ENGLEWOOD—The Denver Broncos’ dramatic improvement in running the ball and stopping the run goes back to an interview in January.
John Elway, the Broncos’ general manager, wanted to bring the same nasty edge to his offense that his team had on defense.
The man getting interviewed for the head coaching position had a solution.
Vance Joseph outlined how he would make the Broncos a more physical team. It’s the running game, on both sides of the ball, that defines the physicality of a football team.
A team doesn’t become physical by practicing in T-shirts and shorts. A team doesn’t become physical by giving double-digit veterans a day off every three days in training camp.
A team becomes collectively physical by banging shoulder pads and thigh pads for a couple hours in practice. Full pads bring full contact.
It wasn’t just bulkier players, although they helped, and it wasn’t just a more attacking scheme, although that helped, too, that explains the Broncos’ one-year quantum leaps from 27th to No. 3 in rushing, and a No. 28 ranking to No. 1 in stopping the run.
It’s how Joseph changed the culture to a tougher, more physical mindset by having his players put on pads every day the rules allowed in training camp. And the vets only got one day off in camp.
Voila! The Broncos went from a team whose identity was passing the ball and stopping the pass, to running the ball and stopping the run.
“Running the ball and stopping the run, it takes a physical mindset,’’ Joseph said in a sit-down interview Wednesday with 9News. “It’s really a mindset and it’s done in pads. If you’re not going to practice in pads you can’t do those things.
“Obviously, personnel and scheme has helped us but I agree with you it’s a different mindset that’s established here.’’
Understand, the Broncos’ previous head coach, Gary Kubiak, led the Denver franchise to a Super Bowl championship in his first year in charge. Joseph is 3-1 so far in his first year.
Joseph, in other words, is a long way from matching the success of his predecessor.
But after the Broncos finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs last year primarily because they couldn’t run the ball or stop the run, new methods were needed.
Kubiak was a T-shirt and shorts coach because he believed in keeping his players fresh. Peyton Manning didn’t like taking every third day off in training camp. But at 39, he was there for the Broncos’ 2015 postseason run.
We’ll see how the 2017 Broncos hold up through their 12-game in 12-week stretch after this week’s bye. But in terms of running the ball and stopping the run, Joseph’s way was what the Broncos needed.