The Broncos have given the ball up 11 times in losses to the Jaguars, Patriots, and Dolphins over the past four weeks (Week Eight was a bye). The team’s turnover differential is dead last in the AFC at -9, and Denver’s 16 total turnovers are tied for most in the conference.
The aggravatingly mistake-prone Denver offense has turned the ball over at least three times in each of their last three games—all losses. As a result, a once promising 4-1 start has been downgraded to a mediocre 4-4 team that remains atop the loathsome AFC West, nonetheless.
To put this heinous run in perspective, the last time Denver turned the ball over three or more times in three consecutive games was way back in 2004. Such a Broncos streak has only occurred twice in the Mike Shanahan era and three times since 1989.
In 2004, the Broncos turned the ball over three-plus times four games in a row, going 1-3 during the stretch and amassing 16 total turnovers.
The Broncos also accomplished this cheerless task during the last three games of the 1996 regular season. It is important to note, however, that many of the Denver offensive starters barely participated in two of these games due to Shanahan’s decision to rest his top players, having already clinched the AFC West (the rusty Broncos were upset by Jacksonville in the divisional round of the playoffs in large part because of that decision).
Unfortunately, the Broncos current run of ineptitude features all of its starters in plain view. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, the team’s most recognizable stars, have both struggled to take care of the ball, combining for 13 turnovers this season.
Cutler has illustrated his ability to be an efficient quarterback who can avoid turnovers in the past, throwing just two interceptions in the first three games of 2003 and only two picks in the final four games of last season. The past few weeks, however, have been a different story all together.
The issue seems to be Cutler’s growing inability to throw comfortably from the pocket. It is no secret that the Vanderbilt alum loves to use play action and manipulate the pocket by rolling out to the side, but he has yet to see the same level of success from inside the pocket.
When the running game broke down over the past two weeks, the play-action pass was no longer a viable option. Over the past few weeks, when Cutler has faked the hand off and rolled out of the pocket, he has immediately had defenders in his face and been unable to function in what is usually his bread-and-butter scenario.
The offensive line continues to give Cutler decent protection, having only given up six sacks all season (second-best in the league), but the running game has broken down entirely (an embarrassing 14 yards on the ground last week) and forced Cutler into the unenviable situation of carrying the team on his back. With no running game to speak of, defensive backfields are all over Cutler's receivers and sooner or later, interceptions are bound to happen.
It is far from over for the Broncos, but Cutler can not do it on his own (as he proved against the Dolphins). The gameplan seems to be there when the game starts, but withers away with each mistake into utter chaos by game’s end. It is the young QB’s responsibility to hound his teammates over no-brainer turnovers, but before he can right his ship, he must right himself.
If there is one positive to take out of Denver’s rare streak of three-plus turnover games it is this—the only two occasions in which this has happened in the Shanahan era were during playoff campaigns.
Let us hope it this trend that will continue and not the sloppy trends of the last three weeks.