ENGLEWOOD | Among the things Vic Fangio wants to change in 2020 is Denver’s offensive style, the Broncos’ fortunes and his own reputation.
The designer of some of the NFL’s stingiest defenses over the last three decades wants to air it out, not grind it out, as the Broncos did last season in his first foray into head coaching.
“That’s what I like,” Fangio said of putting more pop in his downfield passing game.
“Contrary to the stereotype that’s always out there — defensive head coach, wants to ground and pound, considers the pitch to the halfback a pass — that’s not me. I like to be aggressive.”
That was evident in Denver’s win over the Chargers in December when Fangio overruled first-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s suggestion that Drew Lock take a knee with 8 seconds left and play for overtime. Instead, Lock threw deep to Courtland Sutton, who drew a 39-yard defensive pass interference flag, setting up a game-winning field goal by Brandon McManus as time expired in Lock’s NFL debut.
Fangio fired Scangarello last month and replaced him with veteran play-caller Pat Shurmur.
“Those two decisions were independent of each other,” Fangio said this week as he revealed his intention to move on from Scangarello even if Shurmur hadn’t been available.
The Broncos averaged just 17.6 points a game last season, their worst in 28 years.
Nine times they scored 16 points or less and they finished 28th in the league in total offense, 28th in scoring, 28th in passing, 20th in rushing, 30th in third-down conversions and 28th in red zone offense.
To bridge the gap between them and the Chiefs, who outscored the Broncos 53-9 last season, Fangio has turned to Shurmur, a protege of Kansas City coach Andy Reid.
Shurmur, whose offensive coordinator with the Giants, Mike Shula, is joining him in Denver as the Broncos’ new quarterbacks coach, spent his first decade in the NFL on Reid’s staff in Philadelphia. He coached the Eagles’ tight ends and offensive line from 1999-2001 and their quarterbacks from 2002-08.
So, Shurmur has been schooled in Reid’s pile-up-the-points coaching mentality.
“You just have to throw it down there. I think that’s how you do it,” Shurmur said. “I think we have some players that can be effective and make plays and be productive with a deep ball. I think it’s important that you do attack the defense down the field.
“There are some games when teams won’t allow it so you’ve got to do other things. But I think you have to challenge a defense, and one way to do it is to do it downfield. That’s how you get points, that’s how you move the ball.”
The Broncos have a 1,000-yard receiver in Sutton and a 1,000-yard rusher in Philip Lindsay to go with tight end Noah Fant, who set club rookie tight end records with 40 catches for 562 yards and caught three touchdowns in 2019.
General manager John Elway will have well north of $60 million in cap space and could have as many as a dozen draft picks this offseason, as he seeks to bolster his offense.
Fangio figures the way to catch — and beat — the Chiefs is at their own game.
“Well, right now as we stand here today — things change year to year — they’ve lost eight games in the last two years and in all of those games except one, the other team has scored 31 or more points, I believe,” he said. “So that paints a little picture there for you. The other game they lost, the winning team (the Colts last year) only scored 19 points but they ran the ball 45 times in that game. So that was a different formula.
“So it’s got to be somewhere in between there. You’ve got to be able to slow them down somewhat, which to some degree we did a little bit. But obviously you’re going to have to score some points. That goes without saying.”
Fangio’s reasoning was sound but his math a little bit off. The Chiefs have lost nine games, including playoffs, over the last two years, and the Chargers beat then 29-28 last season. But his point holds: those nine opponents who beat the Chiefs since 2018 averaged 35.2 points in those games.
Twice what the Broncos averaged last season.
Notes: Shurmur attended the Super Bowl last week, cheering on the Chiefs because his son, Kyle Shurmur, is a rookie QB from Vanderbilt who is on Kansas City’s practice squad. … Hall of Fame nominee Steve Atwater said his former teammate Dennis Smith will present him at induction ceremonies this summer. … The Broncos have hired veteran NFL assistant John Pagano as outside linebackers coach.