Denver Broncos Team Development: A Tale of Two Teams

Jan 25, 1998; San Diego, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe (84) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos defeated the Packers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 1998; San Diego, CA, USA; FILE PHOTO; Denver Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe (84) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos defeated the Packers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports /

The truth? The words didn’t come quite as quickly to me this week as they’ve typically arrived in the past; perhaps it took just a little while longer to digest the imbalance of dominance and dysfunction I’d just witnessed. As you may recall from last week’s edition – if you were one of the few who was able to stomach reading anything Broncos-related following last week’s OT loss – I’d hazarded just a couple of suggestions regarding a possible ‘way ahead’ for General Manager, George Paton following our latest in a string of disappointing finishes, and to my knowledge, at the time of this writing, neither of these steps has been taken, although I’m confident after reading this article, Paton and Hackett immediately retreated into the Bat Cave to figure out how they might enact these pearls of wisdom.

Or perhaps they did not. In either case, with the added wrinkle of having had QB Brett Rypien start and finish this most recent contest against the New York Jets, it would appear we’ve got a little distance to cover in terms of unraveling the rat’s nest of complications surrounding your 2022 Denver Broncos – at least in terms of untangling your 2022 Denver Broncos Offense. And so it’s here that we’ll begin this week’s discussion of Denver Broncos Team Development – Imbalance.

We’ve made much over the past several weeks of Russell Wilson & Nathaniel Hackett’s largely unanticipated offensive struggles, and I’ve done my level best to cover what I believe is going on behind the scenes in terms of the Team’s overall development. I’m going to take a slightly different approach in this edition, however. I’m taking this approach fully recognizing that a successful team develops as a whole, but I think we can all agree (and I believe most of the Denver Broncos’ key decision-makers and players would agree) that this is not yet a successful team, and as such, I’m going to examine them as two distinctly different teams – the Offensive Team & the Defensive Team.

For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to leave Coach Stukes’ unit out of the equation, as I believe they exist somewhere between the other two in terms of cohesion and progressive development.

Denver Broncos: The Power of the Dark Side

From their earliest snaps in Preseason (both games and scrimmages), Broncos Country media and fandom could sense that this was going to be a potentially historically dominant unit. We all smirked a little bit when newly acquired defensive lineman D.J. Jones revealed the ‘Dark Side’ moniker that Coach Marcus Dixon had coined in reference to this stout and aggressive defensive line; some smirked in mockery (because that’s just the lot in life for some of our more salty Broncos Country residents), but most of us were giddily reacquainted for just a moment with our mental middle-schooler, envisioning a ruthless unit, cloaked in darkness, and hurling lightning bolts of rage from their eyeballs and fingertips.

Offensive explosion is cool, but many fans – self included – just want a team filled with Al Wilsons, Randy Gradishars, and Karl Mecklenburgs. Some of us are here for every minute of the edgy players of the present and not-too-distant past in Romanowski, Alzado, Talib, Ward, Wolfe, and Dre’Mont. We reminisce about those humble playmakers who’ve donned the Orange & Blue while walking softly and carry a devastating club – Steve Atwater, Champ Bailey, Neil Smith, Demarcus Ware, Brian Dawkins, John Lynch, Von Miller, and now, Justin Simmons & Patrick Surtain II.

Whatever (or whoever) your preferred flavor, many of us have a taste for dominant defense, and whatever else has transpired with this team, the Defense has not disappointed. Coach Evero inherited a very talented unit with a similar enough scheme to assist with a continuity that appears to have been helpful in the unit’s continued – if not increased – dominance.

Although there’ve been a couple of games and a few plays they’d like to have back, this Defensive Team has weathered its share of injuries and has passed sufficient eyeball and statistical tests to reliably indicate that they’re operating at an elite level. But that’s what we see on the surface; that’s the result. What we don’t see are the healthy practices behind the scenes that have contributed to their overall team health, but there are hints.

As discussed a bit during last week’s edition, conflict is an important aspect of team development. You’ve got to have a few polished gentlemen, for sure, but you’ve also got to have a few who are just edgy enough to get up into the grill of someone who’s not living up to expectations. Among those you might expect to take on this sort of a role are Kareem Jackson, Bradley Chubb, Dre’Mont Jones, and Josey Jewell to name a few of the more obvious conflict contributors, but a true sign of how well a team has bought in to mutual accountability is when your humble, by-example guys begin to speak up.

Judging from both Justin Simmons’ and Mike Purcell’s uncharacteristic demeanors during their post-game interviews following this most recent loss, the Dark Side seems to have adopted mutual accountability in a serious way, and all parties appear to have been invited to the table to hash things out. Final analysis? This Denver Broncos Defensive Team is squarely in the Performing Stage of Team Development, but it might just be attached to an anchor at the moment…

Denver Broncos: An Offensive Offense

You have to give him credit. He tried. He tried to microwave the team development process through an honorable investment of his time and resources. Those clips of Russ throwing the ball around his palatial backyard with the boys over the early part of summer? They were like a pure dopamine injection for the huddled masses of Broncos Country who have wandered aimlessly through this quarterback-less wilderness since Peyton’s exit in 2015.

