Broncos sur­ren­der­ing touch­downs

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Kos­mider

Any­thing ail­ing the op­pos­ing teams seems to have been fixed by the Broncos in the past five losses. »

The Broncos have be­come a re­hab cen­ter of sorts dur­ing their five-game los­ing streak. Any­thing ail­ing an op­po­nent can be ad­dressed by the team from Mile High Med.

The New York Gi­ants hadn’t vis­ited the win col­umn be­fore they vis­ited Den­ver in the mid­dle of Oc­to­ber. The Los An­ge­les Charg­ers had the worst rush­ing de­fense in the league be­fore lim­it­ing the Broncos to only 69 yards in a shutout vic­tory. The Kansas City Chiefs were strug­gling to pro­duce turnovers be­fore tak­ing the ball away from Den­ver five times. The Philadel­phia Ea­gles thought they were hurt­ing with­out start­ing tight end Zach Ertz, but back­ups Trey Bur­ton and Brent Celek com­bined for 80 yards and a touch­down against the Broncos.

Even the mighty New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons, were in need of a tune-up when they vis­ited Den­ver on Sun­day night. They had scored a touch­down on just one of their four trips into the red zone dur­ing their pre­vi­ous game, a closerthan-ex­pected 21-13 home vic­tory over the Charg­ers.

Tom Brady and the Pa­tri­ots, of course, found the an­swers they were look­ing for while fin­ish­ing four of their six trips in­side the 20-yard line with touch­downs. That ef­fi­cient con­ver­sion rate shined a spot­light on the lat­est ma­jor leak to

spring dur­ing the Broncos’ mis­er­able 2017 sea­son.

What used to be a bend-but­doesn’t-break Den­ver de­fense is bro­ken in­side the red zone. The Broncos are tied for 26th in the NFL in red-zone de­fense, al­low­ing op­po­nents to score touch­downs on 60 per­cent of their trips in­side the 20-yard line. That in­cludes an 8-of-10 suc­cess rate for op­po­nents in the past two games.

“We have to make more plays,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “(Sun­day against the Pa­tri­ots) was strictly about matchups, the backs and the tight ends again. We can have a plan to take away one guy, but if it’s one back and one tight end, you can’t take both guys away.”

It took the Pa­tri­ots only one play to score a touch­down dur­ing their first trip in­side the red zone Sun­day, and the scor­ing pass from Brady to run­ning back Rex Burk­head fea­tured one of those oneon-one matchups the Broncos are fail­ing to win.

The Broncos were in “man” cov­er­age as the Pa­tri­ots set up with four wide re­ceivers at the Den­ver 14-yard line. Burk­head was lined up out­side on the far left with safety Dar­ian Ste­wart in front of him, a matchup that NBC an­a­lyst Cris Collinsworth called “a bit of a mis­match.” Burk­head faked quickly to the out­side be­fore drag­ging across the mid­dle. With line­backer Todd Davis and safety Justin Sim­mons both shad­ing over to help line­backer Shaquil Bar­rett de­fend al­lpro tight end Rob Gronkowski, Ste­wart was left on his own and couldn’t stay in stride with Burk­head.

On the Pa­tri­ots’ sec­ond touch­down in the red zone, late in the sec­ond quar­ter, New Eng­land ma­neu­vered to get line­backer Von Miller in cov­er­age against tight end Dwayne Allen. Miller, used to pow­er­ing full steam ahead to­ward a quar­ter­back, was flagged for hold­ing Allen as he backpedaled in cov­er­age, but even the penalty couldn’t help him pre­vent an 11yard touch­down pass from Brady to the tight end.

“Some­one has to win the oneon-one, and that’s what it comes down to,” Joseph said. “When we’re in base de­fense and they’re in base of­fense, some­one has to win the one-on-one. In the matchups with tight ends and backs, we haven’t won. That’s been the is­sue.”

It’s an­other new is­sue for a de­fense that seems to have hit a wall dur­ing the past two weeks. The Broncos were eighth in red-zone de­fense last sea­son (52.4 per­cent touch­down rate). Den­ver will wel­come a Cincin­nati Ben­gals team Sun­day that has turned only 47.8 per­cent of its red-zone trips into touch­downs, the sev­enth-worst mark in the league. Per­haps a trip to Mile High Med will be the proper rem­edy for Cincin­nati.

“It’s tough, but you’ve just got to have pride in your­self, pride in your name and be able to still com­pete,” Broncos cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris said. “I’m a fighter. I’m not go­ing to quit, and I don’t ex­pect any­body else on this team to quit.”

Rex Burk­head of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots cel­e­brates his touch­down re­cep­tion Sun­day night.

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