Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio and the thing about death by inches

Denver Broncos head coach Von Miller. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos head coach Von Miller. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio swore when he was hired that his team would not die a “death by inches”. So why does it feel like they are?

Vic Fangio was hired by the Denver Broncos in the 2019 offseason as a rookie head coach at the age of 61. Despite being one of the oldest rookie head coaches in NFL history, the hire of Fangio — at the time — was an exciting move for the Denver Broncos.

Fangio’s defenses have always been outstanding and he’s been in the NFL for over 30 years.

His pedigree calling a defense with the pieces the Denver Broncos had in place at the time of his hiring — notably Von Miller and Bradley Chubb off the edge — made the move to hire Fangio almost unanimously liked by Broncos Country.

The formula was simple.

Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio and the thing about death by inches

Hire Vic Fangio.

Hire a young, up-and-coming offensive coordinator candidate.

Win a lot of games.

When Fangio was initially hired by the Denver Broncos after an outstanding final year as defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, John Elway noted how impressed he was with Fangio’s pitch during the interview process about how the Denver Broncos would not die a “death by inches” under his watch.

Death by inches, as explained by Fangio in 2019, is this:

"When you see a small misdemeanor crime, that’s an inch crime and you correct it. Here’s what ‘death by inches’ means: If you’re running a meeting, whether it be a team meeting, offense or defense meeting, a position coach meeting and a player walks in, say 30 seconds late, 45 seconds late—that act in it of itself really has no impact on whether you’re going to win or lose that week. But if you let it slide, the next day there’s two or three guys late or it went from 30 seconds to two minutes. It causes an avalanche of problems. That’s ‘death by inches.’Vic Fangio, via Broncos PR"

Unfortunately, over the course of the last three years, it seems like the Denver Broncos have lost a lot of games in the war of attrition against ‘death by inches’.

Poor overall game management.

Poor clock management.

Constant errors on special teams and no accountability for the coach in place.

The quarterback snafu of 2020.

More recently, you have 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant — a tight end — with more reps attempting to block TJ Watt in a game than targets as a receiver.

Von Miller dropping into coverage on (checks notes) Chase Claypool.

You can point to any number of decisions over the course of the last three years that have ultimately led to the Denver Broncos losing way more games than they’ve won, and you can’t help but wonder how hot the seat is for Fangio and how many ticks he has left on the proverbial clock.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, no question. It’s not Vic Fangio’s fault that injuries have decimated the roster over the past couple of seasons.

And, to his credit, Fangio calls a very good defense that has limited some of the best quarterbacks in the league.

With that being said, limiting players hasn’t resulted in any victories against the Kansas City Chiefs. In short order, the Los Angeles Chargers have quickly ascended above even the mighty Chiefs as the best team in the AFC West.

The Denver Broncos have not been aggressive in finding a long-term option at the quarterback position. The most aggressive move made at QB in the Vic Fangio era? A February 2019 trade for Joe Flacco.

Fangio decided to fire rookie offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello after one season despite the fact that Drew Lock played well at the end of the 2019 season in Scangarello’s offense.

He hired Pat Shurmur whose play-calling has been painful, bordering on atrocious if it’s not already crossed that threshold.

Every week, there are a number of decisions (inches) that we can point to as reasons the Denver Broncos have now lost two games in a row against the Ravens and Steelers, and why their chances at the playoffs just went from slightly under 80 percent to under 50 percent.

Even in a 3-0 start, analysts and fans of the team were poking holes with the way the team was winning games, and the Denver Broncos have unfortunately been proving those detractors to be correct over the last two weeks.

The team continues to make mind-boggling mistakes at the worst possible times, like coming out on the opening drive of the game against the Steelers and getting a delay of game on the first play.

Although the Broncos have gone for a number of fourth-down plays this year that many did not expect them to, it’s impossible to say that Fangio and the coaching staff have been aggressive and they have not attempted to impose their will in the very least.

Right now, the Broncos feel like a team that has been slowly dying a death by inches into the muck of mediocrity while teams like the Los Angeles Chargers have rapidly ascended among the NFL’s elite.

The quarterback position obviously matters here, but there are plenty of examples of other NFL teams who are a better sum of their parts and play well despite average to even slightly above average quarterback play.

Why does it feel like the Denver Broncos are getting consistently out-coached? Why does it feel like the decision to “zig” in 2019 when every other team was “zagging” has pushed the Denver Broncos to the point that they may need to completely reset in 2022?

It feels that way because it probably is that way.

Even at 3-0, nobody took the Denver Broncos seriously.

They had a golden opportunity over the last two weeks to prove those people wrong, and they have completely laid an egg.

Now, with two key losses against fellow AFC playoff contenders, the Denver Broncos have very little room for error over the course of the rest of the season if they are going to make it to the postseason, which feels like a non-negotiable.

With that being the case, Vic Fangio has very little time (two games in the next 10 days) to right the ship and make sure his team stops bleeding out one inch at a time.