Denver Broncos: John Fox

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – It’s not all that surprising that pass rushers would cast their votes for any defensive gameplan that called for the aggressive approach when it was time to chase down opposing quarterbacks.

But there was a moment in the Denver Broncos’ stretch drive this past regular season when linebacker Von Miller and defensive end DeMarcus Ware were seated next to each other and were asked to name the game to that point in the season when the Broncos had done the best job rushing the passer. And both players, simultaneously and without hesitation, said; “49ers.’’

Stands to reason, at least from the perspective of sack artists, since the game video revealed the Broncos not only were tied for the season best in sacks in the Oct. 19 win over the 49ers – they had six, one of two six-sack games during the season – but they were also the most aggressive in going about it in that game.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware, Von Miller
Kevin Terrell/AP ImagesDeMarcus Ware (left) and Von Miller celebrate a sack, something they believe they can do a lot more of in 2015.
That game, a 42-17 Broncos’ victory at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, was also the season high for defensive snaps the Broncos sent five or more pass rushers at the opposing quarterback. A team that didn’t add extra rushers all that often to the mix sent at least one extra rusher at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on 14 defensive snaps, including penalty snaps.

Eleven of those snaps included five pass rushers and on three snaps the Broncos sent at least six. The Broncos also had two games when they sent at least five pass rushers at opposing quarterbacks for 13 snaps – wins over the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins.

No team attempted more passes against the Broncos last season than the Bills did – 57 – and the 49ers’ 46 attempts amounted to the fifth-highest total for the season.

It all comes to light because if there was a consistent criticism of the Broncos’ defense in the public domain it was that Jack Del Rio, with the likes of Miller and Ware in the formation, wasn’t aggressive enough in the rush. Both Del Rio and coach John Fox routinely said, with logic on their side, the best strategy on defense in these pass-happy times was a defense that could consistently create pressure with four rushers – with those four players coming from anywhere in the formation – so the Broncos could have seven players in coverage.

And overall, the Broncos did lead the league in forcing three-and-outs this past season – 30.8 percent of offensive series – and the team set a franchise single-season record for fewest rushing yards allowed per game (79.8).

But in the biggest moments the league's big-name quarterbacks have gone about their business largely unencumbered, including the loss to the Indianapolis Colts last month. The Broncos have had one sack in their last three playoff losses combined in two home losses in the divisional round to finish out both 2012 and 2014 to go with the loss in Super Bowl XLVIII to close out the 2013 season.

In the Super Bowl loss Russell Wilson completed 69.2 percent of his passes while Andrew Luck completed 62.8 percent of his passes in the Colts’ win over the Broncos in January – neither was sacked by the Broncos. In the double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season the Broncos sacked Joe Flacco once and while Flacco completed onlt 52.9 percent of his passes he threw for 331 yards on 18 completions.

So, while incoming defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has not promised a blitz-happy attack – he, too, likes to create as much pressure with four rushers as often as possible – he has promised an aggressive mindset.

“We’re aggressive,’’ Phillips said. “Defensive players, they’re aggressive by nature. I think you take something away from them when you don’t let them be. And aggressive doesn’t mean blitzing all the time, but it does mean coming off the football -- everybody coming off the football. You won’t see a square stance from a defensive lineman, so to speak for people who know football, where you’re reading. This is an attack defense, and that’s the way players like to play. You get the best results out of that and I think you play the best that way so we’ll be that way.’’

At the Pro Bowl, in the days leading up to the Super Bowl they had hoped to be playing in, both Miller and Ware offered a prelude to those sentiments. Both players, surrounded by Super Bowl reminders in the stadium where the title game would be played just a week later, offered the hope of aggressiveness.

“You always want to get to the quarterback,’’ Miller said. “This defense has the players to do it, we need just to get in the lab and figure out how to be better. Because we had moments where we showed what we can do, but we didn’t do it enough, myself included, I know that.’’

“We feel like there’s more we can do,’’ Ware said. “We want every play to be hard on the quarterback.’’
PHOENIX -- A lot has changed in the work-day world of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning since signed with the team in 2012.

After he received the Bart Starr Award Friday for his off-the-field efforts, Manning took a moment to acknowledge former Broncos coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

“I feel I need to say, boy I really, it’s a tough business that we play in, and unfortunately this is the third time I’ve been a part of a coaching transition where a coach has lost his job, where assistant coaches have lost their jobs and it’s the toughest part about it," Manning said. “I’m very thankful and grateful for what John Fox did for me as a player, he’s a big reason I chose to play in Denver. One thing I’ll say about Coach Fox, he always had my back and that can’t go unnoticed and it was never unnoticed by me. I was thankful for him.

Manning
“And of course Adam Gase and I probably spent as much time together as any Bronco employee these last three years and sorry that changes are part of it. I guess you become used to it, but you don’t become numb to it, there is an emotional attachment to guys that become friends. Of course wish them the best and Coach Del Rio, I wish him the best."

Fox was the first head coach from another team to make contact with Manning after the quarterback’s release by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. As a result, the Broncos were the first team Manning visited in his free agency tour. Manning faced some change after the ’12 season when offensive coordinator Mike McCoy left to take the San Diego Chargers coaching job. Gase was promoted from quarterbacks coach.

The Broncos parted ways with Fox the day after the team’s playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Fox was later hired by the Chicago Bears, where Gase joined him as offensive coordinator.

The only holdovers from Fox’s staff still in Denver are running backs coach Eric Studesville, wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and offensive line coach Clancy Barone (who was Fox's tight ends coach). In Gase’s two years as the team’s play-caller the Broncos scored an NFL single-season record 606 points in 2013 and were second in the league in scoring this season with 482 points.

The Broncos averaged 34 points per game the last two seasons. New coach Gary Kubiak is expected to have the majority of the play-calling duties with the Broncos, and former Broncos player and assistant coach Rick Dennison will be the team's offensive coordinator.

Manning said he likes and respects Kubiak -- the two had a meeting this past Wednesday -- but also wants to hear the plan for the offense, the roster, and Manning’s place in them as he tries to decide whether or not to return for the 2015 season.

“(I’m) getting a good evaluation of the changes that have been made, you know, how I fit in to the changes, how does Coach Kubiak see me possibly fitting in with him and his team," Manning said. “ Like I said you want to get a good feel for them and what’s comfortable to them as well."

And of their first sit-down this past week since Kubiak’s hire, Manning said" “Coach Kubiak seemed quite busy ... We had a good healthy conversation, honest conversation, look forward to having a few more with him."
PHOENIX -- In a Super Bowl with two coaches in Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll who know the benefits of a second chance, the latter stood up for former Denver Broncos coach John Fox.

Carroll dropped Fox's name while answering a question about finding a way to secure another chance in the NFL after being fired as a head coach. Carroll was fired by the New England Patriots after three seasons and by the New York Jets after one before finding success with the Seattle Seahawks. Fox is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaPete Carroll, a beneficiary of second chances, empathizes with former Broncos coach John Fox.
"So often guys get kicked out," Carroll said Wednesday morning. "I got kicked out after one year at the Jets. I didn't even get started figuring that thing out, I was a mess. But those experiences are extraordinarily valuable and I can see why owners look to a guy who has had experiences.

"To hire a guy like John Fox, how could you not want to hire John Fox? He's done everything. He's been through it all and he's a great coach and a communicator. I understand why guys get a second chance in that regard. It's based on the accumulated experiences that give you more wisdom, more understanding, and also an opportunity to see a guy. You've seen them in situations and you know more so what you're getting. I think that happens, too."

The Broncos and Fox parted ways Jan. 12, the day after Denver's loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Fox led the Broncos to four consecutive AFC West titles and three consecutive 12-win seasons, including 2014. In announcing the move, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said the two disagreed on how to take the Broncos "to the next level."

In replacing Fox, Elway gave his long-time friend and former teammate Gary Kubiak a second chance as a head coach as well. Kubiak was fired by the Houston Texans 13 games into the 2013 season and spent this past season as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator.

"I learned a lot," said Kubiak, who was 61-64 in regular-season games with the Texans. "I think you always learn from what happens. You learn what you should do and maybe what you shouldn't do,"

Carroll echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"It's just experiences," Carroll said. "This is a really difficult job the first time. There are so many things that happen in this position that you just can't predict and you just don't know and you don't see it coming in your preparation. You just have to deal with it as it hits you. Everybody is going to falter and make mistakes and say, 'I wish I would have known then what I know now.' That's going to happen. What unfortunately doesn't always happen is guys get enough time to work through those early years so that you can find your way and you can find your voice and you can find your perspective."

Former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who was fired 12 games into his second season in Denver and is now the Patriots' offensive coordinator, is hoping for a second chance as a head coach. Like Carroll, McDaniels said this week that the first time through can be a bumpy ride.

"I think I'm a better listener than I was then. I was young, made a lot of mistakes, learned from them -- hopefully -- try to be a better person, a better coach," McDaniels said. "I learned every day from it ... sometimes when you step away from it, you can look at it with a better eye, see what you did and why and make sure that it was the best way."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through 17 games and five months, and more than a few bumps, injuries and dilemmas along the way, the Denver Broncos discovered some things about themselves and why they didn’t earn the return trip to the Super Bowl they openly coveted since last February.

This is the seventh installment of a weeklong look at those lessons from a season that began with such high hopes in September only to end in such cruel disappointment in January.

There are several reasons the Broncos aren't preparing for the Super Bowl in Phoenix -- subpar play on the offensive line, ho-hum special teams, an offense that could never seem to find itself down the stretch unless it was playing the Oakland Raiders (41 and 47 points). But if there is one overriding reason that resulted in a coaching change for a 12-4 team, it’s that the Broncos came up too small too many times in the biggest moments.

[+] EnlargeDwayne Allen
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos ultimately couldn't rise to the occasion at home against the Colts.
When John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager, formally announced the day after the season ended that John Fox is no longer the Broncos' head coach, Elway said; “I think that we’ve got to peak a little bit later than we peaked. … I feel very fortunate in having played for the Denver Broncos for several years -- for 16 years -- playing for some great coaches, and saw both sides of it, saw the losses in the Super Bowl and saw what it took to get to that next level. Hopefully, those thoughts and the way that we did things when we got to the next level, we can put those things into play here now and with the next coach.’’

That next coach is Gary Kubiak, a former teammate of Elway’s, former offensive coordinator of Elway’s, and longtime friend to the Hall of Fame quarterback. And beyond the usual roster turnover, installation of playbooks on both sides of the ball, and everybody getting used to the new way of doing things, the biggest task will be to find some big-game mojo.

The Broncos have had a roster worthy of a spot in the best-team-in-the-league conversation for three consecutive years. They have exited the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed twice, and earlier this month they exited as the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

They have lost at home twice in those three playoff losses and have been blown out by 35 points in Super Bowl XLVIII in the other. Their surefire Hall of Fame quarterback took a knee with 31 seconds to play and timeouts in hand in what eventually became a double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round in January 2013.

If you ask the foundation fan for the Broncos, the folks who’ve had those South Stands seats for decades, no play signifies this Broncos team being unable to push the boulder all the way up the hill than that play versus the Ravens -- with the botched snap to open the Super Bowl last February not too far behind. But the rest of that Super Bowl blowout and this year’s season-ending loss to the Colts, when Elway said he was “disappointed we didn’t play with more fire,’’ is on the pile, as well.

Which led to the signature description from Elway that “I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel, at least in the last game, you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming. When you’re right there, and I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of … the way we played the last game.’’

There is also this: Against the league heavyweights, in the postseason and the regular season, if the Broncos faced some in-game adversity, a little trouble, they seemed to have difficulty getting up off the mat. The feeling in the league was often that if you could get the lead, you would keep the lead, that the Broncos frustrated easily and recovered poorly.

Over the last three regular seasons, the Broncos are 8-9 against teams that eventually made the playoffs, including 2-3 this past season, with road losses to both teams that made the Super Bowl -- the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.

In the Broncos' last three playoff losses, they have surrendered 38, 43 and 24 points. In their last two playoff losses, they have scored just eight and 13 points -- after leading the league in scoring (with a single-season-record 606 points) in 2013 and being No. 2 in the league in scoring in ’14.

In short, their marquee players -- from quarterback Peyton Manning to linebacker Von Miller and most of the other players who have been named to at least one of the last three Pro Bowls -- have not found a way to rise up at the most important times. And the coaching staff couldn't find a way to change that in three consecutive postseasons.

Beyond the X's and O's and how the roster is constructed, getting a talented team to play like one in the biggest moments just might be Kubiak’s biggest task.

“So you get yourself in that position, and it’s always important that you’re at your best once you get to January,’’ Kubiak said. “And it’s been proven year in and year out, it’s not how you get there, it’s once you get there how you’re playing. We’ve got to go to work on getting there and playing our best at that time.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In all the words that have been written or spoken about friendship, the simplicity of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend," might be the bottom line.

And in the NFL, people hire their friends all of the time, familiarity being a powerful lure for folks trying to make high-risk decisions into low-risk ones. But those who hire a friend must also be prepared to fire a friend.

Which brings us to John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Elway is the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations/general manager who hired Kubiak as the 15th head coach in the franchise’s history. The two really didn't need an interview to get the lowdown on each other.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak
The Denver Post/AP ImagesJohn Elway and Gary Kubiak have known each other for over 30 years.
They have been friends for more than three decades, since both were rookie quarterbacks for the Broncos in 1983. They’re former roommates and Kubiak was Elway’s offensive coordinator for four seasons. Elway, many who know him believe, has wanted Kubiak to be the coach since Pat Bowlen and Joe Ellis hired Elway in 2011 to resurrect the Broncos.

If it goes well, it is the kind of homecoming, put-the-band-back-together story Bowlen always endorsed when he ran the day-to-day operations of the team. If it doesn’t work out, well …

“We don't talk about risk," Kubiak said this week. “We understand the business. We understand it's a battle every day and it's stressful. But we have great respect for each other. We know it's going to be tough. But it's going to be fun being tough with somebody with that you know he had so much confidence in, so much trust in, as a football mind. And what John's done here in a brief period of time with this organization has been tremendous for me."

Since the Broncos and John Fox "parted ways" the day after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Elway has said he and Fox disagreed on how the team would take the next step, from playoff contender to title winner. And while Fox did not address that thought in his news conference in Chicago on Monday, there are those who believe he wanted a little more say on personnel matters, or at least be kept in the loop. Fox also balked at potential coaching staff changes.

Of all the things Elway said following Fox’s departure, the phrase "like-minded," might have been one of the most important. In short, there may be no more like-minded person for Elway when it comes to football than Kubiak.

