Situational failures drive frustration for offense during 2-3 start


In outlining his bottom-line approach to success, Denver quarterback Russell Wilson last Tuesday noted two situational areas of the game.

“We want to be great on third down, we want to be great in the red zone, but at the end of the day, we put on the pads and cleats to win,” he said as the Broncos prepared for Indianapolis.

The Broncos failed on all three accounts Thursday night at Empower Field against Indianapolis — continuing a troubling trend that has significantly contributed to the offense’s anemic start to the season.

Through five games, the offense has been terrible on both third down and in the red zone. And the 12-9 overtime loss to the Colts only highlighted the Broncos’ inability to play well in key situations.

When running back Melvin Gordon fell forward with 12 minutes, 30 seconds, left in the second quarter and picked up three yards on third-and-1, the Broncos moved to 2-of-5 on third down tries. It was their last third-down conversion of the night.

Denver did pick up one fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter but missed on its final 13 third-down attempts. Not only that, but they hardly gave themselves a chance, facing nine third downs of 10 yards or longer, including tries of 17, 16, 16, 15 and 13 yards.

“If you’re playing behind the chains as much as we are, it’s going to be hard to move the ball,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett said Friday. “I think that’s where it starts on third down. We’re putting ourselves in bad positions there.”

On 11 snaps of third-and-7 or longer, Wilson was sacked once and completed 6-of-10 passes for 40 yards. Each of the completions came well short of the first-down line. Two of the three passes he pushed past the marker fell incomplete in the red zone – one in the end zone toward tight end Eric Saubert, the other incomplete past Jerry Jeudy up the left sideline. And the third was intercepted when Wilson threw the ball to an area where only Indianapolis safety Rodney Thomas waited.

A 7-yard completion to Courtland Sutton set up a fourth-down conversion that preceded Wilson’s red zone interception just before the two-minute warning. One other underneath route to KJ Hamler came within a broken tackle of turning into a first down. The rest more or less were just about getting a few yards for better field position.

“It starts with efficiency on first and second down,” Hackett said. “All those third downs, when you look at them, they’re very, very long.”

A 2-of-15 outing overall for Denver on third down dropped the team to No. 29 in the NFL with a conversion rate of 30.6%. Since hitting on 8-of-15 against the Seahawks, the Broncos have converted 28.5% over the past four weeks.


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