What Really Caused The Denver Broncos To Miss The Playoffs?

Linebacker Brandon Marshall recently shared his thoughts on why the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos missed the playoffs in 2016. But was Marshall's response a cop out?

In case the fans and media had forgotten what happens when Elvis leaves the building, we were reminded when the Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs last year for the first time since 2010. John Elway retired following Super Bowl XXXIII and the following year the Broncos went 6-10 and finished fifth in the AFC West. 

When Peyton Manning hung up his cleats following Denver's Super Bowl 50 Championship, many of us in the media and fanbase deluded ourselves into believing that this time it would be different. Because of how dominant the Broncos defense had been in 2015, and how little credit Manning and the offense received for Denver's successes that year, it was easy to assume the show would go on and that the team wouldn't miss a beat in defense of their World Championship. 

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The Broncos went 9-7 and found themselves on the outside looking in come January. 

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1781941-why-we-shouldn-t-sleep-on... In his final season, Manning might have lost many of the physical attributes that made him an all-time great, but his leadership and charisma was the glue that held Denver's locker room together. Without him, the Broncos defense quickly grew tired of carrying Gary Kubiak's offense and the frustrations boiled over in the locker room. 

Although I would point to a leadership void — and the subsequent locker room divide — as the primary culprits for the Broncos missing the playoffs in 2016, linebacker Brandon Marshall doesn't see it that way. 

“Before we won the Super Bowl, I didn’t even think about it," Marshall said on Thursday. "I was so mesmerized to be on a winning team and thinking that we’re about to go to a Super Bowl. I never thought that was a real thing. You would see teams that win a Super Bowl and then next year didn’t make the playoffs. I never thought that it would happen to us because of who we have on our team. I think it’s real. One of my old trainers put it to me like this, ‘When you reach all of your goals, or when you have something that you work for your whole like and you reach it, naturally, you take a deep breath.’  Even though you reached that, we have to set new goals and new aspirations and work towards that. Once you reach those old goals, I guess those goals won’t do it for you anymore.”

Maybe there is something to the whole 'Super Bowl hangover' theory. Perhaps. What I do know is that the biggest mitigating factor in Denver's 2016 decline was the absence of Peyton Manning. And in retrospect, we shouldn't have been surprised by it. 

Most of Denver's struggles last year stemmed from that. Losing key defensive contributors like Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan hurt, too. It was one of the reasons the team went from third against the run in 2015 to 28th. 

The Broncos couldn't run the ball or stop the run. That double-whammy almost always leads to disappointment. Third down struggles and an inability to convert in the redzone also plagued the Broncos. Kubiak's health struggles hurt the team and really exacerbated the leadership void left by Manning. 

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To call it a 'Super Bowl lull' — to me — doesn't tell even half of the story. It's a cop out. For the last year, the Broncos have lacked the type of franchise leadership and experience Manning provided. And with DeMarcus Ware retiring, that vacuum has grown even larger. 

We've heard passive-aggressive posturing between the defense and offense during OTAs. Will Parks' ill-advised 'slip' on Snapchat, revealing tape from OTAs that depicted Paxton Lynch missing throws, is a Freudian example of the lingering offense vs. defense divide. Is it just a healthy dose of competitive spirit? Or a sign of a more compromising crack in the Broncos foundation? 

Without intending to be the alarmist, I lean toward the latter. What the Broncos need more than anything is true leadership from the quarterback position. Not the rah-rah type. Not the leading from the rear kind we saw from Trevor Siemian in 2016. 

The Broncos need their quarterback — whether it's Siemian or Paxton Lynch — to lead by their performance on gameday. To lead by the productive fruits of their labor. 

The Broncos need a quarterback who leads by putting the proverbial points on the board. Until the offense can get off the ground, and be more than a passenger each week, I fear that we'll see more in-fighting and more passive aggression in and outside the locker room that will once again boil over when the chips are down. 

Vance Joseph was hired as head coach to stem the bleeding left in the wake of Gary Kubiak's buckling. Considered a leader of men, I'm hopeful that Joseph's influence, and his focus on uncompromising 'Truth', will make a difference and rub off on at least one of the Broncos quarterbacks. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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