“Gary’s done it, he’s seen it. He understands, he’s been there; he’s won a world championship with Mike [Shanahan]," said Elway, when asked why Kubiak is the right coach to take the Broncos to the next level. "And so he’s seen it. He’s been with the Baltimore Ravens, who have won several world championships. He’s seen how they do it. ... We talked about comments that this is a place that it’s win a championship or nothing. That’s how it’s always been. Nothing’s changing there. That’s what Pat Bowlen wants. And that’s why it’s great that Gary’s experience here being a Denver Bronco, he understands that."

And there you have it. Kubiak understands that Elway’s goal and the Bowlen family’s goal is to win a Super Bowl. Sure, that’s everybody’s stated goal in the NFL, but to state the goal is one thing, to part ways with a coach who won four consecutive division titles to go with 46 regular-season games in four years is another.

Still, like a lot of things you ask Kubiak about, he is unfazed by that thought. And when you’ve spent as much time with Elway as Kubiak has, he knows it’s just a given with his boss.

“John's the most competitive human being I've ever been around, whether you're playing cards or ping pong, it doesn't matter," Kubiak said. “And that's not going to change. I think I'm very competitive, too. That's probably why we're still standing in this league because if you're not, you're not going to hang out for very long. I think this will be 31 or 32 years for me in the National Football League and I'm sure it's the same, well, it would be the same for John. So, just to get together and battle together every day is something that is very special and something I look forward to."

The jury is out, until games get played and seasons go by, as to whether it works the way Elway and Kubiak want it to -- long-time friends help win Super Bowl trophy for Bowlen -- but Kubiak, more than anyone else the Broncos could have hired, knows exactly what he has signed up for.

As he said: “I want to be part of expectations."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will formally introduce Gary Kubiak as the team’s new coach on Tuesday.

In many ways, it will be an easy move to explain to the team’s faithful. Kubiak is a former Broncos player and assistant coach. He has three Super Bowl rings -- one from when he was an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers and two from his time as an assistant with the Broncos.

Kubiak is a good man, honorable in how he conducts himself. He took out a full-page ad in the Houston Chronicle to thank “the players, coaches and staff for their tireless work and commitment’’ and to thank the fans AFTER he had been fired by the Texans in December 2013.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Gary Kubiak
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak's career record as a head coach is 61-64.
His former players swear by him -- a list that includes the likes of Rod Smith and Terrell Davis, and apparently one John Elway. Former tight end Joel Dreessen has said publicly he would “take a bullet’’ for Kubiak, and Jake Plummer said he wept when Kubiak left the Broncos after the 2005 season.

It’s all there with Kubiak: faith, family and football.

But the Broncos themselves have framed the discussion differently from the moment they parted ways with John Fox. He won 46 regular-season games and four division titles in four seasons in Denver, but it wasn't enough. The Broncos want to win the Super Bowl.

Elway essentially shook hands with a good guy in Fox, telling him two playoff exits as the AFC’s top seed -- a Super Bowl blowout last February to go with the double overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens to close out the 2012 season -- to go with their exit as the AFC's No. 2 seed with the Jan. 11 loss to the Indianapolis Colts would not do.

When Elway announced Fox’s departure, he said: “He’s a very, very good man. He’s got a tremendous heart -- even the new one they fixed is still tremendous -- a guy that I will always have a personal relationship with. When we did get up and he left the room, we gave each other a hug and wished each other the best of luck. That relationship will always remain that way.’’

So clearly it isn't about being a good man, it is about playing football at the highest level. The level that wins championships.

Kubiak has led an NFL team before. His record in eight seasons with the Houston Texans was 61-64. They made the playoffs twice in 2011 and '12, winning a game before losing the next in both cases.

The Texans struggled on defense in Kubiak’s tenure, until he hired Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator. Things also got away from Kubiak at quarterback in his final season. Matt Schaub seemed to to lose confidence after a flurry of interceptions returned for touchdowns, and the losing appeared to take an enormous toll on Kubiak as he tried to make it right.

These are different situations, teams in different places to be sure. When Kubiak took the Texans' job before the 2006 season, they were a two-win team with an atrocious roster.

But his tenure showed how important his defensive staff was to his success. Phillips’ hire snapped the defense in order. Rick Dennison’s hire as offensive coordinator a few years into Kubiak’s tenure also bred success as the team's running game and offensive line play improved. Dennison will be on Kubiak’s staff with the Broncos, but how he fills out the rest of that staff will determine a lot about how things go in the seasons to come.

It is always a question of personnel, coaching or both. The Broncos believe Kubiak is the coach who can take a team Elway thinks has top-quality personnel and keep it playing into February.

Still, if the loss to the Colts showed anything, it’s that assignment discipline matters, schemes matter and players digesting information and playing in the moment matter. The Patriots and the Seahawks, two teams that defeated the Broncos this past season, showed where the get-it-done bar in the league sits right now.

Kubiak’s Texans never played beyond the divisional round and now he has been tasked with taking the Broncos to a championship. He will use what he learned in Houston, where he was expected to win.

