Unbeaten Broncos have long list of fix-it items on offense
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peppered with questions that made it seem like the unbeaten Broncos were winless — like whether he’d consider benching his five-time MVP quarterback to fix his sputtering offense — Gary Kubiak welcomed the reprieve.
Are you able to enjoy this 5-0 start? he was asked.
“You’re damn right I am,” Denver’s first-year coach responded during a Monday news conference dominated by questions about an offense that’s making too many mistakes and not enough yards or points.
“I think in coaching you’re always searching for perfection and obviously we’re far from it,” Kubiak said. “We’ve got some tremendous things going on defensively and we’re battling offensively right now. But it’s hard to win in this league, and I’ve been doing it long enough to know you’d better appreciate it.”
The Broncos are unbeaten because they own the league’s best and deepest defense, one that’s collected 22 sacks and 14 takeaways and was unaffected when its best player, DeMarcus Ware, left Sunday’s win at Oakland with a bad back that’s expected to keep him out of next weekend’s game at Cleveland, too.
They’re 5-0 because of a special teams unit that has blocked two kicks and features the NFL’s best kicker in Brandon McManus, who has four field goals of 52-plus yards.
The problem is an offense than ranks 30th in the league.
Peyton Manning has more interceptions (seven) than TD throws (six) and is playing behind a patchwork O-line that’s surrendered a dozen sacks so far and can’t bore holes for a ground game that’s averaging 71.6 yards a game.
The Broncos moved the ball well through the air between the 20s in their 16-10 win at Oakland on Sunday, their NFL-record-extending 14th straight divisional road victory, but Manning was picked off in the end zone and Demaryius Thomas and Ronnie Hillman both dropped passes in the end zone.
The solution isn’t inserting backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, as a radio reporter wondered.
“No,” Kubiak said curtly. “Peyton’s doing just fine.”
Actually, Manning is off to his worst start since his rookie season. But there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Taking a page from the Colts’ playoff win at Denver last year, teams have been daring Manning to hit deep sideline passes, and he’s been unable to do so often enough, either overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders or underthrowing Thomas like he did Sunday when Charles Woodson recorded his second interception of the game.
So, teams have stacked the box, making it all the harder for the running backs to find lanes and yards.
They’ve had 29 runs that went for no gain or negative yards, a big reason Kubiak punted on fourth-and-1 at the Oakland 44 with two minutes left.
Tight end Owen Daniels said he’s confident things will soon start clicking “just because of the guys that we have, the players that we have in the room. We’re hard on ourselves in terms of how we play and pretty critical of ourselves. So, we’re going to keep on working. This group’s not afraid to put in the work to get better.”
Tyler Polumbus, who played 33 snaps at left tackle in relief of a banged-up Ryan Harris (25 snaps), said the Broncos’ early season struggles in their first year under Kubiak are understandable.
“I’ve been around this offense for a long time and it always takes guys time to get used to that run-zone scheme,” he said. “And I’ve yet to be a part of this scheme where it hasn’t finally started to click. So, I’m confident that it will here also.”
Chris Harris Jr., whose pick-6 sealed Denver’s victory Sunday, said the star-studded defense believes the offense is “going to pick it up. We have faith in Peyton. We all have faith in him. We know it’s not just him. We know we need to get the run game going, get everybody going.
“We know that once they start clicking, it’s going to be over.”
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton