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Denver Broncos’ locker-room meltdown was inevitable

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After a loss which has put their hopes of defending their Super Bowl title on life support, you would expect things might be a bit tense in the Denver Broncos locker room.

However, you might not have expected it to nearly come to blows as it did in a closed meeting just after the 16-3 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.

According to Mike Silver of NFL.com, members of the offensive line and the secondary nearly came to blows when head coach Gary Kubiak asked if any players wanted to address the team. Left tackle Russell Okung stepped forward, only to be confronted by an angry Aqib Talib.

Silver reports that an ugly argument ensured between the player’s respective units, which Kubiak had to snuff before it got uglier.

It’s hard to imagine anyone saw this meltdown coming.

Or is it?

The divide between the offensive and defensive talent has never been greater in Denver, including perhaps last season.  While Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler both struggled last season, the offensive line and backfield were more effective than what we’ve seen in 2016.

Meanwhile, the defense continues to play well enough to win games, though they aren’t quite the unit they were in 2015 either. While the overall defense is one of the best units in football (ranked first both statistically and in the Football Outsiders DVOA metric), that’s all on the shoulders of the pass defense. The run defense is among the worst in the NFL, something which hurt them Sunday.

Still, the Broncos held Tom Brady to 188 passing yards and no touchdowns, and the New England Patriots to 16 points. Or as cornerback Chris Harris said: “Anytime we hold Brady to 16 points, we expect to win. Even last year, we never held him to 16. And he didn’t complete any passes in the first quarter. We have to do better.”

For two straight years the offense has been the anchor around this team’s neck and for two straight years, the defense has had to carry that weight. Of course, there is a divide here.

Aqib_Talib_Broncos_2015_USAT

How could there not be?

That this built to the point where it boiled over is on Kubiak. A coach has to know the mood in his locker-room. He has to know when it’s at a melting point. If he couldn’t see it himself, assistant coaches, coordinators and even training staff should have come to Kubiak long before now and said: “Hey, we have a problem.”

The media wrecked Rex Ryan in New York a few years ago for not knowing his locker-room was in chaos. This isn’t any different and you have to wonder why Kubiak didn’t know or if he did, didn’t act.

Maybe it was a matter of wanting to avoid looking in the mirror. The play-calling in the first half of Sunday’s game left a lot to be desired and looked like it was coming from a team firmly entrenched in the playoffs rather than one fighting for its life.

Kubiak’s bizarre decision to not use timeouts near the end of the first half, punting rather than attempting a field goal—these are not aberrations, but consistent features in the 2015 Kubiak version of the offense.

Even the offense is tired of that, Silver reports, with receiver Demaryius Thomas wondering why they stayed conservative.  “It’s about being aggressive, especially in the situation we’re in as a team. We’re on our last legs, so why not go after it?”

Kubiak should also have his feet held to the fire on the personnel decisions which have put the Broncos in this position, though at least in this case he isn’t alone.

John_Elway_Broncos_2016_USAT

For all the accolades GM John Elway has received for things like not paying Brock Osweiler, there are some significant holes in his game as a front office evaluator.

The offensive line has been a disaster for some time, and while some additions have been good (such as Okung), not enough was done. Aside from Okung, you might make a case for right guard Michael Schofield playing well Sunday, but the rest of the line was a disaster. It allowed three sacks and more than a dozen quarterback pressures and made a shaky quarterback like Trevor Siemian look even worse than he might have had he seen more clean pockets.

They also didn’t help the backfield either.

Then again, since CJ Anderson went down, the backfield has been its own disaster. Devontae Booker had been heralded as a guy who would take over from Anderson even before the season, but he looks terribly average and can’t make anyone miss. Kapri Bibbs looked decent before he got hurt, but Juwan Thompson can’t even get on the field and recently arrived Justin Forsett can only see his better days in the rear view mirror.

The offense has been left behind in Elways’ efforts to build this team into a perennial contender, and the defense can only play perfect football for so long.

It’s understandable that the defense—especially the secondary—finally got angry enough to explode.

They might be better served by directing their anger where it can do some good, though—at the head coach and general manager who built this lopsided mess and continue to find ways to make the offense even more neutered each week.

 


About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Footballguys.com. Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.