ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello didn’t want to make any grand proclamations.
As he stepped to the podium Friday, he emphasized that he wanted to watch the tape of the Broncos’ first joint practice against the San Francisco 49ers before offering a complete evaluation of Denver’s offensive performance. Scangarello also stressed that the Broncos had their fair share of positive plays against a Niners defense whose intensity was evident.
But Scangarello’s overall message? It was one that acknowledged the Broncos’ offense was far from perfect on Friday against San Francisco.
“I thought it was very choppy,” Scangarello said, “and I thought it felt like they got after us up front a little bit.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who led the first-team offense against the 49ers’ first-team defense, agreed with his offensive coordinator.
“I think we let them kind of set the tone, and we weren’t really able to kind of get it back and settle it back to our style,” Flacco said. “Obviously in a practice tempo when you’re not going and driving the ball and getting first downs, it’s not quite the same as a game. You can’t weather the storm quite the same. That’s all part of it.”
Flacco said his younger teammates, many of whom have only participated in one set of joint practices, can learn from the experience. For one, the offense can look to match the 49ers’ speed and intensity on Saturday — and Flacco said that starts along the line of scrimmage.
“A lot of it starts up front,” Flacco said. “So you’ve got to get those guys going and make sure that we set the tone early. Usually that’s the way it goes. The defense always comes out with a little bit more energy — even in games, that’s how it is. What good offenses do is they put a good first drive together and they get everything set to their pace and their tone and that carries it for the rest of the game. I think we’ve just got to learn how to do that when we play.”
Even on a less-than-perfect day for the offense, Scangarello still sees value in the sessions.
“The joints practices are great, just because it’s good [player] on good [player],” Scangarello said. “If they show us a blitz we haven’t seen, there’s no repercussions for the quarterback. The play can still go on. We can evaluate guys down the field. They can evaluate their coverage guys. It’s probably the same on this field. If Von Miller comes free, they can still run the plays. You go play in a game, it doesn’t happen that way; [if] a guy comes free, it’s a sack. And so here, part of the process is, yeah, you want to see where you’re at as an offense, but you also know that you’re evaluating the big picture, too — and that’s what the fun part of the crossover practices are.”
And there’s a larger lesson for the offense here, as well. Flacco, a 12-year veteran, has played enough football to know that teams don’t cruise through seasons without difficulties.
Teams have bad practices. Teams have bad quarters. Teams lose games.
How they respond is what defines seasons. In 2015, the Broncos responded to a pair of two-game losing streaks and went on a run to win Super Bowl 50.
In each of the last two seasons, though, the Broncos failed to counter those bad days or games with good ones, and the losses piled up.
Asked to grade the offense’s performance on Friday, Flacco instead looked toward that bigger picture.
“I don’t know if I can pick out grades very well, but we did below average for sure,” Flacco said. “That’s part of it. Part of being a good football team is responding to tough days, and it’s a 16-game season. There’s very few teams that can go 16 games and hold their head up and say they had an A-plus day every single day. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with tough times and with some adversity and getting hit in the face and standing up to it.
“I think this is all part of the process of building a team that can respond to those kind of things.”