Third-down is­sues key down stretch

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ryan O’Hal­lo­ran

Can the Bron­cos find a so­lu­tion for their third-down is­sues?

The Bron­cos have been ranked 20th or worse on third down con­ver­sions since Week 5 so their strug­gles aren’t re­cent. They are cur­rently 27th (34.6 per­cent) af­ter go­ing a com­bined 11 of 34 (32.3 per­cent) dur­ing their three-game win­ning streak.

When asked about get­ting more touches for run­ning back Phillip Lindsay, of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bill Mus­grave pointed to im­prov­ing on third down.

“I think we need to get more turns (and) we’ve talked about that for ev­ery­body,” Mus­grave said. “That will come from us not hav­ing three-and-outs and not do­ing such a poor job on third down. If we can con­vert some third downs that we’re not mak­ing, then we get more op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­body. That would def­i­nitely be a great step in the right di­rec­tion for this fi­nal four-game stretch.”

The key is con­vert­ing third-and­short. In the last three games, the Bron­cos are 3 of 7 when need­ing three or fewer yards on third down.

Spot­light player.

In his first year with San Fran­cisco, cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man is still look­ing for his first in­ter­cep­tion. But Mus­grave sees the kind of player who starred for Seat­tle.

“The same — just dan­ger­ous,” Mus­grave said. “You’ve got to be smart when you throw it his way. He has that re­ceiver back­ground from when he played at Stan­ford so he knows routes, he knows com­bi­na­tions and he can an­tic­i­pate. He’s tough to deal with.”

Sher­man was ready for Week 1 af­ter sus­tain­ing a torn Achilles on Nov. 9, 2017.

He was pre­par­ing early in the week to face Bron­cos re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders un­til San­ders was side­lined with an Achilles in­jury on Wed­nes­day.

Sher­man spoke about San­ders for nearly two min­utes with Bay Area re­porters on Thurs­day.

“It’s not some­thing you wish on any­body,” Sher­man said in part of his an­swer. “I know what he’s about to go through for about the next nine months, both men­tally and phys­i­cally. It’s a grind, but it’s re­ally on you how you get through it. … You can’t lose faith in your­self be­cause that’s when guys have to re­tire be­cause they don’t be­lieve they’re go­ing to be the same. … It’s re­ally how you ap­proach ev­ery day. How much can you trick your mind into be­ing pos­i­tive? I hope he has that men­tal­ity be­cause he’s a fan­tas­tic player. … He’ll get through it.”

Watch for …

San Fran­cisco tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle. Last week, Bron­cos safety Justin Sim­mons was as­signed to Cincin­nati re­ceiver Tyler Boyd fol­low­ing cor­ner­back Chris Harris’ bro­ken leg when Boyd lined up in the slot.

On Sun­day, Sim­mons’ task may be Kit­tle, who has 62 catches and has been tar­geted 93 times in 12 games.

Against Seat­tle last week, Kit­tle had six catches for 70 yards, gains of 14 (wide left), six (right slot) and seven yards (left slot) and re­cep­tions of seven, eight and 28 yards as a stand-up right tight end.

Kit­tle’s go-to was run­ning a short route against zone cov­er­age and wait­ing for a Nick Mul­lens’ throw.

“He’s a spe­cial tal­ent,” Bron­cos coach Vance Joseph said of Kit­tle. “(49ers coach) Kyle (Shana­han) is finding the right matchups (for Kit­tle), which makes it scary for us. When guys are cover­ing him oneon-one, they have to play with great lever­age and have great eye dis­ci­pline be­cause he’s a great route run­ner. When you watch their pass game, it’s re­ally gone through him the last cou­ple weeks.”

In­jury re­port.

The Bron­cos ruled out line­backer Shaq Bar­rett (hip) and cor­ner­backs Chris Harris (leg) and Tra­maine Brock (rib). Brock’s ab­sence means rookie Isaac Yi­adom will start.

Line­backer Bran­don Mar­shall (knee) is listed as ques­tion­able. “He’s get­ting bet­ter so we’ll see how it works on Sun­day morn­ing,” Joseph said.

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