Broncos trying to kick trend of slow starts
AP Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – The Denver Broncos’ 6-1 start puts them among the league’s elite. Their inability to score on their opening drive, however, places them among some dubious company.
The Broncos have been outscored 39-24 in the first quarter and they’ve trailed at halftime four straight weeks. They learned Sunday at Baltimore that they can’t keep counting on their second-half surges to carry them.
Denver joins Oakland, Kansas City and Houston as the only teams not to score on their opening offensive possession yet this season, according to STATS LLC.
So, why has the Broncos offense sputtered out of the starting blocks?
Mistakes, poor play calls, bad protection – the list is long.
The Broncos know they can’t afford to start slowly against Pittsburgh on Monday night because the Steelers (5-2) are one of the league’s fastest starters, and playing from behind isn’t the forte of Josh McDaniels’ low-risk offense.
“(There is) kind of just a lack of execution to start the game,” quarterback Kyle Orton said. “It is going to be a critical point in this game … We certainly can’t expect to win if we are down 10-0 or 14-0 to start off the game. We are going to have to figure it out and get it going by Monday.”
McDaniels has never been a coach to rely on a scripted set of plays, preferring to keep an open mind. That’s contrary to some coaches in the league, who painstakingly plan out the first 15 or so offensive snaps.
“I mean, I have some things that I want to do early in the game,” McDaniels said. “But no, I’ve never been a big fan of just scripting because the ball could be anywhere on the field and certain situations dictate that you don’t want to call that there or what have you … It’s never been something I’ve done.”
Orton, on the other hand, is used to a more scripted offense dating back to his days in Chicago. But he doesn’t think that’s a reason for Denver’s lukewarm starts.
“That is not an excuse,” Orton said. “We certainly know the plays that we are calling early in the game and certainly should be able to execute them.”
The Broncos were hounded and hassled all afternoon by a bustling Baltimore defense in their first loss of the season on Sunday.
Being a copycat league, Orton expects more of the same from a stout Pittsburgh unit.
“If you play a good team and don’t execute very well, then you are going to have trouble,” Orton said. “(That is a) huge priority in practice this week, making sure we have three or four great practices and to be on top of things and be ready to go by Monday.”
Orton has been labeled a game manager for methodically leading the Broncos down the field. He doesn’t take big risks, throwing just one interception all season – and that was to New England’s Randy Moss at the end of the first half.
However, the Broncos also have struggled to stretch the field at times this season, turning in just six passing plays of 30 yards or more. That includes Brandon Stokley’s game-winning catch at Cincinnati, when he hauled in a tipped pass and sprinted 87 yards for the touchdown in the closing seconds, and Brandon Marshall’s 51-yard catch-and-run against Dallas.
McDaniels would like nothing more than to see more explosiveness out of his offense.
“We’ve done that this year at times, and then there’s been other times we didn’t,” McDaniels conceded.
Typically, the Broncos rely on a sensational second half to offset a slow start. They had been outscoring teams 76-10 after halftime. But Baltimore bucked that trend, returning the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to take firm control. The Ravens outscored Denver 24-7 after halftime.
“I think everybody is frustrated that we didn’t play very well last week,” McDaniels said.
Baltimore may have just provided a blueprint for how to bully around the Broncos as the team kept the pressure turned up on Orton.
Did the Ravens discover Denver’s Achilles’ heel?
“Baltimore didn’t do anything eccentric that the first six opponents didn’t try to do, either,” McDaniels said. “They played hard, they played physical, and they played better than we did. If that’s a blueprint, I think everybody is pretty much following it.”