Let’s just start with the obvious: The NFL got it right on Aqib Talib’s punishment.
As much as we’d all like to take a gratuitous shot at Roger Goodell (and damn him for not somehow blowing this and giving us that opportunity), Talib deserved a one-game suspension. Seeing as the Denver Post’s poll on the subject had a whopping 84 percent of Broncos Country in agreement with the punishment, it’s safe to say that there’s not much debate on the matter.
“He’s wrong,” head coach Gary Kubiak said after practice on Monday. “He needs to stay out of the situation. It hurt the team. He knows that.”
Kubiak is right, of course. But it was still a little surprising to hear it out loud. John Fox is capable of a lot of good things as a head coach, but not once during his tenure in Denver can I remember hearing such pointed words directed at a player on his team. Somehow, Foxy would’ve figured out a way to claim he didn’t see the play, or give some answer about how he’s not going to comment on something that the league is already looking into. This is not to pile on Fox. It’s just to illustrate the difference in culture between the two coaches.
The fact that the Broncos lead the NFL in personal foul penalties is quickly becoming a sore spot for Kubiak.
“There are penalties you watch as a coach that – just take this game for example,” Kubiak said. “I think we had four penalties going into the last drive. Four penalties – that’s a dang good football team. They’re pretty good, and we get four or five in the last drive. That’s extremely disappointing. That’s what has to stop. We’re going to maintain our aggression as a team. I don’t ever want to take that away, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re thinking about the team in every situation, in everything we do.”
It’s manifesting itself in penalties, but what Kubiak is really talking about is discipline. The Broncos are obviously lacking it, but that’s not going to change overnight. It’s no secret that John Fox ran a looser ship here in Denver; his teams here, consisting largely of the same core pieces, struggled with flags as well. In both 2013 and 2014, the Broncos ranked fourth in the NFL in total penalties.
Eight games into his tenure as head coach of the Broncos, Kubiak has had enough.
“I’m very concerned [with the penalties],” Kubiak said. “Statistically, we have the No. 1 defense in football, but we’re also the most penalized. We’ve got a great thing going on. We’ve got something that needs to get corrected. We have to find a way in the second half of the season to turn that around. That starts with me, Wade [Phillips] and the coaches, and players’ responsibility. You’re going to have some penalties at times, but you can’t have selfish penalties that hurt the football team. That has been addressed. We will go to work on getting that taken care of.”
Kubiak is about personal accountability, and he will instill it in his players. Just take the case of Talib, for example.
“From my angle, I see [Allen] head butt Von a little bit,” Talib said of the incident immediately following the game. “I went over to poke his head, and I think my hand slipped and hit his face. He acted like he got in an 18-passenger car wreck. I guess that’s what type of guy he is.”
By Monday, after a long plane ride home next to Kubiak, Talib had changed his tune a bit.
“I mean they’re entitled to discipline me,” he said. “I think I deserve discipline. I didn’t initially poke him in his eye, but as you can see, I did get his eye. It was unintentional. They’ve got the right to discipline me as they did.”
Unfortunately for Kubiak, converting the Broncos to his way of doing things will probably involve a lot of one-on-one conversations like the one with Talib. That’s not to say that every Broncos player will take a costly, stupid penalty that hurts the team, but even their attitude towards their teammates’ indiscretions probably needs an adjustment.
While players will always defend their teammates publicly, one wonders if it serves the Broncos’ best interests for these guys to act as if costly penalties are understandable, or worse, defendable.
“I think they had their eye on us,” said Ward after the game. “Honestly, I don’t know what the ratio was, penalties against us and penalties against them defensively, but we might want to look into that and see if that was a fair assessment of the game.”
I won’t comment on the validity of Ward’s claims, but what possible good can it do to call out the officiating crew instead of owning up to the mistakes on defense?
The Denver Broncos need to create a culture of accountability in their locker room; and while Kubiak is working with his team, it’s going to take time. These habits have been festering with the Broncos for some time now. They’re going to take time to undo.