5 Things the Denver Broncos Need to Improve Before Playing New Orleans Saints
Following an off-season full of pomp and circumstance, the first third of the Broncos' season has come and gone.
They opened with a convincing victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but soon found themselves playing catch-up against the likes of the Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, and the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos were a Philip Rivers-led meltdown away from going into the bye 2-4 and turning into one of the bigger disappointments in the league this year.
Although Monday's huge comeback win should give the Broncos lots of confidence and momentum moving forward, here are five areas where the team can use some improvement heading into the bye week.
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Throughout the season the Broncos have been abysmal in the first two quarters. They're being outscored 42-98 going into the locker room at halftime, an average of 9.3 points per game.
This puts more pressure on Peyton Manning causing the offense to throw the ball more to stay in the game. This is also detrimental to the defense which rarely plays with the lead. The Broncos have only had the lead for 97:38 through six games (27.1% of the time).
During Peyton Manning's tenure in Indianapolis, the Colts were almost always in the lead, something that has eluded the Broncos all season long. While Monday showed us he's certainly capable of a comeback, it's unrealistic to expect this on a weekly basis.
Third Down Defense
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Let's be honest, the Broncos defense is good, not great.
One of their biggest areas for concern is on third down, which has been pitiful thus far. On plays of 3rd-and-10 or longer, the defense has allowed opponents to convert 11 out of 12 times.
Overall, the team is fifth worst in the league, allowing opponents to convert on 45.6% on third down attempts. While the run defense has proved to be competent (tied for eighth with 3.7 yards allowed per carry), the Broncos desperately need to fine tune their defense so they can stay off the field and let Peyton Manning command the offense.
Four, Three, Four
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Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are the heart and soul of the Broncos front seven (fifth in the league in sacks at 18), and they're doing most of the work on the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the field. Safeties Rahim Moore and Mike Adams have been busy as well being first and third in team tackles respectively.
The annual carousel of new defensive coordinators (seven in seven seasons) in town has clearly led to a lack of defensive consistency from year to year. Although the defense feasted on Philip Rivers' mistakes on Monday, previous encounters with Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub left the Broncos going home with bad tastes in their mouths, without the opposition putting up huge passing numbers.
The Broncos defense needs to continue the aggressiveness they brought in the second half Monday night if they don't want to be exposed by the likes of Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Joe Flacco, who loom ahead on the schedule.
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The number one reason the Broncos found themselves in an early hole against San Diego: special teams miscues.
The team only ran eight offensive plays in the first quarter Monday due to two costly and preventable turnovers: a muffed punt and a fumbled kickoff return, giving the Chargers the ball in the red zone on two consecutive possessions.
Another area that has plagued the Broncos for years is kickoff returns, where the team ranks 31st in the league in kickoff return avg (18.4 yards per return). A mix of inexperience at the position and inconsistency in return men has led to flubs and a lack of production in the third phase, giving the offense a longer field with which to work.
Run, Ronnie, Run
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Denver had the league's top ground game in 2011 (thanks to a solid season by Willis McGahee and help from Tim Tebow), but this year they are in the bottom half in the league ranking 20th in rush yards.
Although those numbers were bound to drop once Peyton Manning ,was signed, the team needs some versatility in the run game. Leading rusher Willis McGahee is now 30 and as such is not an every down kind of back. With 432 yards on the ground he dwarfs second leading rusher Ronnie Hillman who has a mere 50 yards to his credit.
Hillman is only 20 and has lots of potential and can only get better under the guidance of Willis McGahee and Peyton Manning. With Knowshon Moreno playing Mr. Irrelevant once again due to injury, John Fox needs to tweak the run attack or risk his offense becoming predictable and one-dimensional.