But in Denver, he will be expected to win a lot more.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Another reason why Wikipedia should come with a bit of a warning label: for the second time this week, Gary Kubiak’s page on the website lists him as the Denver Broncos head coach.

It happened early this week when the Broncos and coach John Fox agreed to part ways. By Wednesday, Kubiak’s page had been adjusted to show that he was still the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator.

However Friday, just minutes after it was revealed Kubiak will formally interview this weekend for the Broncos job, his page was switched again, complete with orange and blue accents around his bio.

Kubiak played for the Broncos 1983-1991 and was an assistant coach with the team from 1995 to 2005.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have opened their search for a new head coach in earnest. And the elephant in the room is that John Fox is no longer the team’s head coach after four consecutive division titles, 46 regular-season wins, and one Super Bowl trip.

So if that’s not what executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway wants, what kind of coach would fit the bill? Well, it will be one who better know the job description.

A guy who understands the key words

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsJohn Elway demands a high level of success from his head coaches, something the new Broncos coach must be able to handle.
Since Fox and the Broncos “parted ways," there has been some surprise by the move from Elway. Perhaps folks just weren’t paying attention.

On the day Elway was first introduced in his current job -- Jan. 5, 2011 -- he said this;

“When you go back to the culture of the Denver Broncos -- and the culture is winning, and the culture is competing for World Championships -- we have been there before and we know we can do it."

He said this at Tuesday's announcement of Fox's departure: “I look for a guy that’s very smart, that’s competitive, that is aching to win world championships like I am."

Moral of the story? If you don’t want to live the Super-Bowl-or-bust life, don’t accept the job.

A guy who can work with Elway. A guy Elway wants to work with.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is really the only guy who lives a life similar to Denver's coach, as his general manager is Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome.

Elway casts a big shadow in this city; he’s a Super Bowl winning quarterback who's led the Broncos to countless comeback wins. He’s seen his Super Bowl dreams shattered more than once, lived life in the fishbowl, and has felt what it took to finally hoist the trophy.

As a result he’s going to have some ideas on the topic. The buzz around the Broncos’ complex is that Elway and Fox were drifting apart on personnel matters a bit, and there were some who believed Fox didn’t think his voice was being heard enough on those matters.

That’s often the tone of the discussion after a football divorce, but either way Elway and new head coach have to get on the same page -- that “like-minded’’ area Elway talked about Tuesday.

A guy who knows expectations await

The Broncos have 10 players in the Pro Bowl. There’s plenty to work with on a roster that has won 38 regular-season games over the last three seasons. Elway and Fox shook hands and parted ways not because of how things went between September and December, but because Elway and team CEO Joe Ellis did not like what the playoff exits looked like.

“I think if there is one thing that you would like to have and you want to feel, at least in the last game, you want to feel like you go out kicking and screaming," Elway said. “When you’re right there and I think two years in a row it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of the fact the way we played the last game."

A guy who can embrace some change

The Broncos have 17 free agents. The list includes two of the team’s Pro Bowl selections in wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

But it also includes starters such as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, safety Rahim Moore, wide receiver Wes Welker, guard Orlando Franklin, tight end Jacob Tamme, tight end Virgil Green, and linebacker Nate Irving.

Add in the will-he or won’t-he decision quarterback Peyton Manning will make, and the Broncos will have to show plenty of flexibility as they usher in a new coaching staff to go with plenty of new faces on the roster.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On Tuesday afternoon, a day after the Broncos and John Fox agreed to part ways, John Elway essentially outlined the rungs of the ladder he expects the Denver Broncos' new coach to climb with his right hand.

As the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations and general manager talked about what the team needed to accomplish, his hand went up the ladder.

Winning the division was the first spot Elway marked, in the air about shoulder level. The playoffs were in the next spot, a few inches higher. The Super Bowl? A couple more inches. But winning the Super Bowl? Elway took his hand and raised it to a level well above his head.

"I do believe there is a huge jump from just getting there and having the ability to win it," said Elway, explaining his gestures. "Can I put my finger on it? No. But I was around it, I saw it. So whether I know it, consciously or subconsciously, I know what it feels like and I know what it takes."

Elway likes a few things about the Broncos at the moment. He likes the team's roster and the prospect of Peyton Manning returning at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJohn Elway
AP Photo/Paul SancyaAs far as the Super Bowl is concerned, John Elway believes "there is a huge jump from just getting there and having the ability to win it."
"The bottom line is we want him back," Elway said of Manning.

And now he wants "the best guy that's going to fit that seat in the head coach's office," to take the roster and push it to the next level. A level beyond AFC West titles that lead to playoff losses. He wants a coach to guide the Broncos back to the Super Bowl. But this time, he wants to win.

The qualities this coach will have?

"[We want someone who is] very smart, that is competitive, that is aching to win world championships like I am," Elway said.

