ENGLEWOOD — The Broncos boast a 0-2 record for the third time in five years.
What makes this season different? The Broncos’ three-point differential in their start — 17-16, 35-33 losses — remains tied for the best of any 0-2 team since 1966, per Pro Football Reference.
Coach Sean Payton knows the history of the game, recognizes the ditch the Broncos have fallen into represents a daunting challenge to navigate. The players spoke Sunday about tuning out the noise, proving this isn’t the same old Broncos.
It starts with doing things the Broncos have done too frequently while going 5-18 over the last two-plus seasons with three different coaches.
“I will say this— and we just talked about it —there are some things that stand out right now, and before you talk about how to win games, you also have to understand how not to lose games,” Payton said on a Monday conference call.
“We’re currently tied for a league-high 19 penalties. We lead the league defensively with defensive fouls called with 12. We have five personal fouls. We have a number of plays where we’re off the field on third down, but there’s a flag on the turf, there’s holding or defensive pass interference, which makes it an automatic first down. Instead of being off the field, those are turnover penalties. We have to be better and more disciplined in that area, and that starts with us as coaches.”
Issues emerged in the heart-in-a-blender loss to Washington. Payton wants better communication offensively from when he makes the play call to how quickly quarterback Russell Wilson relays it to the team. And the defense ranks near the bottom of multiple categories.
Let’s start with the offense. The Broncos raced out to a 21-3 lead Sunday with rookie receiver Marvin Mims Jr. experiencing a breakthrough game and Wilson playing well. Through two games, he has been a first-half standout, averaging a league-best 10.3 yards per attempt.
The Broncos held a 21-14 halftime advantage Sunday and 13-10 in the opener. And until Sunday, Payton had never lost a game when leading by 18 points.
The transmission has dropped for Wilson in the second half. His yards per attempt sinks to 5.3 in the second half. And he hasn’t escaped trouble, taking multiple sacks.
Communication is an issue. Payton wants the operation to go faster from when he calls the plays to how quickly Wilson relays them in the huddle. Wilson has been wearing a wristband, so the adjustment could be how the band is used with the longer plays on the card.
“I think, No. 1, the first thing that we always try to look at —but we have to do a better job of as coaches —is reduce the verbiage. If we have a longer play, then we can easily get to a wristband. We have to reduce the variables. I just finished saying this in the team meeting: if we’re making (mental errors) defensively, and offensively, we’re having trouble breaking the huddle and getting lined up, then we have to look at if have too much in,” Payton said Monday.
“Then, how do we reduce the verbiage at the line of scrimmage, or in the huddle, quite frankly? Because it goes from me to the QB, the QB to the offense, and then here we go. That’s going to improve. How we do it can vary. One of the methods is to reduce verbiage. The other is to get to the line of scrimmage spontaneously. The other is to wristband certain plays that are longer calls.”
The Broncos were forced to burn a timeout in the first half when a personnel group was late arriving to the huddle.
“I don’t think that it’s a huge problem. We had a few problems getting in and out of the huddle,” center Lloyd Cushenberry said Monday. “That’s on all of us. All 11 involved and the guys on the sideline have to be better.”
Defensively, the regression has been alarming. To be fair, it is a small sample size. But they rank 23rd in red zone defense, 30th in three-and-outs percentage, 27th in explosive plays and last in penalties. The 21-3 lead dwindled when the Broncos gave up 11 points in five minutes in the second quarter. At one point, the Broncos were outscored 32-3, gashed by the screen game, the run game and a big play to Terry McLaurin that came after strong safety Kareem Jackson was ejected. A source told Denver7 that Jackson will not be suspended this week, but faces a fine for his hit that left Logan Thomas in concussion protocol.
Things only get harder this week against Miami, led by the league’s top passer Tua Tagovailoa and most electric receiver Tyreek Hill.
“We just have to clean the (penalties) up. We have to keep working on it. Whether we think they are penalties or not, they are calling them,” linebacker Alex Singleton said. “We are still coming together, learning what we like and don’t like. But we have to improve (in the red zone). And if we get off the field on those third downs we are probably not even talking about it.”