Denver Broncos' low-risk offense stuck in low gear

BY foxsports • November 11, 2009

Kyle Orton showed up at Dove Valley clean-shaven, his splotchy beard and mangy mustache having swirled down the drain much like the Denver Broncos' offense the last two weeks. He didn't go with the clean look just to finally comply with his wife's wishes, either. "No, lost two games in a row," the superstitious quarterback explained Wednesday. "Might as well change something up." Orton and the Broncos (6-2) need to change a lot more than just his ragged appearance if they're going to bounce back from back-to-back blowout losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh in which the offense reached the end zone just once. "Well, we've got to score points," Orton said. "So, we're moving on from the last couple of weeks. We've got plenty of areas to improve on." Since starting off 6-0 before their bye, the Broncos have seen their low-risk offense stuck in low gear, their ground game screech to a halt and Orton return from outstanding to ordinary. With defenders who are unconcerned about a vertical passing game clogging the intermediate lanes, the Broncos' dink-and-dunk offense has been exploited. It sure doesn't figure to get any easier Sunday at Washington, where the Redskins (2-6) sport the league's top-ranked pass defense. Also, the Broncos' leading receiver, Brandon Marshall, is dealing with a bad back that kept him out of practice Wednesday. One way or another, Orton said the Broncos have to "find some ways to make some bigger plays." "It's tough to always rely on eight-, 10-play drives to score points. So, it would be great to find ways to score on three- or four-play drives," he said. Some deep passes might do the trick. "Yeah, you've got to take shots (but) you don't want to force the ball," Orton said. "We're not looking to force the ball. We've got plenty of weapons. We've got plenty of ways to move the ball down the field to not have to force things. But certainly when they're there, we'd like to be able to take them." The deep ball has been nonexistent in Denver's offense all season. "Everybody wants to say, 'Throw the ball 50 yards downfield.' Well, that's all great, you can say that, but there's a lot of things that go into that: coverage, you've got to have time to throw it downfield, you've got to have the run hopefully to set up the coverage that you want to throw it against," Orton said. "We had a couple called, we didn't get the looks that we wanted and we didn't throw them." And coach Josh McDaniels isn't going to call long pass plays just to get the scuffling offense a confidence boost. "If you need that and if you're looking for that, you're in trouble. Because those plays are few and far between a lot of times in this league and if you're sitting there trying to play offense hoping for one big play, you're going to have a long day," McDaniels said. "You'd better be able to execute against good defenses. These teams know what they want to try to take away and when they try to take those things away and you try to force the ball in spots, you could end up turning it over four, five, six times in a game." The Ravens and Steelers sport two of the best defenses in the NFL, so some of the Broncos' troubles can be attributed to a very difficult schedule as much as to opponents finally catching up to them. Orton figures the Broncos themselves have had as much to do with their stumbles as Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu have. "You've got to look at what they've done to us and also we've got to look at what we've done to ourselves," Orton said. "We've played two good teams, two good defenses, and I think they've done some good things against us. But really, the most important thing for us is to look at the things that we've done to ourselves and try to correct those as fast as possible." Penalties, wrong reads, poor routes, bad blocking. Orton said one way to jump-start the passing game is to get the ground game going again. The Broncos have managed just 93 yards on 33 carries since their bye week, and if you take out an 11-yard scamper by Orton, the running backs are averaging just 2.5 yards a carry. Correll Buckhalter and rookie Knowshon Moreno combined to gain just 27 yards on 14 carries in Denver's 28-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday night. The Broncos' run game should get a boost this week with the return of fullback Peyton Hillis, who sat out Monday following the death of his grandmother. "It's tough listening to the game on the radio," he said.