The Denver Broncos, on Sunday, surrendered a staggering 70 points—an astounding feat and not a typographical error. This demoralizing 70-20 defeat at the hands of the surging Miami Dolphins marked the first instance of an NFL team scoring 70 points in a game since 1966 and only the fourth time in league history. This performance represents a new low for Denver. This season was supposed to be a fresh start following last year’s rock-bottom finish.
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The team brought in Sean Payton to instill stability and leadership after the tumultuous single-season tenure under Nathaniel Hackett. After three weeks, the Broncos find themselves at an unsettling 0-3 record. They were marred by a home loss to a division rival and a home defeat to Washington, a game where they squandered a substantial lead. They now share the unfortunate distinction of being one of the four remaining winless teams in the NFL, languishing at the bottom of the AFC West.
This stark deviation from expectations under Sean Payton begs the question: What comes next? Interestingly, the reasons behind their dismal start in the 2023-24 season are distinct from their struggles of the previous year. While their offense may not evoke memories of the 2007 Patriots, it can be deemed a serviceable unit. Overall, the offensive performance has not been abysmal.
Russell Wilson is staging a comeback, ranking in the top 10 in the league for passing yards, passing touchdowns, and passer rating through three weeks. He has also generated a fair share of explosive plays in the passing game. The running game has faced some struggles, but it is far from being considered subpar, with Denver ranking 20th in rushing yards.
The Broncos’ offense does encounter difficulties in the red zone, where they convert less than half of their trips into touchdowns.
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However, these offensive woes shouldn’t warrant the team being one of the league’s laughingstocks entering week four. The defense, which boasted elite status in 2022, has severely disappointed this season. After three weeks in 2023, they find themselves dead last in both yards and points allowed. Although the Miami game inflates these statistics, the unit suffered a disheartening collapse in the second half against Washington.
Before the season commenced, the loss of linebacker Jonas Griffith to a season-ending ACL tear during practice was a significant setback. Baron Browning, the team’s premier pass rusher, has yet to appear after offseason knee surgery. Caden Sterns, a promising young safety, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the week one loss to the Raiders.
While these losses are undeniably impactful, they should not result in the worst defense in football. Surprisingly, the departure of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has had a more substantial impact on the Broncos than they would’ve expected. Evero departed during the offseason to become defensive coordinator in Carolina, leaving a vacancy for Sean Payton to fill.
Payton selected Vance Joseph, who had previously served as head coach for the Broncos in 2017-18 and had been overseeing the defense in Arizona. Unfortunately, the results have been underwhelming. Despite calls from numerous Broncos fans and media for Joseph’s dismissal following the historic embarrassment against Miami, Payton has retained him. All hope is not yet lost for Denver.
It seems more likely for the defense to improve than for the offense to regress. Payton’s history of orchestrating potent offenses is well-established. Wilson may not be the player he was five years ago but is performing better than last season. He has been more aggressive in pushing the ball downfield, and the addition of deep threat Marvin Mims Jr. has undoubtedly aided the team.
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Defensively, the current abysmal performance is unlikely to persist. While the 70 points and over 700 yards conceded against Miami were undeniably alarming, the Dolphins currently possess the league’s most formidable offense, dominating all opponents. Denver’s upcoming matchups against the Bears and the Jets, both of whom have struggled offensively, provide an opportunity for the defense to rebound.
A return to the mean is not only possible but anticipated. Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that, despite the upcoming schedule, the Broncos have invested significantly in their quarterback. Regardless, the pressure is mounting from a fan base that has not witnessed a Broncos playoff game since Super Bowl 50. The path to competitiveness in Denver is undoubtedly within reach, but the clock is ticking for Sean Payton and the Broncos.