Before the Broncos turned Patrick Mahomes upside down in Week 8 and shook him like a snow globe, No. 15 was Showtime.
He’s been Redbox ever since.
And if the wonks who vote on NFL Assistant Coach of the Year are paying attention, that baby oughta be your to lose, Vance. You got it right. Sean Payton got it right. George Paton got it right. Greg Penner got it right.
Instead of shedding blood, the Broncos shed disgruntled veterans. Instead of blowing up the bathroom, they retiled the shower. Every little tweak hit like a sledgehammer.
They identified a new boundary corner (Fabian Moreau) who could handle the traffic from QBs avoiding Pat Surtain II. They found a star in nickelback Ja’Quan McMillian, a college free agent out of East Carolina whose quiet case for a Pro Bowl nod — seven TFLs, two interceptions and two fumbles forced over his last eight games — gets louder by the week.
They handed the keys to Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto, then watched them drive tackles batty. No team in the NFL has more sacks over the past three weeks than the Broncos’ 18.
Explosion plays vanished. Missed tackles felt like unhappy accidents. In his 13 games as defensive coordinator, Joseph’s defense somehow transformed from a rusty, flaming dumpster into Optimus Prime. Welcome to The Vance Vance Revolution.
If the buddy-cop tandem of Payton & Paton are half as smart as they think they are, they’ll get in Penner’s ear, rip up whatever’s left of VJ’s contract and let Joseph name his price.
It’s been so long — too long — since Broncos Country found something they could trust falling in love with again. You don’t let that feeling walk away easy.
Now that you mention it, the last seven weeks have been so much fun, the only thing missing for Joseph’s cadre is a clever nickname, right? Some proper shorthand, along the lines of “Orange Crush” and “No-Fly Zone”, for one of the most remarkable defensive units in the history of a franchise that’s been defined by them.
Open to suggestions, of course. “Team Takeaway?” “The Turnover Train?”
Here’s another stab, take it or leave it: The Mahomes-Wreckers.
The NFL is an unabashed cut-and-paste, copycat league. Other great defensive minds have proffered theories toward an antidote for the logic-bending, gravity-defying, generational genius of Mahomes, the Chiefs’ QB1.
Joseph might’ve just written the definitive book on the subject.
Before Kansas City visited Empower Field on Oct. 29, the Chiefs were 6-1. The Broncos were roadkill.
On a cold day in Hades, VJ’s defense forced five turnovers, picking off The Grim Reaper twice and sacking him three times.
“Well, you know, Mahomes was sick”, they sniffed.
“Yeah, it was the snow,” they scoffed.
In Kansas City’s six games that followed, the Chiefs are 2-4. The defending Super Bowl champs have scored a Shurmuresque 19 points per game during that stretch, while surrendering 1.83 sacks per tussle.
Context: In the seven games before Broncos 24, Mahomes 9, Andy Reid’s finest averaged 25.4 points per game and allowed just one sack per tilt.
During that 6-1 start, Mahomes threw for at least 280 yards four different times. During the 2-4 run since, one that includes the Chiefs’ first loss to the Broncos in forever, No. 15’s only managed to hit that mark once.
So much for sick.
So much for snow.
“Vance and these guys have done a really good job of bringing combinations, if you will, which makes it a little harder,” Payton reflected Monday.
“I think it’s a little bit contagious. I think there (are) certain plans you have for certain styles and certain quarterbacks. Some of these guys are too good to sit in the pocket and they’re too talented. Somehow, you have to disrupt the passing game. And it’s either at the line of scrimmage and re-routing receivers, or it’s with the quarterback. (VJ’s defense has) done a good job.”
When the recovery becomes even more impressive than the failure, it’s not just good, coach. It’s historic.
And when the stuff this league is cutting and pasting is yours, it’s not just flattery. It’s gospel. The AFC West is a race again, and Hallelujah.