Our collective hopes rose with the release of each new hype video, and our greatest concern was about whether or not the Broncos would release a new uniform to go along with their upcoming championship season – by the way, Damani Leech, if the combination that’s been revealed for Sunday’s European Showdown is that change, many in Broncos Country are requesting that we pull that round out of the chamber for the next round of Uniform Roulette – anyway, I digress.

Safe to say, it has not turned out exactly like we believed it would. Instead, we’ve watched a new Head Coach and a veteran Quarterback struggle to mesh their strengths, we’ve watched an Offensive Line struggle to transition into a new system, we’ve watched the injury bug ravenously consume three key offensive starters, and we’ve watched significant swaths of media and fan base invert home field advantage and effectively put a relatively young 2022 season in their collective rearview mirrors.

Even some of the more patient voices in Broncos Country are calling for Coach Hackett’s head, while bandying about names like Indianapolis’ own beleaguered Frank Reich, or retired, owned, and expensive options like Sean Payton. A few have even gone so far as to express a desire to enter Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to negate the hire of Hackett by grabbing up Dan Quinn, or perhaps to travel even further back in time to the dreaded Kyle Shanahan miss.

Since we’re unlikely to gain assistance from Bill & Ted, Marty McFly, Mr. Peabody, the Flash, or even H.G. Wells, let’s analyze this from the perspective of ‘now’. We are where we are. There is no going back, and it would appear that this team’s journey forward is very much tied to three men for the foreseeable future – George Paton, Russell Wilson, and yes… Nathaniel Hackett.

In terms of Team Development, it is safe to say that while the Offensive Unit is behind the desired schedule of fans and media, their struggles – while perhaps exaggerated because of the colossal expectations and magnified because of the global stage awarded by the NFL for having acquired Russell Wilson – are still not entirely unexpected. Hackett and Wilson may need a little bit of couples counseling to work through some intimacy issues, but they’re attempting to unite some pretty distinct offensive traits, and the distinctions are not always compatible.

Let’s not forget, while Hackett has been influenced by many offensive philosophies during his many stops, the philosophy from which he most recently emerged in Green Bay, is also struggling. And also with a Future Hall-of-Famer at the helm. So here we are – still squarely in the middle of the Storming Phase of Team Development, struggling to balance development with annoyances and distractions ranging from injury, to communication, to a fan base with pockets whose interests are beginning to lean ever-so-slightly away from rage and toward indifference.

Denver Broncos Team Development: And The Two Shall Become One?

If I sound like a broken record at this point, it might be that the artists in question haven’t been able to release a new song in quite some time – we’ve all heard this one before. You know, the one where the Defense carries the Offense and barely misses the Playoffs? While the exercise was entertaining (at least for me), the true nature of Team Development is that at some point, every member of the body must come together to perform as one unit.

Much like those guys who spend every waking moment in the gym, sculpting the most amazing physique… with their upper bodies – they look great for a selfy but could be mistaken for a gangly 14-year-old in the way they train legs.  Alright, full disclosure, here, I’m not the guy to be pointing this sort of thing out anymore. I was in shape once – check that, I’m still in a shape, but my chosen shape is now ‘pear’. My point, however, remains.

There are examples of teams throughout NFL History that have won championships while dominant in one area and atrophied in another, but those are historical for a reason – they’re anomalous and mind-boggling. So long as the units of this team are developing at such disparate rates, the team on the whole is unlikely to reach the Performing Stage of Team Development as a united, cohesive unit, and is therefore equally unlikely to achieve team success.

When a team faces this kind of imbalance, the stronger of the two eventually begins to experience unnatural wear from having to strain with twice the force toward the objective. It is admirable for one member of a team to carry the burdens of another, but that temporary blessing is never intended to become the new status quo. One covers for the weakness of the other while the other recovers enough to return the favor when his day arrives; if the other never recovers, then the body becomes malformed, like the chicken-legged bicep-behemoth whose natural habit is adorned with mirrors and dumbbells, and is conspicuously absent a hip-sled.

Broncos Country has its fair share of soulless groupies, much like myself, who will continue to walk over the burning coals for the promise of purifying clarity – over and over – with equally painful and cloudy results, but there are a great many in the Country who now own shoes and are considering using them for walking in the other direction.

Those of us who are scarred enough and burdened enough with Stockholm Syndrome, however, will patiently stay the course. Yes, we know, Steve Perry is not going to walk through those doors anytime soon, but we’ve heard the Band’s got this really great new singer (from the Philippines, I think) and he sounds just like Steve Perry – “Don’t stop believing, Broncos Country, we’ll be back on top in NO time!”

Seriously, though…

The moral of the story for this year’s Denver Broncos?

Friends don’t let friends skip ‘Leg Day’.