He added that he'd like the successful candidate to have "championship experience." He was disappointed the team "didn't have more fire" during Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

As Elway explained why the Broncos and Fox had decided to "part ways" and assured the gathered media Manning was welcome back, he also presented a job opening for a team that finished 12-4. That team, at the moment, has nine players who were selected to the Pro Bowl. That it's a good gig -- for a coach willing to deal with the pressure of Super Bowl or bust.

Elway said the team had not formally requested permission to speak to any assistant coaches around the league, but that process did begin later Tuesday.

Expect Gary Kubiak, despite his statement on the Baltimore Ravens' website that he intended to stay as offensive coordinator, to be in the mix. Kubiak made his statement before there was an opening in Denver, before his longtime friend, former teammate, a guy he calls "Woody," was looking for a head coach. Philosophically, Kubiak is the exact kind of coach Elway is looking for, especially when it comes to meshing a productive run game into what is, at its roots, a passing offense.

Rick Dennison, the Ravens quarterbacks coach, who is also familiar with that type of offense, will also probably get a look. Dennison, a former Broncos player and longtime assistant for Mike Shanahan, blew away team officials with his interview for head coach following Shanahan's firing after the 2008 season. He might have gotten the job had his ties to Shanahan not been so strong. The Broncos simply wanted to move on, and Josh McDaniels was hired.

Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is also on the list, but the Broncos would have to wait and see if the Seahawks defeat the Packers and go to the Super Bowl.

The Broncos asked permission late Tuesday to interview Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, sources told ESPN.

Elway said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would also be on the list. But, both might already be headed out of town. Gase met with San Francisco 49ers officials Tuesday and the team appeared poised to make him an offer. Del Rio also had a second interview with Oakland Raiders executives in the Bay Area Tuesday.

The Broncos are not expected to take a stroll down memory lane and interview Shanahan. The team's current CEO, Joe Ellis, was a part of the team's executive branch when Shanahan was fired in '08.

In all, Elway's news conference made the uniqueness of the Broncos organization clear. The team has had three losing seasons in the past 20 years. Its football operations are run by a Hall of Fame quarterback who knows both the pain of losing Super Bowls and the joy of winning Super Bowls.

Elway, as Fox found out, believes he knows what it takes to make the leap from Super Bowl loser to Super Bowl winner. Now Elway and the Broncos are looking for the head coach who can help him do it.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When John Elway sits in front of the assembled reporters holding their cameras, notepads and personal electronic devices Tuesday, he will explain what happened Monday.

The Broncos executive vice president of football operations and GM will explain, at least in part, how he and coach John Fox came to shake hands and move on after a Monday afternoon meeting.

One word that is almost certain to come up, perhaps several times, will be “mentality." Elway often talks about the “championship mentality" and its place in team building.

It’s obvious that Elway --after what has transpired in the last three postseasons and the money the team spent in free agency -- didn’t believe the Broncos were playing with that mentality in the games that required it the most.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Gary Kubiak
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesGary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, is a longtime friend of Broncos general manager John Elway and a former Broncos quarterback.
Many inside the Broncos’ complex believe if the team had advanced the Super Bowl and handled itself well in the title game, Fox would still be coaching the team. But two divisional round losses at home in the past three years and a 35-point Super Bowl blowout, tipped the scales toward the idea of an improper mentality.

Elway figures to describe the kind of coach he believes will bring the mentality needed to take the Broncos to the next level.

The names are already swirling from people who know Elway and prospective candidates. Gary Kubiak is a former teammate and Elway's longtime friend.

Kubiak, who said Sunday he intended to stay as Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, would first have to reverse that stance. He would then have to be able to work with Elway, through what would likely be some tense discussions involving personnel and team building.

Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is one of the most coveted candidates in the league. There is a clear indication of his mentality when watching the Seahawks defense. Quinn is on the top of other list's -- the Jets in particular -- and his team has a good chance of playing in the Super Bowl. The Broncos will have to wait to speak to him until after the Seahawks season ends and risk a miss if he was their top guy and they didn’t get him.

Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has interviewed with the Broncos before, a meeting that included current team CEO Joe Ellis, so the Broncos have already done some homework there.

Some have tossed former coach Mike Shanahan’s name into the what-happens-next pool, but that ship sailed long ago. Ellis was part of the decision, with owner Pat Bowlen, to fire Shanahan following the 2008 season. Perhaps Mike’s son, Kyle, gets a look.

Add in the plan for quarterback Peyton Manning, how he will address the team’s list of 17 free agents (restricted and unrestricted combined) and what happens to the current Broncos assistant coach and Elway figures to open the offseason Tuesday to lots of questions.

And in the end, all of the answers will go back to one thing: the mentality he wants and winning a championship.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A sure sign things aren't going smoothly in the normally button-down world of the Denver Broncos offense, is when harsh words are exchanged.

Like any football team filled with competitive personalities, there will be some spirited back-and-forth. For the Broncos, quarterback Peyton Manning will occasionally fire at a teammate or sometimes defensive players will hash out a busted assignment. For the most part, though, the Broncos don't hang that much laundry in public.

