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Broncos struggling in red zone

Pat Graham
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
David Zalubowski/APJay Cutler and the Broncos offense have had a hard time scoring touchdowns so far this season.
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ENGLEWOOD. ” Brandon Marshall receives a paycheck to catch passes, not think.

So, the wide receiver preferred to leave the tough questions ” like why is the offense struggling to score? ” for Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.

“There’s a reason coach is so successful ” because he knows what he’s talking about,” Marshall said. “He didn’t turn into a dummy in one or two years. He’s a genius, especially on the offensive side.”

It doesn’t take a genius to pinpoint the Achilles’ heel of Denver’s offense ” the red zone. Going into Sunday’s game at Detroit, the Broncos have scored just 11 touchdowns in 23 trips inside the opponents’ 20 yard line.

“We are obviously frustrated we’re not scoring more,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We’re trying to move on and stay confident, but it’s just tough.”

Cutler is sick of all the questions about the team’s red-zone inadequacies. He wishes they’d end.

“It’s the same thing every week,” he said.

That it is. Denver can move the ball down the field just fine, but bogs down in the red zone. The Broncos are seventh in the league in total yards (354.6 per game) and yet 27th in total points (17 a contest).

“We can’t be a great team if we’re only scoring 17 points, and I think we need to put it upon ourselves to put some peer pressure on each other just to get things done,” Marshall said. “We can turn this thing around.”

The Broncos’ 19-13 overtime loss to the Packers on Monday night typified their struggles in the red zone. Denver lost the ball on a fumble at the Green Bay 1 yard line in the second quarter when Cutler collided with offensive lineman Chris Kuper, jarring the ball out of his hands.

Later, on the team’s final drive in regulation, the Broncos drove to the Packers 4 with 22 seconds remaining, only to be stuffed on a quarterback sneak and have to rush Jason Elam onto the field for a game-tying field goal.

“Things change when you get down in the red zone,” receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Your focus needs to come up a little bit. You can’t have mistakes. We’ve been making a few mistakes.”

The Broncos are a loose bunch before stepping inside the 20. That was never more evident than on the Broncos’ hurry-up drive against the Packers in the final minutes of the game. The Broncos faced a fourth and short at their 32 with 1:37 remaining.

Shanahan asked Cutler on a timeout what he wanted to run and Cutler came up with a crazy play.

“Coach and Jay just laughed,” Marshall said. “It’s fourth-and-2 and everyone’s uptight and our leaders are just poised. I laughed, too. I went into the huddle and was like, ‘Man, we have this.'”

For a brief time, it appeared like maybe the Broncos would. Cutler converted the fourth-down play on a pass to Stokley and then hit Marshall on a pair of passes to help move the ball inside the Packers 20.

But then the Broncos stalled.

“We put together a great drive,” Stokley said. “We just didn’t finish it off.”

That’s the way it’s been all season. Cutler, in his second season as a starter, chalks it up to growing pains.

“I’m still getting confused out there by some defenses,” said Cutler, who has thrown eight interceptions this season. “They’re tricking me, making me throw into coverages. It’s a learning process.”

“””

LINKED TO THE PAST: In his college coaching days at Utah State, Lions coach Rod Marinelli was known for his development of NFL defensive linemen. The Broncos benefited as much as any team.

He transformed Rulon Jones from a 195-pound project into one of Denver’s top pass rushers. Jones ranks fourth all-time with 731/2 sacks.

Undrafted and undersized Greg Kragen lasted eight years using the techniques taught him by Marinelli. Kragen started at nose tackle in three Super Bowls for the Broncos.

Pass rush specialist Simeon Rice doesn’t mince words when discussing Marinelli’s role in his career.

Marinelli served as Tampa Bay’s defensive line coach for 10 years, and Rice played for him for five years.

“He helped me to be the player I am today,” Rice said. “What he did was he cultivated my game. He took a player like myself and bonded it with another great player like Warren Sapp and we were able to win a Super Bowl. He was able to take me to the next level.”

“””

LYNCH UPDATE: Shanahan won’t know if safety John Lynch will play until game time. Lynch is listed as questionable on the injury report with a pinched nerve in his neck.

“I’ll have a better feel as time goes on,” Shanahan said Friday after practice. “We will get a chance to see him before the game, hit him a little bit and see how he feels.”


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