Bron­cos still search­ing for an of­fen­sive iden­tity

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

As Trevor Siemian out­gunned Tom Brady for 15 min­utes Sun­day, sling­ing passes and racing his team down the field, it seemed, for a change, that the Bron­cos might have fig­ured out their prob­lems on of­fense. But they were play­ing just well enough to tease.

Over the fi­nal three quar­ters Sun­day, the of­fense stalled. As it has done all month.

In three De­cem­ber games, Den­ver’s of­fense has scored two touch­downs. In their past three games, two of them losses, the Bron­cos’ of­fense has av­er­aged 8.7 points per game. Kicker Bran­don McManus has ac­counted for more than half their points in that span.

“Y’all see what needs to be changed,” Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris said. “I’m not gonna speak on it.”

Hint: He means the of­fense needs fix­ing, start­ing with fig­ur­ing out an iden­tity.

Coach Gary Ku­biak, in a se­ries of de­ci­sions since an over­time, sea­son-swing­ing loss at home to the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 27, goes from su­per-ag­gres­sive to su­per-con­ser­va­tive.

There was the 62-yard field­goal at­tempt Ku­biak called for in over­time against Kansas City, a move that back­fired. Then, on Sun­day, Ku­biak chose to have the Bron­cos punt at the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ 37 in­stead of try­ing a 54-yard field goal with the team des­per­ate for points. A week af­ter be­ing held to 18 yards rush­ing at Ten­nessee, the Bron­cos came out strong in the first quar­ter against New Eng­land, rush­ing for 42 yards, then pretty much aban­doned the run game.

“We need more con­sis­tency in what we’re do­ing,” Ku­biak said. “Re­ally, I look at my­self. I have to do a bet­ter job for them.”

The Bron­cos’ prob­lems on of­fense are not new, just ev­er­chang­ing.

We are strug­gling . ... But there are no ex­cuses. I have to do a bet­ter job with them.” Gary Ku­biak, Bron­cos coach, on the team’s mount­ing losses

The de­ci­sion to go with Siemian — be­cause he beat out mis­take-prone vet­eran Mark Sanchez in train­ing camp and held off rookie Pax­ton Lynch — was meant to bring safety to the of­fense. And it has. With a thin­ner play­book, Siemian has thrown twice as many touch­downs as in­ter­cep­tions (16 and eight). A year ago, Pey­ton Man­ning threw nearly twice as many in­ter­cep­tions (17) as touch- downs (nine).

But the Bron­cos’ scor­ing is down, slip­ping two spots to 21st in the NFL, and Den­ver’s de­fense has scored 12.5 per­cent of the team’s points, com­pared with 9.4 per­cent a year ago.

“We are strug­gling,” Ku­biak said. “We’ve tried some two-back (sets); we lost some of that. We’ve been at one-back, and we’ve had some things go­ing on. But there are no ex­cuses. I have to do a bet­ter job with them.”

The Bron­cos’ of­fense was ag­gres­sive at the start of Sun­day’s 16-3 loss to the Pa­tri­ots. Ku­biak ac­ti­vated wide re­ceiver Jor­dan Nor­wood and benched punt re­turner Kalif Ray­mond, not for a change in spe­cial teams but be­cause the coach wanted to use a hurry-up, three­wide re­ceiver set. And Nor­wood, a slot re­ceiver, knows the play­book bet­ter than does the rookie Ray­mond.

The move back­fired, though, when Nor­wood muffed a punt af­ter the Pa­tri­ots’ first pos­ses­sion, which led to a 3-0 New Eng­land lead. Then, af­ter Siemian and the Bron­cos ex­celled run­ning a no-hud­dle at­tack in the first quar­ter, they aban­doned it in the sec­ond quar­ter. And, right be­fore half­time, when Den­ver had its time­outs left and stopped New Eng­land at mid­field to force a punt with over a minute to go, Ku­biak did not call a time­out. The Pa­tri­ots drained the play clock down, and the Bron­cos got the ball at the 20-yard line with 32 sec­onds left and ran one play.

“We def­i­nitely didn’t want to give it back to (New Eng­land),” Ku­biak said. “That was the thought process.”

The Bron­cos (8-6), who sprinted to a 4-0 record, are 1-3 since their bye week, and their play­offs hopes are slim. They need to win out and hope other teams lose to get a wild-card berth.

More im­me­di­ately, though, the Bron­cos need to fig­ure out an iden­tity on of­fense.

“We’re the ones that are hold­ing this team back,” wide re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders said of the of­fense. “And we’re try­ing to get it to­gether.”

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