With a record of 107-85 since first becoming a NFL head coach with the Carolina Panthers in 2002, Denver Broncos’ head coach John Fox is about as wile and resourceful as the diminutive canine he shares a namesake with. Fox has come really close to winning the big one in the past, but there’s always something that prevents him from getting over the hump. He reached Super Bowl XXXVIII and lost to the New England Patriots in 2003, his second year as a head coach in Carolina, and almost got back to the Super Bowl two years later, losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game in 2005. From that point, up until his forced departure in five years later, the Carolina Panthers would only see one more playoff appearance, which resulted in a lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Game in 2008. In 2011, Fox would resurface in Denver.
That season would end with a first place finish in the AFC West, and a playoff victory led by one-time quarterback Tim Tebow. As we stand on the precipice of the Denver Broncos’ season-opener versus Andrew Luck and Indianapolis, we find a franchise and a coach who seem confident after coming off a 40 to 8 drubbing to the Seattle Seahawks, but the loss of several key players, including WR Eric Decker to the New York Jets, the six game suspension of WR Wes Welker for violating the league substance abuse policy, and the departure of veterans Champ Bailey and LG Zan Beadles to the Jacksonville Jaguars, means the Broncos will need to rely more on the leadership of Peyton Manning both on the field and in the locker room as well. While that shouldn’t be a problem for the Super Bowl-winning, Pro Bowl quarterback, it would be nice to able be to spread the leadership responsibilities to as many capable individuals as possible. John Fox has long been known as something of a defensive-minded coach, having been the offensive coordinator on the NCAA level and in the NFL with stops with the Los Angeles Raiders and the New York Giants, respectively.
Though he has fielded teams that have finished 1st in the AFC West Division three years In a row, general manager John Elway brought in Coach Fox for one reason and one reason alone, winning championships. Their first attempt at winning a ring under the Fox regime was a colossal disaster from a defensive perspective. Giving up 40 points would qualify as an unmitigated disaster. Although the team was first in the NFL in points per game, averaging a herculean 37.9 points per game, the defense allowed 399 points per game-which averages out to about 24.9 points per game. Normally, teams that are giving up almost 25 points per game don’t end up in the Super Bowl.
However, when you have a quarterback who averaged 342.3 yards per game with a 115.1 QBR, a team’s defense has a lot of leeway. However, the heavy reliance on Peyton Manning in the regular season would ultimately prove Denver’s undoing in the Super Bowl loss to Seattle. Once it was clear that Peyton Manning had been rattled, the entire offense packed it in early. Veteran running back Montee Ball is expected to get the lion’s share of the carries out of the backfield this year. With Jack Del Rio returning for his second season as defensive coordinator, John Fox and Manning are likely hoping for greater production on the defensive side of the ball. The addition of DE DeMarcus Ware and safety TJ Ward should help sure of a very porous defense, but failure to sign a veteran middle linebacker could come back to hurt Fox as the season wears on into the winter months.
Either Nate Irving, Steven Johnson or Lamin Barrow have to step up this season or teams will victimize Denver’s defense over the middle with tight ends and pass-catching running backs throughout the season. Though John Fox is to be commended for bringing winning back to Denver, especially considering his well publicized health issues in the past, GM John Elway and team owner Pat Bowlen are all about results. Peyton Manning is still an elite quarterback, but he is quickly approaching the twilight of his career. While he is still good enough to make mediocre players appear great on the offensive end, Peyton Manning doesn’t tackle and doesn’t play on special teams either. If Fox is unable to guide Denver to another AFC Championship game this season it is likely he will be given his walking papers. In Denver, second place isn’t good enough. Especially when you have a Hall of Fame-type, record-breaking quarterback lining up under center.