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Broncos players take issue with Elway's 'soft' label

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  • By Nick Shook NFL.com
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Things start to get a little tense when the losses pile up. Just ask the Denver Broncos.

After starting 3-1, the Broncos have lost six straight. They've sent their starting quarterback from the lineup, to the backup role, to inactive in Week 11. They've surrendered 40-plus points in consecutive weeks before coming back to earth in a 20-17 loss on Sunday to the Bengals.

All of this prompted some harsh words from general manager John Elway, who said this past week the team has gotten "a little bit soft" during the losing streak. Head coach Vance Joseph responded to those comments Sunday.

"When you've lost five games in a row -- and John's watched this team every day," Joseph said. "He watched every week. He watches every practice and he watches every game. So when he said that, I was initially offended, but in some aspects he's right.

"When you've lost that many games in a row, you have to do things in a tougher manner. If you're not winning, that's an issue in football. Football is a physical, tough sport. So when you're not winning, that word comes out."

Elway -- a Hall of Fame and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback -- is no novice at this. He knows what buttons to push that might motivate football players, who largely pride themselves on toughness.

"He is the head guy," linebacker Von Miller said of Elway. "His comments ... he's the boss. That's what he said. He said it. I was kind of taken aback by it, which you should be if you have any type of emotion about you. When you say soft to a guy ... I'm not soft.

"But if you just take a look at it, truth is that's what we have been putting out there. That's the type of team we have developed into. That's where we are. That's the truth. He was telling the truth."

Denver's once-stout defense crumbled in Weeks 9 and 10, allowing a combined total of 92 points. That alone warrants insinuation of a lack of toughness.

The comments landed on more than one defender, though, and they weren't shy about voicing their opposition to having their collective toughness questioned. Via the Denver Post's Nicki Jhabvala:

The team's problem has largely centered on the offense, though, not the defense. The quarterback changes and gripes about offensive complexity -- NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Elway is frustrated with the offensive playbook being unwieldy -- have done little to fix what has been a hamstrung unit from the first week of the season. That the defense is bearing the brunt of Elway's attention might be more of a plea for Denver's strength to lift it out of the doldrums than actual criticism.

After all, sometimes an angry defense is better than an even-keeled or reeling one.

UPDATE: The Broncos fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy on Monday morning, Rapoport reported.

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