But at one point during the 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Manning and wide receiver Wes Welker -- usually the two guys on the same page -- were going back and forth after an incompletion. Wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert was included in the conversation at one point. But frustration has plagued many of the Broncos' attempts to mesh the improved run game into what they had been doing in the passing game.

"We're just disappointed," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We just didn't always execute like we can ... That's it, you have to execute."

"I didn't play as well, consistently, in the second half of the season," Manning said. "I can't give you a great reason for that. Played well at times, but probably not as consistently, certainly didn't play as consistently in the second half of the season as I did in the first half."

After they had 10 rushing attempts in a Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis, coach John Fox said the Broncos needed, and wanted, to make a more concerted effort to run the ball and be more committed to it for games like Sunday's. Manning publicly echoed those thoughts, as did offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

In the final six regular-season games and Sunday's playoff loss, the Broncos flashed high-end work on offense at times -- a 21-point quarter in Cincinnati, Manning's four-touchdown day against the Miami Dolphins -- to go with back-to-back 167 and 168-yard rushing days for running back C.J. Anderson. But they also looked out of sorts at times, as if they could be a quality running team and high-end passing team, just not in the same game, or even at times, in the same possession.

And by the time Sunday rolled around, there was Manning attempting, unsuccessfully, deep ball after deep ball up the sideline, something that smacked of frustration and was not how the Broncos had gone about their business when they were at their best.

"Those were my decisions, couple of them were called to go that way, couple of them have some option to go with it," Manning said. "… I ended up taking some long shots. Any time you lose a game you look to some incompletions and some throws you'd like to have back. Two to Emmanuel where I thought he was open and I thought I could have hit him and I just overthrew him a little bit ... Thought they could have been potential touchdown plays."

Anderson carried the ball just six times in the second half Sunday and Manning finished with 46 pass attempts. That kind of mix has been troublesome for the Broncos this season. Including Sunday's loss to the Colts, the Broncos were 2-5 in games this season when Manning attempted more than 40 passes.

"Playoff football from the beginning of time has been who plays better or 60 minutes," tight end Jacob Tamme said. " … That wasn't us."

W2W4: Broncos vs. Colts

January, 10, 2015
Jan 10
7:30
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Once a team earns a playoff bye, the two major items on the to-do list are to get healthy and to tie up loose ends.


The Denver Broncos (12-4) say they've done that as they dialed in on their preparations for Sunday's AFC divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts (12-5) in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. So much so that this past week was the first time since Oct. 2-3 the Broncos had every player on the roster take part in practice on consecutive days.

So they are healthy and -- they say -- ready to put their best collective foot forward in their playoff opener.

"I feel good about this team, I like this team, I like where we are right now," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

With that, some things to keep an eye on:

Keep Luck boxed in: It's not that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is always looking to run for big plays -- his longest run of the season is 20 yards -- but he moves well in the pocket, keeps plays alive and keeps his eyes down the field. When he pulls the ball down he is still a threat to pass until the moment he crosses the line of scrimmage. He is particularly adept at escaping against four-man rushes when the edge rushers get too deep into the backfield. Luck is also an eyes-up scrambler, so when he starts to run the Broncos' defensive backs can't be too quick to leave their coverage responsibilities to try and chase him down. In short, a lot of the problems can be alleviated if the Broncos' defensive front keeps Luck hemmed in. Easier said than done because of Luck's athleticism. A scrambler looking to escape to throw can be far more dangerous in terms of big plays.

Get the ball out: Mistakes hurt more in the playoffs to those who make them and mean more to those who force them. The Colts were tied for the league lead in fumbles lost during the regular season -- with 15, the same as the Philadelphia Eagles. Running back Daniel Herron, who because of injuries is the Colts' lead option in the backfield, has lost three fumbles in just 90 carries in regular-season and postseason games combined this year, including one lost fumble in last Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Luck lost six fumbles in the regular season. The Broncos shouldn't surrender yards after contact trying to get the ball out, but they should certainly have the second man in take a swipe to see if he can get it free.

Find patience: The Colts' defense is susceptible to big plays in the run game. They surrendered 1,814 yards rushing in the regular season -- that's 113.4 yards per game -- and opposing runners averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Among the 12 teams to start the postseason, only the Pittsburgh Steelers (4.36) and Carolina Panthers (4.51) surrendered more yards per carry than the Colts did. If the forecast holds true, the Broncos will have no reason to back off in the passing game, but they can create additional room to throw with a little patience at times and willingness to pound away up front.

Get Julius involved: Since he suffered an ankle injury in the Nov. 16 loss to the St. Louis Rams, tight end Julius Thomas has just three catches for 63 yards and no touchdowns, missed two games and was in uniform for a third but did not play. When he's right, Thomas is a huge matchup problem for opposing defenses because he forces decisions on double coverage against Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, especially when Julius Thomas is lined up in the slot or outside. When he's healthy, the Broncos have a formation with the three wide receivers lined up to one side and Julius Thomas lined wide, outside the numbers, to the other side. The Broncos have consistently forced defenses' hands with that.

