Stupidity, leadership are not same thing
In a Denver locker room where Peyton Manning once was the sheriff, the voice of authority is now cornerback Aqib Talib, who doesn’t care if you’re his foe, teammate or mother. Talib will bully you, shut your mouth and then expect you to make him breakfast in the morning.
The Broncos have issues. Too many to count. But one reason the defending Super Bowl champions are 8-6 and in danger of missing the playoffs might be stupidity disguised as leadership.
On Wednesday, I asked Talib if his confrontation in the locker room with teammate Russell Okung after a 16-3 loss to New England was much ado about nothing.
“I argue with my mother, and she still makes me breakfast,” Talib quipped.
I chuckled. Talib is the best cornerback money can buy in the NFL. He’s intense to a fault. He would rather beat your butt than back down. He’s no-filter funny. He’s the little crazy every football team needs.
But if Talib is the face of your franchise, then the road to the Super Bowl is more like-
ly to end up in the ditch than with a parade through downtown Denver.
Long before Talib shouted down Okung after a loss that hurt so bad the Broncos were fighting mad, the brotherhood was fraying at the edges. There is a natural divide between the offense and defense on every NFL team. One unit has to sit and watch while the other plays. Coach Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback, tends to refer to the offense as “we” and his defense as “them.”
Here’s the problem: In the span of the last 12 months, the dialogue between a strong Denver defense and its weak little brother has gone from “Just don’t mess it up for us, OK?” with an arm around the shoulder to an angry shove in the back that screams: “Why do you always have to be messing it up?”
I recall cornerback Chris Harris telling me during the Super Bowl run, “A punt is not a bad play for our offense.” But, of late, Talib could not even trust Jordan Norwood to catch a punt after the Denver defense makes a stop.
Even on his last legs, when Manning had lost his throwing touch and frequently played like a broken-down old vet, he ruled the locker room. Teammates did not necessarily love Manning. But they respected him to the nth degree. Would Talib have had the guts to tell Manning to shut up? No way. No how.
The trouble with the Denver offense is bigger than the lack of an effective running game. The Denver offense has no voice.
It starts with the play-calling. The Broncos have no identity on offense, because it seems the coaches spend more energy to build consensus than score touchdowns. Who’s in charge here? Is it Kubiak, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison or quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp? There are too many cooks in the kitchen and too many competing voices in Trevor Siemian’s ear.
For Christmas, Siemian bought his offensive linemen winter coats with a built-in Skittles dispenser. Hey, I want one of those. But it’s not a gift sent by a CEO. It’s a present that reminds us Siemian is 24 years old, just one of the guys, trying to fit in.
When C.J. Anderson went down with an injury, the Broncos lost more than their best running back. The offense lost a player with as much spunk as Talib. Being a 21st century man, Anderson has tried to control the conversation via Twitter, which might work in presidential politics, but doesn’t really translate to tackle football.
The offense is sick and tired of hearing it stinks. But is there anybody on the Broncos with both the star power and leadership chops to pull the offense out of this mess?
Moving food around his plate with a fork, receiver Demaryius Thomas looked up from his lunch, anticipated the sore subject I was poking at and challenged me to ask a direct question.
So I asked Thomas: Was there anything he could do outside of making big catches to be a leader?
“I just need to do my job. And that’s making plays,” Thomas replied. “That’s it.”
Actions speak loudest. Got it. No argument here.
Manning threw 151 touchdown passes in 65 regular-season and playoff starts for Denver. He came off the bench once for the Broncos. Manning did not throw a TD pass that afternoon against San Diego, but led a march that ended in a Super Bowl victory.
Leadership is more than telling somebody to sit down and shut up.