Three plays, three reasons for Broncos' offensive struggles


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If there is a collection of plays that offers a glimpse of the difficulty the Denver Broncos have had running the ball and closing the deal in the red zone, it can be found early in the third quarter of Sunday's 16-10 win.

On the Oakland Raiders' first play from scrimmage in the second half, Broncos linebacker Von Miller sacked Derek Carr and took the ball from Carr as well. That put the Broncos at the Raiders' 16-yard line.

In the salad days of a touchdown-happy offense, that was a momentum-grabbing, game-clinching score waiting to happen. On first down, out of a two tight end set and the Raiders defensive backs playing off coverage, Peyton Manning hit Demaryius Thomas on a quick look-in for 12 yards, moving the ball to the Raiders' 4-yard line.

So on first-and-goal from the 4, the Broncos were again in a two-tight end look as they showed the Raiders the same formation. But at the snap, none of the Raiders' defensive linemen were pushed more than a yard off the line of scrimmage, while two Raiders' defenders had penetrated into the backfield. C.J. Anderson was stopped for a 1-yard gain, unable to break Charles Woodson's tackle.

On second-and-goal, the Broncos were still in a two-tight end formation but with a slightly different look. This time, none of the Raiders defensive linemen were pushed even a half of a yard off the ball. But Owen Daniels and Virgil Green did have the corner somewhat sealed around the right end, with Emmanuel Sanders available to block a defensive back in the end zone.

Anderson, who could have had an opportunity to run to press the edge, elected to take the inside lane instead for another 1-yard gain.

On third down, out of a three-wide receiver set, the Broncos got the 1-on-1 matchup for Demaryius Thomas that they wanted out wide to the left. And Thomas was open in the back of the end zone, but the pass, just over the hand of oncoming safety, went through Thomas' hands.

So a stuffed run, a missed opportunity and a dropped pass on a play Manning and Thomas have made over and over again gives the diary of frustration in three consecutive snaps.

"When you've got first-and-goal on the 3, dang, you've got to be able to run the ball better," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "I mean, we ran the ball twice and we have third-and-goal from the (2). That's disappointing."

Some other items from the game video:

  • In 2014, the rushing attempts for no gain or negative yardage were a weekly snapshot of the unsettled nature of the Broncos' offensive line. Things haven't improved thus far with the Broncos now at 30 rushing attempts -- excluding kneel-downs by Manning -- for no gain or negative yardage. That's 27.8 percent of their carries, down slightly from last season's total.

  • The four most penalized players for the Broncos are defensive players, led by Von Miller and David Bruton Jr. with five penalties each. Miller has had three 15-yard penalties, including two roughing the passer penalties -- one of those Sunday against the Raiders. The Broncos continue to search for the line between the aggressiveness that has put them at the top of the defensive rankings and the point where they are handing their opponents too much free yardage. Sixteen percent of the first downs their opponents have made this season have been as a result of Broncos penalties, including four of the Raiders' first downs.

  • Bennie Fowler leads the Broncos in yards per catch -- 15.3 -- and with his 41-yard catch-and-run just before halftime Sunday, showed why he is going to be difficult to dislodge from the rotation. Fowler was bracketed by two defenders but still ran a precise-enough route so he could come back to the ball and still be beyond the first-down marker. After the catch, he also then turned immediately upfield and ran through Woodson's attempted tackle. A quality route with good awareness followed by quality work after the catch.

  • With both his interceptions Sunday -- both by Woodson -- coming in a three-wide receiver set, Manning has now thrown five of his seven pickes with either three or four wide receivers in the formation. Also, three of his six touchdown passes have come in formations with at least two tight ends in the game.