Vance Joseph Is Stepping Into a Great Situation With the Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos went from 2015 Super Bowl champions to third place in their own division, and they missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. That's quite a precipitous fall over a one-year period, although their Super Bowl companions from last season, the Carolina Panthers, suffered the same fate.
As a result, there's going to be some soul searching in Denver this offseason, but their head-coaching opening was still a very desirable job. Not only do the Broncos have more talent than most teams looking to hire a coach, their 2016 season wasn't as bad as it seems. In fact, per our numbers, the Broncos were better in 2016 than they were in 2015.
Denver is turning to Vance Joseph, who, despite 19 years of coaching experience, has only been a coordinator for one year -- which came as the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator last season. That's quite a difference from Gary Kubiak, who has spent 25 years in the NFL, serving as a head coach or offensive coordinator for 22 of those seasons. Also in contrast to the offensive-minded Kubiak, Joseph is a defensive guy.
Let's look at how Joseph -- and a move he's already made -- may impact the Broncos.
Who is Vance?
With only one year as a coordinator, there isn't much on his résumé which we can look to in terms of results. All we really have to go off of is the one year with Miami.
While the Dolphins made the playoffs, they were pretty fortunate to do so, and when they got there, the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense tore them apart. So, should Miami's performance be an indictment of Joseph, or is there more to the story?
Let's look at how the Dolphins performed on defense last year, and we'll compare it to the previous year. We'll use traditional team defense statistics and see how Miami stacked up to the rest of the league in each of the last two seasons.
|Year||Points Allowed||Yards Allowed||Turnovers Forced||Penalties|
Overall, the Dolphins defense was pretty similar from year to year, but there are two areas -- turnovers and penalties -- where they showed big improvement.
We can also compare 2016 to 2015 using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which is adjusted for strength of schedule. Here, the Dolphins look like a much-improved defense, ranking significantly better in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
|Year||Adjusted Def NEP/Play||Adjusted Def Passing NEP/Play||Adjusted Def Rush NEP/Play|
The run defense was pretty putrid -- which isn't a shock if you watched what Le'Veon Bell did to them in the wild card round -- but overall, the Dolphins went from one of the league's worst defenses to a middle-of-the-road unit.
Denver's defensive prowess is well known. The Broncos have been football's top overall defense and the best pass defense, per our metrics, in each of the last two seasons. There's a good chance they'd have success on that side of the ball regardless of who the team hired as head coach, but as Joseph's work with Miami shows, he should be capable of continuing the Broncos' defensive dominance.
But What About the Offense?
The real question mark for the Broncos going into 2017 is the offense. Even when they won the Super Bowl, the offense struggled. They didn't exactly light it up in 2016, either, but they were a better unit, particularly throwing the ball, according to our numbers.
|Year||Adjusted NEP||Adjusted Passing NEP||Adjusted Rushing NEP|
The running game was still one of the worst in the league, but the passing attack was much better in 2016 than it was in 2015. Considering it was his first year under center, Trevor Siemian performed decently well.
In his first move as head coach, Joseph brought in Mike McCoy to run the offense. McCoy had been -- he was fired after this season -- the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, but before that, he was the offensive coordinator for Denver. He got a team quarterbacked by Tim Tebow into the postseason one year, and then completely changed the offense once the Broncos signed Peyton Manning.
Here's what McCoy's teams -- both in Denver and with the Chargers -- have done offensively, using our metrics to see their league rank.
|Year||Adjusted NEP/P||Adjusted Passing NEP/Play||Adjusted Rushing NEP/Play|
|2016 SD HC||17th||17th||28th|
|2015 SD HC||19th||8th||31st|
|2014 SD HC||11th||9th||28th|
|2013 SD HC||2nd||2nd||8th|
|2012 Den OC||10th||6th||22nd|
|2011 Den OC||26th||30th||15th|
|2010 Den OC||14th||11th||24th|
|2009 Den OC||20th||20th||24th|
Overall, McCoy's offenses have fared well through the air. Obviously, having Manning helps, but McCoy's teams in San Diego ranked inside the top 10 in Adjusted Passing NEP per play in three of his four seasons.
Based on McCoy's history, he may get the best out of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, both of whom have gone over the 1,000-yard mark for three straight seasons. He should also be able to help whomever Denver starts under center.
Time will tell whether the Broncos continue to roll with Siemian or turn to 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch, but hiring McCoy, a coach who has proven he can put points on the board with a myriad of quarterbacks, to run the offense looks like a very good move.
As we touched on earlier, the Broncos aren't the typical team in the offseason coaching carousel -- basically, they're good (ranked fifth, per our models) and most teams hiring a coach aren't very good.
In a lot of ways, Denver going with Joseph is a similar hire to the Steelers landing Mike Tomlin -- a point Joseph himself made in his introductory press conference. Like Tomlin was when Pittsburgh hired him, Joseph is a first-time head coach who wasn't seen as leading candidate. Both guys also inherited solid rosters, and they landed with franchises accustomed to winning.
It has worked out pretty well for the Steelers -- they won a Super Bowl in Tomlin's second year and have made the playoffs in seven of his 10 years, including this season.
Obviously, there's no guarantees Joseph does that well for Denver. But he's a defensive coach equipped with the best defense in football, and he hired a proven offensive mind to help coach the offense. The NFC West figures to be tough again in 2017, but Denver should be right in the thick of it once again.