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John Fox out up to 2 months: What does this mean for Denver?

Head Coach John Fox underwent Aortic Heart Valve Replacement Surgery today. Photo courtesy of predominantlyorange.com.

At 7-1 many people would say keep doing what you're doing. Unfortunately that's not an option for the Denver Broncos. With Head Coach John Fox undergoing aortic heart valve replacement surgery, and looking to be out for up to two months, fate has forced Denver to make some changes. 

It was recently announced that Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio will take Fox's place as the Interim Head Coach. But the question on everyone's mind is, how much will this affect the team?

Let's start with the offense.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase, quarterback coach Gregg Knapp, and team captain Peyton Manning have led quite convincingly the highest caliber offense in the NFL up to this point. 1st in points scored (by a modest 86 pts), 1st in passing yards (by 325 yards), 1st in passing touchdowns (by 8 td's), and the accolades continue...

The good news is, I don't see the passing game changing much in Fox's absence. Why? Because of the composition of this offense. You don't have a group of young, talented athletes completing 80 yard touchdown passes on dead sprints down the field week after week. There's no Cinderella story here. What you have are veteran players like Wes Welker and Peyton Manning leading a group of intelligent, strong, and above all, patient athletes down the field to put points on the board. People might be surprised at the numbers they are putting up, but nobody is surprised that they are putting up numbers. Under Peyton's guidance, this team works quickly and efficiently. They have a system in place and it works. (8.3 Net Yards/Passing Attempt, also 1st in the NFL.) 

Where the offense might be affected is in the ground game. Whenever you have a great quarterback like Peyton Manning, who has the potential to throw for 7 touchdowns a game, you have to constantly fight the urge to entirely give up on your run game. If you allow teams to drop a man out of the box in coverage, play after play, without punishment, you are simply asking for trouble. Everyone knows you need a balanced attack, but when it comes to game time, 3rd and short, will Peyton (or Gase, if he actually makes any of these calls) have the composure to hand the ball off instead of spreading out the backfield? I'm not so sure. 

The problem here is that if you give up on the ground game, or even if you just soften it, you become 1-dimensional. And then even Peyton Manning can't work his magic. It is crucial for Denver to continue to lean on Knowshon if they hope to count on Peyton. In order to do that though, Knowshon has to hang on to the football. He's had fumble problems in the past, but this is not the time to lose trust. 

But what about the defense? I believe this is where Fox's absence will really be felt. Not only are they losing a defensively minded tried-and-tested NFL Head Coach, but Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio will also have to sacrifice some of his time previously devoted to the defense towards operating the team. Talk about a double whammy. It will be imperative that people like Jay Rodgers (Defensive Line Coach), Richard Smith (Linebacker Coach), Cory Undlin (Secondary Coach), as well as veteran players like Champ Bailey, DRC, and Wesley Woodyard, step up to help fill the gaps left by the higher-ups. 

Unfortunately Denver's defense has not matched its offense so far this year. Ranked 23rd overall, they have struggled to stop opponents from completing big plays and putting up large point totals. In week 8 against the Redskins, they looked much better, but will the loss of Fox mean one step forwards, two steps back? I guess we'll have to see.

My big concern is that Fox's surgery will not necessarily make the team worse, but cause it to stagnate. The NFL is a constantly changing league where offenses and defenses transform rapidly from week to week and even within the game itself. Gameplans, personal decisions, half-time adjustments. This is where having a seasoned coach like John Fox becomes most valuable. Up to now, the Denver Broncos have been mediocre in the first half yet completely unstoppable in the second half. I wonder how much of this results from coaching input made during half-time, and how much came from John Fox himself.

Denver faces divisional opponents three out the next four games with two of those being the undefeated Chiefs. It's hard to argue that this isn't the most crucial stretch for the Broncos. If they hope to lock up home-field advantage in the playoffs, they will have certainly have to win one (if not both) of the match-ups against the Chiefs, something no other team has been able to do thus far.

Football aside, all Denver fans are wishing John Fox a speedy recovery. This couldn't have been an easy decision for him, but ultimately - regardless of what happens this season with the Broncos - as long as he's alright, we'll be behind him.

Because at the end of the day, we all bleed orange.

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