ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The list of things the Denver Broncos have tried on offense is fairly long at this point.
They’ve tried plays with quarterback Peyton Manning under center, with him in the shotgun and in the pistol. The tried bulked up formations, with three tight ends, or even with groupings with guard Max Garcia added in as an extra blocker.
They’ve tried wide-open formations, three and four wide receivers, they’ve tried an empty backfield. They’ve tried and tried and tried and beyond a glimmer here (Manning’s 324-yard passing game against the Detroit Lions) or a glimpse there (their 144-yard rushing day against the Minnesota Vikings), the results have been nothing close to what they hoped to have.
“The biggest thing offensively is we’ve got to finish … you know, obviously it’s a concern, it’s got to get a lot better," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “Everybody’s got to take their responsibility to continue to push forward."
Manning has more interceptions than touchdown passes, the first time that’s happened this deep in a season since he was a rookie in 1998. And the Broncos have just one running back that’s averaged at least four yards a carry in even one game -- Ronnie Hillman in Week 4 against the Vikings.
They are 31st in the league yards per carry (3.3), No. 21 in passing, and if the three touchdowns they have scored on defense this season are removed, then their eight offensive touchdowns would be tied for last in the league.
“We’ve got to execute better, I’ve got to eliminate turning the ball over," Manning said. “ ... We’ve just got to find way to get into the end zone somehow, some way."
What to do now is the proverbial gazillion dollar question, though. The Broncos aren’t going to simply reel in impact players on offense off the street, because those kind of players aren’t available.
But Kubiak continues to hope that if the team can find some sort of rhythm in the run game -- a cause that would be greatly aided by keeping the same offensive line together for several consecutive weeks -- it would give Manning more room to work in the passing game as well as slow down opposing rushers. Even in Sunday's win over the Oakland Raiders, the Broncos rotated Ryan Harris and Tyler Polumbus at left tackle, just a little over a week after Polumbus was signed.
There is no better sequence to illustrate the amount of work that needs to be done in the run game than what followed linebacker Von Miller's sack of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr Sunday that resulted in a forced fumble, a fumble Miller recovered at the Raiders’ 16-yard line. That usually is a gift-wrapped touchdown for a Manning-led offense.
This time the Broncos moved the ball to have first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. C.J. Anderson rushed for 1 yard on back-to-back plays and on third down Demaryius Thomas couldn't reel in a potential touchdown pass. The Broncos settled for a 20-yard field goal from Brandon McManus.
“You continue to look at putting people in position," Kubiak said. “When you’ve got first-and-goal on the 3 [yard-line], dang, you’ve got to be able to run the ball better. I mean we ran the ball twice and we have third-and-goal from the (2). That’s disappointing. We’ve got to continue to try to get people in the best position that we can. We’ve got to make some tough plays, too."
In addition to Thomas’ drop, Hillman dropped a sure touchdown pass as well.
Some opposing defensive coaches believe Manning is letting go of the ball a beat too soon on some plays because the Broncos haven’t consistently protected him. But they also say Manning, like the rest of the group, is pressing, which is why the drops are happening.
Toss in the turnover along the offensive line already -- the Broncos have rarely had the whole group practice together over the first month because of some injuries -- as well as Manning’s interceptions on some forced passes and the results are not that surprising.
“Work in progress," Kubiak said. “ ... Not a real comfortable situation, but something we’ve got to work through."