DENVER — On a sun-soaked Colorado afternoon in May, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway and coach Vance Joseph went to work at Sports Authority Field.
Their non-football assignment on that day was the John Lynch Foundation’s “Salute the Stars,” an annual event that rounded up and doled out $118,000 in scholarship money for deserving, inspiring high school athletes who aspire to greatness.
“Success should be measured by happiness,” Joseph told the scholarship recipients from a snazzy stage below the south stands inside Mile High Stadium. “When you find your happiness, that’s your success.”
There was no happiness last week in Broncoville. They are flummoxed, frustrated and fearful — not of the Chargers, who host the Broncos at the StubHub soccer stadium Sunday, but of a scene they’ve seen before: an offense that can't keep pace with the defense.
This one's for the Johns. Should Elway’s Broncos and Lynch’s 49ers again join forces for an event where everyone wins?
The Broncos offensive line in pass protection is tied together by smoke and mirrors. Neither is a bonding agent.
Here's an idea. Take it for what it's worth. Denver gets: Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Staley, 33. San Francisco continues its fire sale for the future and receives 23-year-old quarterback Paxton Lynch and a first-round pick in the 2018 draft. Toss in a second-round pick, if necessary. A boost is that necessary.
“I think Paxton has those ‘wow’ throws,” said Lynch, the 49ers general manager, in August, long before his club sank to 0-6 and punted on this season when it released star linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
In early August, when the Broncos and 49ers left the field in the shadow of Levi's Stadium after the final day of joint practices, Elway and Lynch strolled toward the exit together, sharing a hearty laugh. They are good buddies who can point the 49ers in the right direction and get the Broncos back on track.
“Who says we’re off track?” defiant running back C.J. Anderson said Thursday.
Everyone with eyeballs.
The Broncos are at a crossroads. Following an inconceivable and inexcusable performance against the beaten-down New York Giants, the Broncos next encounter three consecutive road games — at the Chargers, at the Chiefs, at the Eagles. Denver’s on the road to participation — in the postseason or the top 10 of the NFL draft. The Broncos need to be really good or really bad.
The playoffs will be wide open, the 2018 draft thick with promising quarterbacks. Don’t be 8-8.
I learn more about the Broncos — or any team, for that matter — after terrible defeats. The locker room scene that trailed the Broncos’ 23-10 loss to the Giants was more of the same: the “No Fly Zone” let everyone within earshot know that it did its job, that Giants quarterback Eli Manning rarely targeted the wide receivers, so the Broncos’ defenders couldn’t win the game.
“Those are the types of games that you hate,” Chris Harris Jr. said.
If Trevor Siemian and the offense don’t find their mojo, you run the risk of repeating 2016.
“I understand if I don’t turn it over we’re going to be in dang near every game,” Siemian said.
Are 2 1/4 seasons enough to say the Broncos are what they are — an all-time defense burdened with a so-so offense? The Broncos' offense is in a deep, dark funk. With the occasional groundhog moment where it shows its head to scope the weather, it has been in a deep, dark funk for 40 games. That's a lot.
The 2015 Broncos ranked 19th in scoring. The 2016 Broncos ranked 27th in offense. These Broncos rank 16th in scoring (thanks to the 40-spot they put on the Cowboys), 18th in yards per play, 27th in red zone efficiency, first in frustration. These days the Broncos couldn’t score on a Louisville recruiting weekend.
Without a late touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman, the Broncos last week would have finished with only three points against the Giants — the lowest point total after a bye week in team history.
“I think it’s on us as players,” said Anderson, who tried to shoulder the blame.
You get what you pay for. That’s true in the NFL, pre-FBI college recruiting or street meat. Why is the Broncos' defense the strength of the roster and worthy of catchy nicknames? It has the sixth-highest payroll in the NFL. Why is the offense still so sluggish? It has the 22nd-highest payroll. Follow the money.
The post-Peyton Broncos don’t handle adversity well. In 2016, after the Chiefs broke their hearts at Mile High in an overtime win, the Broncos lost three of the next four. Denver hasn’t won a road game since Dec. 4, 2016, over the Jacksonville Jaguars. When it rains on the Broncos, it flash floods.
Who’s going to plug the dam?
The sample size isn’t shrinking. In a span that stretches two coaching staffs (Ol’ Kubes and VJ’s) and four quarterbacks (Peyton, Paxton, Trevor, Brock), the offense hasn’t been good enough. They need outside help, preferably soon.