Iron Sharpens Iron. The motto of Gary Kubiak and the Super Bowl champion 2015 Broncos. Teams don’t need catchy mottos or marketing slogans to win, but they do need a common message that helps form an identity. For too long now, the Broncos have lacked that. The identity of the Broncos has been, well, losing. They now hold the second-longest playoff drought in the NFL aside from the Jets, who most years are relegated to the butt of the NFL joke.
Sean Payton has made it clear that there is one key that will help the Broncos end their playoff drought, and revive their historic ways of winning: details. Paying attention to them, fine-tuning them, and executing them.
In a tweet sent out by the new coach on Friday night, he says that it is “Time to get to work in Bronco Country. #Details”
Iron sharpens iron, but what are the details? Well, some are pretty simple to find when looking at the raw numbers and failures of recent Broncos teams.
According to NFLPenalties.com, the Broncos were flagged 113 times last season and totaled 971 total penalty yards. They were flagged 51 times on offense, 50 times on defense, and 12 on special teams. Defensively, they averaged just a shade under 10 yards per defensive penalty. They led the league in total penalty yards and were just five flags off the lead for most times penalized.
Simply put, that is just unacceptable. There could be a drinking game made of taking a shot every time the Broncos derailed one of their drives with unnecessary penalties, but public health officials would strike that down immediately.
Denver had three games in which they racked up over 100 penalty yards and four in which they were penalized over 10 times. In week 6 against the Chargers, the Broncos logged just 160 total offensive yards. That same game, they got flagged for 151 total yards. There will likely never be a team who wins a game with those offensive and penalty yards.
Simply put, if Sean Payton and the staff he assembles can not find a way to limit penalties, the results will not be much different for the Broncos. They need to find discipline and continuity, something that has eluded them for far too long.
The Red Zone
Okay, it might be best to fire up that drinking game for this one. On the day the Broncos fired Nathaniel Hackett, the team ranked 23rd in the league in red zone touchdown percentage at 51.61%, punching the ball in on just over half of their red zone opportunities. By year’s end, they found their way up to 15th in the league at 55.56%. Russell Wilson had a completion percentage of just 48.89% in prime scoring range, which was good for 6th worst of any QB who attempted at least 45 passes in the red zone.
The Broncos also averaged the fewest red zone attempts per game, with just 2.1 on average. Not only do the Broncos struggle in the red zone, but they struggle to get there in the first place. Considering how infrequently they were inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, you’d figure they’d want to capitalize on their few opportunities. They simply did not. By scoring at around 55% of the time at a clip of just over two opportunities per game, the Broncos scored roughly only one red zone touchdown per game. There is no world in which that gets it done.
The defense, however, allowed just 1.4 red zone touchdowns per game, which ranked as 4th best in football. The defense, as it has done in many recent campaigns, held up their end of the deal and kept the Broncos in numerous games. The offense, again, was on a very different page.
If the Broncos wish to see success in 2023 and play important games into the new year, they need to find a way to become an effective red zone offense that makes a pretty consistent habit of visiting the opposing team’s 20-yard line.
Sean Payton reshaping the Denver Broncos Culture
The Broncos have won eight AFC championships. They’ve won 15 divisional titles. The years of Dan Reeves hoisting Lamar Hunt trophies, into Mike Shanahan hoisting Lombardis, to Elway declaring to the football world that this one was for Pat. Years of excellence and setting the standard. The Denver Broncos need to rectify their recent mistakes and return to their glory days, and set forth a new age of Broncos football, one as glorious and successful and those that preceded it not long ago. The three-time Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos can not be the butt of the NFL joke anymore.
That being said, this specific detail might be the biggest detail that there is. Sean Payton can not have a camera shot on national television where a defensive lineman is screaming at the quarterback right behind him during a loss. He can not have an offensive lineman getting into a physical altercation with the backup quarterback during a national television loss. The rumored “divides” within the team can not be the topic of daily talk shows, taking attention away from the real matters at hand, can not. happen. He can not have an offensive coordinator (seriously) saying that the team practices incompletions during the week. The team can’t have “a great week of practice” every week leading up to another disappointing and deflating loss. It all needs to end.
A culture, and a winning one at that, is not something that can just be installed overnight. Simply adding a new head man does not fix any issues. Payton and the staff he assembles must build a new culture of their own, one that finds balance between the history of winning that is the Denver Broncos, and a new identity that shapes and forms around the men that wind up making the 2023 team.
This won’t happen with the snap of a finger. Most importantly, the new coaching staff will need their players to buy into the culture they are building. There are several key members of the Broncos who have had more than a few coaches in Denver. Justin Simmons is on his, including interims, sixth coach in Denver and he hasn’t even turned thirty yet. While there hasn’t been a coach with the pedigree or résumé of Sean Payton in Dove Valley in quite some time, you will still have to sell several guys on something they have heard before: “my vision and ideas will bring the Broncos back to their winning ways.”
One could argue the Broncos had no culture last year. Rumors ran rampant that Wilson had lost the locker room, and that Hackett had done the same, and no one liked each other, and whatever else you woke up to on your Twitter feed. The simple fact is that there is serious work to do in building a new Denver Broncos culture, and it will basically be started from scratch.
There are plenty of players around the NFL that could help the Denver Broncos and follow Sean Payton to the Mile High City in 2023.
For the most recent championship Broncos team, they needed to sharpen iron with iron. They kept each other sharp, played for each other, lived their collective culture together, and it culminated in a ring. George Paton, Sean Payton, and the staff they assemble in Denver will need to find a way to iron out the details in Denver. In the end, if they can’t, the details won’t matter and the Broncos are back at square one. It’s all about the #Details.