Play to the moment: When things haven't gone well for Peyton Manning and the Broncos since he signed with the team -- it's a short list of games, but it does include a couple of postseason offerings -- it has often been when one early mistake turns into two, then into three. The Broncos, as well as Manning, simply have to find a way to meld the intensity the playoffs require with the looseness of playing the best in the tightest momement -- an "Isn't that John Candy?" moment as Joe Montana once famously said in a Super Bowl huddle with the game on the line.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Usually, to get ready for most Sundays, a team will largely look at what its opponent has done over the last month when a game plan is constructed. It accounts for the inevitable injuries; it’s the latest news, as it were.

But as the Denver Broncos have gone through their preparations for Sunday’s AFC Divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Denver coaches have turned back the clock to last year’s Wild Card weekend when the Colts roared back from a 38-10 deficit to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs, 45-44.

“I think last year’s Kansas City game shows that they are never out of it,’’ said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “It’s the kind of opponent that you have to play 60 minutes worth of good football against so that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s something to get your attention. It was a heck of a performance.’’

The game has obviously been a major talking point around practice all week. Broncos head coach John Fox has already publicly referenced the Colts’ comeback against the Chiefs at least three times while Del Rio and several players quickly dropped it into conversations on Thursday.

It is an attention-grabber given the Chiefs had a 38-10 lead when running back Knile Davis scored on a 10-yard reception with 13 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the third quarter. But the Colts scored touchdowns on five of their next six possessions following Davis’ touchdown catch.

And when Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck hit T.Y. Hilton for a 64-yard scoring pass with 4:21 to play in the game, it gave the Colts their first lead in the game, at 45-44, as Indianapolis closed it out the rest of the way. Luck finished the game 29-of-45 passing for 443 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Broncos, too, had their own experiences with Luck's in-game tenacity in the face of a big deficit. In this season’s opener against the Colts the Broncos led 24-0 in the second quarter, 24-7 at halftime, only to have the Colts score 17 second-half points to close to within 31-24 with 3:26 to play.

The Colts were driving again, having made it to the Broncos’ 39-yard line when rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocked a fourth-down pass away from Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne on what was Indianapolis' last play from scrimmage. Luck finished with 370 yards passing to go with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“You never know because I still remember last game when we were up 24-0 and then the game ended 31-24,’’ said Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. “They’ve got a great quarterback in Andrew Luck and they’ve got a lot of playmakers around, so I feel that we’re going to have to go out and try to score as many times as we can.”

“This is not a 30-minute game,’’ said defensive end DeMarcus Ware. “This is not one of those types of quarterbacks where you can sit back if you’re [ahead] 24-0, if you’re 14-0, it really doesn’t matter, he’s going to find some way to score points because that is what he does best. So you have to make sure you play a consistent game throughout the 60 minutes and never let your foot off the pedal.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos got everything they could out of a playoff bye and now it’s a matter of making it pay off in Sunday’s divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Broncos are as healthy as they’ve been since early October. Wednesday’s practice was the first time every player on the 53-man roster practiced since Oct. 3.

All of the Broncos took part Thursday, including linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), guard Orlando Franklin (concussion) and safety David Bruton Jr. (concussion). Marshall was formally listed as limited in the practice while Franklin and Bruton practiced fully.

Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler and has missed the last two games, is still on track to play at least some against the Colts.

Defensive end Quanterus Smith (knee) and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein (knee) were also limited Thursday. All of the team’s other players took part fully in the workout, including tight end Julius Thomas.

Thomas, who suffered a left ankle injury Nov. 16 against the Rams, has just six catches since the injury and no touchdowns. Broncos head coach John Fox was asked following Thursday’s practice how important it would be for the Broncos’ offense to have Thomas return to his early-season form when he led the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions.

“No more or less than anybody else we’ll have active on Sunday,’’ Fox said. “You reach this point in the season, whether it’s late regular season or early playoff season, guys are playing with different things … but he’s performing well and we expect him to perform well on Sunday.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Folks who stand in front of teams on a regular basis are always looking for things that will reach those in the seats in front of them, ways to keep the messages from going stale or simply sailing into the mist of what's forgotten on a day-to-day basis.

For Denver Broncos head coach John Fox, known to spin a yarn or two in the front of the room -- "you can tell he's thought about keeping our attention," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

And Fox has turned to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs for at least one benchmark for the Broncos as they approach Sunday's divisional-round playoff against the Indianapolis Colts, the team's first postseason game since last February's 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The Spurs lost, in seven games to the Miami Heat, in the 2013 NBA Finals and then rebounded to win the title the following season, in five games over the Heat.

"I think there are some parallels," Fox said. "They had a very disappointing loss much like we did in the Super Bowl and they were able to come back and win their world championship. So it's something that we've talked to the team about. I have great respect for Coach [Gregg] Popovich and their organization and what they've accomplished. So I think it's kind of unique and something we'd like to emulate."

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