Fresh off a humiliating video scandal, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels and his team desperately needed a win at home against the improving but very beatable St. Louis Rams -- and they didn't get one, losing 36-33.
Yes, the Broncos made the final score close -- but close wasn't close enough for McDaniels to justify his continued employment.
Once again, the Broncos started the game with a blitzkrieg that led to a first-drive touchdown -- a reminder that McDaniels really is an imaginative offensive coach. He made quarterback Kyle Orton play most of last season wearing figurative handcuffs, thereby convincing most fans that he had sub-Brian Griese arm strength. But this year, Orton has proven to be far better at stretching the field than he seemed during his initial Denver campaign -- and early on, Knowshon Moreno ran well, suggesting that when healthy, he might be able to shake off the mantle of first-round-draft-pick disappointment once and for all.
Problem is, the Broncos' offense couldn't sustain this momentum, and while the defense succeeded at limiting Rams basher Steven Jackson, the squad made rookie hurler Sam Bradford look like a Hall of Fame candidate -- which isn't exactly a new phenomenon. Hell, even Raiders embarrassment Jamarcus Russell led his team to victory against the Broncos last year. And that's not to mention 49er Troy Smith, who hadn't played a regular season game in years before helping defeat Denver in London a few weeks back.
One big reason: the continuing lack of a pass rush, which was a problem before McDaniels arrived in Colorado, and remains one today. In our January 2009 post "Offensive expert Josh McDaniels as new Broncos coach? WTF?," we questioned his hire for precisely this reason. An excerpt:
In particular, the Denver D has not been able to generate a consistent or credible pass rush, thereby allowing opposing signal callers of all talent levels to pitch a tent in the pocket and methodically complete passes all over the field.
Anything about that sentence changed in the past year and a half? Doubt it -- and the injury that's kept Elvis Dumervil on the bench for the entire campaign doesn't explain the lack of improvement.
Thanks in large part to a luxurious amount of time to contemplate his throws, Bradford had a career day, helping the Rams build up so large a lead that even a furious fourth quarter comeback on the part of Orton, ably assisted by Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal, couldn't overcome it.
True, the Broncos didn't quit -- and they had every reason for doing so. But their professionalism will provide precious little comfort for McDaniels, who's become an object of ridicule for fans and the media alike.
Example: During CBS' pregame show yesterday, former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and onetime Bengals great Boomer Esiason debated the fines imposed on McDaniels and the Broncos over the video incident, with both drawing a bead on McD. Cowher seemed legitimately angry -- he declared that the penalties were too mild and argued for Denver to lose draft picks -- while Esiason said the combination of the latest scandal with the loss of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Peyton Hillis (who scored another three touchdowns yesterday) show some serious flaws in McDaniels' decision-making.
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Damn straight. Mike Shanahan was fired mainly because of a lousy defense and poor personnel choices. And McDaniels? His talent evaluation is even worse than his predecessor's, the defense is still ultra-mediocre, and if the offense is now at about the level it was when he took over the team, he fixed what wasn't broken, leading to unnecessary turmoil and a whole lot of losses.
Why is this man still the Broncos' coach? Expect to hear that question frequently for the remainder of the season.
More from our Sports archive: "Top 10 ways Josh McDaniels has destroyed the Denver Broncos."