Happy Wednesday, friends. I wanted to check in with a quick thought today about John Fox. You know how every game the fan base gets up in arms about one conservative decision or another made by Fox?
It seems like it happens every week, and the Twitter hate gets going, and it seems like everybody has coach envy.
I talked recently about how the average fan or reporter has little ability to gauge the quality of a football coach in totality. Judging from the comments section, which I have to remind myself is an extremely minute representation of our overall reader base, my overarching point may have missed its intended mark. It became an argument about why Josh McDaniels is horrible, and that was pointless.
There are certain observable aspects about coaches, even if the entire body of work isn't evident. A major benefit of the John Fox era is that the Broncos have become an undeniably physical football team. Part of that has been staffing choices by the front office, but in large part, I credit the coaching staff for setting a tone of fundamental soundness and physicality. His teams have always been very sound in all phases of the game, and they've always hit hard.
I've been a Broncos fan since 1987, and this has rarely been a very physical team during those 27 years. It was always about finesse and being smarter than the other team, and out-scheming them. Fox isn't a technocratic scheme guy in the least, and since McDaniels got fired, I've been convinced that a Fox type was what this team needed.
Fox's lack of marriage to specific schemes helped the Broncos to be competitive earlier than expected, because he didn't have to clean house of McDaniels' players (or coaches, for that matter). That relatively quick competitiveness undoubtedly helped to convince Peyton Manning to come to Denver, and Peyton has obviously played a huge role in getting the Broncos to the Super Bowl. Don't complain too loudly about Foxy, even if this fourth-down decision or that frustrates you.
Back to physicality, though. Each of the last two offseasons, Pat Kirwan and Tim Ryan have gone to about one third of the training camps in the NFL on behalf of Sirius/XM NFL Radio, and in each tour, they said that the Broncos held the most physical practice they saw each year. Remember, Kirwan is best friends with Pete Carroll, so those comparative statements have included the supposedly more physical Seahawks.
To my eyes, the Broncos have only lost the physical battle in one game this season, which was in Week 15, to the Chargers. They won it closely against the Chargers earlier in the season, though, and they won it resoundingly in the divisional round.
A thing that I find interesting is the cognitive dissonance that exists in media circles about the Broncos. They're viewed by most football talkers as somehow being a soft finesse team, and I can only surmise that such a conclusion is driven by their proficiency in the passing offense. That kind of proficiency doesn't necessarily indicate a lack of physicality, though, even if the two things often go together.
Quite frankly, the Broncos' defensive front has been mashing offensive lines all year, and stopping the run with seven men. The back end features some DBs who like to hit, as well, including Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Duke Ihenacho, Rahim Moore, Quentin Jammer, David Bruton, and Kayvon Webster. Hell, even Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie seems like he's been in the hitting mood lately too.
On offense, the line isn't the most powerful group in the NFL, but they have won their battles in all but two games this year, only really struggling against the Colts and in the Week 15 Chargers game. For the most part, the Colts won with speed off the edge, too, not with power. The Broncos are among the best pass protection groups in the NFL, and they win really often in the running game too.
The wide receivers are all quite physical, and they're strong and willing blockers. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are big guys, and they play with above average power for their position, and Wes Welker packs a much bigger punch than you'd think for his size. His former coach thinks that he's in the business of taking out defensive backs.
The Broncos feature an interesting set of tight ends, too. Virgil Green and Joel Dreessen are more of the physical blocking type, and I can still vividly remember Green repeatedly being used in wham action against the Patriots in November, helping the running game go for 280 yards. Julius Thomas isn't a skilled blocker, but he tries hard at least, and he's improved during the season. Jacob Tamme mostly isn't used as a blocker, but he isn't exactly soft either.
The position group that really drives home the physical nature of the Broncos is the running backs. Both Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are physical runners who finish with power consistently. C.J. Anderson has also shown the same kind of qualities, and only Ronnie Hillman shows an unphysical style.
The willingness to hit and ability to win physical battles have been proven throughout the season by the Broncos. It may not be noticed, but it's there. Now, every week, we get to hear predictions that they're going to lose those battles, and will have to rely solely on their finesse. But funny how it keeps not happening, right? Funny how people are surprised.
The Broncos dominated both lines of scrimmage against the Patriots last Sunday, and I think it was a particularly instructive game. Both teams are missing some key players on their offensive and defensive lines, but this is the Patriots, who are expressly built to win up front, especially on defense. Other than the QB position, the lines are where New England spends its money, and the Broncos absolutely mashed them.
The Seahawks hold no physical advantage against the Broncos, and I fully expect them to struggle to run the ball on offense. They also could have hung with the power game of San Francisco, for what it's worth. People are going to be surprised yet again, with how well the Broncos play physical football, and it will be because they're suckers who are too lazy to look at video.
We have John Fox to thank for the Broncos' ability to play with power, because he's set the tone for a physical program. I fully believe that it's going to pay off a week from Sunday. Maybe then, maybe, people will notice.
More likely, though, it will be "Who could have seen the Broncos hanging with Seattle physically, and even winning up front?" being written by the Peter Kings of the world.
The only people who could have seen it were the ones who were looking.