the highest paid unit in the NFL, and the group struggles to get off the field. The Broncos allowed five passes of at least 30 yards to the Raiders.
"Yeah, we got beat. We have to look at ourselves. We are not coaching them well enough," said Fangio, taking responsibility that was missing on Sunday as players took turns acknowledging their faults.
Fangio has said he has no plans to change his coaching duties or those of his assistants. Fangio is in his third season, and time is running out to show this team can trend upward. The Broncos have yet to beat a good team this season, smashed by the Ravens, Steelers and Raiders. They have been outscored 84-50 in the past three games, and trailed by a combined 55-16 score in the third quarter the past two weeks.
They have no time for self-pity. Thursday, the Broncos face a slumping Browns team that fell to 3-3 on Sunday, skunked by the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. The Browns will be without running back Kareem Hunt and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and quarterback Baker Mayfield's status is unclear given a left shoulder injury that required a sling after the loss to Arizona.
The Broncos, however, must focus inward. Who are they are this point in the season? What do they do well?
"That's a good question. We have got to feel confident our secondary, which has been unscathed by injuries, will play really good. We’ve gotta hang our hat on our Oline, which believe is good, and our running backs, which we believe we have two good running backs, and (Mike) Boone makes it a third. I believe in Courtland Sutton and (Tim) Patrick as a receivers and I believe in Teddy (Bridgewater's) ability to lead our offense. Those are some of things we can hang our hat on. “
With patience eroding in Broncos Country, Fangio is determined to keep his head down.
"I have a sign in my office that says, 'It's not time to worry. It's time to work.' And that's my motto," Fangio said.
Alexander Johnson out for year
Monday has a bad habit of bringing bad news. Inside linebacker Alexander Johnson hurt his pectoral muscle falling to the ground on Sunday, and "was praying" for good results on his MRI this morning, he told Denver7. Unfortunately, the exam confirmed the worst. He tore his pectoral muscle, and will miss the remainder of the season. Josey Jewell torn his left pec during the Jacksonville game and underwent season-ending surgery.
Johnson told Denver7 he will undergo surgery on Tuesday.
"Will all be good, Godspeed," Johnson said.
The Broncos starting inside linebackers are Justin Strnad, in his first full season, and Micah Kiser, who was signed off the Rams practice squad on Sept. 22. Denver will look to promote a linebacker or two from the practice squad.