On the surface, the move makes a ton of sense. After all, the numbers suggest that the Broncos offense wasn’t very good in 2019.
Denver was 28th in the NFL in total offense, averaging a paltry 298.6 yards per game. They were also 28th in scoring (17.6 points per game) and passing yards (194.7), two numbers that are well below acceptable in a pass-happy league.
As a result, it shouldn’t have come as a big surprise that the Broncos decided to part ways with offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. He was in the guy in charge of the ship, so he’s responsible when it runs aground.
That would be a grand oversimplification of the situation, however. It would be looking for a scapegoat to blame after another losing season, pointing the finger in a direction that no one was going to question.
Given the way the Broncos struggled on offense this season, few will bat an eye at Scangarello getting the boot. They may wonder why it took two weeks, but they won’t question Vic Fangio’s decision.
“After a lot of consideration and discussion after the season, I determined that a change at offensive coordinator ultimately would be best for our team,” the head coach said in a statement issued by the Broncos on Sunday. “We need to do everything we can to get better, in all areas, as we start working toward next year.”
To a large extent, the deck was stacked against Scangarello from the outset. He was set up to fail. No, Fangio and Company didn’t sabotage him, but they certainly didn’t make his life any easier.
For one thing, Scangarello wasn’t Fangio’s choice to be his offensive coordinator. The former 49ers assistant was handpicked by John Elway after things fell apart with Gary Kubiak. That makes for a tricky working relationship, given that the 61-year-old Fangio was having to put a large portion of his first head coaching opportunity in the hands of someone he didn’t know or trust. As soon as things went bad, that was going to lead to second guessing, backstabbing and worse.
Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what happened. Everyone brushed off Jason La Canfora’s midseason article outlining dissention in Denver, but it proved to be a pretty accurate assessment of the situation.
The first-time offensive coordinator was also handcuffed by the way the Broncos were built. Based on percentage of salary cap, Denver invested heavily on the defensive side of the football (third in the NFL) and went cheap on offense (30th in the league). Thus, they expected to win games by playing mistake-free football on offense and relying on the strength of the team.
For the most part, the Broncos offense did a good job of following that formula. They only committed 16 turnovers across the entire season, which is more than acceptable. They also staked the defense to late leads against Chicago, Jacksonville and Indianapolis, as well as a 20-0 halftime margin against Minnesota, only to see those games turn into losses.
Given what he had to work with, it can be argued that Scangarello did what he was asked to do. Other than the game in Green Bay, Denver’s offense didn’t put the defense in bad situations; they held up their end of the conservative game plan.
That was done despite the fact that the Broncos started three different quarterbacks in 2019, two of whom had never taken an NFL snap prior to making their debut this season. That wasn’t Scangarello’s choice.
He didn’t ask the Broncos to trade for Joe Flacco, who turned out to be a statue in the pocket who was completely ineffective. This was proven by the fact that Denver’s offense was so much more dynamic with Brandon Allen and Drew Lock behind center, despite their total lack of experience; the ability to avoid pressure and make plays off schedule made Scangarello’s attack much better.
In five of the eight games that Allen and Lock started, the Broncos scored 23 points or more. They hit that total only once with Flacco.
This improvement also came after the Broncos shipped their best offensive weapon heading into the season, Emmanuel Sanders, to the 49ers for future draft picks. That left Denver’s cupboard thin, with a lot of young players at the skill positions.
Courtland Sutton is going to be a great wideout, but he’s only in his second season. Behind him, the combination of Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton lack both experience and playmaking ability. Meanwhile, the team’s best tight end, Noah Fant, was a rookie and their top running back, Phillip Lindsay, was in his second year.
And that doesn’t even get into the makeshift offensive line that Elway assembled for Scangarello to work with during his first season. Garett Bolles has underachieved at left tackle, Dalton Risner was a rookie at left guard, Connor McGovern was playing center for the first time, Ron Leary has been constantly hurt at right guard and Ja’Wuan James played less than one full game at right tackle.
This is a recurring theme. Next year, the Broncos will have their fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons; that’s not a recipe for success.
That’s who keeps getting blamed for the team’s ineptitude on that side of the ball, however. Denver was 24th in points scored in 2018, 28th in 2017 and 22nd in 2016. Apparently, that had nothing to do with the lousy quarterbacks, makeshift offensive lines and marginal skill position players that Elway kept providing; it was all on the coordinators.
But Broncos Country is supposed to believe that Pat Shurmur, the 54-year-old coach who was most recently the head man for the Giants before being fired at the end of the 2019 season, would’ve done more with that hand? That seems a little hard to believe.
Supposedly, Shurmur will take more chances down the field. Who is Lock going to throw the ball to on those plays, as Sutton is his only playmaker? And will he be upright long enough for his receivers to get down field?
The narrative out of Dove Valley is also suggesting that Shurmur is a bit of a quarterback whisperer, having had success with Nick Foles when he was the OC in Philadelphia and with Case Keenum during his time in Minnesota.
Of course, the success didn’t last in either situation. Both proved to be aberrations. Yet, Shurmur is being positioned as the guy who can take Lock to the next level.
This past season, he did have some success with Daniel Jones. The rookie was only 3-9 as the Giants starter, but he did throw for more than 3,000 yards, while also tossing 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they aren’t as good as the ones Scangarello got out of Lock during the final five games of 2019.
There’s nothing wrong with the Broncos making a change on their coaching staff. That’s certainly their prerogative. And Fangio should get to pick his guy for the offensive coordinator job; that’s a lesson Elway keeps failing to learn from previous mistakes.
But it would be wrong to assume that the change will cure all that ails the Broncos. That’s because the offense wasn’t the team’s only problem in 2019.
The switch will shift all of the blame to Scangarello, however, allowing Fangio, Elway and everyone else to hit the reset button. But if next year doesn’t produce better result, both will be running out of scapegoats.