It’s been said before, but bears repeating: That escalated quickly.
After yet another disappointing playoff loss in the Peyton Manning era in Denver, John Elway decided that enough was enough. The real story behind John Fox’s departure will probably forever remain a secret, but after the pitiful display of football on Sunday, most of the fans are comfortable believing that Elway just knew it was time.
As you know already, Elway and Fox met on Monday and the official story is that they “mutually agreed to part ways.” The rest of the coaching staff was informed that their contracts were not terminated, but that they were free to seek other employment opportunities.
With that in mind, the San Francisco 49ers wasted little time getting to Denver to try and finalize a deal with Gase (some reports this morning suggest that the deal is done), knowing that Elway had dibs on the next meeting with Denver’s distinguished offensive coordinator, with no shortage of talent and resources in the Hall of Fame quarterback’s back pocket.
Like many of you, I was watching the proverbial news ticker as closely as the next guy with an increasing sense of curiosity. Would Gase bolt immediately? Does his meeting with Elway signify that he might be a candidate for head coach of the Broncos? Most importantly, what does Gase’s status with the Broncos mean for Manning’s future?
Whether it was a power play by Manning to hint at retirement, genuine questioning of his continued ability under center, or just complete and utter disgust for the game that had just transpired, we all know that there’s more than just a new head coach riding on this hiring. Heck, Wes Welker (who was going to be gone anyways) even hinted after the game that he wasn’t sure he even wanted to be back with Denver.
But while all of the focus has understandably been on the offensive side of the ball and the effect that many of these changes might have on Manning and his future, there seems to be one coach that has only been mentioned in passing these past few days: Jack Del Rio.
The Broncos defensive coordinator appears to be the leading candidate for the head coaching job in Oakland, to the point that he is confirmed to have a second interview with the organization this week and reports on Wednesday morning suggest that it’s a done deal.
But you know what? If the Raiders want Del Rio, they can have him.
Del Rio’s game plan against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday was putrid. While Denver was able to stop the run with reasonable efficiency, the pass rush was non-existent. Denver never recorded a single sack on Andrew Luck behind one of the NFL’s more laughable offensive lines. What’s worse is that they never gave themselves a shot to get to the young Colts quarterback.
Too many times against elite competition, Denver resigned themselves to rushing four. It hurt all season, and it killed the team against Indy. The blitz simply wasn’t going to happen, and the Colts knew it.
Even after getting burned all game long by receivers who finally got away from Denver’s secondary after five, six, even sometimes seven seconds of mobility while Luck simply played the waiting game, Del Rio dutifully continued to rush four as Indianapolis marched down the field on an eight-minute drive in the fourth quarter, ending in a field goal and effectively ended Denver’s season.
The fact is, a pedigree as a longtime head coach down in Jacksonville (a job which he earned through one season under Fox as defensive coordinator in Carolina) may mean that you’re qualified to coach a defense bent on championship aspirations, but it doesn’t mean you have the stomach for it.
Del Rio lived (and ultimately died, metaphorically) on a four-man pass rush, terrified that any blitz could result in a 40-yard gain, rather than see it as representing a chance to get off the field more quickly. It was the type of attitude that personified the John Fox era in Denver, and Del Rio is just as culpable.
The Indianapolis game was a perfect microcosm of the season for Del Rio. His defense forced four punts, two interceptions and a missed field goal in the contest, but couldn’t get a stop on the eight-minute drive that ultimately iced the game, nor on two other 70-plus yard touchdown drives that the Colts were able to execute with relative ease in enemy territory. It was a fitting end for a squad that finished the regular season in the top-10 in both passing and rushing defense and the No. 3 defense overall, yet struggled mightily to get off the field at times this season.
In short, while Denver’s defense looked good on paper, they couldn’t make a play against elite competition when the game was on the line. Ultimately, that’s what Del Rio was brought in to do.
Whoever the Broncos bring in as their next head coach, it won’t just be a rental. The next man in charge of coaching the orange and blue won’t just be inheriting whatever is left of the Peyton Manning window, but presumably the aftermath as well.
Life without Manning will require every bit of talent that this squad has on paper, especially on defense. Jack Del Rio is not the man for that job. After all, didn’t you think it was telling that the Raiders are the only team seriously interested in his services?