One might think the Denver Broncos’ locker room following Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts would’ve been a happy place.
The Broncos beat Andrew Luck’s Colts by two touchdowns, 34-20. They’re 2-0 on the season with a quarterback who’s made two NFL starts. No signs of a Super Bowl hangover many predicted.
But in going through the post-game columns, the Broncos — at least the ones who play offense — didn’t sound like the most chipper bunch.
“We’re gonna need more offense, that’s for sure,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas told NFL.com’s Mike Silver.
“I don’t know if that’s us being young, or getting used to a new quarterback, or if it’s play-calling, but we can all do better,” running back C.J. Anderson said.
“We’re tough to play now, and we’re not doing things right (on offense),” left tackle Russell Okung said.
The Broncos’ offensive players didn’t sound delighted, despite the win, and it’s not hard to understand why.
The Broncos are moving the ball OK in the middle of the field; Denver ranks 13th in yards per play (5.8) and 16th in yards per game (353.5). But the offense struggles when it gets deep into opponents’ territory. That must change if the Broncos are to win another AFC West title and make a deep playoff run.
In two games this season, the Broncos have driven the ball inside their opponents’ 30-yard line a dozen times. The result? Four touchdowns, four field goals and four turnovers that add up to 40 points.
That equals 3.33 points per trip inside an opponents’ 30-yard line, which is efficient in the same that a Bugatti Veyron is. That is to say: Not.
Denver was especially bad in and around the red zone Sunday. The Broncos worked their way within 30 yards of Indianapolis’ end zone six times, but they only came away with one touchdown and four Brandon McManus field goals.
So what gives?
Well, the biggest thing Denver can do better is simple: Protect the football. One giveaway every third trip inside an opponents’ 30 isn’t a winning formula.
Rookie running back Devontae Booker fumbled in the season opener at Carolina’s 29 to end Denver’s first drive of the season. From then on, Trevor Siemian’s committed a host of errors. Twice, he’s been picked off while attempting a screen pass.
Above is the one from Sunday. Siemian tries to toss the ball outside to Emmanuel Sanders. Colts cornerback Darius Butler, who showed blitz, recognized the play and intercepted the pass. Butler was headed for the end zone, but his hamstring blew out. Lucky break there for the Broncos.
This sort of mistake can’t happen if you’re Siemian. It doesn’t matter if it was his second NFL game or 222nd. Loft the ball if you have to. He did the same thing against Carolina. He’s got to make sure his receiver is the only one who can catch it. At very worst, it’s an incompletion, and the Broncos are still within McManus’ field goal range.
Siemian also left points on the table when he failed to connect with Sanders on a crossing route in the first quarter. Denver had second-and-goal from the 5. The fake to Anderson worked beautifully. Siemian just put a little too much on the throw.
This mistake is at least understandable. It’s not hard to see Siemian making this play in two weeks’ time. He’s actually been accurate — completing 67.8 percent of his passes, which ranks seventh among qualifying QBs — even if he’s played it safe.
The Denver offense’s failure to be effective deep in their opponents’ territory isn’t his fault alone, either. Anderson and the offensive line didn’t pick up a first down in several short-yardage third-down situations Sunday, including one that could’ve iced the game.
Still, better decision-making and accuracy when the windows get tighter from Siemian would go a long way toward helping. The Broncos’ defense isn’t going to score two touchdowns every week. Siemian and the offense have to step up eventually, and it sounds like they know it.