The Denver Broncos have started the 2012 season 3-3, a record full of late-game comebacks—like the emotional win over San Diego Monday night—and also disappointing losses. With the 35-24 victory over the Chargers in their cap, the Broncos now head into the bye sitting atop the AFC West.
Coach John Fox and multiple players have been quoted as saying they plan on using this bye to improve on key issues that will help the team become a contender for the long haul. The following slides are five key issues the Broncos need to fix as soon as possible.
The Broncos' main problem on offense is turnovers.
They are 30th in the NFL in fumbles, with seven lost so far this season. Last week, the Broncos offense fumbled the ball twice inside the Patriots' 20-yard line, ruining a chance of putting at least six points on the board.
Dropped passes are also a big problem that needs to be fixed. The offense had five dropped passes against the Texans, many of them unforced. Proper ball-handling is to blame, not necessarily great defense from the opposing team.
These two problems are easily fixable. After being stripped of the ball following a 35-yard gain in the first quarter against the Patriots, Demaryius Thomas has been determined to fix his ball-security issues.
Thomas has been carrying around a football to practice, meetings and film sessions. To add difficulty, the ball is covered in two beanies, making it hard to grip. Also, there are two letter Ms on the ball, symbolizing the names of wide receiver coach, Tyke Tolbert's daughters. Thomas' assignment is to protect the ball from the swatting of teammates as if the ball is Tolbert's daughters.
With the extra time the bye provides, other members of the offense should follow Thomas' lead and carry around a football while teammates try to swat it away.
Another big issue with the Broncos is their third-down defense.
Last week against the Patriots, the Broncos defense allowed four third-and-longs conversions. These four conversions included two 25-yard passes, a 19-yard completion and a 19-yard run. What is troubling is that the defense should have been able to make stops on these third-and-long plays but failed to do so.
This is a very alarming statistic and something the defense needs to change quickly if the Broncos want to come back after the bye week a better team. Allowing that many third-down conversions is putting too much pressure on Peyton Manning to carry the team.
The second half of the Chargers game proved that the Broncos defense can make big stops at the right time. The problem is, the defense needs to make these plays all the time, not only when the clock is winding down and they are furiously trying to make a comeback.
During the bye, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio needs to have the defense watch game tape and compare first-half play versus second-half play to emphasize what the defensive line is capable of week after week.
There's no question that Peyton Manning is back and ready to play. In the past three games (before the Chargers game), Manning completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, zero interceptions and eight touchdowns. His arm is also back to pre-injury strength and Manning is ready to win now and push his team.
There are times when the offensive line looks unprepared and mediocre compared to Manning. Then, like in the second half of the Chargers game, they prove the Broncos are in fact a stacked, talented and energetic team.
Sometimes I think the other Broncos don't trust Peyton Manning yet, or maybe they're confused by his style of play, but the sluggishness needs to stop after the bye week.
Peyton Manning is one of the all-time greats, but he can't do it alone. The Broncos are too full of talented players to not make a run for the playoffs.
They speculated correctly.
Philip Rivers moved quickly down the field, causing Von Miller to twice jump offsides early in the first half. The defense was unable to get back to its position on the line of scrimmage in time to provide solid coverage on the following play.
On the offensive side, Peyton Manning tried to keep a no-huddle offense by calling plays with hand gestures rather than audibles. That didn't work out too well in the first half against San Diego. A wide open Eric Decker tried to keep an uptempo pace after hauling in a long Manning pass but ended up tripping over his own feet on what would have been an easy touchdown reception. On the very next play, Peyton Manning threw an interception that was returned for a Chargers touchdown after Denver wideout Matthew Willis apparently ran the wrong route.
In the second half, the Broncos led a furious comeback, but when Philip Rivers tried to push the tempo, the Broncos defense began to look tired and slow. In the end, Rivers was the one looking tired, as Chris Harris grabbed an interception and returned it for a touchdown as the Broncos tied the largest comeback in the history of Monday Night Football.
In the bye, the Broncos need to work on perfecting their up-tempo attack.
The game against the Chargers is a perfect example of how the Broncos need to play a full game.
If the Broncos had played throughout the whole game with the energy they displayed in the second half, they would have blown out San Diego on the Chargers' home turf. Instead, things must have been said in the Bronco locker room at halftime, as Denver came out for the second half looking like an entirely different team.
The Broncos need to be pumped and ready to go at kickoff, not when they are in a major hole and needing to find a way to climb out.
The slow starts in the past few weeks are worrisome. Elvis Dumervil, Demaryius Thomas and Willis McGahee need to have a fire in them from the get-go and feed off Peyton Manning's energy. The late-game forced turnovers generated by Dumervil and Von Miller are game-changers that provide a wonderful burst of energy, but the Broncos need that in the first half as well.
After the emotional win over the San Diego Chargers, the bye will feel much better. The Broncos can go into it feeling confident but knowing they still have issues that need fixing.