Broncos still searching for an offensive identity
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.”