ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During the Broncos’ stretch of five consecutive AFC West titles from 2011-2015, Denver raced out to fast starts to seasons that forced their divisional opponents to either keep winning or fall behind.
Those quick and successful starts haven’t disappeared in the three years since the Broncos’ last playoff appearance.
In 2016, the Broncos started 4-0 and hit their bye at 7-3. In 2017, Denver started 2-0 before improving to 3-1. And last season, the Broncos again won their first two games.
The difference, though, has been the team’s inability to sustain that success. During their title defense, the Broncos lost four of six to close the season, beginning with a 30-27 overtime loss to Kansas City.
In 2017, the Broncos slipped up against the Giants in Week 6 and lost eight consecutive games. The Broncos fought back from 3-6 last year to even their record, but a slew of late-season injuries led to four consecutive losses and again kept them from the postseason.
Safety Justin Simmons and defensive end Adam Gostis — who were both drafted in 2016 and have not yet appeared in the postseason — know these midseason skids must end.
And new Head Coach Vic Fangio could play a sizeable role in making sure that happens.
“We just hit that skid,” Simmons said Thursday. “It’s obviously in the back of our minds and a point of emphasis that we want to hit on to make sure that a great start is great, but [also find] how to sustain that. I think Vic and his staff — [I’ve] absolutely have loved every second of OTA offseason practices that we’ve had. I think it will make a huge difference.”
From the moment Fangio arrived in Denver, the veteran defensive coordinator and first-time head coach declared he would not let this team die a “death by inches.” That is, he wouldn’t allow small mistakes to add up and create a larger crisis. Perhaps that will help in the Broncos’ attempts to bring playoff football back to Denver.
“Yeah, I think we just need to be consistent,” Gotsis said Thursday. “I think the last couple years we’ve started the season strong. We’ve been coming out with two, three wins and we’re looking really good. Then we kind of just fall into that lull of like three or four losses. Then we’re trying to gather ourselves again. So, we’ve got to come out and be consistent across all three phases: [special] teams, defense and offense. Hopefully, we can figure that out quick in this preseason and come to season time with us ready to go. There’s no looking back.”
Gotsis said the team could solve the problem in part by having a more granular focus.
“It’s we win a game and, ‘Who’s next?’” Gotsis said. “We can’t be thinking five weeks down the schedule, ‘We’ve got this guy,’ or, ‘We’ve got this guy.’ It’s every week is a championship week for us.”
Think of it as another example of prioritizing the inches.
Of course, a dominant defense would be a major step back toward contention. Fangio’s defense seems to have the right components, Simmons said.
“I think the biggest thing is you never know what is coming,” Simmons said. “It’s always a mix and match. We’re always moving around. We try to make it as tough as possible on everybody and spreading the equal plays around. That is where it becomes so communicative based because you have to be on the same page.”
Gotsis seems to agree that deception could help the Broncos find success on defense.
“We’re going to be in a lot more coverages mixed up in there,” Gotsis said. “So, hopefully we’re not just sitting there and the team just knows what we’re lining up in every snap and expose us as easily. We’re hoping to have a big impact this year and hopefully make a few more turnovers and put our offense in better positions. That’s one way we can help this team is score on defense or put us in scoring positions.”
As the Broncos aim to find sustained success, every point could be critical.