Opinion: In Defense of Vic Fangio
11 Sports Anchor Richie Cozzolino doesn’t think Fangio deserves to go just yet. He’s written why.
Broncos Country, you really want to go through this again? 4 head coaches in 8 years? Ready to clean house with a roster 90% of the way to Super Bowl contention?
Take a breath. Accept that being impatient is a hallmark of sports fans everywhere. Please, don’t be Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka, running around the factory stomping your feet, shrieking and singing “don’t care how, I want it now!”
Vic Fangio has done (almost) everything right. Let’s talk about it.
A Dominant Defense:
I want the world! I want the whole world! I want to lock it all up in my pocket!
It’s my bar of chocolate, give it to me now!
It’s a shame, really, that the ineptitude of the offense has overshadowed just how elite Fangio’s defense is. 35 years coaching in the NFL will do that. The Broncos are allowing 17.3 points per game, a league-best. In a grueling AFC West, where players like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert are ready to carve up defenses and make fantasy bookies their money, Denver holds opponent to 210 yards per game though the air.
The Broncos spent millions bringing in cornerbacks Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller, and Bryce Callahan. They drafted Pat Surtain 9th overall. They signed safety Justin Simmons to a multi-year deal. The investment was clear: Denver will be leaning on defense, as they had in 2015.
On that side of the ball, the results have unequivocally been a success. There’s a great write up on the “Weekly Spiral” if you’re a schematic, X’s and O’s nerd like me. It explains how Fangio consistently confuses opponents’ offensive coordinators. He fits his formation to his personnel. It’s talent on a level my media brain (and honestly, most media members with no pro experience) can’t talk about with authority. Here’s the takeaway: Fangio has proved Denver can, injuries aside, dominate the league with him as head coach. Y’know...at least on one side of the ball...
Doomed to Fail on Offense:
“I want a golden goose!”
“At least a hundred a day!”
Remember April 28? Days before the NFL Draft, where Denver picked 9th overall? I bet your fingernails found follicles, scratching your head as Denver announced the signing of...Teddy Bridgewater?
Months ago, a majority of Broncos Country asked, “is that the best we could do?” Now, nine months later...the main emotions isn’t confusion. It’s frustration. You failed to give Aaron Rodgers an offer he couldn’t refuse. DeShaun Watson found himself in legal trouble and was off-limits. General Manager George Paton likely didn’t give rookie QBs in the draft any serious consideration, because they needed a proven winner now.
The result? A perfectly average, safe quarterback in Bridgewater. 3,052 yards in 2021, 18 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. He’s done his job, yes. Just enough. I’ve barely been able to stay awake during some of his first-half drives, but he’s been serviceable at Mile High. And that’s it.
Fangio doesn’t call the offensive plays. That’s on OC Pat Shurmur. He’s done the job to a lukewarm response that’s evoked more head-scratching every week. Denver ranks in the bottom-half of the league in just about every statistical category for a reason. The blame will always fall on Fangio for an uninspiring section of his team (justifiably, I will add). But he was given an average quarterback, accepted an average OC into his ranks, and we are stunned when the quarterback cake comes out half-baked.
Consider it a blessing in disguise. Whatever star QB Denver gets this offseason, he’ll have his pick of offensive coordinators. Fangio isn’t all that concerned with that side of the ball. If you’re bringing in Aaron Rodgers to be the lifeboat at Empower Field, that may be for the best. Sounds like he prefers to run the show his way.
“A Terrible Year to be Average:”
“I want the works, I want the whole works--
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes...and NOW!”
The NFL ebbs and flows like the ocean. There are years where having a .500 record gets you into the playoffs. 2021 is not one of them. The AFC West, and the AFC at-large, is competitive in a way the NFL has never seen. There’s 2 weeks left in the regular season, and 13 of 16 teams in the conference are still alive for a playoff spot.
It’s a terrible year to be average, and that’s what the Broncos brought to the table. A 7-8 record could fly some seasons. Heck, last year a 6-10 team almost made the playoffs in the laughably anti-competitive NFC East. But again, Denver doesn’t have the luxury of playing in a cupcake division. Mahomes has haunted orange and blue faithful since he entered the league. The Chiefs just wrapped up the AFC West title for the sixth straight year, an identical streak to your playoff drought. How coincidental.
“And if I don’t get the things I am after...I’m going to scream!”
Yes, there are games and moments where Fangio simply can’t hide. A 1-10 combined record against the Raiders and Chiefs is horrendous. His propensity for throwing challenge flags after we’ve all seen a definitive replay angle deserves a booth firing of its own. And his clock management has needed work since he walked onto Empower Field in 2019.
Yes, there are problems. They’re also all fixable.
You have the players that suit Fangio’s scheme, you have the team identity and direction. Blowing it up for the 3rd time in six years in the hopes once again for immediate success seems so backward the idea should play for this offense. Give the ball to your running backs. Burn off clock. Get leads. Win games. The formula for victory in the NFL is simple with a stellar defense. Let’s hope any change in Broncos ownership understands the situation more than those sitting in the cheap seats.
Fangio is a year away from his magnum opus on defense. To wrench that away would be cheating all fans of the sport.
Patience is a virtue. Tug a Rodgers or Russell Wilson away from the grips of their franchise and Mile High can celebrate again. Fangio’s defense can wait. Question is, can Broncos Country?
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