Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Irrational Responses Don't Help After A Lopsided Loss

It's never fun to lose a game in lopsided fashion. For Denver Broncos fans, it was not fun losing to New England this past Sunday, in a game in which the Patriots dominated in every aspect. And it likely brought back memories of what happened in last season's Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, the loss is also bringing out the worst in Broncos fans, who have visions of a Super Bowl win dancing in their heads, all while watching the media hype up the latest showdown between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and remembering how much money was spent in the offseason, thus believing that such a loss like Sunday's game means that John Fox must be thrown under the bus.

Let me be clear of one thing: There are legitimate criticisms to make regarding Fox, and he is certainly not an elite coach. But the idea that we must throw him under the bus is the most irrational response Broncos fans can make.

I'll start with one problem I've often had with Broncos fans: They believe that the back-to-back Super Bowl wins to cap the 1997 and 1998 seasons came with a magic formula that went like this: Hall of Fame veteran quarterback, plus mastermind head coach, plus draft day steal, plus all the right free agents, equals a Lombardi Trophy. Repeat the process again and it will work.

This mindset thus causes Broncos fan to believe that the way to fix issues with the team are simpler than they really are. When Mike Shanahan was fired, all we needed to do was the fix the defense, they said. When Peyton Manning came along, the Super Bowl wins were certainly a given now that he would have a defense that looked so good in 2011, they believed. When DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward were signed, the Broncos were now going to have a hard-hitting defense that wouldn't underachieve like the year before. And certain views held by mainstream sports pundits only fueled those perceptions.

So when the Broncos are blown out by a team like the Patriots, who are not far removed from three Super Bowl wins and two additional trips, Broncos fans believe there must be something wrong and want an easy answer to it, thus they look for the scapegoat. And considering that Fox has never been considered an elite coach, and sometimes too conservative for his own good, he's the first candidate, because it must be Dan Reeves all over again.

What bothered me the most was when I visited the fan forums at the official Denver Broncos website and read some mind-numbingly dumb comments when one person at the forum pointed out that the Patriots lost in lopsided fashion to the Kansas City Chiefs. One comment was that Patriots-Chiefs wasn't a "big game" and therefore it didn't count. Another comment was along the lines of that a lopsided loss to the Bills or the Jets wouldn't have been so bad because the Broncos may not be as focused for a weaker team.

Such comments are laughably bad. The truth is this: Any time an NFL team loses a lopsided game, regardless of the opponent, it is unacceptable, and every player and coach in the NFL would tell you that. They might react differently in terms of what they discuss following such a loss, but their underlying message is always the same: Blowout losses are not to be tolerated.

With that said, we need to consider what really constitutes a "big game." Fans often think of these as the games that the media hypes up the most. Naturally, the Bronco game against the Pats was going to get it for one reason: Manning vs. Brady. The game against the Seahawks got it because it was the Super Bowl rematch. Then again, so did Broncos-Colts because it was another showdown between Manning and the guy who replaced him in Indy, Andrew Luck.

By the way, the Broncos beat the Colts. They also beat the Chiefs, Cardinals and 49ers, both teams who remain in playoff hunts. And the Chargers may have been blown out against the Dolphins, but they are not out of the playoff hunt yet.

Which brings me to this: Whenever two teams who are contending for the playoffs square off, it's a big game. So let's not try to downplay any particular contest just because it doesn't get hyped as much as one involving Manning and Brady.

As far as Sunday's game itself goes, there are a few things we may want to consider before we start breaking out the torches and pitchforks with regards to John Fox. Consider, for example, the theory that if you blitz Brady often, he gets rattled and can't connect with his receivers. While there may be some truth to that, what happens when you blitz a quarterback often and he is able to dump the ball off to his tight end? That's what happened when the Broncos faced San Diego, and Phillip Rivers was often able to connect with Antonio Gates. It's certainly possible that Fox and Jack Del Rio wondered if blitzing Brady was a good idea when he might just dump the ball often to Rob Gronkowski (and Gronk is better than Gates at this point, even though Gates has had a great career), or perhaps he does that to somebody like Shane Vereen, a good pass-catching back (and while Branden Oliver is a nice story, he's not as experienced as Vereen).

Now, it's fair to argue that Fox and Del Rio should not have been thinking too much about what Rivers did against them and apply that same theory to going against Brady and Gronk. But that doesn't mean the answer is to get rid of them, but to figure out a different approach should the teams meet again, or even rushing five more often on passing downs, regardless of the opponent.

It is also fair to argue that Aqib Talib should have been covering Gronk most of the game, but we must not forget that Talib played a terrible game against the Pats, and his play had nothing to do with scheme or who he was covering, and everything to do with Talib's play itself. When a player has a bad game, you acknowledge it and don't pretend that a scheme change was the difference between him playing well or not.

We must also remember that it's difficult for even playoff-caliber teams to win on the road against a playoff contender. The Broncos' two losses both were on the road against playoff contenders, ditto for the Pats. Their wins over playoff contender have all been home games. The Pats have two of those three upcoming "big games" on the road, and if they fail to win either of them, we might have to ask ourselves whether they really are the team destined to go to the Super Bowl. And one only needs to go back and look at the Patriots in past seasons to see that their losses were often road games against playoff contenders.

Of course, the same can be said about the Broncos, as their games against the Chiefs, Chargers and Bengals are on the road. And it may be easy for some Broncos fans to make assumptions about those games, but let's be realistic. The Chiefs, who many thought were about to fall back to earth, are very much in the playoff hunt and a serious threat not just to the Broncos, but other playoff contenders they have yet to face. The Bengals have been up and down, but chances are they'll come out swinging against the Broncos, particularly because it's near the end of the season and they may be desperate for a win to ensure a playoff spot. It may be fun to laugh at Phillip Rivers and the Chargers now, but there's no telling what they might do once they return from their bye.

As far as Fox goes, criticizing his decisions is one thing, but let's quit pretending that if we replaced him with another head coach, that all our problems would be solved. Keep in mind that you need a head coach that is going to allow Peyton Manning the latitude to freely discuss what needs to be done on offense with his coordinator, rather than an autocratic type who wants to control everything, or a coach who is known for being too bluntly honest with his assessments and thus draws attention to himself. This may be why Jim Mora was not the right coach for a team with Peyton Manning, but that coaches such as Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell, and John Fox are better fits, even if they aren't truly elite.

So, no, I don't think Rex Ryan is the answer, because he's like Mora in that he draws too much attention to himself because of his brutal honesty. And as far as autocratic coaches go, there is a theory that Peyton didn't go to San Francisco because he wouldn't have been able to make things work with Jim Harbaugh, who is an autocratic type. Bill Belichick is the same way, so yes, he would not have been a good pairing with Manning, and needed to be paired with somebody like Tom Brady, as in a quarterback who is competitive and has talent, but needed plenty of molding before he could truly become a top passer. And I may as well bring up Mike Shanahan and say that I don't think he would have made it work with Peyton, either. Keep in mind how much Shanahan and John Elway liked each other, and that Elway could accept Shanahan's coaching style because he liked so much about what Shanahan did for an offense.

In other words, it's best to settle down about Fox and his future and focus on what's important: The remainder of the season. We will find out what Fox (and everyone else on the Broncos, for that matter) has learned from Sunday's game and what the results will be. Once the season is over, regardless of the final result, that will be the time to evaluate and determine what changes need to be made.

Until then, let's not overreact to what happened on Sunday. Expecting that the Broncos not let it happen again is understandable. Starting up any petition or website to fire John Fox is an irrational response, and such responses never help after a lopsided loss.

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